April 2007 Archives

Some parents no longer have to wait until their children come home to find out what they did in school that day—they already know. If the school is among the proliferating number of middle schools and high schools subscribing to data services such as Edline, SchoolFusion, and School Center, parents have instant access to their children's every grade, absence, and quiz score. But the programs aren't infallible—just ask Laura Iriarte Miguel. The high school student recently switched anatomy classes, but Edline didn't immediately register the change. Iriarte Miguel hadn't told her parents about her decision, so the switch...


The revelation that Seung Hui Cho, the Virginia Tech killer, had composed a number of dark writings for his classes has clearly heightened awareness among English teachers. A case in point: Allen Lee, a straight-A Chinese American student at Cary-Grove High School outside Chicago, was arrested this week on charges of disorderly conduct after he submitted violence-laced essay in his creative-writing class. Though Lee’s essay did not contain specific threats, his teacher was concerned enough about the content to notify her department chair, which in turn led to a call to the police. School and law-enforcement officials say the ...


Following closely behind plans to improve school breakfasts and lunches, a prestigious scientific panel has presented, at Congress' request, a new set of guidelines for healthier snack food at schools. And it's quite a list. The Institute of Medicine's report recommends sharply restricting the calories students consume at school, especially by changing up "competitive" foods—those sold to raise funds. Instead of selling chips or candy bars from a vending machine or in the cafeteria, it says, schools should sell apples, carrot sticks, raisins and nonfat yogurt, for example. After normal school hours, high schools would be allowed to sell...


On Monday, students at Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco were asked to sign a contract promising to go 10 days without television and video games. The pledge was a tough sell: "Why would we want to turn off the TV?" asked one 7th grader. School officials consider the plan—which coincides with the national TV-Turnoff Week, an annual event—a way to reduce bullying. The school is using a curriculum that has been shown to significantly reduce both physical and verbal aggression on the playground. Whether the kids will follow through remains to be seen. In fact, many...


Prior to last weekend, Ashburn, Georgia, was known for two things: peanuts and its Fire Ant Festival. Now it’s also the town where Turner County High School, after decades of allowing parents to organize private segregated dances, hosted its first-ever integrated prom. It only makes sense: This is 2007, after all, and the 455-student school is roughly half African American and half white. Upperclassman voted in favor of one official dance. But some traditions die hard, as a 2001 graduate of TCHS made clear: “The white people have [their proms], and the black people have theirs. It’s nothing ...


Is allowing discussion of tolerance a firing offense? Apparently it is if you teach in Woodburn, Indiana. At issue is whether Woodlan Junior-Senior High School English teacher and newspaper adviser Amy Sorrel should have submitted a student opinion piece for her principal’s review before it was published. The column, written by a sophomore whose friend had just told her he was gay, says in part, ''I think it is so wrong to look down on those people, or to make fun of them, just because they have a different sexuality than you.” Sorrell showed the principal several unpublished stories ...


New Orleans needs teachers. Lots of them—at least 650, to be exact. And to fill that need, its traditional public schools and charter schools alike are courting teachers from all over the country. From job fairs featuring jazz bands and beer to partnerships with Teacher for America, New Orleans is appealing to idealistic young people willing to take on the challenges of a fragmented school system and students facing poverty and unstable living conditions. There are certain benefits, though: Because Hurricane Katrina fractured the sprawling public school district, there's no longer a central bureaucracy for potential hires to navigate....


School officials around the country aren't taking any safety chances in the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings. At least 10 schools and colleges have been locked down or evacuated temporarily since Monday's tragedy. Several of the threats turned out to be hoaxes, including a note found in a high school bathroom in Great Falls, Montana, that threatened violence "worse than Virginia Tech." Other incidents could be attributed to tightly strung nerves. A private school in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, was briefly locked down after unconfirmed sightings of a large man wearing high heels, a skirt, and makeup near the school ...


Last fall, a report from the Education Schools Project found that 62 percent of the graduates of teacher-preparation programs thought they’d been badly prepared. Julia Steiny, a former member of the Providence, Rhode Island, school board, offers this solution: remove the bureaucracy of state certification and instead hold university education departments responsible. Steiny interviewed many education professors and deans over the course of a year, and all said their programs each have at least one current student who they would not personally certify. “Often those less-than-desirable students had poor people skills but were academically high performers,” Steiny explains. The ...


You’d think that a Congress-mandated study—one concluding that kids who’ve taken abstinence-only courses are just as likely, years later, to have sex as those who haven’t—would put the abstinence-vs.-comprehensive-sex-ed debate to rest. But you’d be wrong. The study in question, conducted over the past few years, focused on roughly 2,000 kids from two urban and two rural communities. Half had participated in abstinence-only programs while the other half hadn’t. Still, the findings for both groups were roughly the same: 50 percent of the students had had sex, with similar numbers of ...


Start a charter school focused on medicine, the arts, or business, and people applaud, shrug, or yawn. But a school based on Arabic language and culture? Financed by taxpayers? In the city hardest hit by 9/11’s Islamic terrorists? It’s little wonder the Khalil Gibran International Academy has found itself under fire even before its doors open. "Segregationist" and "Jihadi" are among the epithets that have been flung at the school, which plans to open in Brooklyn, New York, this fall. On the contrary, replies academy principal Debbie Almontaser, a Muslim and a veteran New York City teacher ...


Turnabout is fair play, it seems: Four high school students in Virginia are suing the popular antiplagiarism Web service Turnitin for what they say is copyright infringement. Some 100,000 student papers are uploaded each day to Turnitin, which checks them against other papers and online sources and then adds them to its ever-expanding database. When suspicions of plagiarism arise, teachers can share the papers—without the students' names attached—for further analysis. The four students’ suit, which asks for $150,000 per paper submitted by each of them, argues that Turnitin is essentially profiting from their work and violating...


Young thespians at Wilton High School in Wilton, Connecticut, faced some bad news last month: Their principal was canceling the play about the Iraq War they'd been writing and producing, citing concerns about "balance, content, and copyright." But now several notable theater companies have offered to provide them with a performance venue. They'll be staging their play—a collection of fictional soldier monologues titled "Voices in Conflict"—at the off-Broadway Public Theater in New York City and at the Culture Project, a theater focusing on politically salient works. The students also received moral support from the Dramatists Guild of America,...


Teachers in Tampa are not just angry, they're hoppin' mad. Why? Hillsborough County school officials decided recently to require all high school instructors to teach at least 300 minutes per day—an increase of 30 to 50 minutes. The change is expected to save $28 million in new teacher salaries and benefits, but educators warn that piling on more work will force them to take shortcuts. "I don't know how I can work harder," says Sarah Robinson, an 18-year classroom veteran. "I'm rather insulted that I'm being asked to." Is the 300-minute requirement unreasonable?...


Most middle- and high-schoolers may know algebra, but can they balance a checkbook? Or compare prices? Or even earn money? “They’re purchasing a lot of their immediate wants, not practicing delayed gratification,” says one high school business teacher. “They don’t think about the long-term effects of their spending.” Because those effects include unmanageable credit-card debt and bankruptcy, some schools insist that students become financially literate. They’re a minority, though: Of the 38 states that, in 2004, included personal finance in curriculum standards, only eight required a course with such content. Leading the way is Utah, where Gayle ...


Is it immoral to be pregnant without being married? What if you’re a teacher? In a lawsuit filed against her former public school district in North Carolina, teacher Heather Zampogna claims an assistant superintendent accused her of “immorality” for being an unwed mother-to-be. He told her "this was a 'Baptist community' where people go to church," and said she might be fired, according to the lawsuit, which alleges a violation of the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. A month later, the former Tryon Elementary School Teacher of the Year was reassigned to tutor failing 5th graders in a trailer. The fact ...


U.S. teachers aren’t the only ones concerned about the potential negative effects of too much standardized testing. In Britain, the Association of Teachers and Lecturers, a 160,000-member union, is warning that trickle-down testing pressures are taking the joy out of learning for students as young as five. Among other things, the group says that important educational play activities are being crowded out by formal class time—which, according to one teacher, is a “good model for how to switch children off and create failure.” Children in England are tested in English and math at age seven, and ...


Republican Warren Chisum's crusade may not have biblical proportions, but it could help public high school students in Texas understand what the term "biblical proportions" means. The state legislator is drafting a bill that would require all public school districts to offer an elective course on the history and literature of the Old and New Testaments. "There's a lot of stuff in the Bible that finds its way into our dictionaries, into our art, into all of our literature and into our laws," Chisum says. Many, including clergy members, worry that a lack of resources and teacher preparation would make ...


Are students enrolled in Advanced Placement courses really tackling college-level material? That question is the focus of an audit by the College Board, which owns the AP label. College admissions officers consider AP coursework an indicator that students have challenged themselves in high school—but they seem increasingly uncertain about how much weight to give such classes. Now, all educators who want to use the AP tag must turn in a syllabus and course audit form by June 1. The College Board will decide by November which classes make the grade and post a list of authorized courses on its ...


Considering the age group, stories about violent middle- and high-schoolers are to be expected. But the news that schools are dealing with an increasing number of violent elementary-schoolers is tough to swallow. These kids aren’t disabled; they just don’t have the coping skills to deal with frustration and disappointment. In the New Britain, Connecticut, district, for example, suspensions given to 1st through 5th graders rose from 254 to 346 in one year. Among the offenses: hitting classmates without provocation; physically attacking teachers and principals; and removing clothes in class. Most schools put these kids in separate classrooms, where ...


If you’re tired of people blaming teachers for the country’s educational ills, you may want to avoid this week’s issue of Science magazine. It reports on an extensive study of elementary schools funded by the National Institutes of Health that isn’t exactly glowing in its assessment of teachers’ work. Among other things, according to a summary by USA Today, the researchers say teachers focus too much time on basic reading and math skills and too little on science and social studies, and don’t do enough to engage students or foster critical thinking skills. According to ...


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