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Jul 2010

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Cover Story

From the glamour and glitz of Hollywood to the technological hub of Silicon Valley, from the majestic Redwoods to the surfers off the Malibu beaches, California is a state of contrasts in many ways, including its politics. A progressive, largely Democratic state and a bellwether for the rest of the country on sensitive issues, including opposition to the Iraq war and support for same-sex marriage, it elected two conservative Republican actors, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as governors over the last 40 years.


From the glamour and glitz of Hollywood to the technological hub of Silicon Valley, from the majestic Redwoods to the surfers off the Malibu beaches, California is a state of contrasts in many ways, including its politics. A progressive, largely Democratic state and a bellwether for the rest of the country on sensitive issues, including opposition to the Iraq war and support for same-sex marriage, it elected two conservative Republican actors, Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger, as governors over the last 40 years.

Carlos A. Garcia, born in Chicago to Mexican immigrants, learned about pride in his heritage when he was in kindergarten. As a student at Magnolia Elementary School in the Los Angeles Unified School District in the late 1950s, Garcia came home one day with a name tag on his shirt. His father asked, "Who is Charlie?" Garcia said Charlie was a boy at school who caused some trouble. His father visited the school the following day to ask the teacher and principal about this boy.

From selecting appropriate curricula and teachers to providing classrooms with bathrooms easily accessible to 4-year-olds, public preschool programs present challenges to districts that run the programs, which are designed to prepare children to get off to a good start when they enter kindergarten.

The eight-year-old No Child Left Behind Act established for the first time a federal benchmark for student achievement. When the Obama Administration took office last year, the new president promised to stay true to the goals of NCLB while upgrading what critics have termed simplistic, "fill in a bubble" testing to create a more comprehensive assessment of student learning.

Tight budgets are no excuse for failing to be proactive with school safety. In fact, school leaders must be especially committed to prevention and security programs during times when economic woes are increasing stress on kids, their families and school staff. Parents will forgive educators if their school's test scores drop. But they are much less forgiving if their children are hurt in an incident that could have been prevented or better managed. Attorneys and the media will be equally relentless.

A new informal federal survey has found that for many districts, budget cuts have had a profound effect on school safety and security measures. Administrators have been forced to cut safety and security staffing and programs, reorganize security departments and find alternative sources of funding in order to maintain levels of safety and security within their schools.


Imagine online learning communities. Personal learning networks. An Internet device for every teacher and student. Ubiquitous access to the Web.

The case of Kyron Horman, a second-grade Oregon student missing from school since June 4, 2010, has generated international attention. The seven-year-old never arrived in his classroom after attending a science fair with his stepmother at his Portland elementary school.

The education community has rightly identified teacher quality as the key factor in improving student achievement. Most people would now agree that students must have top quality teachers if students are to reach their potential. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) made teacher quality and accountability central in the debate on education.

The bus driver overheard a middle school student say as he was walking off the bus at the end of the day, "I am going to get several of you tomorrow on the bus and blow you away for making fun of me."

Spurred by the prospect of being awarded millions in Race to the Top grants, several states have removed or raised caps on the number of charter schools they will allow to be authorized. And financial support for charters has been flowing in from various foundations and corporations—including most notably a recent $325 million commitment from JPMorgan Chase.


The best place to raise a child in Arkansas, according to Bloomberg Businessweek, is Springdale, a bustling community with a strong agrarian heritage in the northwest corner of the state. The headquarters of massive corporations such as Tyson Foods, Wal-Mart and J.B. Hunt Transport are based in or near town, fueling a recent economic boom that has brought the region new schools, recreational facilities and housing. Last year, the Springdale School District became the second largest in Arkansas, with more than 18,000 students—double its size in 1995.

When Manuel L. Isquierdo joined the Sunnyside (Ariz.) Unified School District (SUSD) as superintendent in 2007, school board president Louie Gonzales let him know that there was no time for a honeymoon period. He had to hit the ground running.


According to a new report from Blackboard Inc. and Project Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization dedicated to preparing students to become tomorrow's leaders, "Learning in the 21st Century: 2010 Trends Update," 27 percent of high school students and 21 percent of middle school students took at least one online class in 2009, nearly doubling the 2008 numbers of 14 percent and 16 percent, respectively.

A new partnership between Dell and Moodlerooms brings cloud computing, software and open source technology together in the classroom. The result is an online learning application— currently being used in 200-250 districts nationwide—that allows teachers to focus on the individual needs of students, incorporate collaborative and engaging tools and provide a platform for professional development.

The gulf drilling explosion on the Deepwater Horizon caused an unprecedented disaster that left experts scrambling to discover the elusive solution that will halt the unceasing flow of pollutants. The question remains: How do we prevent this kind of disaster from happening again? The most sustainable and forward-thinking answer may lie in education. It is within the academic realm of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), often touted as the Achilles' heel of the U.S. educational system, that the foundations for future disaster-aversion could be built.

On August 1st, the National Collegiate Athletic Association put into effect new standards for online courses high school athletes may take. High school athletes seeking admission to a Division I school will be required to have taken 16 NCAA approved core classes in English, physical or natural science, social science, math, foreign language, or comparative religion and/or philosophy. Because student athletes have such full schedules, the flexibility of online courses has made it a popular choice; however this flexibility has often meant more relaxed standards.

A weak economy paired with a national push to improve reading and math as well as other core subjects has left an important skill behind in K12 classrooms—digital media literacy.

Spending an additional six cents on lunch may seem like a nominal burden. But multiply six cents by the 31 million children who receive school lunches daily and it’s a lot of extra fries as Washington faces reauthorizing the Child Nutrition Act this fall.


School Shooting Hero

David Benke, a math teacher who tackled a school shooter at Deer Creek (Colo.) Middle School in February, was honored at the National School Safety Conference on July 26. The school is just blocks from Columbine High School.

To date, empirical research of the participation of school district central offices in school improvement efforts has primarily highlighted how central office staff, despite their best efforts, often fail to foster teaching and learning improvement. As a result, central office leaders are left with a heap of examples of what not to do, but few guides for what should be done.

Roughly 540 public schools in the United States offer single-sex classrooms. Vermilion Parish (La.) Public School District wants to add to that number— but it won’t happen without a fight from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Text messaging while driving in Lee County (Fla.) Public Schools is prohibited. It is the first district in Florida— and possibly the nation—to keep its policies caught up with the technology.

In March 2010, the Lee County Board of Education amended the district vehicle policy to prohibit employees from text messaging while driving a district vehicle or while driving a personally-owned vehicle on district business. The district has 12,000 employees and a fleet of over 650 school buses.

In June 2010 DA magazine asked our advisory panel of administrators what their districts are doing for professional development as they face tighter budgets.

Professional development funding has taken a cut overall. According to DA's survey, 31 percent of administrators reported a decrease in professional development funding, and 38 percent said professional development was only available because of federal grants.

The Center on Education Policy released three studies in June summarizing the achievement of minority students since the implementation of No Child Left Behind in 2002. Each of the three studies—analyzing the performances of African-American, Asian, and Latino students, and named Student Achievement Policy Briefs 1, 2 and 3 respectively— used official data from all 50 states from 2002 to the present.

The Obama administration's mounting pressure for states to review their policies for evaluating teacher effectiveness has been met with backlash from education veterans nationwide. A new study released from the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University, however, has just scored one point for advocates of merit pay and reforming teacher tenure. Its findings reveal that teacher effectiveness is not only unrelated to the college the teacher attended, but also that teacher effectiveness peaks after 10 years.

In a first-of-its-kind move, three school districts in Illinois have bonded together to be in the business of wind power. Their joint project not only could benefit the environment but could save millions of dollars.

A small pilot study to test the effectiveness of a new type of virtual learning that some K12 districts are using has found that student motivation is the best indicator of success.

Pavel Samsonov, an associate professor of educational technology at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, conducted the study using Skype, a free, Internet phone service that allows users to see the people with whom they are communicating—or in this case, the classroom and whiteboards. The study used three longterm homebound students in the Saint Mary Parish Schools in Centerville, La.



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Elisa Villanueva Beard is the chief operating officer for Teach For America, a non-profit organization which addresses teacher shortages by sending graduates from elite colleges, most of whom do not have a background in education, to teach in low-income rural and urban schools. The organization's influence is expanding as a player in education and politics as the Obama administration calls for education reform, but TFA is not without controversy, as some have questioned its methods and effectiveness.

Au Contraire

As a proud Vermont chauvinist, I feel compelled to point out that, contrary to your assertion in your first story in the States of Debate series ("Lone Star," May 2010), three U.S. states have been sovereign nations — Hawaii, Texas and Vermont. Vermont was an independent, self-governed republic for a period of time immediately following the Revolutionary War, I believe from 1777 to 1791.

Kate Davie, Librarian Blue Mountain Union School, Wells River, Vt.

Arne Duncan speaks about the federal Race to the Top school reform competition in late July at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.