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Local University Rescues Baltimore School

What was once a struggling Baltimore school is now riding high after the district turned to a local university for help. Rosemont Elementary/Middle School in the Baltimore City Public School System was on the state's "take-over" list in 1998 when Coppin State University took over the school's management and administrative supervision. Rosemont now is off the list and has about 80 percent of its students performing at or above grade level.

Under its contract with the BCPSS, the university manages most of the school's money, including that from private sources and federal Title III, which it uses for program materials, computers, and salaries for a few employees, such as a librarian. The district handles the bulk of the school's salaries.

In 1989, Boston University was the first college to take over a public school system, in this case Chelsea, Mass., although with poor reviews.

Coppin hires the principal and has input when hiring teachers, says Frank Kober, a Coppin professor who coordinates the Rosemont partnership. "We were confident that we could help these children and this particular school ... if we gave them the right pedagogy and the right curriculum, and the teachers were trained in that pedagogy," Kober says.

Safety and Security Measures Nationally, 30 percent of schools attended by 10th-graders use security guards, 4 percent use metal detectors, 18 percent have security cameras, and 18 percent have fencing around the entire school.

Coppin's pedagogy emphasizes developing critical thinking skills. It focuses on having children demonstrate concepts through group work and other activities, he adds.

To help teachers implement the pedagogy, Coppin faculty conduct staff development at the school, which is currently pre-K through seventh grade but is adding grade 8 in 2007, Kober says. Coppin also has its honors college students work with children in classrooms.

The school-university partnership has been successful in large part because of the training Coppin faculty provide teachers, says David Stone, director of charter, new and community schools at BCPSS.

-Kevin Butler

Is the Exit Exam Movement Losing Steam?

Despite strong support for high school exit exams among some parents of minority students, a recent study shows that no states adopted new exit exam requirements last school year, breaking a trend.

The Center on Education Policy in its annual national survey of exit exams, State High School Exit Exams: A Challenging Year, found that 25 states either already have or are phasing in exit exam graduation requirements. Sixty-five percent of the nation's high-school students live in states with requirements.

"As far as we can tell the evidence shows that the emphasis on graduation tests is not producing improved educational outcomes when you look at independent measures," says Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, which opposes the requirements.

Many in the business community strongly support such requirements, saying they help ensure that high school graduates are prepared for the workplace. "For far too long a high school diploma has not been meaningful," says Susan Traiman, director of public policy for Business Roundtable.

The report is unlikely to end the swirling controversy about the merits of exit exam requirements. A study this year by University of Minnesota researchers found that the requirements lower graduation rates, denying diplomas to students who otherwise would have received them.

The study also found that exit exam controversies tend to die down in the years after a state first withholds diplomas. Although the report stated that there may be more controversy in ethnically diverse states, a recent poll by New America Media found surprisingly strong support for exit exams among Latino, African-American and Asian parents in California. www.cep-dc.org

-Kevin Butler

Charter vs. Traditional Schools: Snapshot Sheds Little Light

Despite recent test scores that show charter school fourth-graders faring slightly lower than their traditional public school counterparts in reading and math, a few educators and experts agree that it doesn't mean all that much.

The National Center for Education Statistics recently conducted a pilot study of charter schools. The results were part of the 2003 fourth grade National Assessment of Educational Progress assessments with a sample of 150 charter schools and more than 6,700 public noncharter schools.

Results include:

The average charter school mean in reading was 5.2 points lower than the average public noncharter school mean.

In math, the average charter school mean was 5.8 points lower than the average public noncharter school mean.

Charter school supporters claim this was merely a snapshot of performance. Jon Hussey of the Center for Education Reform says comparisons must look at achievement over time, mentioning work performed by Paul Hill, research professor at the University of Washington and a member of the Charter School Achievement Consensus Panel. Students who left public schools and are now in charter schools would be the best gauge of how charters compare to traditional schools, Hussey says.

Even National Education Association President Reg Weaver stopped short of using the results as a rallying cry for public schools. Charter schools and nontraditional schools have potential to develop creative teaching methods that can be used in traditional schools, "but they are not the solution," Weaver says. The solution is about adequate and equitable funding for all schools. Then, he says, "we will no longer have to debate which system is better."

Iconic Publication Makes Changes

In September, Weekly Reader announced a sweeping set of changes to the 104-year-old publication. Updates include the addition of electronic "Classroom NewsBreaks," fully developed lesson plans designed around breaking news stories, delivered via e-mail within 24 hours of the story; a title change of the upper elementary editions to WR NEWS; new design and layout updates on all nine editions and a redesigned

Web site. www.weeklyreader.com

Upcoming Documentary Unveils Urban Urgency

It is reminiscent of many urban school stories: Indianapolis, 1997. Test scores were dismal and the minority-to-white achievement gap was gaping.

But since the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education came along, student reading improved significantly, according to former Superintendent of Schools Pat Pritchett. Some schools even soared ahead of state average test scores, he adds.

The NUA simply conducted a curriculum audit of each school and worked with administrators to develop a comprehensive staff development plan to help all teachers understand the strategies necessary to teach reading, recalls Pritchett, now at Indian River County Schools in Florida.

"Together, this partnership made a difference for kids," Pritchett says.

This is just part of the makings of a new feature documentary in the works called In a Perfect World ... Listen to the Children. The documentary, which will include the students' perspective in low-income and primarily urban schools, will be featured next summer at Aspen Institute, whose mission is to foster enlightened leadership and dialogue at their seminars, policy programs and conferences. It will depict critical issues for education reform that NUA president and founder Eric Cooper addressed during this past summer's Aspen Ideas Festival.

"Our goal is to help everyone realize that every child in the American education system is capable of graduating from high school ready for college," Cooper says.

NUA, which is about 17 years old, is working in 22 school districts nationwide, in part providing professional development to administrators and teachers and creating partnerships with the community and local business and faith organizations.

Cooper points to Birmingham, Ala., as a success story. In one year, the percentage of students meeting state standards jumped from 40 percent to 80 percent. He says it's about improving the delivery of instruction to students and showing teachers that even the students they don't think can learn actually can and will, and that encouragement will make the students more hopeful and eager to learn. www.nuatc.org

Running and Playing Vital for Children

Swinging on swings and running in circles is good for children's health, according to former President Bill Clinton. So he recently announced a plan to build playgrounds in several pilot schools across the U.S. through the Alliance for a Healthier Generation.

The Clinton Foundation and the American Heart Association partnered in 2005 to create the alliance. Clinton announced the alliance's Healthy Schools Program pilot year at the first forum last summer.

To address the causes of obesity, the alliance pushes nutrition as well as environments that encourage physical activity. A new partnership with KaBOOM!, a nonprofit organization that envisions a play place within walking distance of every child, will mobilize communities to build school playgrounds.

www.healthiergeneration.org


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