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Maryland School Offers First Homeland Security Program

High school students at Harford County Public Schools in Bel Air, Md., will get the nation's first taste in disaster preparedness, high-level computer science and law enforcement over the next few years.

"If you think about the times we live in, they demand a far greater awareness of the whole issue of safety and security when we travel and protect our country," says David Volrath, executive director for the district's secondary education. "Many of these jobs never existed previously. It's not often that you get an opportunity to get a brand new job market that looks like it could be large. ... And there are not too many states that are not affected by security concerns at airports, waterways or borders."

Named Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness Program, it will include such classes as Third World foreign languages including Arabic, criminal justice, and biological science as opposed to just random electives, and the core classes that will complement the program.

Roughly 50 ninth graders at Joppatowne High School interested in the program will start by taking such classes as geospatial technologies and computer viral technologies.

The program itself will then start next fall, in 2007, for 10th graders, and homeland security sciences will emerge in 2008 for accelerated students across the county. The classes will give them a head start when they get to college for pursuing careers.

The program came about in part when the district partnered several years ago with law enforcement and emergency medical services-type programs to develop student interest in such careers, Volrath explains. And given the country's BRAC program, or Base Realignment and Closure, where military communities undergo shifts, thousands of research jobs were moved to nearby Aberdeen Proving Ground. The community will also have an AntiTerrorist Training School. All of this means a huge job market related to homeland security, which students can flock to when they finish college.

The district partnered with homeland security private industries sector and the military sector to create the educational program. Grants came from the Maryland Emergency Medical Agency and through FEMA to train teachers, send them to seminars and develop curriculum.

Facing the Unexpected

When it comes to IT disaster potential, administrators must know how technology investments can be protected. The Consortium for School Networking recently released a professional development module for education technology leaders, called Crisis Preparedness: Leadership for IT Disaster Recovery. It's the latest track in CoSN's Essential Leadership Skills professional development series. It includes information on different crises school districts might face, tips on how districts can determine risk, and step-by-step instructions to assist districts in developing their own information technology disaster plans.

Public Education Gets Support

In this century, as vouchers for private school get more play, evolution in science class grows even more controversial, and book banning remains, the need to support public education grows fiercer, according to M. Donald Thomas.

Thomas, former superintendent of the Salt Lake City school district and former deputy superintendent for public accountability for South Carolina, has created Public Education Support Group. It's comprised of educational leaders aimed to support true public education.

"Superintendents these days have to make difficult decisions," says Thomas, who has had the idea to start the group for awhile. "There are a lot of conflicts when trying to do the right thing, but they are getting criticism from highly conservative groups."

The group will write letters to newspaper editors nationwide, appear at conferences, and speak at community groups in hopes to convince educators that public education is "the most vital service in a democratic society."

" If you privatize public education, you end up with two systems-one for the poor and one for the rich."
-M. Donald Thomas

Thomas, who is the executive director, claims that vouchers for schools attempt to privatize public education and squeeze out poor people, who are unable to pay the difference for private schools. "If you privatize public education, you end up with two systems-one for the poor and one for the rich," Thomas says.

The Heritage Foundation, which supports school choice and accountability, disagrees, saying parents and children would benefit from choice. "We believe school choice policies will deliver on the promise of public education; that is, ensuring every child receives access to a high quality education," says Dan Lips, an education analyst who had not yet heard of the new support group. "School choice policies are a new way to deliver public education by giving parents the opportunity to chose from a variety of schools including public, private and charter schools."

New Rules For Texas

New rules are forming in Texas to regulate everything from how districts spend their money to how student test scores must improve every year, according to The Dallas Morning News.

The rules, written by the state's education chief Shirley Neeley and her staff, are part of the state's school finance and education reform legislation recently passed. The rules will cover merit pay for teachers and would empower Neeley to get rid of teachers and administrators in low-performing schools. Legislators claim schools need to start improving, while school officials worry local control will vanish and, thus, contrast with the state's 1995 law that pushed less state regulation.

Neeley says she will seek ideas from the public, school superintendents and education groups before she puts rules in stone.

"There is a feeling among superintendents that the commissioner is getting too much power," says Clayton Downing, director of the Texas School Coalition. "It's not that we don't trust Dr. Neeley, but we don't know who will be commissioner down the road."

Illinois Gets Serious On Leadership

All new Illinois principals will be paired with a mentor for a year as part of new law in the Prairie state that will strengthen the state's system for licensing and supporting new and experienced principals.

IL-SAELP, or Illinois State Action for Education Leadership Project, developed the legislation for an advanced certification system for all principals. Other states have mentoring programs, but if approved next spring, it would be the first to have state funding, says Erika Hunt, project director of the IL-SAELP initiative which was funded by the Wallace Foundation. It already has $800,000 in start-up costs, she notes.

Key provisions are:

The state Board of Education must examine the state's professional development system to identify gaps and improve support for principals;

All principals will be evaluated once a contract period, which is mostly yearly, except Chicago Public Schools, which already has top-notch evaluation of principals;

A statewide program, the third in the nation, will be created for principals to become master principals. It requires a rigorous, performance- and outcome-based professional development program.

And teacher leaders can acquire a Teacher Leader Endorsement recognition to support principals and their teaching peers. It's designed for teachers who want to work harder, get paid better, but don't necessarily want to be a principal.

Virginia's Grad Rate Higher than U.S.

Virginia's students tend to graduate at a better rate than the national graduation rate, but black students are still far below whites, according to the

About 75 percent of Virginia's public school students graduated in four years as of the 2002-03 year, compared to the national figure of 69.6 percent. While nearly 78 percent of Virginia's whites graduated, only 64 percent of black students did.

Japanese Snoozers

As the U.S. tries to impose more testing and work and less play on younger and younger students, Japanese high school students are catching some zzz's at their desks during the school day.

Meizen High School in Fukuoka, Japan last year became the first school in the nation to promote better mental function by officially encouraging all students to take 15-minute naps in classrooms after lunch. Several schools followed and others have said they might also join, according to

Edison Slips

Three Baltimore elementary schools that were taken over by the state and run by Edison Schools Inc. have seen lower test scores this year.

Two elementary schools dropped at least 10 percentage points in most grades and scores for fifth and sixth graders fell sharply, according to

State and company officials say that since Edison began running the schools in 2000?-considered among the worst in the city-student performance has improved.

District Changes Policy Over Same-Sex Class

A 13-year-old scuba diver, firefighter cadet and kung fu student who filed a lawsuit against the Livingston Parish School Board in New Orleans in a first-of-its-kind case over its plans to segregate her middle school by sex won.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the lawsuit in August in federal court for Michelle Selden, who started eighth grade at Southside Junior High School, and her parents, Darren and Rhonda Selden. The district dropped plans to segregate the middle schools by sex only a day after the suit was filed.

It was ACLU's first lawsuit over the issue. Previous cases have been resolved without going to court, says Emily J. Martin, deputy director of the ACLU Women's Rights Project.

The suit contended the program was based on discriminatory stereotypes.

"Psychological research demonstrates that on average, boys and girls are psychologically more alike than different," the suit stated.

Supporters of separate classes argued that boys and girls learn differently, and separating them can help both do better. Critics compared it to "separate but equal" segregation-era classrooms.

Martin says the program at Southside would have been illegal even if federal rules proposed to make it easier for school districts to set up same-sex schools and classes were already in effect. Those rules would require any co-educational public school which offers classes segregated by sex to also offer coed classes for all "non-vocational'' subjects.

The student was in the position of not attending any of the parish's other junior high schools, according to the lawsuit.

But her parents never asked for a transfer, stated school Superintendent Randy Pope. "We will allow transfers between other schools, as we always have, for academic reasons.''

According to the lawsuit and a statement filed by Darren Selden, the family had learned about the plans at a parents' meeting in May.

At that meeting, Principal Alan Joe Murphy said that "the decision to provide only single-sex classes had already been made and that the school board backed this decision,'' Selden wrote.

Selden wrote, "If I had wanted my daughter to go to a single-sex school, I would have sent her to a private school. I believe that if my daughter is forced to attend sex-segregated classes that are taught based on stereotypes about how girls learn, that she may very well be harmed by this discriminatory environment."

Biological Differences?

According to the lawsuit, one expert cited by the school system contended:

"Because of biological differences in the brain, boys need to practice pursuing and killing prey, while girls need to practice taking care of babies. As a result, boys should be permitted to roughhouse during recess and play contact sports, to learn the rules of aggression. Such play is more dangerous for girls, because girls are less biologically able to manage aggression."-Associated Press

Mobility the Key in 2011

Predictions from a national survey of the top 2,500 U.S. school districts show that more than half of all student-computing devices will be mobile by 2011 while online learning will grow at an annual rate of 26 percent until 2011.

America's Digital Schools 2006 study, conducted by The Hayes Connection and The Greaves Group, shows that 87 percent of schools with one-to-one computing claim substantial academic improvement.

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