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iPods OK in Class

MP3 players, such as Apple iPods, that entertain children with music and video also are making waves as effective learning tools in schools nationwide, educators say.

In Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Texas, teachers use iPods to teach English as a second language. Anecdotal data so far indicate that "it's been successful at the elementary level," says Andy Berning, the district's chief technology officer.

"Early evidence is that the kids are interacting with the language a lot more and therefore learning faster because it's fun," Berning says. He cites a veteran kindergarten teacher who reports that her students are learning sounds up to two months faster than they did before.

An elementary school in Arlington, Va. also plans to use iPods for students learning to speak English and fifth graders in another Arlington school use the devices to record poems and book reports.

IPods and other technological devices developed by Apple are part of a "digital learning community" that the Detroit public school district is creating in a small high school. The facility will open with about 250 ninth graders this year and expand to a 9-12 high school in the next three years.

Detroit officials hope the technology-rich environment will improve test scores, boost the graduation rate and steer more students toward higher education.

"The consistent use of technology is a wonderful way to engage our students, particularly those who are at risk for dropping out or not completing their education on time," says William F. Coleman III, CEO of the Detroit Public Schools.

IPods work in schools because "they're cool and they're fun" for students, says Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education.

Bible Textbook Upholds Constitution, Still Fuels Debate

A public high school textbook released this fall is about addressing the loss of Bible literacy--and it's designed to meet constitutional standards.

"We went in with our eyes wide open. We knew what the issues were and we created a product that would be acceptable," says Sheila Weber, about The Bible and Its Influence, released by the Bible Literacy Project, a nonpartisan, nonprofit group in Fairfax, Va.

"I think [district administrators] have unwarranted fear about the issue of religion and public schools and need to realize this is the proper solution to handle these issues. There is a gap in American public education. This is not about religion. This is about education," says Weber, the group's vice president of communications.

Last spring, the project released a national report that indicated English teachers say a student's lack of Bible knowledge is harming their ability to understand literature, art, music and history. Weber points out that Shakespeare alone has more than 1,300 biblical references.

Fast Fact
While 80 percent of public schools offer some type of elective Bible course, Gallup polls in recent years reveal that 67 percent of the American public think the Bible should be studied as an academic subject.

To avoid any legal trouble, the textbook fulfills standards of The Bible and Public Schools, a guide on how to teach the Bible in public schools co-published by the Bible Literacy Project and the First Amendment Center.

The textbook also meets the standard of Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center. "This new textbook, while not perfect, is constitutionally and educationally sound," he says. "It includes a variety of perspectives on how to interpret the Bible. The material is presented objectively and fairly in ways that neither promote nor denigrate religion."

Not everyone agrees. "The book generally fails to note that the Bible has ... been used to justify slavery, hang witches, promote the oppression of women, attack interracial marriage and persecute gays," says Jeremy Leaming, spokesman for The Americans United for Separation of Church and State.

He suggests it would be better to offer an elective in comparative religion rather than focus on one tradition.

Guilty Plea for Stealing Millions

The former Roslyn, N.Y., school superintendent pleaded guilty in September to stealing $2 million from the district over six years, according to The New York Times.

In one of the biggest American school embezzlement cases in history, Frank Tassone pleaded guilty and agreed to cooperate with a criminal investigation that includes $11 million stolen from the district in a scheme involving some of the top administrators. Tassone faces up to 25 years in prison, but his cooperation means he might only serve four to 12 years. Tassone is expected to pay the money back over time.

Teacher Salaries

While the average teacher salary nationally failed to keep up with inflation for the first time since the 1999-2000 school year, Connecticut teachers were the highest paid in the nation in 2003-04 school year.

Connecticut was one of 22 states where the average salary did keep up with the inflation rate, according to the American Federation of Teachers. The average Connecticut salary was $56,516, up 4.7 percent from the year before.

California was second and South Dakota was last.

High Energy Costs Hit Schools Hard

With budgets already tight, and facing dramatic cost increases for heating buildings and fueling buses, school administrators are girding for a tough winter, particularly in cold-weather states.

Charlie Kyte, executive director of the Minnesota Association of School Administrators, cites one projection that energy costs in his state could increase up to 112 percent over last year, especially for natural gas.

"What we are facing is anybody's guess, and that's the problem," says Patrick Quinn, executive director of operations for the St. Paul (Minn.) Public Schools.

His district is focusing on steps like "getting people to turn off their computers and the lights as they leave their offices," Quinn says. The St. Paul schools also are removing half the fluorescent bulbs in their classrooms and considering options like closing schools for "a day or two," shortening the school day, or dipping into the district's reserve fund, Quinn says.

All but four school districts in Georgia honored Gov. Sonny Perdue's request to take two "early snow days" in September and save more than 225,000 gallons of bus fuel daily.

Floyd County Schools, one of the districts that kept schools open, explained on its Web site that it already was conserving fuel and the governor's call did not give parents enough advance notice to deal with child care issues.

Elsewhere, schools in Thompson Falls, Mont. are saving about $60,000 in heating costs by using biomass--wood scraps and shavings--instead of diesel fuel. A local distributor who builds log houses is providing the biomass free except for delivery costs, says Superintendent Jerry Pauli.

With the savings, the district was able to hire a new sixth-grade teacher.

Continuing Fears of Science Slip

The U.S. is losing its edge. That's what a panel of experts convened by the National Academies, the nation's leading science advisory group, said when it urged the U.S. to strengthen scientific competitiveness. The report lists 20 steps the U.S. can take to maintain its lead in the world as China and India, for example, continue to push out more engineers.


U.S. should establish a research agency to meet the nation's energy challenges;

International students in the U.S. who receive doctorate degrees in the field should get automatic one-year visa extensions to work here.

High School Students Performing Better

Students are taking tougher courses, achieving at higher levels and earning more college degrees than they did 20 years ago, according to a new report released by Center on Education Policy.

Do You Know...The Latest Good News About American Education tracked American education on 24 indicators that include school participation and course-taking trends as well as teacher quality.

"Given the amount of negative attacks and media reports they have sustained, many might believe that the nation's public schools are in the worst shape they have ever been, and that is simply not the case," says Jack Jennings, president and CEO of CEP.

Findings include:

Long-term NAEP trends in math and reading show test score gaps between whites and minority students have narrowed to the smallest margins in 30 years.

The percentage of high school graduates enrolling in college has increased from 55 percent in 1984 to 64 percent in 2003.

And the percentage of high school graduates completing advanced math courses climbed from 26 percent in 1982 to 45 percent in 2000, and for science, it rose from 35 percent to 63 percent.

Dole Donates Salad

Salad bars, fruit and gardens are among the plans for California schools.

The Dole Nutrition Institute, the nutrition research and educational foundation established by Dole Food Company Inc., has a new "School Salad Days" pilot program in California public schools, to encourage healthy eating and promote daily fruit and vegetable consumption. It will include 50 portable salad bars in schools next year. The program will also work with schools to develop fruit baskets to be sold as fund-raisers and help schools plant on-site edible gardens.

Vocational Ed Gets Pumped Up

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger recently pushed $20 million into the state's vocational education programs, giving students who don't want to head to college a chance at another life.

The money will come out of existing Proposition 98 funding and funnel much of it into grants for middle school, high school and community college programs that teach such classes as auto mechanics, computer technology, and machine shop.

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