Monday, October 15, 2007

LCEA Morning Edition 10/15/2007*


Programs recruit non-traditional teachers for neighborhood schools.

U.S. News & World Report (10/13, Ramirez) reported, "Tired of seeing first-year teachers flee to suburban schools, Illinois is spending $7.5 million to help" people who lack traditional teaching qualifications "become teachers in underperforming schools in [urban] neighborhoods like their own." The initiative, called "Grow Your Own Illinois," has attracted "mostly women of color from low-income communities," who "receive forgivable college loans of up to $25,000 in exchange for a minimum five-year commitment to teach in underserved schools." Since the programs are aimed at people who look to improve their own neighborhood schools, officials believe they will recruit dedicated, if non-traditional, teachers. "Similar initiatives have sprouted in urban school districts across the country," such as a program in Broward County, Fla., where "schools give college scholarships and guarantee jobs to high school students who return as certified teachers," and in Seattle, Washington, where "the emphasis is on developing teachers from immigrant groups."
Military programs train veterans, military spouses for teaching careers. New Jersey's
Record (10/14, Brody) reported that the U.S. Department of Defense is expanding its "Spouses to Teachers" program, which "provides career counseling, $600 to assist with teacher certification exams and networking opportunities" to help military spouses become teachers. Military officials "say it's a good match because military spouses are frequently relocated and teaching jobs tend to be available wherever they land." Spouses to Teachers expands this year from six states to 49. "This initiative joins the long-standing 'Troops to Teachers' program, which has put 10,569 veterans at the heads of classrooms so far."


New York City program will pay students for high AP scores.
New York Times (10/15, B1, Medina) reports that New York City schools are "expanding the use of cash rewards for students who take standardized tests with a $1 million effort financed by philanthropists who will pay students who do well on Advanced Placement (AP) exams." In 25 public schools and six private schools this year, selected for their high proportion of low-income minority students, high schoolers can earn anywhere from $500 (for a score of three) to $1,000 (for a top score of five) on an AP exam. The goal of the program is to encourage low-income, minority students to challenge themselves with AP courses. This follows a recently announced program where some fourth and seventh graders can earn smaller amounts of money for top scores on state standardized tests. The program may also pay principals bonuses if their school's passing rate improves, "but that aspect of the program is still subject to approval by city officials under conflict of interest regulations."

Teachers at one Virginia middle school combine courses, achievement levels in one classroom.

Washington Post (10/14, B1, Matthews) reported, "[A]t Blue Ridge Middle School in Loudoun County," Virginia, three teachers "decided last year to experiment with placing honors, regular and special education students in the same rooms, offering a course that unified social studies and English, and encouraging every child to reach higher than before." Now in the second year of the experiment, "the three teachers said the tendency [is] for students at or below grade level to try books and projects considered above them." Students "of different achievement levels" study subject matter along shared themes, and discuss it with their entire class, but "honors students have more open-ended essay questions on their tests," and "are assigned projects that demand more thought and imagination." All students have the opportunity to volunteer for higher-level work. Sixth-grade teacher Inez Lemmert said that the students "bring themselves up to these new expectations, rather than someone dumbing down all the work for them."

Maryland school uses Drop Everything and Read program to encourage independent reading.

Baltimore Sun (10/14, Gvozdas) reported, "Low reading scores and a lack of interest in reading prompted" Annapolis, Maryland's Wiley H. Bates Middle School "to launch the Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) program, which gives students two 30-minute periods a week to read whatever they want." Students are awarded five "book bucks" for each book report they write. These can be spent at a store stocked by the school's PTA, which has "prizes ranging from pencils with fancy erasers for five book bucks to the Apple iPod nano for 250 book bucks." While the program is still fairly new, many teachers report encouraging results. "Sarah Green, a seventh-grade math teacher, said she can see an improvement in how her students handle word problems," while seventh-grade language arts teacher Tara Striffler said that students who were previously unable to focus on books now "are begging me to read." The school aims to encourage every student to read 25 books this year.

Some Texas elementary schools use chess in the classroom to reinforce learning.

Texas's CBS affiliate
KHOU-TV (10/15) reports, "The First Move chess program is being implemented" at 16 Spring Independent School District elementary schools "as a learning tool to increase higher-level thinking skills, advance math and reading skills and build self-esteem in students." The program teaches second and third grade students "to solve problems, make decisions, and reason logically" through the game of chess, practiced in the classroom for one hour each week. Several teachers were trained in the program over the summer -- the training took place onboard a cruise ship at sea, though the district's superintendent maintains it was less expensive than many other training programs the district has funded -- and have now trained their colleagues. Organizers believe "the game has links to many subjects, including math, science, reading, writing, social studies and art, and the First Move program maximizes those connections to the curriculum."
Vail Daily (10/14) adds that First Move is "an American Federation of Chess program that 155 other schools throughout the United States teach."

After test questions are printed in newspaper, Michigan reconsiders testing across multiple days.

In continuing coverage from Friday's briefing, the
New York Times (10/13, A12, Bunkley) reported that "Michigan's Department of Education (DOE) is making thousands of fifth- and sixth-graders retake a part of the state's standardized writing test because a newspaper published a brief article about the test that revealed the topics of two questions." The state is "considering penalties against the Jackson Public Schools," for allowing a reporter into a classroom during testing.
AP (10/13, Eggert) added that Michigan's DOE "said Friday it will reconsider letting school districts give state standardized tests on different days." Many parents have questioned whether the practice is a security risk regardless of the newspaper's actions, since students could post information about the tests on social networking sites.

As students make use of high-tech cheating devices, teachers counter with low-tech tests.

Citizen-Patriot (10/14) reported, "As technology improves, students can find ways to cheat other than the antiquated methods of writing answers on their hands or whispering to a friend seated nearby. They can record information on iPods or MP3 players and sneak a listen in a large lecture hall, or check out Web sites that post answers to tests given by specific professors." Some students photograph notes or textbook pages with their cell phones, which they may be allowed to carry with them during class. Services such as and search engines such as Google allow instructors to compare students' entire compositions -- or even a phrase -- with a massive database to check for plagiarism or inaccurately documented sources." But some solutions to the problem are surprisingly low-tech. Teachers have had some success with offering only paper-and-pencil tests, offering multiple versions of the same test, and banning electronic devices from the classroom.


Researchers say teachers suffer highest rate of vocal injuries.

San Antonio Express-News (10/13, Ludwig) reported, "Teachers have the nation's highest incidence of voice box injury, according to the world's leading vocal researchers, who are" visiting San Antonio "this weekend for an international conference on occupational voice injuries at the University of Texas at San Antonio." According to one study, teachers make up 20 percent of the patients in vocal clinics, but less than four percent of the workforce. Some participants at the conference hope to see "federal safety guidelines" placing limits on the number of hours per day that anyone can be required to speak to a group of people, including the number of hours that teachers can be required to hold classes.

Plan to build affordable housing for teachers in New York City seen as model for other cities.

AP (10/15, Dobnik) reports that teachers struggling to afford housing in New York City "may soon have a new option," a "234-unit housing project being developed specifically for educators." The project, paid for in part by the New York City Teachers' Retirement System, is seen as a possible "model in other cities where soaring rents are forcing out essential workers like teachers, police and firefighters." New York lost more than 4,000 teachers last year, with exiting teachers citing the high cost of housing frequently in exit interviews. A studio apartment typically costs more than half the annual salary of a starting teacher in New York City. The new building, to be built in the Bronx, is expected to charge "from $806 a month for a studio to $1,412 for a three-bedroom apartment" and "will be open to teachers in public, private, parochial and charter schools, as well as administrators."


Schools nationwide face increase in staph infections.

In continuing coverage from a previous briefing, the AP (10/13, O'Dell) reported, "Schools across the country are reporting outbreaks of staph [Staphylococcus Areus] infections, particularly among athletes, and the germs include an antibiotic-resistant strain that is sometimes associated with serious skin problems and blood disorders." The antibiotic-resistant strain, known as MRSA [Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Areus], "thrives in healthcare settings where people have open wounds. But in recent years, outbreaks have also occurred in schools." The state of Virginia is preparing safety information on MRSA for distribution to all schools and parents, after several Virginia schools have closed weight rooms or cancelled sporting events in response to outbreaks. Anne Arundel County in neighboring Maryland has faced such an extensive outbreak that "crews have been scrubbing all 12 high schools with hospital disinfectant," while more than 800 students at an Ohio school were sent home early last Tuesday "as a precaution after at least one student contracted MRSA." The bacteria thrive in warm, wet conditions, and have appeared in many school locker rooms.


Illinois districts spend about half of funding on classroom instruction.
Daily Herald (10/14, Krone) reported that an examination of school revenue and spending in 94 Illinois school districts revealed that "[s]tatewide, districts spent 50.1 percent" of their funding "on instruction." The remaining money "went to everything else: construction and maintenance; janitors, nurses, social workers and guidance counselors; administrators and principals; consultants and lawyers." Some states now mandate that a certain percentage of expenditures must go toward classroom instruction, though Illinois does not. Many educators question the value of such calculations, as a recent "Standard and Poor's analysis found no significant correlation between the percentage of money districts spend on instruction and the percentage of students who meet state standards in reading and math."


Opinion: New Orleans experiment could re-create urban education in America. In an opinion for the Boston Globe (10/14), James Peyser of the NewSchools Venture Fund wrote, "What has happened since the disaster" of Hurricane Katrina "is redefining urban public education. Instead of simply rebuilding the old district, based on the old institutions, policy leaders in New Orleans and Baton Rouge decided to start from scratch, fashioning a public education system based on new ideas and promising models of reform from around the country." Educators nationwide are watching the results of the experiment, hoping to see a "model for the radical transformation of city school systems." New Orleans' new system de-emphasizes the central office, granting power over budgets and curriculum to principals. More than half of the city's schools are now public charter schools. Organizations work to recruit teachers for New Orleans nationwide -- and to certify non-traditional teachers. "Such a real-life, large-scale example of a totally redesigned school system," writes Peyser, "developed under extraordinarily harsh conditions, promises to transform the debate about what is possible in public education."