Students "Talk About" Abusive Teachers
In late 2007 administrator at Westfield High School in Houston, Texas, were notified of a 42-year-old teacher engaging in sexual contact with a student in a barn on campus. The teacher admitted to having an improper relationship, was terminated and jailed. The notification was made through a communications system in a test roll out of a new tool for students to report incidents of inappropriate student-teacher relationships.
Developed by AnComm, the system, called "Talk About It," recently announced the formal roll out of the enhancement, which company reps say make it the nation's first online reporting service that allows students to anonymously report cases of abusive teachers. The tools set it apart from other initiatives districts have launched - such as Internet chat rooms in Aurora (Colo.) Public Schools, covered in the March issue of DA - to provide anonymous forums for reticent students.
School administrators using the service-currently in place at 150 U.S. schools and utilized by more than 150,000 students - say it helps both to bridge the communication gap between students and staff and to eliminate an unwritten "code of silence" that kids often feel prohibits them from speaking out.
Students enter into an anonymous back-and-forth conversation through the system with the adult. Some problems are solved through the electronic messages exchanged; in other cases students become comfortable enough that they agree to meet face-to-face with the adult.
At Brewton City Schools, which in the 2007-2008 academic year became the first district in Alabama to use the system, administrators are confident in Talk About It's ability to support healthy relationships. "Even if a reported case of teacher misconduct is not factual but based on rumor," says Assistant Superintendent Baxter Baker, "it can taint how that person is viewed, and we'd want to address that." Brewton officials plan on incorporating the new tool in the coming months.
The New Fairfield (Conn.) Public School District piloted the new tool in January, and students there have taken such ownership of the system that they are beginning to manage themselves better, district administrators say. "The most important thing is that it lets the students know we trust them to take control of their own environment," says board member Ralph Langham.
But perhaps the most telling evidence of the program's effectiveness can be seen in the growing amount of New Fairfield students that are not even using the system anymore, says Langham, instead opting to go straight to faculty and administrators when potential problems arise.
When Technology Views Clash
Students and educators may agree on the importance of 21st century technologies in preparing youth for the future, but how well they are used in schools is a bone of contention among the groups, according to the recently released Annual Speak Up survey, the largest annual survey of K12 students, teachers, parents and administrators.
According to the online survey, which was conducted by the education nonprofit group Project Tomorrow and collected unfiltered views and ideas from over 367,000 education stakeholders nationwide, 66 percent of administrators, 47 percent of teachers and 43 percent of parents say "local schools are doing a good job preparing students for the jobs and careers of the future," but only 23 percent of students who assessed their technology skills as being "advanced" feel the same.
The majority of students polled also expressed discontent over school policies that they say prohibit them from using technology, with almost 50 percent indicating that tools meant to protect them, such as firewalls and filters, are inhibiting their learning. For more of the findings go to www.tomorrow.org.