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The Vanishing Male Teacher

If current rates of decline aren't reversed, male teachers could be extinct within 30 years, based on extrapolated NEA statistics.

For the last 20 years, males have rejected the teaching profession and now represent a mere 21 percent of teachers, the lowest rate since the NEA starting recording gender statistics in 1961.

Melinda Anderson, NEA spokeswoman, says there are several reasons behind the downturn. Gender stereotypes deter young men from teaching, particularly at the elementary level. "Most [male teachers] are clustered in middle and high schools where they're more apt to be [more] knowledgeable about math and football--not wiping noses and nurturing," explains Anderson.

Money is another factor behind the decline. Mildred Hudson, CEO of Recruiting New Teachers, says, "Educators' salaries aren't competitive with other professions. Men want to take care of families and it's very difficult to do so on a teacher's salary." Anderson adds that men don't link power and prestige with the teaching profession. The final factor is the changing nature of the profession. New testing and curriculum demands make teaching more challenging.

The NEA's "grow your own" recruitment programs address the situation. This undertaking targets male middle and high school students through mentoring, shadowing, Future Teacher of America clubs, and other outreach efforts. For example, the California Teachers Association sponsors T.E.A.M. (Teacher Education at Miller). A.B. Miller High School in Fontana, Calif., is a teaching career academy incorporated into the traditional curriculum. Hudson says it's important to introduce males to teaching as a career choice before they graduate high school because they are more open-minded about career options when they are younger.

A true solution is multi-faceted, says Hudson. She recommends that districts seek connections with major national organizations that encourage males to enter teaching. For example, Troops-to-Teachers targets exiting military personnel and provides up to $5,000 to help participants obtain certification. Districts can also reach out to church and community groups and educate men about the role they can play in the schools. Finally, districts can find potential male teachers right under their noses, for example para-educators, and encourage them to enter teaching.

--Lisa Fratt

Colorado Law to Assist Low-income Families

Colorado is the first state to put in-state public tuition money directly in the hands of students, circumventing tax limitations. Gov. Bill Owens signed the college tuition voucher bill, which goes in effect this fall. The voucher is for $2,400 for each student, more than half the average of in-state tuition for a public university, which is $3,421. While some believe the voucher will encourage low-income students to attend college, others believe the opposite will happen. Henry Levin, director of the National Center for the Study of Privatization in Education, says colleges would probably raise tuition in response to the law. However the governor and legislature have control over tuition increases.

Young Minds Need P-H-O-N-I-C-S

A phonics-based approach to instructing reading not only improves student performance, but changes the brain's physiology to make better readers, according to a recent study by Yale University researchers.

Their findings were published in the May edition of the journal Biological Psychiatry. The researchers used magnetic resonance imaging to study the effects of a year-long phonics-based reading intervention on brain organization and reading fluency in 77 children, 49 of whom were reading disabled, between age 6 and 9.

The children were divided into three groups: one that received intensive phonemic instruction, one that received regular remedial help, and one that had ordinary classroom instruction.

With "strong, comprehensive, direct and systematic" teaching, poorly performing students improved drastically and were found to be less likely to have future reading difficulties, says G. Reid Lyon, chief of child development and behavior at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The children's brain scans showed increased activity in the area that controls language recognition, the study says. Results for other children show little change.

"Our results indicate that the neural systems for reading are malleable and highly responsive to effective reading instruction," says Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a professor at the Yale University School of Medicine and a principal investigator in the study. "These results have promising implications for those with reading difficulties."

Lyon says the findings could change the way reading is taught. About 20 years ago, U.S. educators dropped a poorly implemented phonics initiative for the "whole language" approach to reading. "In order to learn to read kids have to decode words into sounds," says Lyon, a co-author of the study.

A phonetic approach would marry sound and sense to give children several different reading strategies. Phonics would be coupled with a rigorous study of vocabulary. The thought process now, Lyon says, is that if you read to children enough times they will "get it." "Typically teachers have been trained to ignore sounds and letter components because phonics got a bad name," he says.

"Providing effective reading instruction not only improves reading, but also changes the brain so that neural systems for reading are comparable to those of good readers," Shaywitz adds. "Teaching matters and can change the brain." View related information below

--Steven Scarpa

High-stakes Testing: Not So Bad

That low clamor you might be hearing is the rumble of a thousand opponents of high-stakes testing criticizing a new study that says high school exit exams don't lower graduation rates.

Jay Greene, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research, looked at data from 1991 to 2001 in 18 states with exit exams. He concluded "that adopting a high school exit exam has no effect on high school graduation rates," perhaps because the exams are easy, or because students have multiple chances to take them.

Opponents faulted Greene's methods and conclusion. One complaint: the study stops at 2001 and doesn't consider Massachusetts, where a new exam markedly lowered the graduation rate last year, says Anne Wheelock of the Progress Through the Education Pipeline Project. Others say the study doesn't distinguish between minimum competency tests and more difficult standards-based tests.

Still others want no child to be left behind at graduation.

"If Jay Greene ... can come up with a study that says high stakes exit exams will absolutely not harm a single student, maybe I'll sit up and take notice," says Susan Allison, coordinator of Marylanders Against High Stakes Testing. "Until then, I'll keep fighting to make sure that not a single Maryland student is robbed of his or her diploma because of this disastrous high-stakes testing fad."

--Rebecca Sausner

Fake Degrees Grow

Eleven Georgia teachers were found to have received phony degrees from Saint Regis University in Liberia, a diploma mill that sells college degrees for little to no coursework.

More prospective educators may be turning to diploma mills, says CNN, because the Internet makes it easier for such mills to operate and the No Child Left Behind act makes it difficult to teach without high credentials. Despite the growing number of mills, using a phony degree to get a job or promotion is illegal in only six states, punishable by fines. Offenders rarely face consequences though. "Our goal is to get bogus degrees out of circulation," says Alan Contreras at the Oregon Office of Degree Authorization.

Massachusetts Needs More Aid for Poorest Schools

Massachusetts is not doing enough to provide adequate funding to poor school systems. Suffolk Superior Court Judge Margot Botsford ruled in April the state needs to reconsider the way it funds public schools. Botsford recommended establishing free preschool, constructing new buildings, deciding how much money special needs students require, and creating stronger leadership within poorer systems.

For 26 years, school systems in Massachusetts have fought for more funding. During the past decade, public schools have seen improvement with 12 percent annual increases. However, due to recent budget cuts, funding has dropped 4.5 percent in the last year, making it difficult for poor school districts to properly educate needier students.

Certification in Texas Gets Easier

College graduates in Texas who want to teach grades 8-12 now have the option of taking two tests, rather than completing education courses. The first test, a TExES content exam, proves the graduate is an expert in his or her field, and the second exam, a TExES PPR exam, proves the graduate knows how to teach.

And a program called TExES Master PPR 4-12, written by Texas education professors, has a 99 percent success rate in helping graduates pass the PPR exam, according to Passing the two exams does not give graduates certification though. Once they pass, the State Board for Educator Certification suggests 80 hours of training before school opens and 300 hours of training over two years.

Pros and Cons Of Kerry's Education Plan

Using details and putting public money where his mouth is, Sen. John Kerry, Democratic presidential candidate, recently mapped out his plan to boost K-12 education.

Calling it the "New Bargain for America's Children and Teachers," Kerry's five-page plan explains how 500,000 teachers can be recruited and retained in the next four years.

Among his ideas: Increased pay of up to $5,000 for teachers in high-need districts or in short supply areas, like math and science; mentoring programs that link new teachers to someone who has overcome similar challenges; and helping parents get more involved in schools by using technology to set up teacher voicemail and post homework assignments on the Web. The plan also calls for rigorous testing for all new teachers and will reward teachers for excellence, including pay based on student achievement strides.

Kerry plans to pay for the program's $30 billion over 10 years through his Education Trust Fund--a $200 billion commitment to education that would be financed by repealing Pres. George Bush's tax cuts for families making more than $200,000.

Representatives of the nation's two biggest educator advocate groups, American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association, applaud Kerry for his focus on teachers. But they do find holes in the proposal.

"It is by far the most comprehensive teacher quality proposal that any candidate has ever proposed," says Dan Kaufman, a spokesman for NEA, which has 2.7 million members. "It's a clear signal that he is taking education as an important priority if he were elected president."

But Kaufman and AFT spokesman Alex Wohl point out some snags, including that teacher awards up to $5,000 should not be limited to math and science teachers, but ESL and special education teachers.

As for the pay-for-performance idea, Kaufman says the NEA is "officially opposed" to merit pay for teachers.

"We think it should be voluntary and fair across the board. We'd be willing to look at something if ... it did look more at the whole student and the progress of that student" and not just standardized test scores, he says.

Kaufman points out that salaries are important to teachers, but they are not the "end all be all." According to a survey last year of teachers nationwide, the most important reasons teachers would not stay in a school would be poor working conditions and relationships with parents, he says.

--Angela Pascopella

Megaconference Jr. = Mega Success

It was "truly chicken skin," rave Lynne Sueoka's students at Hawaii's Moanalua High School. Sueoka's cybernauts awoke at 1 a.m. on May 6 and later felt goose bumps of excitement when they took part in Megaconference Jr., the first Web-based videoconference for K-12 students. Pupils at 125 schools from around the globe, including Iran, Turkey and China, joined the event. Megaconference Jr. emulates Megaconference, the colossal Web-based videoconference for the higher education and research communities.

Kim Breuninger, instructional technology specialist at Chester County Intermediate Unit, says the goals of the conference include locating Internet2 schools, increasing understanding of videoconferencing and high-speed networks and fostering discussion and cultural awareness. "Without a doubt, this impacted students," Breuninger says. "It's really a way for them to connect."

Student teams played organizational roles by updating the Megaconference Jr. Web site, coordinating video streaming, and troubleshooting technical requirements. During the event, students at 42 schools took center stage and shared video performances, such as reciting poems, giving musical performances, and singing multicultural songs. The impact was immediate with students exchanging e-mails and planning for the next Megaconference. Moanalua High School students even posted an online conference album by day's end.

--Lisa Fratt

U.S. Tech Availability Stellar, Despite Reports

The United States is not doing so badly in the world of technology in schools.

Unlike a previous report in the recent Technology Counts 2004 survey by Education Week, which compared countries around the globe on the availability of educational technology, and reported that only 39 percent of U.S. schools were connected to the Internet, the numbers are nearly 100 percent.

"We have connected 99 percent of our schools to the Internet and 92 percent of our classrooms to the Internet," says Susan Patrick, the new director of the Office of Educational Technology in the U.S. Department of Education. Patrick gets the figure from an annual study conducted by National Center for Education Statistics that has measured the educational Internet connections since 1994, with the latest data available from 2002. The 39 percent comes from statistics that were about four years old. In fact, all of the global comparative data in the Education Week report comes from the same 2000 student survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"I'm sure there has been growth since then, but it is interesting to compare to the other countries; that's the only other data we had across the other countries," says Education Week researcher Jennifer Park.

But there are valuable lessons for U.S. educators in the case studies and examples found in the globetrotting reportage to support the study.

"I think there are some very interesting lessons across the globe in terms of using the technology for professional development, also using technology for areas they have a hard time finding teachers that are qualified to teach," Patrick says.

Perhaps the most alarming reliable statistic in the study was taken from the market research firm Market Data Retrieval, which found that technology spending in U.S. schools dropped more than 24 percent between the 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 school years. Observers attribute this downward trend to both a poor national economy and the resources drained by compliance with No Child Left Behind requirements.

"In many countries technology initiatives are national priorities," says Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education. "I think what's happened in the U.S. is we have seen at least a diffusion of that priority, and at worst a backing off, in ensuring that our human capital is able to use digital tools."

Of course all numbers are open to interpretation, based on political agenda. "We spend more per pupil as a nation than any other nation except Switzerland," Patrick says. "And the federal percentage of technology spending has continued to increase, while state and local spending has decreased. That's a trend we're concerned about."

--Rebecca Sausner

Experts Disagree On How to Narrow Education Gap

Closing the education gap is not as simple as The Education Trust, a national advocacy group, says it is. Experts disagree on the most effective solution, according to The Hartford Courant.

To close the education gap the issue "has to be approached more broadly at the community level, the state level and the federal level," says Paul E. Barton of Educational Testing Service. Many factors outside of school prevent Latino and black students from reaching the desired level of education, which include low birth weight, lead poisoning resulting from poverty, and too much television.

While Kati Haycock, The Education Trust director, agrees community issues make it more difficult, she says, "good teaching can overcome these difficulties".

Does a GPA Rise Really Reflect Better Learning?

High school students have been receiving increasingly better grades, but according to the Associated Press, it could be the result of inflated marks due to added pressure on teachers and students to produce top-notch results.

Although more students are taking challenging math and science courses, according to a sample done by the U.S. Department of Education, a federal test for high school seniors showed math and science scores beginning to decline in 2000.

The rise in GPA is not consistent with gains in SAT and ACT scores either. As a result, colleges have been placing less emphasis on GPA.

Helping Minority Students After Brown vs. Board of Ed

It's 50 years after the Supreme Court's landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision and not enough has changed for minority students in this country, educators say.

There are still wide disparities in educational opportunities for African-Americans. Minorities often remain segregated in schools because of socio-economic issues, such as affordable housing and parental income levels. They still don't have the same access as white students to educational funding, college preparatory classes, and high-performing teachers, educators say.

By the time they reach eighth grade, minority students nationally are about three years behind other students. Senior high school African-American and Latino students demonstrate skills in reading and math similar to those of 13-year-old whites, according to Education Watch.

"Minority students are still separate and unequal on many dimensions,'' says Gary Orfield, co-director of the Civil Rights Project at Harvard University.

Integration is at a lower level in schools than in the mid-1970s, according to the project. Schools must focus on bringing equal educational opportunities to minority students no matter what school they attend, many educators advocate.

"People who are able to shop for a good public education can assure themselves they will give their children access to quality,'' said Sharon Robinson, president of the ETS Policy Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C. "Others have to make sure the system has to do for the students regardless."

That means states and the federal government have to start backing up their educational regulations that seek to eliminate achievement gaps, like the No Child Left Behind act or high school exit exams, with sufficient funding, she says.

Schools that have poured resources and dollars into education have seen vast improvements in educational achievement among minority students, says Kati Haycock, director of The Education Trust, which released a 50-state summary of minority student achievement in May.

"What schools do matters big time; what states do matters big time,'' says Haycock. "In the places where we are working on closing opportunity gaps instead of widening them, the kids nobody believed could learn achieve at high levels."

Studies show that:

African-American and Hispanic students attend elementary schools in which two-thirds of their classmates are poor, while whites attend schools where fewer than a third of their classmates are poor.

Only 50 percent of all African-American students graduated from high school in 2001 compared to 75 percent of white students.

Teachers in poorer districts do not have the same level of certification as teachers in wealthier districts. In California, about 22 percent of teachers in the poorest districts aren't certified while only 2 percent in the wealthy districts aren't certified.

African-Americans make up 17 percent of public school students, but fewer than 8 percent of teachers.

Wealthy students are twice as likely as poor students to be on college-prep tracks.

--Fran Silverman

Cheaters Rampant

A sample of 504 students ages 12-17 shows more and more students are cheating on tests and homework, according to news reports.

Nearly one-third of students admitted to cheating, while about seven in 10 say people in their school cheat on tests. And only one-third of students say they've talked with their parents about cheating.

Although students say they know cheating will not benefit them in the long run, the poll shows students are more likely to cheat the older they get. About two in 10 students ages 12 to14 admitted to cheating, while about four in 10 students ages 16 and 17 say they've cheated.

College Education Imperative to U.S. Economy

According to an ETS study, the government would need to spend $40 billion more on universal preschool, $52 billion more to get all students up to standards, and over $19 billion more on post-secondary education, all just to adequately prepare students for college.

Jobs requiring a college education have risen from 28 percent to over 60 percent since 1973.

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