Archive for May, 2009

The principal shuffle

Around this time every year, school district leaders play musical chairs with principals and move them around from campus to campus.

Sometimes the switches are done to staff new schools or replace a principal who has retired, been promoted or demoted or left the district for another system.

Most times, however, it seems as if principals are just moved around.

You may see a principal who successfully improved test scores at one school assigned to another campus where students struggle. Or a principal is moved from an elementary to middle school to gain experience with older students.

How disruptive is the principal shuffle?

How much say should teachers, parents and others in the community have in who becomes the school principal?

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Deciphering report card grades

UPDATE: Cobb County school board voted Thursday night to expand the 3-2-1 grading system to third grade.

Some Cobb County parents want the district to hold off on further implementing a new grading system, which replaces traditional letter grades with the numbers 3, 2 and 1.

These parents say there’s little data showing this latest education fad works. If anything, they argue it promotes mediocrity.

Traditional A, B, C, D and F grades are still found in grades 4-12, but Cobb’s younger students receive grades on specific skills and given the top rating of a “3″ if they meet standards “consistently and independently.”

It seems as though schools develop new ways to grade students every couple of years. While these new grades may be better aligned with state standards, the new system can be so confusing that too much time is spent deciphering the grades.

What type of grading system should schools use to measure what students have learned?

How much time do you spend trying to …

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New ideas for special education

Atlanta school leaders will conduct an audit of its special education programs. School leaders say the audit – which could take up to a year to complete – will help the system come up with better ways to serve special education students.

We’ve blogged about special education issues before. Students enrolled in these programs vary widely. There are those with minor learning disabilities and children who may never learn how to read or write.

Atlanta school leaders are looking to improve the graduation rate and test scores for students with disabilities. One idea floated is to mainstream more special needs children with regular education students.

Many argue that isolating special education students makes them feel inferior, causing them to do poorly in school and drop out.

Others say assigning these children to traditional classrooms puts a strain on the teacher and other students. They say teachers spend so much time working with the few special education students in the class …

Continue reading New ideas for special education »

A boom for Catholic schools

I hope everyone had a relaxing Memorial Day weekend. I was out of town for a few days and am still making my way through all the news I missed.

One story that caught my eye was Sunday’s article about the growth in Catholic school enrollment across metro Atlanta.

Other large cities – Boston, Chicago and New York – have declines. Leaders have shut down schools and are trying to figure out what to do with vacant classrooms.

But the Archdiocese of Atlanta has more students than classrooms. Why? The archdiocese points to the large number of Hispanics and Northeast transplants who have moved to the area over the past several decades.

Parents say they are attracted to the faith-based environment. But they also point to the high ITBS and SAT scores found in the area’s Catholic schools.

The growth isn’t just in Catholic schools. Other faith-based programs have reported increases in recent years.

How much longer will this growth continue? What is next for the area’s Catholic …

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The un-graduates

It’s high school graduation time in metro Atlanta and many will hold ceremonies tonight.

Some seniors won’t graduate because they can’t pass the Georgia High School Graduation Test – a series of exams designed to make sure students learned what the state says they should know in math, science, English and social studies.

About 4,000 high school students fail some part of this test each year. Many will pass on retests but some never will, meaning they will be denied a diploma.

I and other reporters get dozens of emails around this time of years from frustrated parents and students. The State Board of Education will grant waivers in some cases, but many will be denied.

Proponents say the tests — which are not as hard as the End of Course Tests (EOCT) — are a way to guarantee that students leave high school with basic skills to succeed. They say these tests are a way to raise student achievement. (The results are used to comply with No Child Left Behind.)

But critics say exit …

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Waiting for CRCT results

The Georgia Department of Education won’t release official CRCT results for several more weeks, but some Georgia school districts are starting to share their preliminary scores.

The results are mixed.

Districts showing gains in reading say students continue to struggle in math. But systems where math scores have gone up are reporting that reading scores are mixed.

It’s too soon to know whether we’ll have a repeat of last year’s debacle.

In 2008, the state threw out CRCT social studies scores for students in sixth- and seventh-grade saying there was a disconnect between the standards, the test and what teachers taught. About 71 percent of sixth-graders and 76 percent of seventh-graders failed last year.

The state rewrote some of the standards, redid the test and gave teachers more training. The state field-tested the revamped exam for sixth- and seventh-graders this year, meaning students’ scores won’t count.

Math scores also tanked last year. About 38 percent of eighth-graders …

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UPDATED: DeKalb bully report released

UPDATE 11:15 a.m.: Jaheem Herrera wasn’t specifically targeted for bullying, according to a report looking into what may have caused the 11-year-old to kill himself in April.

The investigation also showed that Jaheem actively participated in several fights during the school year

Fulton County Superior Court Judge Thelma Wyatt Cummings Moore oversaw the report, which was requested by DeKalb school officials to review concerns about the culture at Dunaire Elementary

DeKalb school leaders will talk this morning about what happened in an elementary school in the months leading up to Jaheem Herrera’s suicide.

The 11-year-old hanged himself in April and his family has blamed the boy’s suicide on the excessive bullying they said he received at Dunaire Elementary School in Stone Mountain.

I’ll post an update once we have more information about the report. Meanwhile, check out this story by Kristina Torres documenting some steps taken and not taken by everyone involved.

Continue reading UPDATED: DeKalb bully report released »

Protecting special education students

UPDATE: The GAO released a report today finding widespread allegations of abuse over the way special education students are treated in public and private schools. The report found that teachers and other staff members lack training in how in restraint methods.

A Woodstock High teacher and her assistant were arrested Monday for allegedly duct taping a special education student to a chair.

The Cherokee County Sheriff’s Office also said that the teacher confined another student under a desk.

The situation mentioned above is an extreme case. Still, there have been other reports of teachers harming students with disabilities.

I’ve often heard parents of special needs children say their kids were being mistreated, abused or ignored in schools but were unable to prove it.

How are special education students really treated? Which districts are doing a good job?

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Georgia’s newest choice program

Georgia families have a new school choice law that allows them to send their child to any public school in their district, provided the campus has room.

The program frees parents from having to attend the school located within their neighborhood’s attendance zones. It also streamlines the transfer process that many parents said made it nearly impossible to switch schools.

State Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, (D-Austell) sponsored the law. She said parents will be able to “choose a school that is in the best interest of their child, not necessarily the best interest of their school district.”

State rules over these transfers should be in place in time for this coming school year.

It’ll be interesting to see how many transfers go through. Some of the area’s top high schools – such as Walton in Cobb County – have not had room for transfers in years.

What do you think of this new rule? What other choice programs would you like to see?

NOTE: School choice and other public education …

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Spending money to reform schools

Today’s ajc.com contains two editorials representing different viewpoints on a bill that had the potential to drastically change Georgia’s high schools. Gov. Sonny Perdue vetoed the bill this week.

Rep. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) crafted the BRIDGE program, which started as its own bill but folded into another piece of legislation.

The bill would have created a grant program so participating high schools could offer majors focused around high-demand careers. Students would select a career track before starting high school. Classes would be offered at high schools, four-year or technical colleges or business apprenticeships.

Millar said his program, which would cost millions, would keep kids in school and improve the state’s graduation rate. He proposed using some federal stimulus money to pay it.

Bert Brantley, the governor’s press secretary, wrote there were concerns about the cost of the program and where the money would come from.

He also said the program would dramatically …

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