Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Doctors Group Opposes Automatic School Suspensions, Expulsions

USA Today (2/25, Toppo) reports the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a policy statement that automatically suspending or expelling students who disrupt classes is an "increasingly questionable" response and the "so-called zero-tolerance" policies represent a "drastic" response. The AAP "criticizes zero-tolerance suspensions and expulsions that were originally intended to keep guns and drugs out of schools but now are applied more broadly in many cases, such as when students bring toy guns or headache medicine to school." The statement, which appears in the online version of the journal Pediatrics, claims that removing a student from school is "increasingly ineffective because more students arrive at school from homes in which no parent is home during the school day."


Reuters (2/26, Seaman) reports the AAP statement also notes the link between out-of-school suspension and expulsion and students who are involved in the juvenile justice system. The group says that students who are removed from school may stay at home without any parental oversight and may engage in other delinquent behavior. The pediatricians recommend early interventions of troubled children in preschool and introducing school-wide Positive Behavior Intervention and Support programs.


HealthDay (2/26, Norton) quotes lead author Dr. Jeffery Lamont, a pediatrician at Wisconsin's Marshfield Clinic: "There's a tremendous price to pay not just for the kid involved, but for society." Lamont also noted that a 2006 study by the American Psychological Association "found after a decade of research that there was no evidence that zero-tolerance policies had made schools any safer or helped kids' school performances. But there was evidence, the task force found, that the policies were disproportionately targeting black and Hispanic kids."

WSJournal Faults President's Call For Universal Pre-K.

The Wall Street Journal (2/26, Subscription Publication) editorializes on the President's call for universal pre-k. The Journal proposes that call as an excellent example of a program that has failed to show results leading to even more calls for pre-k. As the President touted Georgia as a model, the Journal points out that test scores in that state are below the national average and there is a large achievement gap. The Journal further argues that studies indicate that the most effective programs are those targeted at the neediest students and that Head Start has been doing just that since 1965 with little to show for it according to a recent HHS study.

Maryland Touted As Ready To Heed President's Call For Pre-K With New Proposal.

The Baltimore Sun (2/25) wrote in an editorial, "Scientists have long known that the human mind develops most rapidly during the first five years of life, a point President Barack Obama underscored in his State of the Union address when he urged states to provide universal access to high-quality pre-kindergarten programs." Now "Maryland is well-positioned to heed the president's call." That's because "in late 2011, the state won an early learning challenge grant funded through the federal Race to the Top competition aimed at encouraging local jurisdictions to come up with innovative approaches to increase the quality of instructional programs," and now "Sen. Bill Ferguson and Del. Samuel I. 'Sandy' Rosenberg, both Baltimore Democrats, are proposing to take that a step further." They would do that with a bill to "set up something of a state-level 'Race to the Top' in which local jurisdictions could compete for grants to help create more high-quality preschool services."

Professor Calls For More Male K-12 Teachers

In an op-ed for USA Today (2/25), Glenn Harlan Reynolds, a professor of law at the University of Tennessee, writes that one reason to back alternatives to public schools is that it "seems that teachers - overwhelmingly female - just might be prejudiced against boys and it's hurting their grades. Stereotyped as 'naughty,' boys quickly learn that they are thought of as dumber and more trouble than girls. And that has consequences." Reynolds says this is because teachers in K-12 are "overwhelmingly female," and encourages efforts to hire more male teachers.

Oklahoma Districts Cope With Wide Scale Student Poverty

The Oklahoman (2/26) reports on the efforts that Oklahoma district officials take to offset devastating poverty in impoverished districts, noting that according to the paper's analysis, "schools with higher letter grades tend to have lower poverty rates, and vice versa. But Ryal is one of the school districts bucking the trend." Despite high poverty levels, "technology, personalized learning and dedicated teachers are part of Superintendent Scot Trower's plan."

Report: US On Track To Meet Grad-Rate Goal

Caralee Adams writes at the Education Week (2/26) "College Bound" blog, "A 90 percent high school graduation rate by 2020 was a lofty goal set by the Grad Nation campaign in 2010. But the latest report from the coalition of education organizations shows that, with a 78.2 percent four-year graduation rate in 2010, the pace of improvement is picking up-putting some U.S. states on track to meet that goal if the progress continues." The article relates rising graduation rate statistics, noting that the report "attributes much of the growth to improved performance by Latino and African-American students. Between 2006 and 2010, the Hispanic graduation rate grew from 61 percent to 71.4 percent, while the graduation rate for black students went up from 59.2 percent to 66.1 percent."


Lingering Gaps Temper Report's Positive News.Reuters (2/25) reports that despite the positive news in the report about rising graduation rates, there are still significant gaps for students with disabilities or limited English language proficiency. Meanwhile, significant achievement gaps between white students and students of color remain.

Illinois Districts Bracing For Harder Tests.

The Chicago Tribune (2/25) reports, "The number of Libertyville and Lake Forest grade school students who fail standardized state tests will likely spike this year as a result of more stringent passing requirements and tougher exam questions, but district officials in both areas say they've prepared for the changes." The piece notes that there are new cut scores for state reading and math tests, adding that the "tougher requirements come as Illinois transitions to the Common Core, a set of comprehensive learning standards that have been introduced in 44 other states."

The Chicago Tribune (2/25, Ruzich) also reports that "district officials in Westmont, Woodridge, Willowbrook and Darien are preparing for the new Illinois Standards Achievement Test, which will include stringent passing thresholds and some tougher questions." Nevertheless, Cathy Fisher, director of teaching and learning for Maercker School District 60, "said she expects many students to still do well because the district had already implemented new common-core standards."

Minnesota Educators Preparing For Common Core English Tests.

The St. Paul Pioneer-Press (2/26, Koumpilova) reports on the measures that Minnesota teachers are taking to prepare students for "a tougher reading test this spring. The exam will reflect new literacy standards the state adopted as part of the national Common Core initiative to sync up expectations across state lines." The piece explains what the more difficult tests will include, and notes that though Minnesota signed on to the Common Core standards in 2010, "it opted out of the math standards that officials said fell short of the state's expectations."

Lead Levels In Blood Linked To Lower Test Scores In Detroit Study

The Detroit Free Press (2/26, Matheny) reports that a study to be published in the American Journal of Public Health found that "the greater the lead poisoning in a Detroit Public Schools student's blood, the higher the likelihood he or she will do poorly on achievement tests - even after accounting for contributing factors such as poverty." The study was based on "blood test results provided by the city health department" that were matched "with those children's elementary and middle school scores on the statewide Michigan Educational Assessment Program." The study found that levels as low as 2.5 mg/l had significant effects on student scores.

Chicago Announces Every Elementary School Will Offer Full-Day Kindergarten Next Year

NBC Chicago (2/26, 4:46 p.m. ET, Bonafiglia) reports, "Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbra Byrd-Bennett announced Monday that every CPS school will for the first time offer full-day kindergarten starting next school year." The city has "six thousand additional seats...this past year, bringing the total number of students with access to 26,500." The effort "is part of a $15 million investment by the city in high-quality education." Secretary Duncan issued a statement saying, "This strategic investment in the education of young Chicagoans will not only improve their preparation for school and their life chances - it will also immeasurably strengthen and enrich this great city."


The Chicago Tribune (2/25, Ahmed-ullah) reports, "The program will be paid for with savings at the central office that include limiting overtime by engineers and renegotiating heating and electric contracts for school buildings."

Monday, February 25, 2013

Duncan Makes Case For Averting Sequestration On "Face The Nation."

As the March 1 deadline for massive spending cuts under Federal budget sequestration looms, the story has dominated national press coverage. Several reports touch on Education Secretary Arne Duncan's appearance on CBS's Face The Nation (2/25) as part of the Administration's push to persuade Congress to adopt a plan to avert the cuts.


NBC Nightly News (2/24, lead story, 2:25, Holt) reported in the lead story of an abbreviated broadcast, "Fewer than five days till the budget axe falls, barring some last minute deal, the Obama Administration is trying to add to the urgency with Cabinet secretaries offering dire warnings on Sunday morning TV." Education Secretary Arne Duncan is shown saying, "And there are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices they can't come back this fall."

Several political blogs focused on Duncan's Sunday comments. The Washington Post (2/25, Sullivan) reports in its 'The Fix' blog that Duncan "warned Sunday that thousands of teachers around the country could lose their jobs as a result of the automatic across-the-board spending cuts slated to begin Friday, barring action by lawmakers." The Post quotes Duncan saying on "Face the Nation," "As many of 40,000 teachers could lose their jobs. There are literally teachers now who are getting pink slips, who are getting notices they can't come back this fall." The Post adds that Duncan "argued that there was virtually nothing he could do to shield essential education programs from the federal spending cuts, which are set to begin Friday, if lawmakers don't act to avert them," quoting him saying, "We don't have any ability with dumb cuts like this to figure out what the right thing to do is. It just means that a lot more children will not get the kinds of services and opportunities they need."


The Hill (2/25, Becker) also covers Duncan's appearance on "Face the Nation," reporting in its 'Blog Briefing Room' blog that Duncan "said Sunday that sequestration would have a devastating affect on school systems around the country. Duncan said that teachers around the country were already being informed that they won't be retained, and that some 40,000 teachers in all could lose their jobs." Duncan warned of cuts to Head Start and Impact Aid students, The Hill reports, quoting him saying, "We don't have any ability with dumb cuts like this to figure out what the right thing to do is. It just means a lot more children will not get the kinds of opportunities and services they need." The Hill, noting that other such Cabinet members as Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood are also speaking out on potential impacts of cuts, concludes by reporting that Duncan also lamented the issue's taking focus from the gun violence debate, quoting him saying, "That's where I think we should be spending our time, is talking about how we reduce gun violence. That's the productive use of our time. Spending time talking about stupid issues like this in Congress doesn't make sense."

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Students In Oregon District Organizing Standardized Test Boycott

The Oregonian (2/2, Dungca) reports that a group of students in Portland, Oregon, "is urging classmates to boycott state benchmark tests, calling them a waste of resources and inaccurate measures of student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Leaders of the Portland Public Schools student union and a broader group called the Portland Student Union say students should opt out of the annual Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills exams, which are used in state and federal school ratings." The piece quotes a leader of the group saying that "the tests take away valuable class time and are ultimately unfair measures for both students and teachers."

USDA Releases Nutritional Guidelines For "Competitive Foods."

The AP (2/4, Jalonick) reports that USDA "for the first time is proposing broad new standards to make sure all foods sold in schools are more healthful, a change that would ban the sale of almost all candy, high-calorie sports drinks and greasy foods on campus." Under the newly-proposed rules, "school vending machines would start selling water, lower-calorie sports drinks, diet sodas and baked chips instead. Lunchrooms that now sell fatty 'a la carte' items like mozzarella sticks and nachos would have to switch to healthier pizzas, low-fat hamburgers, fruit cups and yogurt."


USA Today (2/1, Hellmich) reports that USDA on Friday "released its proposed standards for 'competitive foods,' the name given to foods that are not part of the regular school meals. The standards set limits for calories, fat, sugar and sodium." The piece quotes Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack saying, "Good nutrition lays the groundwork for good health and academic success."


Bloomberg News (2/1, Armour) reports, "Candy bars in school vending machines will be replaced by granola and dried fruit under a U.S. plan that sets nutrition requirements for snacks, sodas and other food sold outside of regular meals." The piece notes that USDA "about a year ago revamped nutrition standards for school lunches and breakfasts as it seeks to reduce child obesity." The Hill (2/1, Viebeck) also covers this story in its "Healthwatch" blog.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Seattle Teachers Leading National Revolt Against Standardized Testing

USA Today (2/1, Toppo) reports, "The decision by a group of Seattle teachers to boycott a standardized test this winter could spill out to other cities as a decade of frustration over testing simmers." As evidence, "the Chicago Teachers Union this week launched a campaign 'in support of local and nationwide efforts to eliminate standardized non-state mandated tests' from public schools." Student groups in Providence, Rhode Island and Portland, Oregon have also called for an end to testing requirements. "National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel calls the Seattle boycott 'a defining moment' for the education profession."

California Republicans Propose Arming School Staff

The Los Angeles Times (1/31, Mcgreevy) reports that a group of Republicans in the California legislature "Wednesday proposed allowing school districts to spend education funds to train teachers, administrators and janitors in gun use." Noting that "Assemblyman and tea party adherent Tim Donnelly" is considering a gubernatorial bid, the Times quotes him saying, "The idea is to create essentially an invisible line of defense around our kids." Donnelly "said his bill was an alternative to a dozen introduced by Democrats to impose tighter gun controls, some of which he called a violation of the right to bear arms."

Indiana Teachers Tasked With Explaining Common Core To Parents

An NPR (1/31, Moxley) "StateImpact" article reports that teachers in Indiana "have been tasked with explaining key changes" related to the Common Core Standards "not just to students but to parents, too." The article profiles a local first-grade teacher who helps to write "a weekly newsletter to parents explaining what first grade students are learning." The piece notes that Indiana first-grade teachers are "teaching the first group of students who received instruction based on the new standards as kindergartners."

New Jersey Technology Conference To Focus On "Digital Learning Environments

The Asbury Park (NJ) Press (1/30, Boyd) reports that TECHSPO, an annual New Jersey education technology conference, will focus on "digital learning environments." The paper quotes New Jersey Association of School Administrators Executive Director Richard Bozza saying, "Schools are at a pivotal turning point with technology. We are moving beyond 'classrooms with computers' to environments where technology is an integral part of creative thinking and problem-solving. With technology, students can learn at their own pace, guided by teachers who no longer become the sole content providers. In this way, students become much more engaged in the learning process."