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In just four years, Arthur W. Stellar has helped Taunton Public Schools become first in English language arts and second in math among the 22 urban districts in Massachusetts. It is one of only two urban districts to make AYP for three years in a row. The dropout rate has gone from 6.8 percent to 4.2 percent. The fourth grade at one elementary school—with 80 percent low-income students—finished third highest in math among the state’s 1,176 elementary schools. Another elementary school is eligible for state nomination for National Blue Ribbon status.

Mayoral control of public schools is nothing new. Boston pioneered the practice in 1992, replacing elected school committee members with mayoral appointees. Since then, a dozen urban districts—including Cleveland, Chicago, New York City, and Washington, D.C.—have undergone a similar change in school governance that has shifted some or most of the power to mayors, with some cities having mayors make appointments to the school board and others having mayors outright manage the district budget and spearhead large-scale initiatives.

It’s no surprise that school districts are as vulnerable to fraud as the private sector or any other segment of government. Crimes in districts include collusion with outside vendors who provide kickbacks to employees, misuse of district-issued credit cards, embezzlement of district funds, and theft of district property.

As a student at Robbinsdale Armstrong High School in North Plymouth, Minn., Grant couldn’t decide which he liked better, OxyContin or cocaine, so he took a lot of each. “My mom always told me I was a brilliant scholar when I was sober, but most of the school days I was pretty much up in the clouds,” he recalls.

Notification systems—which use the Internet to enable school administrators to make and send thousands of automated phone calls, text messages and e-mails in minutes—are expanding in popularity in school districts across the country.

RIO RANCHO PUBLIC SCHOOLS, established in 1994, is New Mexico’s newest school district. It is made up of 18 schools (with a second high school scheduled to open in 2009-2010), and it has approximately 16,100 students and some 1,200 teachers.

A recent Department of Education study found that the $1 billion Reading First program did not have statistically significant impacts on student reading comprehension test scores in grades 1-3. Also, an estimated 63 percent of prison inmates can’t read. See a pattern here? Quick, bring in the new e-book readers from Amazon and Sony. Don’t scoff so quickly—there is evidence that e-books are engaging to children.


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Interactive Whiteboard System

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According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 14.2 million computers were in schools across the country in 2005-2006, a ratio of one for every four students and more than 20 times the number in schools in 1984-1985. Along with the tremendous opportunities for student learning afforded by this trend comes the risk of distraction and inappropriate use of computers and the Internet by students. Classroom management software was developed to address these concerns and to help teachers maximize the instructive capabilities of classroom computers.

It was June 1979 when I became a reporter for my hometown newspaper in Alabama. From the time I was a kid following my grandfather around cotton fields and talking politics with the farmers, it was all I had wanted to be.

Disney's Planet Challenge, a project-based environmental competition for students in grades 4-6, is expanding nationwide. Disney started the program in 1994 in partnership with the California Department of Education, and it has been so successful in that state and in Florida that the company has decided to open it to schools from all 50 states. Students in the program come up with a project-anything from recycling electronics to protecting a local habitat-and manage it from start to finish.

Arne Duncan announced at the 2009 Governors Education Symposium in June that $350 million of the Race to the Top fund will go to states to help them offset the costs involved in creating new assessments based on the national standards being developed by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers.

In a letter to Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell in June, Arne Duncan warned that the state may jeopardize its chances of receiving additional stimulus money, particularly through the Race to the Top fund, if it uses its present stimulus funding only to make up for cuts to education in the state budget. Rendell had sought a statement from Duncan on the matter.

Dozens of notification systems are on the market. Here are some of the fully hosted online services designed specifically for K12 education.