Colorado: Vouchers Start Next Year
About 4,000 Colorado students in the state's neediest districts will be eligible for school vouchers next year under legislation signed by Gov. Bill Owens in April. The voucher legislation is the first to be passed by a state since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that vouchers were constitutional last June.
When fully implemented, the law will allow for 20,000 students in 11 districts in the state that have low or unsatisfactory performance ratings to use state aid to attend private or parochial schools. High school students will be eligible for 85 percent of the state's per pupil funding, or about $5,000 in voucher funds. Students in grades 1-8 will receive 75 percent, or about $4,300. Kindergarten students are eligible for 37.5 percent, or about $2,200. Voucher advocates say the funding will allow students to attend up to 85 percent of all private and parochial schools in the state.
A 1999 law allowed Florida students to use vouchers for private schools, but a judge ruled it violates the Florida Constitution. The ruling has been appealed. The cities of Milwaukee and Cleveland have voucher programs as well.
"In Colorado, we no longer focus on what is best for the system, we focus on what is best for the individual children,'' Owens says.
Voucher advocates say many states will soon follow Colorado's lead, especially since the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Cleveland's law.
"Voucher's aren't an alternative to public education, just an expansion,'' says Lisa Keegan, CEO of the Education Leaders Council, a school choice advocacy group.
Voucher opponents say despite the U.S. Supreme Court decision, many states have constitutions that still prohibit the legislation. Colorado's new law will soon by challenged by the Colorado Education Association, which represents 36,000 K-12 educators, and other groups including People for the American Way. CEA spokeswoman Deborah Fallin says the law violates the state constitution's prohibition on state funding of religious or private schools. "We think public dollars should be used for public schools. Private schools are not accountable to taxpayers,'' Fallin says.
The state already has a strong public-to-public school choice system in place to provide parents with alternatives, Fallin says.
Voucher opponents say the U.S. Supreme Court's Cleveland ruling was very narrow in scope. They say many states that want to pass school choice laws based on the ruling will risk violating their state constitutions. About three dozen states have constitutions banning the transfer of public money to religious schools, educators say.
About 15 states are considering choice legislation this year.
Dallas Schools to Hire its Own Police
Dallas students will have their own police patrols after having Dallas Police Department officers.
The district will turn the 150-person security force into a commissioned department where officers will be trained to work with students and know the state education code. It also increases the security department by about 60 people. Superintendent Mike Moses said the new force will help improve the department's professionalism, while making commissioned officers accountable to Dallas Independent School District. DISD's current security force costs about $7 million a year, but that will increase by $1.5 million after the transition. The transition will cost about $1.5 million over five years and includes money for patrol cars and salaries for extra officers.
Allegations that Education Secretary Roderick Paige made inappropriate comments about religion and schools recently led lawmakers and civil libertarians and education groups to call for an apology or resignation.
But after careful review of Paige's comments and what was reported, it turns out Paige was misquoted, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Paige had given an interview to the Baptist Press in March, discussing his faith and vision for public schools. "The published article contained many significant inaccuracies and altered quotes," says Dan Langan, a department spokesman. On April 18, the Baptist Press printed a retraction and apology.
Paige was misquoted when he responded to the question: "Given the choice between private and Christian or private and public universities, who do you think has the best deal?"
According to the transcript, Paige said, "...I would prefer to have a child in a school where there's a strong appreciation for values, the kind of values that I think are associated with the Christian communities, so that this child can be brought up in an environment that teaches them to have strong faith and to understand that there is a force greater than them personally."
Houston Shares Its Secrets
Bewildered by the lack of viable strategies for closing the gap between minority students and their white counterparts? Join the club.
Fortunately, there is an alternative. Take the Houston Independent School District, where the Beating the Odds III study, released in March by the Council of Great City Schools, showed that minority students are narrowing the achievement gap.
But at least one expert says that Houston's and the state of Texas' apparent success does not take into account student dropouts. William Bainbrdige, chief executive officer of SchoolMatch, a Columbus-based educational auditing, research and data firm, says that some students were "encouraged to leave by school officials who do no want them bringing down scores."
Houston's Chief Academic Officer Robert Stockwell states he was unaware of the report and declined comment.
Even so, the district's performance is enviable. In 2002, about 90 percent of African-American and Hispanic fourth- and tenth-graders passed the reading and math portions of TAAS, a significant increase from 1994 rates that were as low as 38 percent. The formula for success is simple, says Stockwell.
"There's a trap of thinking you need to do something secret for minority students," Stockwell explains. "If you want them to do well, start with clear expectations and teach."
Step one--accountability. The state of Texas rates schools based on standardized test scores. That means if overall scores are high but Hispanic student scores aren't, the district will be rated in a lower category. Consequently, Houston focused on minorities early in the accountability game.
Next is a curriculum that is aligned to TAAS and Stanford tests. The standardized curriculum means high-mobility students receive consistent instruction across the district.
Step three--intervention. The district rates its schools according to standardized test scores and periodic benchmark testing and intervenes in low performing schools. Each school develops an improvement plan, which may include additional instructional time or staff development. The statistics reveal the power of intervention; the district started its intervention program in 1995 and identified 35 schools as low performing. The next year that figure plummeted to nine.
Other tools include a student-based allocation system that gives principals greater control over budget and staffing, a data disaggregation program that helps teachers pinpoint student needs, and a promotion standards policy. "We've made progress," Stockwell says, "but we still have a long way to go."
TIMSS: Math Classrooms in Action
More conceptual lessons, less review time. Gleaned from a new video study of methods for teaching eighth-grade math, the suggestion above could potentially cause a teachers' mutiny. If students aren't absorbing a concept, shouldn't they review it before moving on and potentially lagging behind?
The report, Teaching Mathematics in Seven Countries: Results from the Third International Mathematics and Science 1999 Video Study, found U.S. teachers used a lot of time for review. In five other high-achieving countries tracked by the study, teachers make connections among facts, procedures and concepts when introducing new content--so students need less review.
The study summarizes thousands of hours of videotape from schools in the U.S. and six countries that outperformed the U.S. on an earlier TIMSS math assessment.
In Japan, private classroom work time often involves students inventing ways to solve problems before they are taught a standard written procedure. "The intent is not to practice something they already know how to do, but to try to modify or adjust what they know to fit this new situation," says Jim Hiebert, director of the math portion of the video study and a University of Delaware professor of education.
Hiebert says what surprised him most was "the extent of variation among high achieving countries in how they teach mathematics." However, he cautions against assuming almost any kind of teaching will work.
On the other hand, administrators shouldn't interpret the results too literally. He warns not to mistakenly assume that the kind of instruction in these countries caused high achievement, he says. Instead, the characteristics of teaching in other countries may indicate what contributes to high achievement.
When introducing the study to teachers, Hiebert suggests they think about their own practices. "Often teachers ... think that the way they're teaching is the only way to do it, the only way you could and should," he says. The videos (available for purchase at www.lessonlab.com) can serve as a mirror of teachers' practices and perhaps broaden their own repertoire of teaching strategies. To learn more about applying research from the study, educators can enroll in a LessonLab online professional development course sponsored by the Intel Foundation.
Future video study reports will focus on eighth-grade science teaching and a comparison of U.S. math teaching in 1995 and 1999.
Lesbian Can Establish Club in Texas
A Houston school district has settled a federal lawsuit with a 17-year-old student who wanted to set up a gay acceptance club at her high school, according to CNN.com.
Marla Dukler, a Klein Independent School District student, and 16 classmates applied to establish a gay-straight club last fall, but district officials wouldn't answer. So Dukler sued the district. Due to a 1984 federal Equal Access Act, she has a right to form a non-curriculum club in a school that receives federal funds. The settlement allows the establishment and protects a district policy that requires written parental permission for participating students.
Dukler, who says she has been taunted at school for being a lesbian, hopes the club will expand students' minds. "By educating the students and faculty, it will be a lot easier for me to walk the hallways," Dukler says.
Immersion At School
Immersing children in technology in school as much as they are immersed at home is one key to expand educational opportunities for students, parents and the school community.
Educators gathered in Washington for a one-day conference in March to brainstorm on how mobile technology can expand opportunities.
Intel Corp., which sponsored the session, invited 10 educators and national leaders to present ideas. The conference included discussions on how wireless technology can be used to improve education; use of notebooks and handheld devices; computer use in field research; and barriers that schools face in obtaining and using advanced technology efficiently.
It was planned in conjunction with the introduction of Intel's "Centrino" mobile technology which will integrate wireless capability to the newest generation of mobile PCs.
John Bailey, director of educational technology for the U.S. Department of Education, said participants focused on integrating state-of-the-art technology into students' daily educational environments. Students "are just growing up immersed in technology. ... It's just part of their lives. They are e-mailing, ripping CDs, listening to music online. But when they go into schools, it's devoid of all that," Bailey says. "We talked about how to keep kids engaged in that way."
Students using computers have been tethered to a desk in class or a computer lab. Mobile technology will allow students to access computer information anywhere and any time, educators stated.
"Amazing things can happen when you untether those resources," Bailey said. "You're given a whole lot more flexibility as a result of having mobile technology."
Obstacles to school usage of mobile technology include
Ensuring protection of equipment from damage or larceny
Connecting devices to school networks and infrastructure
Special Ed Law: The Latest
An updated version of the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act increases federal spending up to 20 percent, includes early intervention for students with learning problems, aims to better identify disabled students and reduces paperwork for teachers.
In late April, the House of Representatives approved the bill, the latest update of the 1975 law. U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle, R-Delaware, who chairs the House Education Reform Committee and sponsored the bill, aims to ensure that children with special needs be "guaranteed an appropriate education," says Jonathan Dean, Castle's spokesman. "The goal is to improve education results for these special needs children," Dean says.
The Senate was to unveil a bipartisan bill by Memorial Day.
The House bill would also allow school leaders to expel disabled students if they violate the school's code of conduct. School administrators would no longer be obligated to determine if the misbehavior was connected to a student's disability.
Such provisions have some children advocate organizations upset. Lynda Van Kuren, spokeswoman for the Council for Exceptional Children, says the bill doesn't mandate full federal funding of 40 percent, which was in the original law but never materialized, and it hurts rights of students, particularly those who need more understanding and patience.
"It stripped most of the civil rights protections for most of the children with disabilities, which could create a nightmare" for parents and children, Van Kuren says. Some children with disabilities might not know how to read and if they are asked to read out loud in class they might "act out," she says. They could be pulled out of the classroom and the student doesn't have to read out loud. "The child doesn't learn how to behave better and we are no closer to our goal to have a citizen who fits into our society," Van Kuren says. "It's usually not the model student who is expelled or suspended," she adds. "And those kids need more help and you're putting them out on the street essentially. ... We need to look at the long-term."
Web Site Crosses the Line
Parents and school administrators in Southern California were successful in closing an allegedly hurtful Web site, saying its information was harmful to children.
On schoolscandals.com, a Shout Box included profanities and disparaging remarks against certain students and their parents. The site featured links for chat rooms for about nearly 100 Southern California middle and high schools, particularly in the San Fernando Valley.
Chat room messages called students "retard," "whores" or one, a "homosexual with a pigeon-like face and penguin-like body."
Before the site shut down, principals at Las Virgenes Unified School District had previously ordered a block against the site on all campus computers.
Ken Tennen, an attorney for the Web site owners, had stated before the site shut down that it did not violate any law and was a non-profit, opinion-based, student-run bulletin board system.
According to a 1996 law, only those sites that hold the right to create and edit material on their sites can be held liable for content, stated Mark Radcliffe, a cyberspace and new media law attorney.
Education Trust Fund Proposed
Washington Gov. Gary Locke proposed a new trust fund for education, but left out the details.
Locke and Democratic leaders in the House and Senate proposed creating a dedicated fund, including at least $100 million, that would funnel millions of dollars to programs ranging from preschool to financial aid for college.
As other states struggle in an economic downturn, the state legislature considers cuts to deal with a budget deficit potentially up to $2.6 billion.