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Jul 2011

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Cover Story

Some technology experts, including Will Richardson, a well-known social media blogger, say that social media has some value right now, but it's just a first step. He believes that schools in America are still way behind the business world, including journalism, in terms of how social media is used for learning. "We're not yet at the point where it's really altering the landscape, and much of that is because the assessments just want to keep measuring information and knowledge, not learning and skills," says Richardson, who is also a columnist for District Administration.


To the more than 600 million members of Facebook and the expanding legions of Twitter users, you can add a growing number of schools and districts. Whether communicating with parents and the public, enhancing classroom instruction and staff development, or rallying school spirit, administrators and teachers are beginning to leverage the interactive and multimedia features of social networks that have the added advantage of being widely and easily accessible—and free.

Some technology experts, including Will Richardson, a well-known social media blogger, say that social media has some value right now, but it's just a first step. He believes that schools in America are still way behind the business world, including journalism, in terms of how social media is used for learning. "We're not yet at the point where it's really altering the landscape, and much of that is because the assessments just want to keep measuring information and knowledge, not learning and skills," says Richardson, who is also a columnist for District Administration.

For administrators, teachers, students and their families in some districts, summer isn't what it used to be. Trying to stem a "summer slide" of learning loss by students and also to avoid having to build more schools to cope with overcrowding, districts are operating on year-round schedules that shorten the traditional summer vacation while adding breaks through the year, which traditionally averages 180 days of instruction, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

When Deborah Jewell-Sherman began to lead the Richmond (Va.) Public Schools in 2002, she faced a board of education that had voted 5-3 to hire her. And with that, the board stipulated that she increase the number of accredited schools from 10 to 20 within a year. If she couldn't, her contract would be terminated.

On April 26, students from the Tucson (Ariz.) Unified School District's Mexican-American studies classes, angry that these courses might be eliminated because of a state law targeting programs that advocate "ethnic solidarity" and "the overthrow of the United States government," barged into a school board meeting, chained themselves to the board members' chairs, and banged and chanted until the meeting was canceled. When the board reconvened on May 3, so did police in riot gear, and seven people were arrested.

School administrators are faced with a wide variety of choices and a huge market when it comes to products and technology. According to a report issued in March by market research firm Compass Intelligence, school districts spend over $18 billion annually on IT-related purchases, and the market is projected to grow to nearly $21 billion by 2015.


Three years ago, sophomore environmental science students at the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia needed a problem to solve. But they weren't just looking for any old problem; they wanted a big one, a real-life one that could make a difference in the world—one that would challenge them to be creative, to work in teams, to think and plan and build, and, by the way, to allow them to meet all of the state and local standards for the class.

Make no mistake: 2015 is the year in which each and every student in America's K12 public school system will have a mobile device to use for curricular purposes, 24/7. For the majority of schools, one-to-one will be achieved because they will have adopted a BYOD policy: Bring your own device. Schools simply can't afford to buy a computing device for every student: Bonds aren't passing, and budgets are being slashed. And most school-age children are acquiring their own mobile computing devices for entertainment and communication. But there is no free lunch—surprise!

In the debate over the use of value-added analysis of student data to evaluate teachers, there seems to have been an assumption that teacher evaluation alone is an effective way to improve teacher performance. Or at its crudest level, there is an acceptance that the use of value-added data analysis will lead school administrators to replace bad or mediocre teachers with effective teachers. One of the reasons that so many teachers are skeptical about this movement is that they realize teacher evaluation does not really make them better teachers, at least using traditional methods.


While funding woes and NCLB mandates have led many school districts to cut music programs, Bay Shore, N.Y., remains steadfast in its support of all forms of arts education. This hamlet on the south shore of Long Island, an hour east of Manhattan, serves more than 6,000 students—children of poverty, wealth, of many faiths and multiple ethnic backgrounds. Music in particular is a cohesive force for this diverse school population and the community at large.

Frank Costanzo has proven his effectiveness and dedication given his latest test on April 27. Costanzo, superintendent of the Tuscaloosa County (Ala.) School System for seven years, had seen many storms and tornadoes hit his district, but this was by far the worst. On the evening of April 27, just minutes after an F4 tornado ripped through the Holt area of Tuscaloosa County, Costanzo partnered with emergency personnel and opened a shelter at Holt Elementary School, whose roof was damaged but not its gymnasium, and set up a communications center.

Across the nation, state expenditures on public education are expected to decline in the aftermath of the Great Recession of 2007-2009 (National Governors Association and National Association of State Budget Officers, 2010). For the fourth consecutive year, despite a temporary boost from federal stimulus funds, governors are proposing deep cuts to education in 2012, and the majority of states plan to spend less in 2012 on education than they did in 2008, adjusting for inflation, despite larger enrollments of students in public schools (Leachman, Williams, & Johnson, 2011).


There are more than 400,000 migrant children working the fields in 48 states across the United States. They begin working as early as age 12, their days begin as early as 4 a.m. and their home moves wherever the crop season takes them and their families. The backbreaking labor and transient lifestyle causes them to drop out of high school at four times the national rate.

Friend of Education

Tim Carpenter and 13 of his Democratic colleagues from the Wisconsin Senate were honored by the National Education Association with an “NEA’s Friend of Education” award for opposing a bill that would weaken collective bargaining rights.

New Jersey knew it had a bullying problem after a 2009 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the percentage of students bullied in the state was one point higher than the national average. The momentum surrounding the antibullying movement in the state peaked last September when a Rutgers University student, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide after his roommate streamed a video of Clementi with another male student over the Internet. State legislators then moved quickly to pass the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights on Jan. 6, 2011, which will be effective Sept. 1.

The Common Core State Standards are bringing some changes to curricula across the country—but not just in the classroom. School librarians are preparing for the shift and its new emphasis on 21st-century skills including information literacy, primary resources, independent thinking and complex texts. The New York City Department of Education—the nation's largest school system—is relying on its library staff to implement these standards in the coming years.

New regulations under the California Parent Empowerment Law are pending approval by the Office of Administrative Law in late July and give parents further rights to change low-performing schools. The Parent Empowerment Law, passed in January 2010 and known as the "parent trigger law," is one of three similar laws in Connecticut and Mississippi. It came about thanks to Parent Revolution, a non-profit group empowering parents to transform their low-performing schools.

In just the first six months of 2011, 10 states and the District of Columbia have passed legislation supporting school voucher or scholarship tax credit programs. This has been a big year for school advocates. While some states expanded already existing school choice programs, six new programs were created in Arizona, Indiana, Ohio, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Wisconsin—beating the previous record of five new programs set in 2006.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan perhaps reached his breaking point in early June when he gave Congress an ultimatum to fix No Child Left Behind or he would begin issuing waivers to districts facing sanctions under the bill. Education advocacy groups, including the American Association of School Administrators (AASA) and the National School Boards Association (NSBA), have been campaigning for this form of regulatory relief since it became clear that reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—NCLB's formal title—would not occur by the upcoming school year.

This summer, the U.S. Department of Education has teamed up with the Department of Health and Human Services to invest in early childhood learning. Under the DOE's signature competitive grant program, Race to the Top, states can earn money to create robust, coordinated programs to close the school readiness gap and, in turn, reduce crime and strengthen the national economy. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius announced the $500 million grant on May 25 and accepted public feedback on its criteria through July 11.

The Universal Service Administration Company (USAC) officially announced to the FCC on July 13 that it has identified additional monies to fund FY 2010 E-rate Priority 2 (internal connections and basic maintenance of internal connections) requests at the 80 percent discount level. Schools and libraries that are entitled to 80 percent E-rate discounts serve some of the country's most financially strapped communities.

Administrators shouldn't only look outside their districts for something new when researching possible products or technology to purchase; solutions can sometimes be found in unexpected places. "When we get a request to purchase something new, such as curriculum software, we do a thorough examination of what we already have to make sure we don't duplicate functionality," says Roderick Matthews, director of information technology in the Recovery School District in New Orleans.

A recent survey of teachers reveals that classroom management, differentiating instruction and delivering effective intervention strategies are among new teachers' greatest concerns, according to Staff Development for Educators, which conducted the "New Teacher Survey."

SDE, which provides professional development training, seminars and conferences, and educator resources, polled more than 450 new and experienced teachers and administrators to learn more about the challenges new teachers face.


The editors at DA have been taking advantage of a little extra time that a double issue affords us, talking to our readers at various conferences across the country, as well as checking in with industry experts as we plan our upcoming content. After all, summertime is a time for renewal.

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