Inexperienced Companies Chase U.S. School Funds

By SAM DILLON, NYTimes

Excerpts
With the Obama administration pouring billions into its nationwide campaign to overhaul failing schools, dozens of companies with little or no experience are portraying themselves as school-turnaround experts as they compete for the money.
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Overhauling schools is challenging work, and experts say few efforts succeed. Breaking the cycle of failure in a school that has become a drop-out factory requires an “extreme reset,” said Tim Cawley, a managing director at the Academy for Urban School Leadership, a nonprofit group leading several turnaround efforts in Chicago. Usually that means installing a new principal and a newly committed teaching staff, invigorating the school’s culture with high expectations and a no-nonsense discipline, adopting a rigorous curriculum, and carrying out regular testing to determine what has been learned and what needs to be retaught, Mr. Cawley said.

In contrast, many new groups seeking contracts are hoping merely to bring in a new curriculum or retrain some teachers, he said, adding, “We call that turnaround lite.”
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Mr. Duncan helped set off the stampede in a June 2009 speech, saying that only a handful of groups, nationwide, had any experience in school overhauls.

“We need everyone who cares about public education,” he said, “to get into the business of turning around our lowest-performing schools. That includes states, districts, nonprofits, for-profits, universities, unions and charter organizations.”

For-profits should NOT be included in this list. There should be enough knowledge and capacity within the education community to support the reforms needed without mudding the water with profit motives.

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Policies that ban all uses of social media are as effective as sticking your head in the sand

Schools sort out rules for how teachers should use Twitter, Facebook

By Lolly Bowean and Kristen Mack CHICAGO TRIBUNE

Peter Kupfer has made it difficult for his physics students to claim they didn’t know about a homework assignment.
Not only does Kupfer outline the assignment during class at Lake Zurich High School, he also tweets a daily reminder to his followers on Twitter. On Facebook, Peter Kupfer has made it difficult for his physics students to claim they didn’t know about a homework assignment.
Not only does Kupfer outline the assignment during class at Lake Zurich High School, he also tweets a daily reminder to his followers on Twitter. On Facebook, he posts a status update and occasionally provides extra details on his fan page.

“I, personally, am not worried about sharing (online) space with students,” he said. “The kids can talk to me and I find it a useful avenue to communicate.”

But as teachers like Kupfer increasingly connect with their students online, school districts are working to define appropriate ways for teachers and students to communicate outside the classroom.

It’s a murky area with a variety of questions: Should teachers use a Facebook fan page to contact students? Should they allow students to “friend” them on their personal profiles, or post pictures on their walls? Should they notify parents that they are using social networking sites to communicate?

The Illinois school code requires that districts develop polices for social networking and teach students how to safely use chat rooms, e-mail, and instant messaging. Some districts have responded with vague policies open for interpretation. Others have banned all use of social media between teachers and students.

In Community High School District 128 in Libertyville, Ill., the school board approved a set of “expectations” for social networking between teachers, coaches and students, which are now incorporated into employee policies.

It deems district-provided e-mail and school-based Web sites acceptable forms of communication. However it warns that text messages are highly personal, can quickly get “off topic” and be easily misinterpreted by a parent.

“What you want to avoid is a parent seeing a coach’s cell phone number on their daughter’s phone and being surprised,” said Mick Torres, the district’s technology director.

While District 128 has specific rules, Lake Zurich Community Unit School District 95 has a broad policy. In the district’s general personnel standards, faculty are instructed to maintain a professional relationship with students and keep a safe and healthy environment.

“We’re trying to put information out there that is associated with the classroom and student learning,” District Superintendent Mike Egan said. “We encourage that kind of use, while discouraging any personal conversations or information sharing.”

At Lincolnway Community High School District 210 in New Lenox, administrators banned all forms of social media on school grounds—for teachers and students. That way, learning is focused in the classroom and there are fewer chances of misbehaving or misunderstandings, said Sharon Michalak, the assistant superintendent for curriculum instruction and staff development.

But Kupfer’s teaching style of posting homework assignments on Twitter and Facebook wouldn’t fly in districts where only school-based sites are sanctioned.

“With the advancement of technology and social networking, it’s not appropriate in the school atmosphere,” Michalak said. “Any information would have been communicated in the classroom. If teachers are going to use technology, it’s through a Web page developed here at school that the students have access to look up.”

In the absence of official policies, students have largely created their own rules of online engagement.

Anita Wota, 17, spends hours updating her status and checking up on her friends on Facebook, she said. But she didn’t “friend” her teachers until she graduated from Chicago Academy High School last spring.

“It’s not as awkward because they’re not my teacher anymore,” she said.

Meanwhile Ramsey Newton Jr., 16, refuses to engage in social media. It causes too much drama—even when teachers and school administrators are involved, he said.

“I’m just not into it,” the sophomore at South Shore High School said. “Teachers gossip too. They might get too much access or get to know too much. It can start a big fiasco.

“I don’t want my name in it, and I don’t want to end up on anyone’s status (update).”

That’s not the case for Kupfer. While he reaches out to his students online, he’s careful about how he does it: He doesn’t follow students on Twitter. And although he accepts friend requests, he doesn’t initiate them.

Kupfer said he views social networking sites as an opportunity to teach his students about both physics and online behavior.

“I’m careful not to post anything that is not appropriate,” he said. “I remember, my students will see this. My mom and grandma are on there too, so I have to be extra careful.”

Policies that ban all uses of social media are as about as effective as sticking your head in the sand. It ignores the educational potential of using these resource. Instead of trying to harness the power of social learning and extending the learning experience beyond the classroom they took the easy route and missed a very important teachable moment. Wouldn't it be better to develop 21st century literacies by highlighting the educational uses of social media, while teaching students how to monitor how and what they share as well how to think critically and behave responsibly when using online media.

Check out the list below if you aren't convinced about the benefits of social media.

Creating Change When No One is Asking for It

Leadership in education is having vision and skills to create change in schools even when no one is asking for it. ~Will Richardson
Follow him on Twitter @willrich45

While no one is advocating change simply for the sake of change, many districts/schools/educators seem to be suffering from complacency, where change is only necessary when you've hit rock bottom or when an external force mandates change. Instead we rarely hear of districts/schools/educators pursuing change simply because they can do better.

In athletics the pursuit of winning requires that you are always in pursuit of change. Being number one means that your job just got tougher. There is no time to rest on your laurels as it is often more challenging to stay on top then it was to get there.

Wouldn't it be great if the education system was built on this same philosophy. Highly successful schools would always be looking for ways to get better. Schools with great test scores would be seeking ways to increase/improve the extra-curricular offerings. Schools with great test scores and extra-curricular activities would then look to increase/improve community service and so on.

Unfortunately what happens is that many districts/schools/educators/parents/students are happy with being just okay. As long as an acceptable number of students are graduating or achieving acceptable success at the next level of education there is no need to change. We seem to forget that our job should be to help our students realize their FULL potential. - Omar gets great grades, but could his also be a great artist? Sarah is a great athlete, but why can't she also be a great scholar? Anthony is very popular, but could he also be a great public speaker and community leader?

These kids may not be asking for these kinds of changes, but leadership in education is having vision and skills to create change in schools even when no one is asking for it.

Students in year-round schools do better, study shows

Read about this Group G placement site featured in the Globe & Mail article about year-round school.
It has been a great opportunity for teacher candidates from Brock University to see first hand the benefits of year-round schooling.

At Roberta Bondar Public School, full-year education has been the only option for its 900 kindergarten to Grade 8 students since the school opened in 2005. Their school year features the same 194 days and curriculum as regular Ontario schools, but almost half of the two-month summer vacation time on the traditional school calendar is spread throughout the year.

Full-year education has been the only option for its 900 kindergarten to Grade 8 students since the school opened in 2005. Their school year features the same 194 days and curriculum as regular Ontario schools, but almost half of the two-month summer vacation time on the traditional school calendar is spread throughout the year.

Some results of this continuous learning, according to the pilot study by the Peel District School Board, are higher Grade 7 test scores in math, students who remember significantly more information after breaks and, as a result, teachers who can dive right into new material without having to spend weeks reviewing concepts students would normally forget over the summer. This was found especially beneficial for students learning English as a second language, and students with learning difficulties. - Read the full article by Natalie Stechyson

I would suspect that these positive test scores are also a result of a great principal, and dedicated teachers that engage students and parents.

Disrupting Class: How Disruptive Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns

Michael B. Horn, Co-founder and Executive Director, Education, of Innosight Institute. Co-author of Disrupting Class.


Disrupting Class is a great book that can help the education community to closely examine current reforms to determine if they are "disruptive innovations" or merely "sustaining". Much of what we consider to be innovative is simply a new way of performing an old function. Using Skype to visit a class in another country in NOT innovative. This was possible with traditional letter writing and exchanging videos by mail. Using Skype to have classrooms collaborate on a project where each class contributes unique geographical/cultural/linguistic information to the project is INNOVATIVE. Disruptive educational innovations represent a fundamental paradigm shift in teaching and learning.