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News Update

Are Schools "Drug-Infested"? Georgia Grows in Advanced Placement Participation Engine

Are Scools "Drug-Infested"?

A new study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA) at Columbia University is calling U.S. middle and high schools "drug-infested," while at the same time other major studies point to an overall decline in teen drug use.

The CASA survey found that 80 percent of those attending high school and 44 percent of those attending middle school had personally witnessed on school grounds illegal drug use, dealing, or possession and/ or students high or drunk.

But Steve Pasierb, president of the nonprofit Partnership for a Drug-Free America, is not sure that "drug-infested" is the right way to describe U.S. schools. "Students tend to overestimate the availability and peer usage of illegal drugs in schools," he says. "It's actually the parents that highly underestimate drug use among their children."

He adds that if a high school has, say, two students who are well-known pot smokers, most other students are going to know about them and the kinds of activity they engage in. "But does that mean the school is infested?" he asks.

Other national studies released last year by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) and Monitoring the Future at the University of Michigan reflect a picture of drug use in schools that Pasierb says is a much more accurate assessment.

The SAMHSA report found less than 10 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds in 2005 used drugs within the previous month (down from nearly 12 percent in 2002), and Michigan's study noted overall declines, including marijuana use, in 2006.

Pasierb agrees that there has been a steady decline in teen drug use over the past seven years and that the students who do use might have different motivations than those of previous generations. Where in the past students might have used drugs as an outlet for having fun and "curbing boredom," Pasierb says that in today's culture many students are so involved with extracurricular and academic activities that unfortunately some might turn to drugs just to take the edge off.

Others insist there is a problem through and through. Joseph Califano Jr., CASA chairman and former U.S. secretary of health, education and welfare, says, "We clearly have a drug culture in most of the country's high schools and a significant proportion of the middle schools."

Georgia Grows in Advanced Placement Participation

Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue and State Superintendent of Schools Kathy Cox recently announced that students in Georgia have continued to outpace other U.S. students taking and succeeding in Advanced Placement classes. A report released by the College Board also says the state continues to be a leader in AP participation among black students.

In 2007 Georgia experienced more than 13 percent growth in the number of students taking AP classes and an 11 percent jump in the number of students receiving a passing score on AP exams. There was nearly 23 percent growth among Georgia's black students in AP participation, and among Hispanic students it was about 30 percent.

"AP is perhaps the best indicator we have that our students want to challenge themselves with college-level work and can handle college-level work," said Cox. "It just goes to show that when you set high expectations, students will rise up to meet them."

Data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics say that two of the five fastest growing occupations in the next five years will be engineering related and that the supply of engineering professionals has failed to meet market demands. In an eff ort to address this issue, the National Academy Foundation (NAF), a partnership of business and education leaders that sustains a nationwide network of public career-themed academies, recently announced at its first corporate education summit an initiative to bring more education onopportunities in the field of engineering to urban minority students throughout the nation.

In collaboration with Project Lead the Way (PLTW), a nonprofit engineering curriculum and professional development program, and the National Action Council for Minorities in engineering (NACME), the initiative will create 13 new Academies of Engineering (AOE) for the 2008 school year, following a year of planning that began in July 2007. Jon Reinhard, AOE project director, hopes to see the Academies grow to a network of 110 by 2010.

Irving McPhail, executive vice president and chief operating officer of NACME, calls the shortage of U.S. engineers especially among women and underrepresented minorities the "new American dilemma."

With mentoring and internship opportunities supported by partnerships with Fortune 500

firms, McPhail says the AOE initiative is a deliberate effort to actively engage students in engineering disciplines and "connect what they learn in the classroom to real-world problemsolving situations.

Reinhard adds that integration across all subjects-core areas like language arts and social studies included-is at the heart of the Academies' goals. "We're for all kids, and what we're really doing is setting the stage for postsecondary and realworld success."

NAF currently serves over 50,000 students in 41 states through its Finance, Hospitality and Tourism, and Information Technology Academies. The new Academies are being funded by grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, the Motorola Foundation, Verizon and Xerox.

Nonprofits Target Misplacement of Students of Color in Special Education

An American and an Israeli nonprofit education group have partnered to work with U.S. school districts in an effort to ensure that children of color are not mistakenly placed in special education.

The National Urban Alliance for Effective Education (NUA) and the jerusalem-based International Center for the Enhancement of Learning Potential (ICELP) signed an agreement allowing NUA mentors to be trained in ICELP's research-based interventions, including the Learning Potential Assessment Device, a special assessment that gauges a student's reasoning and information processing skills rather than right-orwrong answers.

"The process students use to get an answer is more important than whether they get the answer right or not," says NUA president Eric J. Cooper. Too often children of color who lack support at home-causing them to act out in class-are placed in special education programs by frustrated schools that misdiagnose them with learning disabilities or behavior disorders, when a shift in teaching tactics could keep those children in regular classrooms, says Cooper.

NUA and ICELP consultants will work with about 20 districts-including birmingham, Ala.; Bridgeport, Conn.; and New York City-to train teachers in using the Learning Potential Assessment Device.

Cooper says the districts also will be trained in using the Center's Instrumental Enrichment" techniques, a series of logic-oriented problems designed to improve thinking processes.

"It's basically learning as a series of developmental stages," he adds.

Cooper says the partnership will allow NUA to give teachers new tools to help children of color, including those who are legitimately diagnosed with learning or behavioral disorders, while boosting the Israeli nonprofi t's U.S. presence.

-Kevin Butler

Florida Goes Global with New Virtual School

Florida Virtual School, an accredited, public, online school serving students in grades 6 through 12, recently announced the launch of the Florida Virtual Global School as part of its new Global Services division to further enhance e-learning options for students and educators outside of Florida.

Although students enrolling in the Global School's more than 80 online courses are diverse and hail from 23 states and 11 countries including China, England, the Philippines and Germany, Principal Elaine McCall says that the educational philosophy of the school is very focused on close collaboration and student interactivity.

"The Global School engages students through all modalities of learning, whether it be kinesthetic, audio-visual or problem-solving" and brings them together through collaborative exercises, McCall says.

Students at the Global School will have the opportunity to work with peers and teachers from the Florida Virtual School and other states, regions and countries through social networking Web sites and other programs such as virtual field trips and online forums.

McCall adds that Florida Virtual and Global School students-some of whom take all of their classes at the school and others just a select few for courses that aren't available at their own district-are less prone to feeling "judged" by their teachers and are better able to directly connect with them without having to worry about physical or verbal cues.

The Global Services offers specialized professional development to train teachers, administrators, districts and states to deliver sound, accountable and successful online learning experiences; handles the licensing of online courses to other districts; and maintains a data system of student assessment for the teachers.

One of the core objectives of the Virtual Global School, McCall says, is to provide all students with an engaging teacher-facilitated learning experience and prepare them for postsecondary education or the workforce.

More information about the Florida Virtual Global School can be found at

Study Examines Why Teachers Quit and What Can Be Done

The retirement of thousands of baby boomer teachers and the departure of their much younger counterparts fueled by the stress of working in low-performing schools forced superintendents and recruiters across the nation to scramble to fill teaching positions for the fall term through summer's end.

A recent study by the Center for Teacher Quality at California State University was conducted to address the very reason why so many teachers leave. The study is available online at

Researchers interviewed teachers not only who had quit or were thinking about switching schools but also who were happy with their jobs.

"The problem is not mainly with retirement," says Thomas G. Carroll, president of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future. "Our teacher preparation system can accommodate the retirement rate. The problem is that our schools are like a bucket with holes in the bottom, and we keep pouring in teachers."

Ken Futernick, director of K12 studies at the Center for Teacher Quality, concedes that the teachers' responses are not representative of all teachers nationwide, but he maintains nonetheless that the findings are helpful in addressing the national problem of teacher turnover.

Futernick says one of the key findings of the study is that critical problems in the teaching and learning environment are a driving force behind the decision of many teachers to leave. Teachers interviewed expressed concerns over lack of time for planning or professional development, bureaucratic impediments such as classroom interruptions, unnecessary meetings, and too little say over how their schools are run.