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Nutrition Advocates to Schools: Shape Up

Soda is out, but students are exercising less. Junk food is being scrutinized, but recess is still iffy. Childhood obesity rates are climbing and schools, say advocates, must monitor what calories students are taking in and burning up.

Several new reports, a major announcement by the country's largest cola companies and a bold move by a New England state have put school nutrition issues back in the spotlight.

In May, the nation's largest beverage distributors agreed to halt the sale of soda in school vending machines and cafeterias. At the same time, Connecticut took it one step further and became the first state in the nation to ban the sale of soda, diet soda and sports drinks in all of its K-12 schools.

But some new reports say schools still have much work to do making sure students are staying in shape.

Shape of the Nation by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education and Calories In, Calories Out: Food and Exercise in Public Elementary Schools found that students still have access to junk food and are not getting enough time for physical education during the school day.

" We need to keep upping the ante here. Doing one or two things is not the answer." -Robert H. Eckel, president, American Heart Association

"Even though a majority of states mandate physical education, most do not require specific amounts of instruction time and about half allow exemptions, waivers and/or substitutions,'' according to Shape

of the Nation.

The Calories In, Calories Out report, by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, found that while nearly all public elementary schools reported that they scheduled physical education, only 17 percent to 22 percent actually provided daily classes. The report also found 15 percent of public elementary schools sold candy and 5 percent sold snack food in vending machines.

American Heart Association President Robert H. Eckel, says while schools have made progress, there's more to do. "We need to keep upping the ante here.'' The AHA and NASPE are calling for mandatory physical education for all students.

-Fran Silverman

Hope for Low-Performing High Schools

A new report from MDRC, a non-profit social policy research group, acknowledges that reforms for low-performing high schools only really gel with district support.

"There's frequently turnover at the top, new administrators having their own ideas of what to do and not giving promising initiatives enough time to work," says report author Janet Quint, an MDRC senior associate. "These changes are more likely both to be implemented and to stick when there is a strong district commitment that's sustained over time."

Meeting Five Critical Challenges of High School Reform: Lessons from Research on Three Reform Models analyzes three programs used in more than 2,500 high schools nationwide.

Researchers tracked Career Academies; First Things First; and Talent Development, breaking down the effectiveness of the initiatives into five areas that challenge high schools.

The key finding: structural changes and instructional improvement must be present for schools to improve. Some districts have so much ground to cover they require start-to-finish models. Others seek just a few solutions. This report can help both.

Other observations:

Small learning communities and faculty advisory systems can increase students' feelings of connectedness to their teachers;

Particularly when used together, extended class periods, special catch-up courses, high-quality curricula, training on these curricula, and efforts to create professional learning communities can improve student achievement;

School-employer partnerships involving career awareness activities and work internships can help students attain higher earnings after high school;

Students who enter ninth grade facing substantial deficits can make progress if initiatives single them out for special support, whether through caring teachers or courses designed to help students acquire content knowledge and skills they missed.

-Caryn Fleigler

Omaha Waits for Answers

Omaha Public Schools is in a holding pattern now. What started last summer as the school board's attempt to enforce an old law has turned into a new law, a new lawsuit and claims of racial segregation.

"As far as the Omaha Public Schools are concerned, we want equal education for all students," says Alicia Peters, a district spokeswoman. "The plan is not to segregate and not to divide the district."

Last summer, the district's Board of Education voted to enforce an old law called One City, One School District, which would have brought 15 additional schools in two districts in Omaha into the Omaha Public Schools. Some have accused the board of trying to boost test scores, as the district has struggled with lagging test scores and more low-income and ELL students.

Gov. Dave Heineman spoke out against the plan and called for superintendents and board members of affected districts to talk.

With an impasse, the state legislature passed a comprehensive bill that would create a so-called Learning Community of 11 districts, including those in the larger metropolitan area. It would establish a super board with members divvying up the common levy and tax revenue, according to Ashley Cradduck, a spokeswoman for the governor's office. And it would provide transportation to students who opt to attend school outside their home district. It's to take effect in 2008-09 school year.

But an amendment in the law, proposed by Sen. Ernie Chambers, Nebraska's only black legislator, would dissolve the district into smaller districts along geographic boundaries, which would create a purportedly mostly black, mostly white and mostly Hispanic district in the north, south and central areas of Omaha.

The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People filed a lawsuit against the governor and state officials in May in part arguing the law intentionally segregates students by race.

1-1 Laptops Hit South Dakota

In 20 South Dakota school districts, the state's Classroom Connections project will provide incentive money to initiate a one-to-one Gateway tablet PC laptop program for high school students.

It is part of Gov. Michael Rounds 2010 Education Initiative, using technology funds by Citibank. The tablet PC gives student the option of using a full-sized keyboard or a digital pen for handwriting notes directly on the display.

High Quality Mentoring

New York City is serious about keeping its new teachers. In 2004, the State of New York Board of Regents modified its teacher certification requirement so that all new teachers with less than a year of teaching experience in the state must receive quality mentoring. It shifted from the historical buddy system to new high quality programs using best practice in new teacher development.

It cost $36 million to adopt the new teacher induction model developed by the New Teacher Center at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

The lessons learned in the first year, according to the report, Understanding New York City's Groundbreaking Induction Initiative: Policy Implications for Local, State and National Educational Leaders, include:

Build political will for reforming induction systems, such as requiring districts to review new teacher attrition rates and use research-based methods to assess costs of teacher turnover.

Ensure all mentoring programs develop and maintain a high quality selection process, including a rigorous selection criteria with accompanying rubrics and having a selection committee of experienced instructional leaders.

Identify and support successful program standards, such as allowing mentors to be released full-time from teaching.

Align mentoring and induction with district programs related to teacher development, including allowing staff working with new teachers to share information and learn from one another.

Address systemic and infrastructure issues that impact new teachers, such as ensuring that data systems can identify new teachers based on criteria and definitions.

Build on mentor skills, knowledge and experience, such as through professional development to establish consistency.

Math Panel To Recommend Best Research

Within a year-and-a-half, a final report will be issued to the president and

education secretary recommending the best use of scientifically based research

to improve the teaching and learning of math in American K-12 schools.

Upon President Bush's order this past spring, the newly created National Mathematics Advisory Panel will issue two reports containing policy recommendations on how to improve math achievement for all students, with the final report issued no later than February of 2008.

The 17 expert panelists and six ex-officio members on the panel will in part address the critical skills needed to learn algebra and prepare for more advanced courses; the processes by which students of various abilities

learn math; and how the training and placement of math teachers affect student achievement.

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