Articles from June, 2008

Talk about egg on your face

BoardBuzz had to chuckle when we saw this story that came to us via CNN.com:

A Cleveland-area principal says he’s embarrassed his students got proof of their “educaiton” on their high school diplomas.

Westlake High School officials misspelled “education” on the diplomas distributed last weekend. It’s been the subject of mockery on local radio.

Principal Timothy Freeman says he sent back the diplomas once to correct another error. When the diplomas came back, no one bothered to check things they thought were right the first time.

The publisher has reprinted the diplomas a second time and sent them to the 330 graduates.

Ouch!

Erin Walsh|June 6th, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

House OKs school construction bill

Thanks to NSBA‘s advocacy and grassroots effort, Congress has finally acknowledged the tremendous infrastructure needs facing our nation’s public schools. NSBA is pleased about the House passage of a school construction bill yesterday, which would provide $6.4 billion in grants to states and school districts for school repairs and modernization. H.R. 3021 came at a time when total school facility and technology needs are estimated at well over $300 billion, see this letter from NSBA.

Although the timing of final passage and enactment of this legislation is uncertain, NSBA looks forward to working with the Senate to advance the issue and where there are two major school construction bills pending: Senator Jay Rockefeller’s (D-WV) S. 912, the America’s Better Classroom Act, and Senator Tom Harkin’s (D-IA) S.1942, the Public School Repair and Renovation Act. While not direct companion bills to H.R. 3021, both the America’s Better Classrooms Act and the Public School Repair and Renovation Act provide substantial legislative vehicles to advance school construction in the Senate.

Stay tuned to NSBA‘s legislative updates here.

Erin Walsh|June 5th, 2008|Categories: Educational Legislation, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

The rise of Edupunk

Edupunk is a new idea. In fact, the term was coined on May 25, 2008 by Jim Groom in his blog post, “The Glass Beads,” and just a week later it appears in the Chronicle of Higher Education.

BoardBuzz was intrigued by this allusion to punk music as inspiration for an approach to teaching (and we’ve always wanted to sport a Mohawk). But what it all comes down to is a rejection of the role that capital plays in new technologies, especially the tendency of corporations to sell us back our ideas and innovations at a price. Edupunk embraces the DIY spirit (do it yourself). As Wikipedia states:

Edupunk is an ideology referring to educators and education strategies with a do it yourself (DIY) spirit. Most instructional uses of blogs, wikis, various mashups, and podcasting among many other uses of emerging technologies might be described as DIY education or Edupunk…

Edupunk is also a rejection of efforts by government and corporate interests in using emerging technologies to exercise control over education, its processes, and its stakeholders, somewhat similar to punk ideologies. There is also an element of resistance to large and influential education businesses like Blackboard cooping emerging, collaborative, DIY technologies and techniques and repackaging them as their own product.

Just as punk rock was anti-establishment and rebelled against the predictable sound of pop music, Edupunk arose as a reaction against Blackboard’s cookie-cutter tools and appropriation of Web 2.0 ideas. The fear is that the idea of Web 2.0 has itself become something less useful than a meme—a checklist of features.

But, not everyone objects to corporate embrace of Web 2.0 tools. Our old friend David Warlick, who has been a classroom teacher, district administrator, and staff consultant with the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, and for the past 10 years has operated The Landmark Project, adds this to the discussion:

It is certainly one of the most interesting aspects of the read/write web that so much of it has come from very small, garage and dorm-room endeavors, and that the growing toolset lends itself to inventiveness among its users — emoting a do-it-yourself (DIY) spirit.

As we continue to promote the use of a more participatory information landscape for learning environments, I think that we should be explicitly promoting this DIY aspect — a sense that the information can be shaped and controlled by professional educators, and that sharing this control with students can be an appropriate, information-abundant, learning pedagogy.

I do not have any real objection to corporate embrace of these tools. We’re all trying to make a living.

What worries me, though, is school officials hearing the buzz, and thinking that they can buy their way into the crowd, rather than learning their way in.

Learn your way in. That’s DIY in our book. If you’re intrigued by all of this, BoardBuzz suggests registering for NSBA’s T+L Conference. David Warlick is one of this year’s keynote speakers!

Erin Walsh|June 5th, 2008|Categories: Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Care and feeding of your volunteers

I just finished my last day of the school year as a tutor at Jefferson-Houston Elementary School here in Alexandria, Va., and while I was just as happy as the students to be done for the year, I left with a nagging worry that I’d learned more from my students than they had learned from me.

Just dropping in once a week to read a book with my assigned student gave me a glimpse of the challenges faced by this school, which despite having a new principal, experienced staff, and a preschool program has repeatedly missed NCLB targets and is largely regarded as the “worst” school in the district.

Jefferson-Houston serves a population that doesn’t see the benefits of the gentrified historic area surrounding it—its boundaries include million-dollar townhomes in the swank Old Town section, as well as housing projects and apartments near the subway lines. The few school-age children living in the nicest areas aren’t attending Jefferson-Houston, though. In fact, most real estate listings for these homes don’t advertise the assigned schools.

Last year, I sometimes dreaded the hour that I spent with a boy who, frankly, needed far more help than I could offer. He was reading about three years below his grade level and let me know several times that he would have much preferred to be with his classmates in P.E. His teacher, who was young, enthusiastic, and overwhelmed, continuously thanked me and assured me that he enjoyed our sessions, even though he didn’t know my name.

In this month’s ASBJ, communication columnist Nora Carr outlines the ways school staff can create a more welcoming environment and better train their volunteers to understand the challenges of working with at-risk children—something I wish I had read before venturing into this school. She describes how the superintendent of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg (N.C.) district brought in thousands of volunteers by working with leaders of local churches and then providing extensive training and outreach. And she correctly points out that volunteers need steady communication and may be intimidated at first.

But perhaps the best advice for volunteers came from a middle school principal: “At-risk kids don’t warm up immediately to people they don’t know,” he says. “They’re going to test you first to see if you’re serious about sticking around.”

I eventually learned that the boy I tutored last year lived with his grandmother, who refused to take calls from the school, and numerous other young relatives in a chaotic house, which explained why he was often sleepy. And toward the end of the year, we discovered a series of books that he enjoyed. I can only hope that when he moved on to his next school, that there was a volunteer willing to take time to get to know him.

Joetta Sack-Min, Associate Editor

Kathleen Vail|June 4th, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Governance, Student Achievement|

Hope for education

Samsung is holding an annual Hope for Education contest. The contest invites students from schools across the country to write a 100-word essay about how technology benefits and helps education. This year’s question asks students: “How has technology educated you on helping the environment and how or why has it changed your behavior to be more environmentally friendly?”

Essays should focus on:

  1. How current or emerging technologies increase your awareness and understanding of environmental issues, and cause you to make environmentally friendly changes in your life.
  2. How technology products can be made, used and disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner.
  3. Why technology will play an increasingly important role in educating people and helping them to change their lives in an environmentally responsible way.

This year’s top winner receives a grand prize of over $200,000 worth of Samsung technology, Microsoft software and cash grants from DIRECTV, as well as the School Choice® educational television programming package (BoardBuzz‘s imagination runs wild with what students could accomplish with that!). Entries are open now. The contest will run until August 31, 2008.

Erin Walsh|June 4th, 2008|Categories: Announcements, Educational Technology, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, Student Achievement|

Talk to me

One of the dumbest purchases I ever made….. Let me qualify that: One of the dumbest purchases I ever made as a parent was a certain book about imagination.

Some background: We live in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, in a leafy green neighborhood with beautiful old-growth trees; nice (but not ostentatious) brick homes; and, if you can believe the parents, a genius child on every block.

I’d like to say I’m immune to the hyper competitiveness of the D.C. region, but that’s not true. And so it was that about a year ago, in the course of my job, I read about an American Psychological Association book on stimulating your child’s imagination, and something in me snapped.

“Got to have it — or else!” the frantic parent in me said. And so I bought it: Twenty-five bucks down the drain.

Now, not to dis the APA or anything, but was this really necessary?

Sample conversation with my 3-year-old:

“OK, Alison. Time to stop being a kitty and get on your imagination exercises.”

But these things are necessary for many low-income parents. The idea that the rich (or well-educated) get richer is as true in cognitive development as it is in general health. (Our pediatrician, for example, said the kids whose parents buy them vitamins are the ones who don’t need them.)

And, as you well know, many poor children do need help when it comes to language development. We all know the importance of reading to your children. But, according to two thought-provoking articles in the Harvard Education Letter, it’s also important to talk to them.

Among the programs that help is the “Let’s Talk — it Makes a Difference” campaign in Cambridge, Mass. The program shows new mothers how to encourage their children’s language development with “talk workshops” and “reading parties.”

“Parents want to do best by their children,” says a literacy coordinator. “But the talking and reading don’t come as naturally to some parents as others.”

In some cultures it’s not polite for children to “speak up,” yet conversation is critical for developing strong reading skills. Also, there’s the problem of time. Few parents say they have enough of it, but it’s even tighter for low-income families. If you’re poor and struggling to pay for housing, medical care, and groceries, having long conversations with your children may be low on the list of priorities.

Most children in the affluent Washington suburbs — my children — will do just fine, even if they don’t get into the University of Virginia or Virginia Tech. Certainly, these children should be given every opportunity to reach their potential.

But don’t forget — I know you don’t forget — the children for whom just reading at grade level will be a struggle. Programs like the one above may offer more tools in your effort to see that these, and all children, get the education they deserve.

Lawrence Hardy, Senior Editor

Kathleen Vail|June 3rd, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Curriculum, Governance, Student Achievement, Wellness|

The small schools movement could lead to great things… and great debate.

The Small Schools Movement, or Small Schools Initiative, has been emerging onto to the U.S. education scene for the past few years, and as their pros and cons emerged in the national media again this week , BoardBuzz is taking the chance to see what is up with this development.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in 2003, joined New York City school officials in their commitment to experimenting with smaller schools as stronger learning communities for students.

Board Buzz wonders where that leaves New York today, and a recent Newsweek article lets us know where one school in the Bronx is at and where critics and supporters are standing today.

The Morris Academy for Collaborative Studies (MACS), led by Principal Charles Osewalt, is embracing the small high school community that focuses on academics while creating personal connections. For Osewalt and his 29 teachers and 430 students it isn’t unnatural to be members of a close community where your principal will call you in the morning to make sure you show up on time…BoardBuzz has to ask, did that ever happened to you in high school?

These new schools were designed to improve low achievement scores and drop-out rates with the goal of keeping students from falling through the cracks. Newsweek reports that so far they have had mixed results. Attendance and graduation rates are up, but test scores have remained about the same. Still, advocates of small schools say that getting students there is half the battle.

Critics remain steadfast with their concerns of high start-up costs and fewer options with classes and extracurricular activities and their belief that size of the school is less important than the quality of the curriculum.

Small school supporters hope to keep making a meaningful difference in the lives of their students and their academics, and students there seem pretty happy. MACS student, Anthony Delarosa, said, “The teachers and administrators treat you like family. They know when to hug you and when to put the hammer down.”

Research from our friends at the Center for Public Education confirms that size makes a difference when trying to keep students in school and on track toward graduation. Indeed, according to the Center, the adult-student relationships nurtured in small high schools plus a rigorous curriculum are the keys to effective drop out prevention.

BoardBuzz is curious to hear what you think. Can these smaller schools lead to higher student achievement? Be sure to check out the extended article at Newsweek.com to learn more about why some are finding smaller learning communities beneficial and how others don’t see them as long-term solutions.

Erin Walsh|June 3rd, 2008|Categories: Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis|

Coming to a theatre near you?

What’s your favorite education-themed movie?
A) Mr. Holland’s Opus
B) Stand and Deliver
C) Lean on Me
D) Dead Poet’s Society
E) All of the Above

Now there’s a new one to add to the list. The Class (Entre les murs), a French film, recently won the Palme d’Or (the top prize) at the Cannes Film Festival. Sean Penn called it an “an amazing, amazing film.” But why should BoardBuzz (and you) care? The movie covers a year in the life of a Paris junior high school and grapples with many of the same issues American schools face. While urban districts are often used as punching bags by the media, there are good students and success stories that are often missed.

Reviewers say that The Class gets away from the stereotypical school movies and shows more of the human element of the students and their challenges. While a French film, it shows many of the same issues Americans face in urban districts. Let’s hope that the film’s critical acclaim is shared among the masses when it is released later this year (hopefully before election day) and perhaps the topic of education will be seriously discussed in the U.S., as well.

Don’t believe us? Check out what our friends at Public School Insights had to say about this film.

Erin Walsh|June 2nd, 2008|Categories: Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Governance, NSBA Opinions and Analysis, School Boards, School Security, Student Achievement, Teachers|

Multiple Measures for Determing Student Knowledge Makes Sense

Like countless other students across the country, my youngest cousin just graduated from high school. His march toward commencement was hardly a struggle. A brilliant student and talented athlete, Scott breezed through his high school years, earning accolade upon accolade for his academic and athletic achievement.

Scott was never in danger of failing or of not graduating on time, as some 10,000 Maryland students are next year. Starting with the Class of 2009, high school seniors will have to pass four end-of-year course tests in algebra, American government, biology and English in order to earn a diploma, as part of new state graduation requirements.

Anxiety is already building within schools, though state officials believe the new rules won’t adversely impact the graduation rate. The state board did provide a concession, of sorts, by allowing students who failed the test to complete a project.

But some local educators have already expressed concern that the alternative projects are even harder to complete than the tests and would require a substantial amount of supervision and coordination between the student and teacher.

Meanwhile, Rhode Island is getting quite a bit of attention for what promises to be a more effective and accurate way of determining what a student knows before letting him or her walk down the graduation aisle.

Unlike the 23 states (Maryland included) that use high stakes tests solely as a barometer for whether or not to graduate students, Rhode Island, beginning this year, is looking at three different measures: the students grades for their last four years, the scores for state tests taken in their junior year, and “performance-based assessments” like senior projects and portfolios.

“I believe Rhode Island is the wave of the future,” Ray Pechone, co-executive director of the School Redesign Network at Stanford University, told the Providence Journal. “The state is really a pioneer.”

Naomi Dillon, Senior Editor

Naomi Dillon|June 2nd, 2008|Categories: American School Board Journal, Student Achievement|
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