Archive for November, 2009

College gap years: The educational and financial benefits of taking a breather

This op-ed runs on the education page Monday. (By the way, I am always looking for relevant and timely education op-eds for the Monday page. If you want to write one, I have two possible spots on each Monday’s education page, one for a 500-word piece and one for a 900-word piece. Send me something. mdowney@ajc.com)

This interesting piece was written by Gwyeth T. Smith Jr., a college admissions consultant in Oakdale, N.Y., was the subject of the book “Acceptance: A Legendary Guidance Counselor Helps Seven Kids Find the Right Colleges — and Find Themselves.”

Parents of high school seniors across the country have hired me as an admissions consultant. They want assurances that their children will be attending top colleges a year from now.

Again and again, I say: “I hope not.”

To their surprise, I explain that I’d rather see most of these young men and women far from a campus for a while. I urge them to bus tables in a restaurant, apprentice for an architect or pull …

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Calendar wars: Aren’t we fighting the wrong battle?

Like Cobb County, my local school district moves to a new “balanced” calendar next year with a shorter summer and two mid-year breaks.

And like many parents in Cobb, I am not thrilled.

A longer summer suits our family better than the abbreviated one. I didn’t object because I figured the new calendar may benefit some families.

But it’s probably a mistake for Cobb or other systems to promote their new balanced calendar as a boost to academics.

The research isn’t decisive that spreading out the same number of days over more months makes a large or lasting difference in how much students learn.

Both those in favor of the balanced and traditional calendars can cite reputable research to bolster their arguments.

The pro year-round camp points to Karl Alexander of Johns Hopkins University who found that disadvantaged children make no academic progress in the summer, a deficiency that he says reverberates throughout their schooling.

Alexander concluded that about two-thirds …

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WTOC reports: Parent says school took paddling too far

My e-mail this morning has several tips from Get Schooled readers, including this referral to a story by WTOCTV.com in Savannah about a paddling incident in an Appling County middle school.

According to the WTOC 11 story:

BAXLEY, GA (WTOC) – Should educators be allowed to spank a child who misbehaves? It’s a subject that’s been debated for years.

In the State of Georgia, paddling students is legal, but the implementation of a spanking policy is left up to each school district. But one Baxley parent says her son’s school took it too far.

“I haven’t seen any write-ups or warnings. It just says, ‘classroom disturbance, throwing objects in class’ and he received two licks,” said mom Carletta Crummey.

She says the note was sent home Thursday about her 13-year-old son Cody and that, “two licks” means being hit twice with a paddle.

“He said, ‘I need to call home’ and they refused to let him call home and they paddled him,” said Crummey.

Crummey says Appling County Middle School …

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WSB: Douglas teacher fired over domestic violence incident

A Get Schooled reader alerted me today to this news story on WSBTV.com:

A Douglasville teacher has been shut out of the classroom following an off-campus scuffle with her on-again off-again boyfriend.

Megan Whelpley said she picked up a knife and struck her boyfriend during a domestic dispute, and as a result, police charged her with aggravated assault. Whelpley said she tried to push her boyfriend away, but he got cut in the process.

“He had a knife to my face. I could hear and feel it cutting my hair and I thought, oh, this is it. I was scared … I was 100 percent scared,” said Whelpley.The district attorney’s office later dropped the charges against Whelpley, saying there wasn’t enough evidence to pursue criminal charges.

But the Douglas County School District had already decided to terminate Whelpley’s employment with Alexander High School, where she served as a literature teacher and drama coach.

Whelpley acknowledges a long-standing domestic …

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No balanced calendar: Cobb parents launch petition to save summer

I have been receiving e-mails from Cobb parents unhappy with the new balanced calendar, which my district has also adopted for next year. I am not a fan of all this calendar tinkering only because I don’t see the academic argument and I think it diverts us from the more pressing issues in education. (I wrote my Monday AJC education column on this and will post it later this weekend.)

If academics are the real motivation, then let’s really reform the school calendar and embrace more time on task by adding to the calendar rather than simply rearranging it.

But enough from me. Many people do care strongly about this issue. Parents in Cobb are circulating a petition. I thought many of you might be interested in reading it:

To The Cobb County School Board:

Listen to us now or you will hear us loud and clear at the polls later!

First of all, we do NOT want our summers cut any shorter. Secondly, starting school during the hottest part of the year is not good for the …

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College grads: Home for the holidays and beyond

A few weeks ago, I posted a NYT story on twin college grads in desperate search of jobs in Manhattan. The Washington Post now has published a similar saga, only this bright young graduate is not crammed in an apartment with five friends subsisting on Ramen noodles, but back at home eating dinner with mom and dad.

The long piece on former valedictorian, class president and Senate intern Melissa Meyer includes this great passage:

For 23 years, she had advanced down America’s path to success — perfect grades, a $200,000 college degree, a folder overstuffed with business cards — only to have it dead-end back where she started.

“What was the point?” she asks.

For Melissa, that question is the legacy of the recession as she rises one Tuesday morning in early fall and begins her day with the same routine that defined her adolescence. She rummages through her parents’ refrigerator, eats leftovers from a dinner party hosted by her parents the night before and then retreats upstairs to …

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When teachers are suspended, aren’t students punished?

In reading about the 20-day suspensions handed out in two Clayton County cases — the drama student sex in the empty classroom and the teacher love triangle melee – and the threat of suspension in the Barrow County Facebook case, I have several questions:

1. Doesn’t the suspended teacher come back under a cloud? None of my children’s teachers has ever been suspended, but I would certainly worry about what a teacher did to be removed from a classroom setting for four weeks. Can the teachers be effective after this or is their reputation shot?

2. Don’t the students of a suspended teacher lose valuable and irreplaceable instruction time? I have read studies about how teacher absences affect student performance. In one study, high teacher absences from the classroom were associated with lower scores. The timing of a suspension – before the CRCT or near the end of an AP class — could certainly hurt student performance. I have been a substitute teacher in a high school, and those …

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DOE response on ITBS versus CRCT: Testing basics

Several of you have asked for an explanation from DOE about state testing and why we don’t see how Georgia students performed on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills

Here is the response from Melissa Fincher, associate superintendent of assessment and accountability:

The assessments that comprise the Georgia testing program are mandated by Georgia law. For years the Georgia program has included a national norm-referenced test (NRT), which historically has been the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (ITBS).

During the 2008 legislative season, the law was amended to make school district participation in the NRT optional. In addition, the law allows districts to select two grades – one in grade band 3 – 5 and one in grade band 6 – 8 – to assess with the NRT.

This option went into effect during the 2008-2009 school year. Prior to this time, school districts were required to test students in grade 3, 5, and 8 annually.

Before we discuss why statewide performance on the NRT is not …

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UGA died. The mascot, not the college. (Could it have been Buzz?)

I have idea which UGA this is. They all look alike to me.

I have idea which UGA this is. They all look alike to me.

UGA  died today. The mascot, not the college.

Maybe, it is time for a sturdier breed since bulldogs are rife with health problems. This guy was only in his second season as the UGA mascot.

Growing up next to an aunt and uncle with bulldogs, I know how delicate they can be and how many health problems they can have. They demand extraordinary care from their owners.

Because of UGA’s relative youth, people are speculating foul play in his early death. It was more likely a heart attack, which apparently is a risk for the breed.

I would offer my mixed breed furball to UGA, but he refuses to wear a sweater.

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Canton middle-schooler pointed gun at a classmate

A Get Schooled poster surprised many of us today with her scary account of the Dean Rusk Middle School gun incident in which a 12-year-old boy brought a handgun and ammo to the Canton campus Tuesday.

However, according to the poster, what happened at Dean Rusk was far more frightening than what was reported:

“The truth is … is that this student who informed the school of the situation was actually held at gunpoint and robbed for her bubble gum while in math class wih a teacher present. He opened his jacket… pointed the gun at her and insisted on her giving him her bubblegum… said ” give it to me or I will shoot you and kill you” so she threw it at him… then he proceeded to pop the gun open and drop the ammo out. He put the ammo in one pocket… and the gun in another. This poor child was robbed at gun point…. and this situation has been diminished so small to a “buddy ratting out her friend.”

I sent a note to Cherokee school spokesman Mike McGowan this morning …

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