December 2006 Archives

Thanks to the efforts of an enterprising parent, teachers in the Bloomington, Minnesota, district may not have to dip into their own pockets for school supplies much longer. Next month, Cary Weatherby, 49, plans to open a 6,700 square-foot store that will provide school supplies to local educators for free. Weatherby has spent two years preparing for the opening—a process that involved rummaging around company loading docks and garage sales. (“I saw what was being thrown away,” she says.) Along the way she also created Companies to Classrooms, a nonprofit that enables local businesses to donate excess supplies ...


Not allowing kids to bring weapons to class is a no-brainer. But Portsmouth High School in Rhode Island has gone a step further: It’s nixing senior Patrick Agin’s plan to run a yearbook photo of him in medieval garb, complete with chain mail and broadsword. “Students wielding weapons is just not consistent with our existing policies or the mission of the school,” explains PHS’s principal, Robert Littlefield. But, as expected, the local chapter of the ACLU has stepped in, defending the right of Patrick (card-carrying member of the Society for Creative Anachronism—a group that promotes medieval ...


The Cobb County, Georgia, school board has decided that it's time to evolve. Four years after the school board ordered that stickers declaring evolution to be "a theory, not a fact" be pasted into all science textbooks, the board yesterday settled a lawsuit and agreed to put the issue to rest. The lawsuit, which was filed by district parents unhappy with the evolution stickers, was the final step in a drawn-out saga that was widely ridiculed on late-night TV and the Internet. School board chairwoman Teresa Plenge said the board felt "the need to put this divisive issue behind us," ...


This spring, Florida's 8th graders will have to choose a "major area of interest,"—a course of study similar to a college major, only for high school. The majors may be as specific as forestry or digital imaging, or cover more general academic areas, such as social studies. State officials say the plan should help boost Florida's sagging graduation rate and send the message that "your high school is interested in accommodating your dreams and your goals." But what about those middle-schoolers who haven't yet figured out what they want to do with the rest of their lives? Or those...


Giving teachers pay hikes of at least $20,000 and turning schools over to private contractors were two of the recommendations put forward this week by the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce, an independent group of high-level government and business leaders (including, for example, Michael Bloomberg and Rod Paige). Tasked with creating a plan to make U.S. schools more competitive, the commission also proposed switching teachers' retirement benefits from pensions to 401k plans and allowing students in vocational programs to enroll in trade schools or community colleges after 10th grade. The plan would take an ...


How much is too much? That's the question in one Boston-area district, where a committee is considering a $50 limit on gifts from students (and their parents) to teachers. The new policy at schools in Hopkinton, Massachusetts, would not cap group gifts. In other nearby districts, gifts to teachers are frowned upon or banned, and grateful students are encouraged to write letters of appreciation or make donations to the school instead. Concerns include conflicts of interest and inappropriate gifts, like the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Calendar one teacher received. And at some schools, wealthy parents go overboard with large cash gifts ...


Forget laptops for every student. A private school in Edinburgh, Scotland, believes the secret to boosting achievement lies in teaching students to write with fountain pens. “The pens improve the quality of work because they force the children to take care, and better work improves self-esteem,” explains Bryan Lewis, principal of Mary Erskine and Stewart’s Melville Junior School (for children ages three through 11). Students at Melville—which charges $12,500 a year in tuition—are given regular lessons in a special handwriting style developed by the school, and they are expected to do most of their work with...


In 2002, the French movie Amélie (also known as Le Fabuleux destin d'Amélie Poulain) was nominated for five Academy Awards, including Best Foreign Language Film. In Heather Salazar's classroom, though, the quirky love story was a flop. The French teacher from Orange, Texas was placed on unpaid administrative leave after showing the film to her students at Little Cypress-Mauriceville High School. The movie is R-rated and reportedly contains nudity and sexual content. The district's superintendent said Salazar failed to follow official procedures for screening films with such content. Should Salazar have known better?...


A Pavlovian-sounding experiment is being conducted in Massachusetts, where several high schools have done away with bells. That’s right: When a class starts or ends, there’s no more beeping, buzzing, or clanging—just a teacher, saying something like, “You guys can go.” In at least two schools, recorded music is played instead, but school officials argue that, overall, the new practice helps students better manage their time and prepare for the real (bell-less) world. Reactions among students and staff have been mixed. A janitor at Dedham High, where “silence” now reigns, says the boxing-ring-like bell used to startle...


It’s not often you hear that students are getting too much math in school. But in a way, that’s the message from a set of guidelines recently published by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics. Titled “Curriculum Focal Points,” the report makes the case the math curricula in the United States generally try to cover too much ground, leaving students with an imperfect grasp of essential skills. As opposed to the 40 to 70 yearly “learning expectations” found in some states’ math standards, the NCTM recommends that schools zero in on a few broad topics in each ...


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