Tuesday, October 16, 2007

LCEA Morning Edition 10/16/2007*


Few chronically failing schools have faced changes under NCLB.

In a front-page story, the
New York Times (10/16, A1, Schemo) reports, "For chronically failing schools,...the No Child Left Behind law, now up for renewal in Congress, prescribes drastic measures: firing teachers and principals, shutting schools and turning them over to a private firm, a charter operator or the state itself, or a major overhaul in governance." The most severe penalties are scheduled to take effect for the first time in this, the fifth year since the law's passage. But some states are "overwhelmed by growing numbers of schools that cannot satisfy the law's escalating demands." More than 1,000 California schools and 441 Florida schools are candidates for closure or overhaul. In Maryland, Baltimore alone has 49 chronically failing schools. With the resources available for school reform stretched thin, "so far, education experts say they are unaware of a single state that has taken over a failing school in response to the law." A survey by the U.S. DOE last year "showed that in 87 percent of the cases of persistently failing schools, states and school districts avoided wholesale changes in staff or leadership."
Arizona school reverses "failing" status without leadership change. Craycroft Elementary in Tucson, Arizona has gone from a "failing" label to a "highly performing" label without a change of leadership, reported Arizona's
Tucson Citizen (10/15, Kalaitzidis, Bustamente). The school has hired many new teachers, expanded its gifted student program and worked to create more uniform teaching standards. Craycroft now "holds sessions to show [teachers] good teaching and good presentation skills," and requires teachers to "have lesson plans ready and submit them to the principal at the beginning of the week."


Oklahoma high school eliminates lockers, does not issue textbooks.

Oklahoman (10/16, Jackson) reports, "Students at Mustang High School [Mustang, Oklahoma] are being encouraged to use online versions of their textbooks, since they did not receive their own books this year." Each teacher at the school has a set of textbooks in the classroom for student use, and students can check out books to bring home. They also have access to the entire text of their books online. The school, on a campus of 13 buildings, eliminated both textbooks and lockers this year, because "students were either carrying all their books all day long or were late to class because they were getting books from their lockers." Since 25 percent of the school's students do not have Internet access at home, the school does not expect to fully eliminate traditional books.

Guitars in the Classroom program trains teachers to give musical lessons.

Sheboygan Press (10/15, Ortegon) reported that, under the Guitars in the Classroom program, "teachers learn how to play a few simple chords on a guitar and how to turn those chords into musical lessons that can be incorporated into nearly any academic subject." The nonprofit program, offered free to schools, pays local guitar instructors to train the teachers, and "guitar manufacturers around the United States" provide "free instruments and materials to the schools." Guitars in the Classroom participant and first grade teacher Beth Hatch "said she has always used motion and music with her students and started using her program-issued guitar in class after her first lesson." Kindergarten teacher Julie Jacobsen "said her students are already so used to her strumming along during class that when a day goes by with no guitar, they object."

Michigan teacher wins national award for involving students in community service.

Lansing State Journal (10/15, Lounds) reported, "St. Johns High School [Michigan] teacher Kari Simon-Pieters has been awarded the Learn and Serve America Educator award from the Corporation for National and Community Service for linking lessons to life." Simon-Pieters, who teaches chemistry as well as anatomy and physiology, uses service-learning, "a teaching method that connects learning with meaningful service to the community." Her students have planted trees to create an erosion-reducing buffer zone around a local creek, and "participated in the Stony Creek Watershed Project to test water quality, report data to Michigan State University and watershed landowners, and post the data on the World Water Monitoring Day website." They have given presentations to local organizations about "conserving petroleum resources" by re-using parts of athletic shoes, and coordinated an organ donation drive, inspired by the tale of a student's brother who had received a transplant.

Educational foundation helps teachers from one Illinois district innovate in the classroom.

Pantagraph (10/16, Coulter) reports that Beyond the Books, "a nonprofit organization that fosters creative and innovative ideas of teachers in Unit 5 and District 87 schools" in Illinois "has awarded more than $250,000 in response to teacher requests covering "a good mix of arts, science, music, math and all parts of the curriculum." Founded by a school board member who wanted to give teachers flexibility to innovate in their classrooms, the foundation started with a single $3,000 donation from the school district in 1989. This year, Beyond the Books purchased "Dance Dance Revolution mats," which lead fourth graders through fifteen minutes of dance before starting class, "because teacher Amy Schumacher learned students retain more if they exercise first." Teacher Amy Oberts used the funds to create "a Wild About Math event at Washington Elementary School, buying math equipment, games and items for a jungle-themed family activity," while two Spanish teachers used grant money to purchase iPods for use in class.
South Carolina district trains teachers to use the Internet to enhance learning.

South Carolina's ABC affiliate
WPDE-TV (10/16) reports that South Carolina's Darlington School District is looking to social networking websites like Facebook and MySpace "for ways to enhance learning, in and out of the classroom." The district is asking every K-12 teacher to become familiar with the sites, and training all its teachers to "create websites where kids can access assignments and seek help from fellow students and teachers."

School nurses often the first to be aware of students' emotional struggles. The New York Times (10/16, F5, Hoffman) reports, "Sorting fact from fiction, tragedy from comedy, fever from fevered performances is the venerable part of a school nurse's job. But as childhood and adolescence have become increasingly medicalized, and schools have been mandated to accommodate students with an array of physical and psychological challenges, the school nurse's role has expanded exponentially." The Times profiles Pam Palmieri, nurse at New Jersey's Millburn Middle School, whose role has changed considerably in more than 20 years of service. Now, she is "often the first adult to learn about bullying," to see students struggling with eating disorders or self-mutilation, or to know which students are struggling with the demands of a highly competitive school.


Students at two Chicago schools walk out over teacher firings.

Chicago Tribune (10/16, Sadovi) reports, "Several hundred students at Schurz High School on the northwest side" of Chicago "staged a four-hour walkout Monday to protest the firing of four new teachers." Students at Julian High School on Chicago's south side held a similar protest last week after 10 teachers there were released. "Districtwide, 56 high school and 11 elementary school teachers were sent letters informing them that their jobs had ended due to lower-than-expected enrollment figures, said Mike Vaughn, a Chicago Public Schools spokesman." District officials say they are meeting with the displaced teachers "to try to help place them in new jobs."

Many barriers make it difficult to bring healthy, local foods into school lunchrooms.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer (10/15, Langston) reported, "While schools are offering healthier menu choices, what seems like a no-brainer -- feeding local kids locally grown food -- is surprisingly hard to do." Lunch programs generally "have roughly one dollar per student to spend on food for a nutritious lunch...less than the cost of a single tomato bought at a farmers market," and even if they had more to spend, they are often limited by state procurement policies that require them to purchase from the lowest bidder. Many schools "have ripped out kitchens and replaced them with closet-sized rewarming centers" with limited cooking ability. Still, some schools have succeeded in reforming lunch programs to focus on healthy, local food, seeking out private funding and partnerships to make reforms affordable. Legislative initiatives that seek to make it easier for schools to serve local, nutritious food are gaining traction on both the national and state levels.

Minnesota report recommends new teacher mentoring program be adopted statewide.

Mankato Free Press (10/16, Krohn) reports that Minnesota 2020, a state education think tank, has recommended that Minnesota adopt a new teacher mentoring program pioneered by the Mankato Area Public Schools (MAPS). "The report notes that half of all new teachers change schools within the first five years of their careers and 15 percent leave the profession out of frustration or are attracted by higher-paying jobs." Under the MAPS program, veteran teachers can "take a leave, for up to three years, to be district mentors who work with student teachers and college students transitioning into teaching." Teachers at individual schools serve as on-site mentors, helping new teachers "understand mandates and rules particular to" their district, and giving "advice on everything from teaching methods to working with other faculty."

Newark, New Jersey works with nonprofits to operate new teacher support program.
New Jersey's
Newark Star-Ledger (10/16, Addison) reports that Newark, New Jersey's city schools operate a New Teacher's Resource Program that "aims to further develop instructional skills and give teachers a support network." New teachers in the city's schools "are given a handbook, a CD with instructional videos and access to material on" a teacher support website. They meet with mentors regularly, and with a group of other new teachers once per month. The program is operated in partnership with the nonprofit Teachers Network, and funded by the Citi Foundation, a philanthropic project of the financial services company Citigroup.


Los Angeles program distributes food, coupons to feed students through the weekend.

The CBS Evening News (10/15, story 11, 2:40, Couric) reported that in one of Los Angeles's poorest schools, "[s]cores are up and so is attendance thanks to a ground-breaking program." Every Friday, students at Normandy Elementary School receive a backpack filled with "food, store coupons and [a] menu...all provided free" by the "Blessings in a Backpack" program. So that no student is singled out, every student in the school brings home the backpack to help feed their family through the weekend. School psychologist Cynthia Brockman-Coleman noted that since the start of the program "test scores have gone up 33 points, and attendance has increased, too." She also said that "the parents really feel that the school cares about them and so they also feel that they have to give something back to the school." The program is funded by "former Disney star Hilary Duff." With new support from corporate donors, the program "has gone nationwide with seven other schools and 20 about ready to launch."

Chicago to open U.S. Marine Corps high school.

The Chicago Tribune (10/15, Banchero, Sadovi) reported, "Chicago Public Schools (CPS), which already has the largest junior military reserve program in the nation," has created "the country's first public high school run by the U.S. Marines, much to the chagrin of activists who have fought to keep the armed services out of city schools." The city also "announced plans to open an Air Force academy high school in 2009." The move would make CPS "the only public school district in the nation to have academies dedicated to the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines," serving over 11,000 students. Students are not required to enlist in the military after graduating from the schools. "But despite a stated focus on college prep, the city's military academies have had mixed academic records since the first academy opened in 2000," with none of the schools meeting federal

No Child Left Behind testing standards last year.
Editorial: Focus reform efforts on middle school to ensure high school success.

Indiana's Indianapolis Star (10/15) editorialized, "The correlation between middle-school performance and high school achievement," according to a Center for Education Policy study released last week, is a stronger predictor of testing success than whether students attend public or private high school. "The better a student performs in middle school, the more likely he will ultimately earn a high school diploma." But in Indiana, 32 percent of eighth-graders failed the state's recent standardized English test, and 29 percent failed the state's math assessment. The Star wrote that "the lack of rigorous, relevant curricula, an underlying factor in why many high schools produce large numbers of dropouts, also is a problem at the middle-school level," and while "officials have made strong efforts to overhaul high schools," middle schools have not received the same attention. The Star argued that "the importance of middle schools can't be ignored. It's time for an overhaul."