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Governors Devise Graduation Rate Plan

It took a few forums and several years of discussion, but 45 governors and 12 national organizations agreed this summer to comparable high school graduation numbers and student progress indicators.

Graduation Counts: A Compact on State High School Graduation Data outlines several recommendations for states (see below) at a critical time. Until now, states have calculated and reported graduation rates differently, some with misleading or comical data, says The Education Trust's Daria Hall, policy analyst. "Nearly four of 10 students do not graduate with his or her class," says Education Trust Director Kati Haycock.

Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, and Deputy Secretary of Education Ray Simon hail the new Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate, which should make high schools more accountable and prevent some dropouts. "Improving the accuracy of our graduation statistics allows us to better target resources and tailor instruction for children who might otherwise fall through the cracks and eventually drop out," Simon says.

The five states that did not sign the National Governors Association compact:
California, Texas, Florida, Maryland and Wyoming

Haycock says she believes most states are working on building better data systems. Louisiana and Washington, for instance, have sophisticated student tracking systems. Washington Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergeson says the state's improved student information system allows teachers and principals to track reading, math and science skills and target struggling groups. Migrant students will also be tracked. Haycock says an honest and comparable system will instill more confidence from the public.


Achievement is Slightly Up: Is it Time to Celebrate?

When the Nation's Report Card results from 2004 recently showed that American students were generally reading and doing math better than they were four years ago and three decades ago, particularly in the South, many people celebrated.

But the results of students ages 9, 13 and 17 on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Long-Term Trends in Academic Progress are not as brilliant as some say, according to Douglas Reeves, chief executive officer of the Center for Performance Assessment.

"To say we're not wretched is hardly a ringing endorsement," Reeves says. "I'm very troubled that we continue to see at the middle and high school level relatively stagnant results."

While white kids are achieving at higher rates, black and Latino students are also gaining some ground, results show. Average math scores for Hispanic students have risen since 1973 and 1999, for example, but only since 1999 has the increase been large enough to narrow the achievement gap (See chart below) .

NAEP's reading assessment started in 1971 and the math assessment started in 1973.

"These gains at the elementary school level are a real testament to the hard work of educators who have made raising achievement and gap-closing a priority," says Kati Haycock, director of The Education Trust. "This progress puts to rest the notion that achievement gaps are inevitable--expectations have increased and students of color are rising to the challenge."

Education Secretary Margaret Spellings attributed increases to the No Child Left Behind law. While some disagreed, Reeves says, "Frankly, she's right." "You hear people curse the U.S. Department of Education, but by the way, we really are paying more attention to this. ... NCLB may be a blunt instrument, but the plain fact is that more kids are reading today than they were four years ago."

Russ Whitehurst, director of the Institute of Education Sciences and acting commissioner of the National Center for Education Statistics, presented the results in July. He says most gaps between white and minority students have narrowed, but sizable gaps remain.

Reeves points out that some districts are seeing better results in reading and math, even with large numbers of low-income kids, and the difference in their programs from unsuccessful programs lie in different time allocations. More time is going into reading. "It's a leadership issue," he says.

Henrico County Chooses Dell Over Apple for One-To-One Initiative

One of the leading education proponents of one-to-one computing is changing brands. Henrico County Public Schools has contracted with Dell computers to provide a laptop to every teacher and student in sixth through 12th grade beginning this fall.

Henrico began its one-to-one initiative four years ago with Apple computers, distributing iBooks to students and teachers. Despite satisfaction with Apple, Henrico County's purchasing committee signed with Dell after the Apple contract expired because "Dell had a much better offer," says Lloyd Brown, district technology director. Apple representatives could not be reached for comment on the district's switch.

Costing $17.9 million for a four-year program, the Dell one-to one initiative will provide 15,800 notebooks to teachers and students in addition to creating the Dell Intelligent Classroom through a collaborative partnership with Henrico County.

The Intelligent Classroom helps kids take what they have learned with technology and push it to the next level, says Kathy Thomas, manager of education strategies at Dell. The Intelligent Classroom includes projectors, plasma televisions and audio systems. The contract also offers training for teachers and technical services.

Brown adds, "Our goal is to prepare students for the 21st century ... this [laptop] is another tool for our teachers to use to help information be at the fingertips of the students."

--Andrea Griffin

NEA's Six-Point Covenant

The National Education Association has a new covenant with the nation to support public schools for every child.

President Reg Weaver lays out these points:

1. Parental involvement: Children need devoted and interested parents.

2. No Child Left Behind: Call on the nation to elect politicians and policy makers who will vote for human and fiscal resources to carry out law.

3. High-quality school employees: Research shows privatization leads to poor quality at a higher price.

4. High-quality classroom instruction: Small class sizes, up-to-date textbooks, updated labs and modern technology.

5. Educators who give their best to every child: Must be paid fairly according to requirements, skill and worth of their jobs.

6. High-quality teacher in every classroom: Need ongoing professional development, healthcare and retirement benefits.

California Plan Gets Negative Feedback

California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's $117.5 billion state plan includes $3 billion more for schools, but educators, particularly the California Teachers Association, are booing, saying it robs schools of an additional $3 billion.

The governor signed the plan in July which means all eyes and ears focus on the special election Schwarzenegger called for Nov. 8. His proposed spending cap on education would essentially eliminate funding guaranteed under Proposition 98, which voters passed in 1988 to guarantee districts the same amount of money every year from the state's general fund. Another issue is the proposal to change a teacher's tenure time from two to five years.

CTA filed a lawsuit to restore the $3 billion and many teachers and educators say these propositions will scare away potential teachers. Schools need newer textbooks and computer labs with access to the Internet and software programs like PowerPoint and Excel, Jan Frydendahl, a math department chair at Mission San Jose High School in Fremont, states in a newspaper column. "So if the election this November goes as the polls indicate today," he wrote, "California taxpayers will spend upward of $50 million just to gut teacher job rights."

In early June, the National Education Association also rallied around their CTA members. "Broken promises hurt our kids," NEA President Reg Weaver said at a rally. "We insist that [Schwarzenegger] keep his promise to fully fund California public schools."

The governor's office could not be reached for comment.

Textbooks Dry Up In Arizona H.S.

A high school at Vail Unified School District in Arizona is the state's first all wireless, all laptop public school this fall. Instead of textbooks, the 350 students will use electronic and online articles as part of the teacher lesson plans. The move is rare as cost, insecurity, ignorance and institutional constraints prevent schools from making the move from paper.

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