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Maine Technology Program Gets a Boost

Thanks to a $400-plus million software donation to Maine schools, students there can graduate with four to eight years of experience in precision manufacturing software tools, helping them conquer the learning curve of some entry-level manufacturing jobs.

Attracted to the state because of the Maine Learning Technology Initiative (which includes providing laptops to all middle school students), Plano, Tex.-based EDS is providing its Product Life-cycle Management software tools to all middle and high schools, as well as to the state's technical college and state university systems. The software addresses the creation, design, manufacture and processing of semiconductors and other products. Of the more than 24,000 manufacturers who use PLM software, at least 400 are in Maine.

"[Maine] is willing to invest in students," says Hulas King, director of EDS' academic partnership program, which also has Alabama and Missouri K-16 initiatives in the works. Besides monitoring student success under the state's technology initiative, EDS checked with manufacturers and got a thumbs-up for its gift idea.

The first orientation sessions for teacher trainers were in January. "These products are as robust as you can get in the whole product lifecycle spectrum," says Tony Sprague, MLTI's project manager. "We want to make sure everybody can use them." By fall, most schools will start using the program.

The lab-based software will be incorporated in appropriate classes on desktop computers, not the iBooks, Sprague says. One vocational arts teacher recently told Sprague how the software would help students with a bridge-designing project he does in conjunction with a physics class. The students build bridges out of Popsicle sticks or other materials. It's a one-shot model leaving no time for experimentation. With the software, he can model potential designs and encourage students to try something new. If a bridge doesn't work structurally (say, a steel beam might snap under certain conditions), students will see that from the get-go.

Besides career exploration, King says the software will help all students in math and science.

As for Maine's laptop program, all seventh graders currently have iBooks; as planned, eighth graders are expected to have them this fall, Sprague says. -Melissa Ezarik

Bully Hotline in Philadelphia

Paul G. Vallas is ready to get tough on violence. The chief executive officer for the Philadelphia school district, he wants all violent acts reported to police and the district. It's part of a revised Code of Student Conduct, whereby even principals will be disciplined, even fired, if they fail to report such acts, according to a recent story in The Philadelphia Inquirer.

A 24-hour "bully hotline" has been activated to report problems and a list of "victims' rights" has been or will be circulated to schools. Students who commit crimes outside of school could also be subject to punishment and sent to disciplinary schools.

When the state took over the district in December, the newly appointed School Reform Commission made reducing violence a top priority.

Charter Success

Some financial woes of the for-profit charter school pioneer Edison Schools gave the industry a bad reputation, but rival National Heritage Academies is succeeding for both its shareholders and its customers-some 17,000 students in 32 schools.

The private company is looking to close its third-straight profitable year in June 2003, and this fall will open five new schools with the same back-to-basics approach that stresses parental involvement and moral development, says Mark DeHaan, senior vice president.

A rigorous assessment of 22 NHA's scores on Michigan's Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) found that the longer a student has been at a NHA school, the more likely he or she is to score well on MEAP. For example, 57 percent of fourth graders who had been at a NHA school for less than two years achieved a "satisfactory" score-the highest category-on the MEAP math test, versus 77 percent who had been at a NHA school for more than two years, and 72 percent for the state of Michigan.

So why is NHA able to succeed in an industry where the one-time leader has struggled so monumentally? NHA opens schools in areas where it receives the same amount of per-student reimbursement dollars as local district schools. The company also only operates K-8 schools and doesn't have the corporate debt load that Edison undertook. "Our growth was regional, slower perhaps. Our investment has always been in real estate rather than in operations," DeHaan says. -Rebecca Sausner,

F's and D's-for Principals

Failing grades are not just for students anymore. About 180 principals in New York City are getting D's and F's based in part on low student academic performance, attendance and test scores. And at least 50 principals will be fired if they fail to improve their school's performance in two or more years on the job, according to Schools Chancellor Joel Klein. Klein recently assigned letter grades to principals, from A to F, as part of a series of reforms, including a nationwide talent search and mentor program as well as bonuses to lure top principals to the worst schools.

Gen Y Grows

Prince George's County Public Schools in Maryland will use a three-year federal grant to start Generation Y technology classes in 10 more districts in a statewide partnership.

Generation Y, which is already in Prince George's County, teaches students to use technology through projects that help teachers integrate technology across the curriculum. Fifty schools will participate in Maryland.

"The collaboration between teachers and students is effective in improving the use of technology in schools by providing time-starved teachers with the ongoing support they need," says Dennis Harper, CEO and founder of Generation YES, and the Generation Y curriculum publisher.

Autism...and Growing

Autism is roughly 10 times more prevalent today as it was in the 1980s, according to a study conducted by researchers from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In 1996, the study in metropolitan Atlanta found that 3.4 in every 1,000 children ages 3 to 10 had mild to severe autism.

In the 1980s, 4 to 5 in every 10,000 children were thought to have it.

The rates would mean that at least 425,000 Americans under age 18 have some form of autism. Many experts say autism is due to an interplay of genes and unknown environmental factors.

Ban on Bible Club Creates Lawsuit

Two Colorado high school students are suing their school because it banned a Bible club, but not a Gay/Straight Alliance and other political and social groups.

The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by televangelist Pat Robertson, filed the suit in U.S. District Court on behalf of the Monarch High School students in Louisville, Colo.

The suit claims the defendants, including Boulder Valley School District, violated the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution and the federal Equal Access Act by prohibiting senior Ashley Thiele to start a Bible club at the school last fall. The suit asks that the club's gatherings be allowed.

Seattle Woes Look Scandalous on Satirical Web $ite

Wacky? The headlines above are just teasers for bigger "stories" on the Internet. And if you don't look closely, you might think you were on the official Seattle Public Schools Web site.

On the site, Bob Valiant, a former Seattle schools administrator, created the satirical Web site "$eattle Public $chools," poking fun at the district and its leaders for alleged incompetency. The site even asks people to visit "our partners"-Enron and WorldCom-and includes a picture of Olchefske behind bars.

Valiant's ammunition was a $34 million budget shortfall, including $22 million from 2001-02 school year and an estimated $12 million this school year. And he says the site should remind people to question if school leaders are acting in the best interests of children. He says the biggest irony is that Olchefske is a former investment banker.

"The idea of public education is really central to our society and our culture, and I think it's being short-changed," says Valiant, father of a first grader who attends parochial school for religious reasons. "I thought I'd try humor as an approach so people would listen. My hope is that people would start questioning what the school board tells us and what district administrators tell us."

He adds that he hopes more people start to attend meetings, write letters and vote for strong leaders.

Olchefske says "imitation is the highest form of flattery." However, Olchefske says the fake stories on the site are "quite hurtful" and untrue.

  • "Seattle School Board declares 100 percent confidence in self"
  • "A message from Superintendent Joseph Olchefske about the budget debacle: From our beloved leader: 'Don't believe the hype, folks. We just gotta make lemon juice outta these lemons.' "
  • "Why milk is bad for kids"
  • "When our financial problems came to light, I took full responsibility for it," Olchefske says. "As a leader, that's my job. I knew in doing that I painted a target on my chest. People are understandably angry. I'm angry."

    An auditor has been hired to piece together what happened, but Olchefske says he discovered in September two major contributing factors: Some revenues, such as $7 million in vocation education, were counted twice; and some costs, such as substitute teachers, were not accounted for. "We've seen dramatic growth in that area" of substitutes, he says.

    So Olchefske had about 170 positions district-wide eliminated, which helped the district recover much of $10 million of the shortfall this year. He says while "we did a very good job of protecting classrooms from cuts", some instructional assistants were laid off. Last year's deficit was funded with reserves, Olchefske says. And he expects that the remaining $2 million deficit will be recovered with other cuts by the end of the school year. "The goal is to finish the year in the black," he says. -Angela Pascopella,,

    Fit in Body = Fit in Mind

    Physical fitness advocates finally have something to hang their hats on: A large-scale analysis released by the California Department of Education confirms that physically fit kids perform better academically.

    The analysis, which included more than one million students in grades five, seven and nine, matched standardized test scores in reading and math with performance on a six-part physical fitness test, according to Debbie Vigil, education consultant in the standards and assessment division.

    The results come as leaders in the corporate, private and educational sectors respond to an alarming phenomena: School children across the country are snacking their way to obesity, Type II diabetes, and related health conditions. Today, there are nearly twice as many overweight children and almost three times as many overweight adolescents as there were in 1980, according to Action for Healthy Kids, which organized the first "Healthy Schools Summit: Taking Action for Nutrition and Fitness," in Washington, D.C., last October.

    Among the summit's speakers was Joyce Bales, superintendent of the 18,000-student Pueblo School District #60 in Colorado. According to Bales, her district has wellness centers in three high schools and three middle schools, where students are treated immediately for headaches or colds; a breakfast program; and fitness initiatives. The programs helped lower suspension rates and increase attendance and student attention in class. "Treat the whole child, and they are ready and able to learn," she says.

    While Bales' district has won awards for health education, gym classes elsewhere are threatened by tight budgets. In Berkeley, Calif., and other places, efforts to introduce healthy fruits and vegetables in school cafeterias have failed. These patterns must change, says Judith Young, executive director of the National Association for Sport and Physical Education, which recently partnered with Coca-Cola to launch Step With It!, a program that challenges middle school students to take at least 10,000 steps a day, such as walking, running, dancing or jumping rope. "The focus on establishing appropriate patterns in early life is important," says Young. "Physical fitness goes hand-in-hand with teaching kids choices for healthy diets." -Jennifer K. Covino

    Ohio Loses $ for Sex Ed

    Ohio schools have lost about $2 million in federal funds that most states use to help fund health education.

    Three years ago, Ohio lawmakers barred the state from taking the money. Lawmakers argued that teaching about condoms and birth-control encouraged sexual activity.

    Now, Senate President Richard Finan, R-Evendale, says his state has lost out on programs for nutrition, heart disease, cancer and diabetes, as well as how to avoid sexually transmitted diseases. Utah is the only other state to turn down such funds.

    Sex Survey Sours Some

    Children as young as 11 are going to be asked if they drank alcohol and children as young as 15 are slated to be asked how old they were when they first had sex in a proposed survey for thousands of Fairfax County students this spring.

    The survey, which also includes questions on oral sex, drug use, suicide and weight loss, is to be given to 10,000 randomly chosen sixth, eighth, 10th and 12th graders in April, but only sophomores and seniors will have sex questions. Results will show if and when Fairfax students engage in risky behavior so education and treatment programs can answer that accordingly.

    But some members of the county Board of Supervisors, which is paying for the survey, want to eliminate the sex questions, saying they could give teens ideas. Others want questions rephrased so they do not imply sexual activity is OK now.

    Want to Volunteer? Fingerprints, Please

    A new law in Massachusetts requires criminal background checks on school volunteers. This comes months after Boston was exposed as the epicenter of the Catholic Church's sexual abuse scandal. The new law requires all volunteers-even parents on a field trip to the zoo-to be screened against names in the state's Criminal Offender Record Information system.

    The new law came about after child abuse reports exploded. "We see what's happened with some of these kids with the clergy," state Rep. Reed V. Hillman was quoted as saying in a recent news story. "Pedophiles are apt to seek out opportunities for intimate contact with children." Hillman, a Sturbridge Republican, pushed for the law.

    The state education department issued guidelines on how the law should be implemented. "If parent volunteers will be in a position to have unsupervised time with children, [the district] will have to conduct a check on them," says state education department spokeswoman Heidi Perlman. "There is not going to be any wiggle room on that."

    Many districts already check for any criminal background on new employees and volunteers; the state provides the checks free to schools. What kinds of offenses preclude volunteering is up to each district, Perlman says. The Worcester district has long screened its employees and volunteers using a guide developed for community colleges. Most felonies, like assault and battery, call for mandatory exclusion, but other offenses may be allowed. "I generally disqualify the person but tell them they can come talk to me," says Anthony Ingrisano, assistant HR director. "Sometimes they can explain it." -Rebecca Sausner

    REPORT: Diversity Awareness Will Pay Off

    A strong relationship with a teacher, counselor or administrator in high school could help students get to college or postsecondary education, says a new report from ACT. But black students are less likely than whites to develop those strong bonds.

    The report suggests the lack of relationships among black children and adults could be one reason why black students are not attending college at the same rate as white peers.

    The report lists three recommendations:

    1. Districts should evaluate school relationship models

    2. Determine student needs, and

    3. Start a program that encourages such relationships in middle school or earlier.

    The district's plan should include cultural, social and economic diversity awareness and training components. School-based and school-sponsored activities should be planned to connect students to adults.

    Educator Before Her Time

    Inabeth Miller of Cambridge, Mass., a pioneer in expanding learning through technology, died in January of kidney failure. She was 67. Miller turned the Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications from three employees into one of the premiere developers of distance-learning programs, according to a story in the Boston Globe.

    In the mid-1990s, when she left, MCET was in 330 communities in 38 states, offering Japanese culture lessons and puppet-making from an artisan. " 'Visionary' is the word that best describes Inabeth," says Jim Samels, who gave legal counsel to MCET. "She was a woman slightly ahead of her time."

    She served as chief executive of the Needham-based JASON Foundation for Education, which focused on professional development of teachers and supported multimedia programs. And she served as vice president of Lightspan Partnership Inc. in San Diego, Calif., before becoming vice president of academic affairs at Massachusetts Communications College.

    Short on Teachers or Not?

    The slumping economy seems to be easing the teacher shortage. But experts say this blip in the stats may not be what it appears.

    The American Association for Employment in Education's annual

    survey put the teacher shortage at 3.45 (out of a scale of 1 to 5, which is extremely high) in 2002, versus 3.68 in 2001. "I don't think it's an increase in supply, it's a decrease in demand because of budget issues," says spokeswoman B.J. Bryant.

    --In Los Angeles, 48 percent of teachers hired in 2002 were fully certified, versus only 40 percent in 2001, says Deborah Hirsch, who handles hiring certified personnel. But what these figures don't reveal is that the district hired only 2,300 teachers in 2001, versus 4,000 in 2000 because budget cuts forced an increase in class sizes.

    --New York City hired 8,000 new teachers, effectively ending its shortage, but only after a new contract raised the starting teacher salary more than 20 percent to $39,000.

    --Atlanta-area schools point to Gwinnett County as an indicator of their improving situation. In July of 2001, they needed 200 teachers for the coming year. This past July, the number was 92.

    --Hawaii's Education Department reports 136 teacher vacancies this school year, down from more than 400 last year. -Rebecca Sausner,,

    Kids Write for Cash

    Hundreds of teenagers at the Las Virgenes Unified School District in California wrote letters to elected officials in their state and Washington, D.C.-urging for more money for special education.

    The federal government, under Individuals with Disabilities Education Act in 1975, promised to provide 40 percent of the total costs for education for all disabled students, but it only provides 16.5 percent.

    President Bush proposed to add another $1 billion to $8.7 billion the federal government provides. He says he hopes the federal government will reach 40 percent funding in 10 years.

    Certifying Compliance

    The Schools Interoperability Framework division of the Software and Information Industry Association recently hired The Open Group to help develop and deliver the SIF Compliance Program.

    The group is a vendor-neutral and technology-neutral consortium of experts in test development, automated test generation technologies, formal testing for certification, test lab quality systems, and accreditation and operation of certification programs.

    The main goal is to certify software applications as "compliant" with SIF specifications. It will assure schools and districts that the applications they buy can be used to share information between different areas of the district.

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