Archive for June, 2009

Will a federal focus on bullying solve the problem?

There’s been a lot of buzz on listservs about Kevin Jennings, who Monday takes over as head of the U.S. Department of Education’s office of safe and drug-free schools.

Jennings – best known as the founder of the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network – is expected to place heavy emphasis on combating the verbal and physical bullying many students experience in school.

Many school safety experts have said school officials need to understand that taunts, threats and other forms of verbal abuse can be just as disruptive as weapons and drugs in school. Both, they said, make it difficult for students to learn.

Some experts said they expect Jennings to focus on ways to decrease bullying in school and to teach students tolerance.

Bullying is often an issue here. In April an 11-year-old hanged himself and his family blamed the suicide on the excessive bullying they said he received at Dunaire Elementary School in Stone Mountain.

An investigation followed with a taskforce …

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Can teachers have lives outside of school?

A Gwinnett County teacher was named Miss Georgia Saturday, but Kristina Higgins turned down the honor the next day, saying she was worried about balancing her duties.

“Due to my current job responsibilities as a middle school teacher and the responsibilities and time commitment as Miss Georgia, I have decided to not fulfill the duties of Miss Georgia 2009,” Higgins said in a statement released by the Miss Georgia Scholarship Pageant.

The runner-up, Emily Cook from Cobb County, received the title and will represent the state at the Miss American competition in January.

I can only imagine how hard it would be to represent the state and still work as a full-time teacher.

But this story got me thinking of what things teachers can’t do. Either because they don’t have the time or they’re worried about how outside activities would reflect on their work. For example, I know teachers who would like to bartend to make extra money but worry about what would happen if parents saw …

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Where are the bilingual schools?

We’ve had so much news lately that I haven’t had the time to blog about a Clayton elementary school where students become bilingual in English and Spanish by the time they enter middle school.

The students at Unidos Dual Language Charter School in Forest Park are a mix of native English and native Spanish speakers. At least half the classes are taught in Spanish.

This isn’t the first school to focus on a second language, but few have such an even balance between English and another language.

In many ways this design makes sense. Children tend to pick up languages easier. And it is a way to tap into the massive influx of immigrants moving to the area.

This Clayton school is focusing on Spanish, but I imagine some other schools could emphasize Chinese, Korean, Arabic or other languages, depending on the community.

There is a trade-off. School organizers admit test scores on state exams are low the first few years students are at the school.

Would you enroll your child in a …

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When should schools conduct strip searches?

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Thursday that a middle school’s decision to strip search a 13-year-old girl because of suspicion she brought prescription strength ibuprofen to school violated the Constitution.

(Go here for the decision in Safford Unified School Dist. #1 v. Redding.)

The case attracted national attention and much debate. Some thought the search was too intrusive. Others said schools must have the freedom to do whatever is needed to keep the majority of students safe.

According to the suit, school officials searched the girl’s backpack and her outer garments. That part of the search was constitutional, the court majority wrote.

The search became illegal, they wrote, when school officials ordered the girl to strip to her bra and panties and made her pull them away from her body so they see if she had any drugs. No drugs were found.

Several national organizations have said the ruling didn’t provide clarity on when schools can use strip searches.

The justices wrote …

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How students use cell phones to cheat

We’ve spent the past couple of weeks focused on the CRCT cheating scandal, which centered around administrators and others changing students’ answers on state exams.

A recent national poll looked at the ways students cheat, with 35 percent of teens saying they use their cell phones. The results released by Common Sense Media also found:

  • 41% of teens say storing notes on a cell phone to access during a test is a serious cheating offense, while 23% don’t think it’s cheating at all.
  • 45% of teens say texting friends about answers during tests is a serious offense, while 20% say it’s not cheating at all.
  • 76% of parents say cell phone cheating happens at their teens’ schools, but only 3% believe their own child has done it.
  • Nearly two-thirds of students with cell phones use them during school, regardless of school policies against it.

How often do students cheat? What are the consequences when you catch them? If you could change the consequences, how would you punish …

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When should Ga. schools allow student transfers?

As many of you predicted, it won’t be so easy to take advantage of a new state law that allows families to transfer their child to any public school within the district.

The Georgia Department of Education wrote the rules for HB 251 and school districts will post on July 1 which campuses have room for extra students.

Charter schools don’t have to accept transfer students. Schools that only have room in trailers or those that have been open for less than four years won’t have to participate either.

Before schools can accept students under the new state law, officials must allow transfer students under the federal No Child Left Behind Act guidelines.

Priority also goes to students who have siblings at the school and special education students who would benefit from programs offered exclusively at the school.

Once that’s done, schools may have few spots (or none) for parents who hoped the new law would give their kids a shot at a better school.

The law’s sponsor, Rep. Alisha …

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Should public schools pay for private school tuition?

A decision by the U.S. Supreme Court says the federal special education law authorizes public school districts to reimburse families for private school tuition even if the student never received special education services from the school system.

The 6-3 decision from the court addressed amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Act. (The case is Forest Grove School District v. T.A., case 08-305.)

Many special education advocates cheered the ruling saying it shows schools can’t ignore their responsibilities to students and families. They said many school districts make decisions to save money instead of acting in the best interest of students and their families.

But groups representing schools boards said the ruling may discourage collaboration between public schools and families.

They said the ruling could take more away from school districts and that many families may think they could automatically seek tuition reimbursement without first trying to get services from …

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How should Georgia monitor CRCT testing?

While other states routinely search for patterns on exams to determine if there was cheating, Georgia has never performed routine checks on students’ tests, according to this story.

Things may change in the aftermath of the CRCT cheating scandal.

The executive director of the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement said the department will likely look at some test scores annually. Because of the large amount of data, she said staff will likely focus on one grade or one type of test.

Some testing experts say this may not be enough. They said it will hard to determine how much cheating goes on in Georgia without taking a broad look at test scores and security policies.

The focus on cheating comes after a state audit found four elementary schools had suspiciously large gains on last summer’s fifth-grade CRCT retest. (That audit was conducted following an AJC article questioning the jump in test scores.)

Two administrators from Atherton Elementary in DeKalb were arrested last …

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Arrests made in CRCT cheating. Are more to come?

The former principal at Atherton Elementary and the assistant principal have been arrested for their involvement in the CRCT cheating scandal.

The arrests come about a week after a state audit showed answers had been changed on last summer’s fifth-grade CRCT retests at four elementary schools.

Atherton Elementary in DeKalb County was one of the schools cited in the audit. The other schools were: Atlanta’s Deerwood Academy, Parklane Elementary in Fulton County and Burroughs-Molette Elementary in Glynn County.

James Berry, the former Atherton principal, resigned after the audit was released. The assistant principal, Doretha Alexander, was reassigned.

The DeKalb District Attorney’s Office looked into allegations of cheating saying state law makes it a felony to tamper with state documents.

Will more arrests follow in DeKalb and other communities? Will the arrests do anything to curb cheating?

NOTE: Search district-by-district 2009 CRCT results here.

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Is Georgia’s pre-k worth the money?

Parents say they depend on Georgia’s universal pre-kindergarten program. But state auditors have released a report showing Georgia has spent more than $216 million on the program since 1996 without any data showing it works.

Researchers at Georgia State University reached similar conclusions in 2006.

Members of the Georgia House asked for the audit. Legislators said they believe the program helps, but want to see proof.

Anecdotally, many parents and elementary school teachers say the program works. Many of the classes have wait-lists of parents wanting to sign up their children.

Education experts around the country use the program as an example for others to follow as a way to get children – especially those from low-income homes – ready for school.

The agency overseeing the program, Bright from the Start: Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning, said it should have data showing results by the 2010-11 school year.

Has Georgia’s universal pre-k been worth the investment? …

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