Archive for February, 2010

Kathy Cox serves up a clarification. Get it while it’s hot.

School Superintendent Kathy Cox felt compelled today to issue a clarification to one of her deputy’s comments yesterday at a budget hearing that Georgia might have have to reduce its school year, now set by law at 180 days.

I am not exactly sure what the superintendent is saying here, but having worked my way through high school, college and grad school as a waitress in many fine establishments, I can testify that you have to get in early and stay late. I can also say that there is no better moment in life than when you have escorted all your IHOP customers out the door, locked it behind them and sat down to a customized chocolatee chip pancake with extra chocolate chips and whip cream. To be 18 again.

I understand and agree that  teachers need time before school begins and after it ends, but I am not sure how strongly, if at all, Cox  is calling for tweaks to the 180-days in view of the budget crisis. Read it and let us know what you think.

Here is the superintendent’s …

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Teacher rushes gunman and saves lives in Colorado

A fearless teacher wrestled an allegedly deranged gunman to the ground in Colorado Tuesday, likely saving the lives of  students at a middle school only a few miles from Columbine High School, the site of one of the nation’s worst school shootings.

Dr. David Benke is escorted by Jefferson County police officers to a patrol car in front of Deer Creek Middle School after a shooting in Littleton, Colo., Feb. 23, 2010. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Joe Amon)

Dr. David Benke is escorted by Jefferson County police officers to a patrol car in front of Deer Creek Middle School after a shooting in Littleton, Colo., Feb. 23, 2010. (AP Photo/The Denver Post, Joe Amon)

Math teacher David Benke, 57, charged the man with the rifle and wrestled him to the ground. Others then helped him subdue the man.

According to the Denver Post:

The scene unfolded Tuesday afternoon with shocking familiarity — a shooting outside a Jefferson County school, wounded students, heroic teachers, frantic parents.

When it was over, a man with a history of mental problems was in jail, accused of opening fire with a hunting rifle; two eighth-graders were hospitalized — one in critical condition; and one person after …

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DeKalb: Cutting 148 from central office staff to save $10.7 million

The calls for DeKalb County Schools to cut back on its central office staff are being heeded. The AJC is reporting today that Superintendent Crawford Lewis is calling for 148 employees to be laid off and that the cuts will come from all areas of the central office.

It sounds like the parents are being heard. Many have been critical of central office bloat and inflated salaries for jobs that don’t have much to do with student learning. (Now, if Lewis would turn back his raise, DeKalb parents would be even more certain they are being heard.)

According to the story:

The reduction in staff is necessary to meet a projected $88 million deficit, Superintendent Crawford Lewis told board members Wednesday morning. The staff cuts will save the district about $10.7 million, Lewis said.

The 148 positions represent about 15 percent of the district’s 982 employees in the central office, according to Ramona Tyson, the district’s deputy chief superintendent of business operations. The …

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Firing of entire school staff approved. Ed secretary Duncan calls action courageous.

A Rhode Island school board has upheld a controversial recommendation to fire the entire staff of a failing high school and start fresh. The vote by the Central Falls school board Tuesday won the support of U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

I understand the shock value of such a sweeping action, but I wonder if such housecleaning doesn’t set back a school. It takes years to learn a community and a school, and there has to be a period of rough transition after something of this magnitude.  The new managers at the high school can hire back some of the employees — up to 50 percent — and I assume that will happen, but the loss of so many employees requires lots of rebuilding.

According to the Providence Journal-Bulletin:

Signaling the national significance of the situation in Central Falls, the American Federation of Teachers sent representative Mark Bostic with a message of support from the union’s 1.4 million members.

“We are behind Central Falls teachers, and we will …

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Stop devaluing teachers and making them the scapegoat of CRCT investigation

Fayette County parent Kim Learnard set off a firestorm last year with her piece criticizing the new math.  Now, she has sent me a great piece she’s written about the CRCT investigation and what she considers the misguided spotlight on teachers at a time when teachers need more support than ever.  She’s a talented writer who does not pull any punches. Enjoy.

By Kim Learnard

If Georgia wants real learning to take place in  classrooms, then we will support our teachers more and our administrators less. When it comes to learning, nothing is more critical than the student-teacher relationship in the classroom.

Yet, Georgia’s educational culture places administrators at the pinnacle of education and devalues our single most valuable educational resource, our teachers.

Georgia boasts some of the best teacher education programs in the nation with qualified graduates emerging from excellent programs at UGA, Kennesaw, GSCU, Mercer and many more schools. Our well-educated, eager …

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Middle school education: Muddle or model?

I am not a fan of middle school and have irked many proponents with my past complaints that it is the Bermuda triangle of education, where achievement and progress go missing in the mist. I also think there is a lot of fuzzy talk about middle school and too much blaming of underachievement on hormones. (All adolescents in the world go through puberty. Why is it that American kids become too addled to learn?)

So, I was eager to take part in the teleconference Tuesday on the largest study ever – so say the authors — of middle grades education. Released today, the study by EdSource involved a survey of 303 principals, 3,752 English language arts and math teachers in grades 6-8, and 157 superintendents in California. The study compared policies and practices against the spring 2009 scores on California’s standards-based tests of 204,000 students in grades 6, 7, and 8.

“We did not ask opinions,” said Trish Williams, executive director of EdSource and study project director. “We …

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Calling a foul on baseball practice as community service

I was reading the AJC story today on the teens arrested for underage drinking in the home of a Marietta and Woodstock magistrate when I nearly fell over at this line: Magistrate Diane Busch, also an attorney, negotiated a sentence for William Maxwell, 19, that involved counting 150 hours of practicing baseball with his team at Rice University in Houston as his community service for drinking underage.

As a reporter, I have been surprised in the wide variations in treatment of teens under the law, but this pushes the limit. Unless he is using his bat to clear underbrush at a city park, I don’t see how baseball practice with his college team counts as community service.

I do get frustrated because I think the law extends a much kinder hand to middle-class teens with friends in high places and a good attorney than the poor kid being raised by his grandmother. I have seen it many times in my years covering cops and courts.

I just hate when the disparity is as blatant as this. I …

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Shortening the school year to balance budget. Terrible idea. Terrible message.

From my colleague Jim Galloway over at Political Insider:

Wrapping up a morning of hearings on the state’s 2011 budget and the monster cuts that could come with it, Scott Austensen, the deputy state school superintendent for finance, touched not one, but two third-rails of Georgia politics.

First, he told lawmakers at the Capitol, the state needs to look at reducing the 180-days of instruction now required for K-12 students. Secondly, lottery money could be used to offset some technology expenditures in public schools – something lawmakers haven’t approved in years.

Afterwards, in a scrum with reporters, Austensen said that, depending on the severity of cuts to come, budget writers need to look beyond the teacher-training days now used for mandatory time off:

“Thus far, the six-day furloughs have come out of professional development days because – by law – even though the governor [declared] the furlough days, he didn’t change the requirement of 180 days or …

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School webcams: “It was like having a Peeping Tom”

My initial doubts that a school system would use the webcams in its school-issued computers to spy on kids may have been optimistic in light of the increasing detail coming out from the Lower Merion School District. The upscale suburban Philadelphia system has admitted to activating the webcams 42 times in the past 14 months, but insists it did so only to find missing laptops given to students.  But the charge of spying by at least one family has led the FBI to start its own investigation.

This snippet is from the CBS Early Show which snagged an interview with the Robbins, the family suing the school system for invasion of privacy over what it maintains was unlawful spying.  (I do have to say that the system can’t be happy to hear that students take the pricey computers into the bathroom to listen to music while they shower.)

According to the the interview:

Blake Robbins, the teen at the center of the controversy, told Hill it all began when Harriton High School …

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Obama: We can’t accept second place in education

As we discussed Monday, President Obama met with the nation’s governors  in Washington to call for upgraded math and reading standards and promised that his administration would break down “some of the barriers to reform.”

According to The New York Times:

Meeting with the nation’s governors at the White House, Mr. Obama stressed the importance of education to America’s economic competitiveness in a tough global marketplace, a theme he has cited in recent days to undergird a number of his domestic priorities.

He said the depth of the competition was brought home to him during a visit to South Korea last year, when he was told of that country’s determination to educate its children to out-compete American children.

“That’s what we’re up against,” Mr. Obama said. “That’s what’s at stake — nothing less than our primacy in the world. As I said at the State of the Union address, I do not accept a United States of America that’s second-place.”

The …

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