Archive for July, 2009

Is there enough HOPE for Georgia?

Before I go into today’s topic we have some housekeeping.

Today is my last regular post for Get Schooled. You’ll still see my name as I write about higher education, but the talented Maureen Downey takes over the blog Monday. Many of you already know her from her weekly Learning Curve column and editorials about education issues.

Now, to today’s topic. Over the past few weeks I’ve been talking with several college officials about the upcoming school year. Inevitably, the conversations turned to HOPE.

The program — Helping Outstanding Pupils Educationally – pays for the tuition, books and fees for Georgia students who maintain a 3.0 average.

Some officials – at least those at private colleges – wondered why the amount HOPE students receive to attend their institutions is less than what students would get for a public college.

If the goal is to keep bright students in Georgia, why not spread the wealth evenly they asked?

Others wondered if HOPE was fair, especially for late …

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Who is responsible for school supplies?

Today begins the annual sales tax holiday. Families will hit the stores to purchase back-to-school clothing, computers and supplies.

Many schools and teachers mail letters or put on their Web sites the items they expect students to have. The lists include everything from specific types of notebooks and binders to requests for tissues, hand sanitizer, copy paper and other items.

Some families buy all the items. Some don’t. Often teachers use their own money to plug in the holes.

But I wonder what the school supply turnout will be like this year.

With the recession and many families facing tight budgets, I wonder how many parents will refuse to buy items they think the school should supply – like tissues or copy paper.

(Although the hand sanitizer would be pretty useful with all the worries about swine flu.)

At the same time I wonder how many teachers will stop using their own money to pay for these items. Between the furloughs, no raises and increased health care costs, money …

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Budget worries for private and charter schools?

As I look through comments on yesterday’s post about furloughs, many teachers from private schools, charter schools and even home school parents wrote to say how lucky they feel.

They said they weren’t worried about losing pay or dealing with sharp budget cuts. But I have to wonder how true that is.

Charter schools are funded with the same tax dollars as traditional public schools. If state revenue is down, logic holds charter schools will see cuts as well. Unlike public school systems, few charters have reserves to tap into during hard times.

Private schools are funded primarily with tuition, fees and returns from investments. Studies have shown that enrollment doesn’t drop during recessions, but more families require financial assistance. That places more strain on private schools and could force cuts in some academic, athletic or extra-curricular areas.

I wonder if home school parents are seeing costs increase. After all, you still have to buy materials, software, textbooks …

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UPDATE 7/29: Was the State Board right to approve furloughs?

UPDATE 7/29: Atlanta Public Schools joins several others districts in saying they wont furlough teachers. Read the story here.

UPDATE: As expected, state board members cleared the way for school districts to furlough teachers. Wait there’s more: the unanimous vote gives school districts the opportunity to use up to seven more furlough days.

The State Board of Education is meeting today to vote on amending rules so that any of Georgia’s 182 school districts could change the terms of the teachers’ contracts to allow for furloughs.

Last week, Gov. Sonny Perdue requested that public school districts furlough teachers for three days to save the state about $100 million.

State employees will be furloughed three days and state agencies must cut their budgets by 5 percent because of a $900 million hole in the budget.

Perdue can’t make the districts furlough teachers. But he told system leaders that the amount of money they receive from the state will be cut to reflect furloughs. If …

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How does Georgia treat special education students?

In 2004, a 13-year-old boy committed suicide after being sent to an 8-by-8 concrete-block time-out room in a Gainesville public school for students with behavioral problems.

The case is an extreme example of how some special education students have been mistreated. But it forces parents, teachers, school leaders and lawmakers to question how Georgia teaches children with disabilities.

The school in Gainesville is a special facility for students with such severe disabilities they can’t control their behavior and are unable to attend traditional schools.

Many special education students are taught in traditional classrooms where their classmates are kids without disabilities.

I’ve heard from parents who say their children are not treated well in any setting. Some say their children don’t receive the services promised under the IEP. Others say the classroom teacher doesn’t have the training to help a child with disabilities.

At the same time, I’ve heard from parents who praise …

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How do you improve a school?

Teachers are expected to return to school soon for pre-planning. (Provided they’re not furloughed.)

They’ll be setting up their classrooms and getting ready for the first day of school. Many will pour over test data from AYP, CRCT, GHSGT and EOCT.

Discussions will take place on how to improve. What extra help can be provided to students who miss in math or struggle with reading comprehension or just can’t pass the high school science tests.

Teachers and others will develop new lessons and try new teaching strategies. They’ll figure out ways to give struggling students extra help during the school day or before and after school or on the weekends.

Are those steps enough?

When we look at struggling schools that have turned themselves around so much more comes to play.

Parents and community members volunteer their time as tutors and mentors. The central office and sometimes the Georgia Department of Education provides extra help. Students take more responsibility for their own …

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Does Georgia have a graduation “crisis”?

A new national report places Georgia’s high school graduation rate as one of the worst in the country and calls for federal action to fix what authors describe as a “crisis.”

The study, “Graduating America: Meeting the Challenge of Low Graduation-Rate High Schools,” was published by Jobs for the Future and the Everyone Graduates Center, a think tank at Johns Hopkins University.

This isn’t the first report to point out Georgia’s low graduation rates. Education Week publishes an annual report that routinely puts the state close to the bottom.

High schools with the lowest graduation rates tend to serve a larger percentage of minority students and children from low-income homes.

Georgia’s 2009 graduation rate was 77.8 percent, according to data from the Georgia Department of Education. The average for black students was 72.6 percent, while the rate for Hispanics was 69 percent. (These are corrected numbers. I had old data before.

But those figures may be too high. Georgia and …

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UPDATED 7/24: Will Georgia teachers get furloughed?

UPDATE: Cobb County is making other cuts to avoid furloughing teachers. Other systems — including Gwinnett, Forsyth and Henry — already announced furlough dates.

UPDATE: The State Board of Education is scheduled to meet this coming Tuesday to clear any obstacles preventing school districts from furloughing teachers and other school employees. The board is expected to vote on waivers to change the number of days Georgia requires school employees to work

Gov. Sonny Perdue announced Tuesday (July 22) a plan to fill a $900 million hole in the budget. The plans includes all public school teachers taking three furlough days by the end of the calendar year.

Technically Perdue can’t order teachers to take furloughs because they hold contracts with individual school districts, not the state. It’s up to local superintendents and school boards to decide what to do.

Basically the state will cut the amount of funding school districts get to subtract three furlough days. School systems …

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Do school renovations make a difference?

DeKalb County school officials are about to being renovations at Cross Keys High School and several community members say it’s about time the district fixes the dilapidated school.

The building has graffiti, cracks and rust and broken windows. Improving the school will improve the community, some say.

This quote sums it up perfectly: “I feel like a vibrant community, which has a vibrant commercial life and a vibrant identity, also has a vibrant public school community.”

Drive around metro Atlanta and you’ll find other schools in conditions similar to Cross Keys. Within the same school district you can find schools in pristine condition and those that look run-down.

Growing and thriving communities often get the new schools or are the first to get renovations to make space for booming student enrollment. Families who live in other communities say their schools are neglected.

Can a school renovation improve a community? How have renovations gone at your local …

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Does pressure make principals cheat?

An article by Heather Vogell looked at the pressure placed on principals to improve students’ test scores and their school’s standing with regard to federal testing goals.

The story focused on principals at two of the four schools accused of cheating on last summer’s fifth-grade math CRCT retest.

Those of you who work in schools know how the reward/penalty game works.

If your school does well, the superintendent or others will come and visit. The principal gets on a fast-track for more lucrative positions and the accolades come pouring in every which way.

If the school does poorly, the principal and teachers can be placed on an improvement plan. Principals are warned they could be demoted or switched to a different school.

There’s no denying that principals face a ton of pressure from school officials, parents and community members.

The vast majority of them handle it well without cheating or turning a blind eye to when it occurs. A few do not.

What pushes some principals to …

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