Distill the Rumor Mill
Allegations that the district was not treating a girls' sports team equally to a boys' team. Safety concerns about a telecommunications tower being built on the intermediate school campus. Talk that the first day of school will be delayed. At Chartiers Valley School District in Pittsburgh, administrators prefer to proactively address rumors like these.
For the past two years, Chartiers' public relations department has maintained a Web page on the district site that addresses whatever topics are flowing through the community's rumor mill.
Public Relations Coordinator Karen Coulter explains the Web page supplements letters sent ome with students about rumors, events and emergencies. Because it takes only about 15 minutes to create and post information on the Web, the district can keep it updated and current throughout an event or crisis. "It is a very effective tool for a small amount of time and no cost," she says.
Even better, the format offers another way to acknowledge and clarify rumors. "It gives the district a more approachable personality," Coulter says.
When deciding what to post, Coulter says, "The issue has to be large enough to warrant the district making such a public statement." Without using names of students, she tries "to present enough information to keep the public informed, but not hinder investigations." As with all pages of the district's site, Superintendent Bernard Sulkowski has final say on postings. www.chartiersvalley.k12.pa.us
Teachers' Guide Collects Stories from Sept. 11
The problem of how to deal with the emotional aftermath of the Sept. 11th disaster is one that will plague educators for years to come. In an effort to assist educators in supporting children through recovery, Families and Work Institute will compile stories of teachers and others who have had a positive effect on the children with whom they work.
Salute to Educators hopes to both celebrate those doing innovative work and extend that thinking into a teachers' guide as well as seed money for projects that promote global understanding and personal coping skills.
This guide is available free online and in print; the site will continue to collect stories for at least a year, while the initial print version is projected to coincide with the start of school this fall. Educators can use the guide as a tool to seek inspirational stories and practical implementation of lessons that teach understanding and healing. A television program highlighting the educators, their practices, and the children they teach is also in the works. salute.familiesandwork.org
Cell Phone Recycling
Some statistics suggest more than 30 million cell phones will be retired in the U.S. this year.
Through the FundingFactory's Cell Phone Recycling Program, schools can exchange cell phones donated by family and friends for school equipment and supplies.
The company also has a program where schools can earn supplies by recycling used printer cartridges. www.fundingfactory.com
Lo-Jack for Laptops
Trusting teenagers with their own $2,500 laptop computer can be a little less stressful with an anti-theft device.
Just ask the folks at Episcopal High School, a private school of about 600 students in Houston. Every student has their own laptop, a program that started five years ago.
Since the school installed ComputracePlus, a software service from Absolute Software that tracks stolen devices through the Internet, in every laptop about three years ago, eight laptops that were reported stolen were recovered, according to Steve Eisenberg, the school's technology director.
"Really the most amazing thing was that as soon as the program was implemented the kids became attached to their laptops," says Eisenberg. "We provide them network space to back up all their work, but they often don't. So if a laptop disappears they are really in trouble."
When a laptop is reported stolen and the thief hooks up to the Internet, a signal that is normally sent to the company once daily is sped up so the center gets a signal every 15 minutes, alerting the center it is stolen.
From there, the stolen PC's location can be discovered in two ways: through the Automatic Number Identification or IP address. The ANI allows the company to identify the phone number and corresponding street address of any call in North America, even unlisted numbers.
In addition, all Internet communications are based on an IP address, which is a unique fingerprint for every PC. When a PC's IP address is captured by the company, it is traced to the IP domain's owner. The company then contacts the domain administrator to find who is using the computer. www.absolute.com
Can Districts Meet the New Federal Teacher Goal?
President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act mandates that by 2005 only highly qualified teachers be employed in the public school system. It's a noble goal, but is it realistic?
Administrators began debating the question before the bill was signed in January.
"We are in the midst of a teacher shortage nationwide," says Benny Gooden, superintendent of Fort Smith Public Schools, a rural district in Arkansas.
"We have a great deal of difficulty securing teachers, much less those who have a college major in every field they are assigned to teach." His district employs 900 teachers, 10 to 20 of whom are provisionally licensed. All have college degrees and many are certified in their specific fields.
One critic of the teacher mandate is brutally blunt. "It's fantasy legislation," insists Wayne Johnson, president of the California Teachers Association. He told the Sacramento Bee the government might as well be asking "all teachers have a Ph.D. infour years. It's not going to happen."
He cites the state's difficulty in attracting teachers, even with incentives such as loans, grants and housing subsidies. About 42,000 of California's 301,000 public school teachers have emergency teaching credentials, he told the paper. That number is expected to reach 65,000 this year.
A study released early this year from Texas A&M University reported that 24 percent of all teachers in the Lone Star State were not certified to teach in their subject areas.
Administrators in Texas, though, are already working to meet the new federal goal. Increased funding to improve teacher quality will help, says Debbie Graves Ratcliffe, a senior director at the Texas Education Agency. The U.S. Department of Education has made more money available for professional development. Texas will spend $231 million this year for teacher quality programs, $70 million more than was spent last year.
The state's increase is based, in part, on funding coming from the federal government thanks to the No Child Left Behind Act. The legislation also gives districts more flexibility for Title I spending. In some instances, Title I funds can be shifted to pay for teachers' salaries, bonuses or teacher quality programs.
Will this be enough? No one can answer that, says Denise Cardinal, spokesperson for the National Education Association. Adding to the confusion are unanswered questions about what the government legislation means when it defines a teacher as "fully qualified." The act states that all instructors who teach in a school receiving Title I funds be licensed, certified and demonstrate competency. "Does that mean that a current teacher will have to take a test to keep her job?" asks Cardinal. The act stipulates that all newly-hired teachers have bachelor's degrees and demonstrate competency in their subject areas.
The NEA has created a panel to sort through questions with federal education administrators; the American Association of School Administrators is also working at interpreting the new legislation. It is common for teachers who are certified in one subject, such as chemistry, to teach physics or a related course, acknowledges Bruce Hunter, director of public policy. "It is not clear yet if the new law requires complete certification in all ssubjects."
Hunter urges administrators to work toward meeting the federal goal while sorting through the fine print - and to increase the profession's appeal. To that end, AASA is working on legislation that would grant a $4,000 tax credit to a teacher or principal who works in an impoverished area. "We voiced concerns when the law was going through, but now it is our job to make this work," he says. www.ed.gov, www.aasa.org, www.nea.org
The New Way to Integrate: By Income, Not Race
School districts in Cambridge, Mass., and LaCrosse, Wis., are integrating. But the factor these districts will use to integrate is not race, but income.
Administrators in both districts say socioeconomic status-and not race-should be the basis of school integration programs. Administrators in San Francisco are considering the same approach to integration, according to several reports.
Research conducted in Cambridge reveals that a school's overall academic achievement is affected by students' socioeconomic backgrounds. Student achievement suffers in schools that enroll a high percentage of those receiving free or reduced lunch, according to Lenore Prueser, director of the Cambridge school district's Family Resource Center.
In Cambridge, 41 percent of all students are eligible for free or reduced lunch, yet the student bodies in some schools had about two of every three children coming from poorer households. Cambridge administrators find that students from lower socioeconomic levels perform better when the student body is mixed.
Administrators in LaCrosse, Wis., have come to the same conclusion, although Superintendent Thomas Downs admits that parents with high incomes have voiced objections to the latest phase in his plan to economically integrate the district. "There are political concerns," he says. "High income parents fear that bringing balance to the classroom will bring other problems. They fear that low-income students are off-task learners who will bring home-problems to school." Downs dismisses these concerns as "myths."
Student performance across the board has improved in LaCrosse schools that have already been integrated based on socioeconomic status, he says. The previous superintendent began this initiative in 1992. "Our test scores are higher in the balanced schools," Downs says. He now wants to better integrate two elementary schools in the poorer part of the district that continue to enroll a large percentage of those eligible for free or reduced lunch. At one school, 75 percent f students are from poorer households; at the other, 60 percent. Downs wants the range to be 25 percent to 50 percent.
In Cambridge, administrators are stretching socioeconomic integration over a three-year period, starting with the 2002-03 academic year. The 15 elementary schools will reflect a mix of students from various socioeconomic backgrounds. Race will still be a consideration in integration, but it will not be the primary factor.
These districts are taking the right approach, notes Richard Kahlenberg, senior fellow for Century Foundation, Washington, D.C., and author of All Together Now, a book about the benefits of integrating based on socioeconomic factors. "The single more important predictor of school performance-outside family influence-is socioeconomic status. Peers have significant influence on each other, he adds. "It is an advantage for students to have peers who are highly motivated, who have big dreams, who expect to go to college."
Maryland School Board Power Struggle
Who has the right to fire a superintendent of schools? If you think it is the district's board of education, you're probably not aware of the recent power struggle n Maryland. After the board of Prince George's County voted in February to fire Superintendent Iris Metts, the Maryland State Board of Education asserted its authority to reverse the decision and reinstate her.
The board's reasons for firing Metts are unclear-the president of the county's school board did not return telephone calls. Neither did Metts. The Maryland State Board of Education, however, is perfectly clear about its supreme authority to fire superintendents.
What local school board officials didn't realize is that the legislation granting the state education superintendent-and only that state official-the right to fire a superintendent has been on the Maryland law books since 1937. The outcry from local school board officials was unheard by the Maryland legislature. It passed emergency legislation later in February to ensure that the Prince George's school board was stripped of its power to fire Superintendent Metts.
Why would a current squabble ensue over an old law? School board officials obviously didn't know their legislative limits because their authority hasn't been tested in quite this way. Past conflicts were settled with contract buyouts, says Bill Reinhard, communications specialist with the Maryland State Department of Education.
K-12 MARKET TRENDS
Education Technology Spending
Technology spending has been on a steep incline during the past decade. A simple comparison of 2000-01 spending, which totaled $5.8 billion, with spending during the 1993-94 school year, $2.8 billion, shows the dramatic rise.
The steady spending increases throughout the decade are the result of several "market drivers," including government initiatives such as the Literacy Challenge Fund and the federal eRate program.
Hardware, Networks & Peripherals: The lion's share of education technology spending, $3.4 billion, is for hardware, networks and peripherals. Hardware spending accounts for 36 percent of the total; networks soak up 21 percent of the technology funds. Internet services make up 1 percent of the total, software spending is 8 percent.
Internet Usage: The digital divide is evident: Only 35 percent of teachers in high-poverty schools report that students do research on the Internet, versus 61 percent of teachers in low poverty schools.
Emerging Technologies: Several emerging technologies are expected to get more attention, including application service providers, wireless technologies and thin-client devices.
ASPs: This technology offers software applications on a subscription basis, eliminating the need to buy programs and install them on site. Because the ASP market in education is in its infancy, SIIA has no statistics on this trend, but does note that the first major implementation, a $27.9 million statewide ASP initiative in Arizona, is underway.
Wireless: These technologies, including handheld devices, now have 10 percent K-12 education market penetration. The reduced cost for these devices-usually priced at several hundred dollars-is spurring the growth.
Thin clients: These devices, also less expensive than typical laptops, are small-sized computers with enough memory to run software that resides on one main server. SIIA reports that use of thin-client devices can cut system administrative costs by 55 percent during a five-year period.
Effects of No Child Left Behind
SIIA's market report notes that the total for direct federal technology grants was increased under the No Child Left Behind Act to $920 million, up from $870 million in 2001.
Federal money allocated for state technology grants is up from $450 million to $701 million. Administrators will have more flexibility in spending state grant money, thanks to a shift in the grant formula. The report cites statistics that estimate the mean grant size per district to be $25,000.
The gains are offset by spending reductions on other programs, however. The federal government has cut funds for the Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers program by 50 percent, leaving $63 million for this effort. Money for the Community Technology Centers program also has been cut in half, to $32 million.
State Budget Cuts
The recession is affecting state funding, according to SIIA, which reports that 36 states are expected to cut their budgets. All but 19 are expected to exempt education spending. The states expected to cut education funding include Arizona, California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, North Carolina and South Carolina.
NSBA Report: Urban Superintendents' Short Tenure is Exaggerated
Superintendents in urban school districts stay on the job longer than is widely believed, according to a study by the National School Boards Association. Those who recently left their posts were superintendents for an average of five years. This is twice as long as the 2.5-year average tenure routinely reported in the education media, notes Ann Bryant, NSBA's executive director. The average tenure for superintendents in the 50 largest school districts drops to 4.6 years.
The association's study on superintendent tenure is based on a survey of the members of the Council of Urban Boards of Education. In all, NSBA surveyed 104 urban school districts; 77 answered the survey.
As for the 2.5-year-average statistic that is widely reported by other industry organizations, Bryant says, "We didn't believe it." Until the NSBA survey was complete, she had only anecdotal evidence to suggest that urban superintendents stayed on the job longer than believed. The assumed 2.5-year average reflects the time that a current superintendent has been on the job. NSBA employed a different methodology when researching superintendent tenure. Its survey sought answers from the superintendent who had recently held, but left, the top post.
"It is more accurate to go one person back. This way you find the beginning and end point of tenure," says Bryant.
As expected, other education observers tout different statistics. Two professors from the University of Southern California's school of education presented tenure data at the conference hosted by the American Association of School Administrators. They say superintendents stay in the top spot for only 2.33 years. These statistics are on a 1999 survey of the 57 largest urban districts conducted by the Council of Great City Schools.
Stu Gothold, clinical professor at USC, is not as interested in explaining the discrepancy between the surveys, as he is in providing more relevant professional training for urban school district superintendents. "Most administrators are trained in technical and human resource aspects of the job," he says. "They are not versed in the political aspects." He says that must change. www.nsba.org, www.aasa.org
LATE-BREAKING NEWS FROM FETC
Amid the talk of new technologies at the Florida Educational Technology Conference, held in Orlando, Fla., March 6-8, administrators and teachers pondered their expanding roles in meeting new federal and state K-12 education standards and in holding themselves more accountable for learning.
Educators were fully aware of what was being asked of them: to get curricula in line to meet state standards. Far less clear is how they are going to do this, or how they will select from the myriad technology products that promise to assist in getting the job done.
"One technology coordinator said she is overwhelmed by all the requirements coming down on her," says Kathleen O'Neill, director of the Southern Regional Education Board's Leadership Initiative, and seminar speaker.
"There is a lot of pressure [to get] scores up," adds Sally Butzin, executive director of the Institute for School Innovation, and FETC presenter. "A lot of vendors were pushing their reading software and talking about how they can improve test scores."
Many vendors pitched software that can be adjusted to meet individual state standards.
New applications won't be enough to pull the industry along, though, warn O'Neill and Butzin. For too long, the technology coordinator's day-to-day focus has been on learning and teaching new software applications, says O'Neill. What's needed now is the ability to analyze the performance of each class and each student. "We have to hone in on technology and how to aggregate data. To use technology to break the information down and to see where students are performing well, and where they are not."
"One of the big things in education will be evaluating student progress. I applaud that," says Butzin, who paid most attention to the companies offering assessment tools.
Approximately 7,000 teachers, technology professionals and administrators, came to Orlando in early March. Show organizers report that attendance was down about 30 percent from last year; the 500 exhibitor total was on par with FETC 2001.
New Orleans Initiates iBook Program
Administrators in New Orleans are banking on Apple iBooks to improve student performance in the district's most troubled schools. All 2,000 eighth grade students in the 11 learning academy middle schools in the New Orleans district will have daily access to iBooks in hopes that laptop use will have a positive impact on math and language test scores.
The district is leasing the 2,000 iBooks at a cost of $1.3 million per year. The deal includes a wireless network, instructional software, administrative software and professional training. The wireless network is especially important to the inner-city district. "Some of these schools are very old and rewiring is difficult," says Lonnie Luce, chief information officer. The wireless network allows students to use the computers in virtually any classroom or school location; the district does not plan to buy additional computer furniture as part of the program.
"These learning academies are our lowest performing schools," says Ollie Tyler, deputy superintendent and chief academic officer for New Orleans Public Schools. She believes the iBook program will motivate students and also help them pass the upcoming stateaccountability tests administered through the Louisiana Educational Accountability Program.
"A laptop program like this does something radical for inner city schools," adds Luce. "Students are more apt to edit an assignment if they typing it in on a computer."
Only time will tell if he is correct. The program is starting well into the 2001-02 school year. Future eighth graders in the learning academy schools will have access from the start of each school year. The district's initial contract with Apple is slated to run for three years.
Microsoft Donates $50 Million For Teachers, Technology
Microsoft Corp. will give $50 million in software grants to help educators develop online learning communities. The grant money will help schools of education and regional training centers create online networks between in-service teachers and those who are pre-service. The hope is that online networks will make it easier to share best practice information. Microsoft will issue the grants through an alliance with the American Association of Colleges or Teacher Education. www.aacte.org, www.microsoft.com
Questions Linger about Columbine Tragedy
The teen shootout at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., continues to spark a host of legal problems. In mid-February the state's top prosecutor and district attorney promised to create a task force to further investigate the shooting. The task force will address a parent's allegation that his son was accidentally shot by a police officer on the scene during the shooting. Meanwhile, another father who lost a son in the shooting is claiming that he has received death threats over his anti-gun stance. Since losing his son, Daniel, Tom Mauser has testified for gun control before the Colorado legislature and at the national level.
Bush, Kennedy Work On Pre-school Plan
On the heels of their success in getting both parties to embrace the No Child Left Behind Act, President Bush and U.S. Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass., are teaming up for a pre-school education plan. The two politicians have already met to discuss the future of education for children under the age of 6 and are said to be researching the role government should play.
Tech Group Tabs New CEO
Don Knezek has been named CEO of the International Society of Technology in Education and the National Education Computing Association. The two organizations merged this spring. Knezek, who holds a Ph.D. in educational administration from the University of Texas at Austin, has served ISTE since 1989. He has directed ISTE's National Center for Preparing Tomorrow's Teachers to Use Technology and most recently was on the executive board and the conference committee. Knezek will be based on the new Washington, D.C.-based joint office for ISTE and NECA. www.iste.org, www.neccsite.org
FCC OKs Use of Advanced Wireless Technology
The Federal Trade Commission will allow limited use of a wireless technology known as ultrawideband. Proponents claim that ultrawideband boosts the speed and accuracy of wireless transmissions by broadening the airwave transmission channels. Companies, including ultrawideband provider Time Domain, have advocated for FCC acceptance during the past decade. Airlines and cellphone companies have been the biggest opponents, claiming that use cold interfere with their communications devices. www.fcc.gov
Abolish the School Board?
Like his predecessor Rudy Giuliani, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants mayoral control of the board of education. Ed Koch, former mayor, is supportive of the plan. He told the council the only way Bloomberg will be able to change the system is by having the authority to hire and fire chancellors-a power that now rests only with the board. Bloomberg has made other newsworthy announcements, namely that the education budget would be cut by $300 million to help make up for the city's $4.76 billion budget deficit.
Penn. Gives Grants for After-School Tutoring
Pennsylvania has enhanced its Classroom Plus program with payments for tutoring services. Parents who pay for their children to attend any of 300 profit and not-for-profit learning centers can receive a one-time, $500 grant. To be eligible, students must bein grades 3-6 and have scored below the basic level on sate achievement tests or in the bottom quartile of national standardized tests.