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"Every state is different and unique in its education system," says Don McAdams, founder and president of the Houston-based school-board training and consulting firm Center for the Reform of School Systems. "But Texas is one state that is really different and unique." The state's tumultuous history, huge size, high poverty rate and English language learner population have created "an overall sense of urgency" when it comes to education, McAdams explains.
When the Houston school board announced Terry Grier as its pick for superintendent last fall, he broke the ice with a self-deprecating joke. "There's one difference between a dead superintendent lying in the road and a dead skunk," he said. He immediately drew laughs with the punch line: "There are tire tracks in front of the skunk."
In late March, the Los Angeles Unified School District became the first of at least 32 K12 school districts nationwide to undergo federal compliance reviews intended to spotlight possible discrimination against specific groups of students that has resulted in persistent achievement gaps on standardized tests.
The Office for Civil Rights in the U.S. Department of Education, which has a mission to ensure equal access to education, according to its Web site, hopes to use these compliance reviews to provide technical assistance to help districts improve their performance.
When Adam Fletcher was hired as the student engagement specialist for Washington state's education department 10 years ago, it didn't take him long to realize how difficult his newly created job would prove. "No one was talking about the roles of students other than as learners," says Fletcher, referring to a state teachers' conference early in his career. "They laughed out loud at the proposal of students being partners in school improvement. It really was preposterous to them."
It has been another tough spring for school districts across the nation. The economic crisis of the past two years is hitting school systems hard as districts plan for the 2010-2011 school year. State support to schools continues to decline, and the "soft landing" afforded by federal stimulus monies is a thing of the past. School districts must cut costs but find their options constrained by restrictive labor agreements in addition to the collective bargaining process itself. If ever there was a time for a new approach to bargaining, it is now.
At its most fundamental level, literacy represents the ability to read, write and communicate. Unfortunately, too many adolescents lack the literacy skills necessary to navigate the reading and writing requirements of high school and the future world in which they will work and live.
Sara, a high school student, logs in to her Facebook account only to be confronted with cruel and nasty remarks posted by classmates. She feels angry, humiliated, and afraid that everyone at school will see such postings. Sara has become the target of cyberbullying, and ensuing incidences occur. Consequently, her grades begin to drop, she becomes preoccupied with correspondences on Facebook, and she experiences intense anxiety about attending school.
San Antonio's (Texas) North East Independent School District (NEISD) grows by about 2,000 students per year, says Superintendent Richard A. Middleton, because when new families move to town, many prefer his district out of the 19 others in the city.
Don Tylinski inherited a challenge when he became superintendent of the Seneca Valley (Pa.) School District in 2004. The 7,363-student K12 district located 30 miles north of Pittsburgh was under strain because of the arrival of large new industries in the area, including a new facility of global nuclear power plant builder Westinghouse. "The growth in student population had everyone in the district scrambling. We lost consistency in the curriculum," says Tylinski.
Pittsburgh Public Schools is focused on reforming its teacher recruitment, evaluation and training systems, along with better coordinating its student services. In both goals, the district is being helped by elements of the business community, including a billionaire philanthropist and some MBA students.
A well-rounded education now includes environmental literacy, according to the Obama administration.
"A Blueprint for Reform," the administration's amended proposal for reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), has for the first time carved out room in the budget for environmental education. The proposed bill, No Child Left Inside (NCLI ), is among the administration's signature competitive grants and if passed would provide $500 million over five years to states that develop superior environmental and outdoor education plans.
In October 2009, Mark Schumacker, a seventh-grade mathematics teacher at Ankeney Middle School of the Beavercreek City School District, a suburban district east of Dayton, Ohio, earned the EUREKA Educator of the Year Award from the Better Business Bureau of Ohio's Center for Character Ethics for his efforts to blend character education with instruction. Schumacker is the first recipient of this statewide honor that recognizes positive actions with regard to constructive character development.
A summer job for a 16-year-old typically involves serving coffee, scooping ice cream, or babysitting the neighborhood children. Some students at Miami-Dade County (Fla.) Public Schools, however, spent their summer vacation designing a children's Web site for the city of Miami Beach. An increasing number of students are finding themselves mingling among professionals with internships in local businesses—the culmination of a work-based learning curriculum.
On March 15, the National School Boards Association (NSBA) and three other education organizations each filed amicus curiae briefs with a Supreme Court case that discusses the right of a public school to deny recognition to a student organization that does not comply with the school's open membership policies. An amicus curiae brief, or "friend of the court" brief, is a document volunteered by an outside party that contains additional information on an aspect of the case to assist in its ruling.
Despite the growth of electronic communications, Web based document solutions and digital data systems, paper documents remain a vital part of K12 administration. Bubble sheet exams, parent communications, student academic and disciplinary records, and a wide variety of other communications still relies on paper, but technology has revolutionized its use. Using paper forms, assessments and other documents once required multiple devices such as printers, scanners, copiers and fax machines, as well as third-party companies to scan exams.
Frances Gallo, superintendent of Central Falls (R.I.) schools since March 2007, looks ahead to the next school year when the Central Falls High School is set to have a different face.
In early January, the Rhode Island commissioner of education identified six schools, including Central Falls High, as the state's "persistently lowest-achieving schools."
Associate Editor Marion Herbert and I had the pleasure of attending the National School Boards Association's (NSBA) 70th Annual Conference held April 10-12 in Chicago. What was most evident was how the commitment to student success among the attendees is unwavering even with the increasing challenges they face in these tough economic times, including more federal mandates, charter schools and a lack of alignment with community expectations.