“The Bible in History & Literature”:Over 210,000 Students have taken the Course

Alabama Adopts New Textbook for Academic Study of the Bible State Board of Education decision provides state funding and approval for “The Bible In History and Literature”, by the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools.
MEDIA ADVISORY, Nov. 20 /Christian Newswire/

The following is submitted by Scott Beason, Alabama State Senator:

Last week, after a rigorous, year long evaluation process, the Alabama State Board of Education voted unanimously to approve the Bible Curriculum, “The Bible in History and Literature”, for statewide usability. The curriculum published by the National Council On Bible Curriculum In Public Schools is already being used in several school districts across Alabama, but State Board approval means that local districts can now be reimbursed by the State for the cost of the course materials. Reports and studies released over the last few years indicate that leading high school English teachers, as well as university level literature professors, believe that students should possess a strong familiarity with the Bible in order to attain a well rounded education. It is extremely difficult to understand western thought including history, politics, and social interaction without an understanding of the content of the Bible.

“The Bible in History and Literature” has undergone tremendous scholarly review. Members of the team that provides academic review of the curriculum have graduate degrees from and have studied and worked at such prestigious institutions as Oxford, Harvard, Princeton, and the Hebrew University and the Jerusalem University in Israel.

“The Bible in History and Literature” has widespread support across these United States and is currently used in 472 school districts (1900 high schools) in 38 states. The overwhelming majority, 94 percent, of the school districts nationwide that have officially considered the curriculum have adopted the course for use in their local systems. To date, over 210,000 students have taken the course.

This approval by the State Board of Education will allow any of Alabama’s over 500 high schools to offer this elective course on the Bible that has been thoroughly reviewed by scholars and is proven to be academically legitimate for study. www.bibleinschools.net 1 877 ON BIBLE.


 

Bible Ban Lifted at Mount Vernon, Ohio, Public School District

The Mount Vernon City Schools is again the center of controversy over Bibles. During the last school year, John Freshwater, a 24 year veteran teacher, was suspended on other issues after a conflict over finding a Bible on his desk. This school year, the public school staffers in the small community of Mount Vernon, Ohio, were ordered by administrators to remove all religious materials and displays from their rooms including their Bibles.

Last week, one of its middle school teachers, Lori Miller, was confronted about personal devotional materials being on her desk and was directed to remove it. When she asked for support from her local and state union (affiliated with the National Education Association), she was told that she had no grounds for her grievance and it was justified via a legal opinion from the state level. Locally, the union insisted she comply and tried to block her from filing a grievance due to what her own union termed her violation of separation of church and state.

“I was outraged when I learned that Lori, one of our members, was experiencing such obvious religious harassment from her employers and was being road-blocked by local and state unions professed to be advocates for educators,” said Finn Laursen, Executive Director of Christian Educators Association International. “We encouraged Lori to move forward with a grievance and had First Amendment attorneys waiting in the wings should litigation be needed.”

On April 14, Lori Miller received a first level grievance hearing in which her right to have a Bible on her desk was affirmed “for the present time.”

On April 16, many of students brought their Bibles to school as an exercise of their religious freedom and as a show of support for their former teacher, John Freshwater, who is still fighting to get his job back.

“The lesson here is clear. It is imperative that Christian educators, students, and parents remain willing to step forward to insist on the rights our forefathers guaranteed for future generations in the First Amendment of our Constitution,” said Laursen.

NEWS RELEASE

Contact: Finn Laursen (CEAI)

P.O. Box 45610  Westlake, OH 44145  http://www.ceai.org

 

Christian Educators Association International
PO Box 45610
Westlake, OH 44145
(440) 250-9566
http://www.ceai.org

Smartville: Elementary School Kids Show Their Multiple Intelligences

At this Georgia school, Howard Gardner’s theory thrives — and so do students.

by Sara Bernard

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Boys walking together in hall reviewing papers

Credit: Muzel Chen

Take a stroll down the bustling streets of Smartville, USA, and you’ll see students bringing mailbags full of letters from the Smartville Post Office to Reading Road and Artistic Avenue. They’re working as tellers at the Smartville Savings and Learn, expanding their palates at the Smartville Culinary Arts Institute, and painting and sculpting at the Metropolitan Museum of Smart. Reporters cover local news in the Smartville Times, and clerks at the Little Elephant Depot provide tools that citizens need to do their jobs each day. Learning is the universal occupation here, but everyone in Smartville does that job a little differently.

Smartville is the Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy, a charter elementary school, in Gainesville, Georgia. The nickname embodies the schoolwide philosophy: At Enota, the theory that everyone possesses unique talents and aptitudes isn’t just accepted and celebrated, it’s an integral part of school culture. Kid-friendly labels for Howard Gardner’s eight intelligences — punchy interpretations like “word smart,” “body smart,” or “nature smart” — pervade the school, appearing in hallway signs and classroom conversations. The real-world activities afforded by the school’s village persona, staff members say, allow students to explore and express the multiple ways of being smart.

Girl at desk with a big smile

Smiles at Smartville:

Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy first grader Lilly Adamson and her classmates celebrate one another’s “smarts.”

Credit: Gregory Campbell

“Some people learn by doing worksheets, some by acting it out, some by sculpting, and some by listening,” explains Enota fifth grader Katherine Anderson. “We work together and show each other different kinds of smarts. It helps us choose what we want to be when we grow up.”

This schoolwide application of multiple-intelligences (MI) theory to curriculum is not an ivory-tower exercise, say Enota educators. It is good teaching. “Changing the definition of smart needed to happen for a long time,” says fourth-grade teacher Audrey Thornton. “Gardner’s principle was written to build in flexibility. The beauty in it is that you can take the philosophy and figure out how it’s going to work with your kids.” In other words, adds fifth-grade language arts and social studies teacher Denise McConnell, “we don’t teach content. We teach children.”

Smartville Is Born

The Enota Multiple Intelligences Academy grew out of the reorganization, in 2003, of the Gainesville City School District. Overcrowding in the district’s three elementary schools led then superintendent Steven Ballowe to grant principals the rare and refreshing opportunity to design their own themed academies. The result: five “choice” schools where Gainesville families can opt to send their children, regardless of neighborhood boundaries. In July 2008, the entire district was granted charter status.

Former principal Sally Meadors, an MI visionary, led Enota’s initial transformation. As a fourth- and fifth-grade teaching specialist, her impetus for the choice of an MI theme was based on simple observation. “I had seen a lot of students entering the fourth grade who had many different talents, but who had difficulty reading,” she says. Academic hierarchies were not only problematic, she says, but also ineffectual: “In order to motivate and teach a child, you have to find out where their strengths are and what they’re passionate about, and use that to move them in the direction of learning new skills.”

To that end, Meadors recruited interested teachers and developed a strong, collegial community. Staff visited other MI schools, such as the New City School, in St. Louis; they brought in MI education consultants like David Lazear and Gloria Lapin; they attended workshops, events, and lectures by MI gurus such as the head of New City School Tom Hoerr; and they read books like Teaching and Learning Through Multiple Intelligences, by Bruce and Linda Campbell and Dee Dickinson.

Enota founders allotted 45 minutes during each school day for grade-level teachers to plan lessons and created extended days each month for additional training. They educated the surrounding community about their vision through newsletters and events, and quickly, everyone began to buy in. Parents started putting in longer hours than the teachers, sprucing up the old building with new coats of paint and working alongside the children to add creative murals and amenities.

Planning an entirely new school allowed parents and staff to ask themselves, “What can we do to give kids the feeling that the school belongs to them, and that they want to come here every day?” says fourth-grade gifted-education teacher Marty Jones.

Girl carrying a bin out of the office that's painted like a post office

Special Delivery:

Making the fictional town of Smartville a reality for all students includes a student-run post office.

Credit: Gregory Campbell

Smartville, they decided, was the answer: If, in addition to spending time in a classroom, students have the opportunity to participate in a wide variety of activities, including the running of a little city, they’ll exercise their multiple intelligences on many levels, always in a meaningful way. “It’s a town, rather than a school, and a family, rather than a classroom,” says Audrey Thornton.

The groundswell of community support for the school helped create and maintain what is now the most ethnically and socioeconomically diverse school in the district, with consistently some of the highest test scores — and very little teacher or student attrition. “It was a team effort from the beginning,” says Sally Meadors. “I can’t stress that enough.”

MI immersion

In addition to regular classes, all Enota students have a period each day slated for one of six activities: music, art, creative movement, the culinary institute, physical education, and technology (though all teachers involve technology in many of their lessons). All students rotate through all six of the activities over a six-day period. At the same time, the functioning “village” dimension of Enota — Smartville — is sustained through the collaboration of students and teachers. Every Wednesday, students write letters to their teachers and classmates during regular class time, and every Friday a rotating group of students sorts and delivers that mail. Another rotation of students runs the Little Elephant Depot in the mornings before school starts, and once a week, kids can manage their accounts in a student-run branch of the Peach State Bank & Trust (or the Smartville Savings and Learn).

A big tree painted on the wall just outside a classroom door

Multi-Branched:

Enota students can show they’ve mastered the material in a variety of ways, such as through visual artwork or class performances.

Credit: Gregory Campbell

Teachers of activities, as well as the regular classroom teachers at Enota, take care to integrate MI into every aspect of learning. In her art class, Julie Oliver invites students to explore music, words, and collaboration through the use of finger paints, Legos, and clay. At stations labeled for different intelligences, students have many ways to learn what Oliver wants to teach.

And in Rebecca Goebel’s creative-movement class, she says, “we use our bodies to help us learn other things.” Math, she adds, is a good example: A recent dance was counted in two sets of eight — equivalent to 16 — and limbs were used to form right angles and parallel lines. “This is just another outlet for those children who, if they can do it with their body, might understand it better,” she says.

Each week, first-grade teacher Amy Anderson makes sure she offers at least one activity utilizing each “smart,” and builds that into student awareness and vocabulary. After the first holiday break, first graders take inventory of the activities they like best, and gradually learn to articulate the different intelligences embodied by those activities. In Anderson’s class, heterogeneous groups of students rotate through four workstations, two focusing on the current topic of study — locating and naming the continents and oceans, for instance — and two focusing on a subject the students have already been taught but might need to practice in a different way.

A math game in which students toss counters at a target, for example, helps “body-smart” kids get a handle on their numbers up to 1,000. “Music-smart” children can sing a song about the continents and oceans as they use their “picture smart” to draw maps and create flipbooks. “Rotating through different kinds of activities,” Anderson says, gives students “another chance to be exposed to that material, and another chance to be successful, whether they were successful the first time or not.”

While older students at Enota tend to have a more solid grasp on their individual aptitudes, MI surveys and explorations are routine. Students constantly speak and think critically about their own — and their peers’ — talents and strengths.

Fifth-grade science and math teacher Elaine Cantrell explains it this way: At the beginning of each year, she asks a cross section of the class to put on the wrong-size shoes. Then, they have a race. “Of course, the kids in the wrong-size shoes are going to be so far behind,” she says. “You can’t have too-big shoes on one kid and too-small on another, while everyone else has on their own shoes.” The metaphor is clear for the kids: If they don’t have an opportunity to demonstrate their learning based on their interests and skill levels, “they’re not going to run as fast as they could.”

Two principals standing next to each other

A World of Smart:

Assistant Principal Donna Allen (left) and Principal Susan Culbreth help make the fictional town of Smartville a reality for all students.

Credit: Gregory Campbell

To Each His Own Smart

In fourth and fifth grades, most Enota teachers design learning contracts, weekly activity charts that offer a menu of activities based on varying intelligences, for their students. All the activities manage to address the state standards students need to master. It is the students’ responsibility to complete everything on the chart, or choose a certain number to complete, by the end of the week. Usually, says Denise McConnell, “each of the intelligences are covered by the assignment, and so everyone gets a chance to shine.”

Sometimes, different students receive different contracts, says McConnell, who monitors her students’ reading skills and develops priorities for each. “Everybody’s reading contract looks the same, but there are different assignments in the boxes, and no one knows who’s got what.”

The approach requires teachers to relinquish some control and invest more trust in the students, say Enota educators. “If you walk into my classroom, you might not think that there was learning going on,” says Elaine Cantrell. “But if you listen to them, they’re talking about what you want them to talk about.” And lest teachers think students won’t rise to the occasion, Cantrell offers this testimony: “The first weekly contract I did this year, I had six kids come in the next day and say, ‘I’m done. I did everything!’”

With options to choose from, students often find ways to surprise their teachers. One student who was reluctant to speak up in class created a remarkable sculpture of Abraham Lincoln, recalls fifth-grade language arts, reading, and social studies teacher Beth Hester. “That goes above and beyond anything I could ever teach him out of a book,” she says. “I didn’t say, ‘You must do a sculpture’ or all the kids would have freaked out completely, but it was one of the many choices.

“If you give kids different ways to get at the same concept, then they can do it in the way that’s best and most exciting for them,” she adds. “Motivation and engagement are 90 percent of the game. If you don’t have that, you’ve lost them completely.”

Still, MI instruction in a state-tested school can be a challenge. “We have to remember that kids are going to be tested with pencil and paper,” says Denise McConnell, even if that’s not where their strengths lie. “That’s got to drive some of what we do.”

And it seems to be working: In spring 2007, Enota students scored higher in math on the Criterion-Referenced Competency Test (CRCT, Georgia’s annual standardized exam) than any other school in the district. To mediate conflict between traditional assessments and the kinds of MI-focused rubrics Enota teachers use to assess student comprehension of state standards, they are discussing the possibility of developing a new grading system that could eventually be reflected on report cards. Parents could then see more clearly what skills their children have mastered.

Teacher smiling in class

Ways to Learn:

Teacher Beth Hester encourages her fifth graders to choose different activities based on their intelligences.

Credit: Gregory Campbell

Teachers reinforce student strengths and routinely offer them the choice of demonstrating their knowledge in a variety of ways, through a piece of art, an essay, a Web page, or a dance performance. And many Enota teachers take care to squeeze “smarts” assessments between the lines of letter grades. “On my report cards, I also describe how their strengths are aligned with their ‘smarts,’” says Audrey Thornton. “Parents realize that we understand so much more about their kid than if we were standing up in front of them just talking to them all day long. They realize that we value their child as an individual.”

The Power of Smart

This kind of individuality is vividly on display at Enota’s annual Multiple Intelligences Fair, which draws an impressive cross section of the community every January. Hundreds of prospective, current, and former Enota parents and siblings clog the avenues of Smartville, where every student showcases his or her type of “smart.”

This year, one classroom thrummed with bongos, another with karaoke. One room featured fifth graders in beatnik berets reciting Shel Silverstein poems and serving cappuccinos, while the library was crammed with local “celebrities” — the Gainesville mayor, the superintendent, a local dentist, a pilot, a doctor — signing autographs and discussing the various intelligences they use in their professions. Hallways were packed with student projects and presentations of all kinds, from traditional science fair poster boards to violin performances to unicycle demonstrations.

Ryan, a tiny third grader, sat knitting, skillfully and unselfconsciously, next to a pile of his own handcrafted scarves. When asked whether he likes school, he beamed, deftly looping green yarn as he replied, “Oh, yeah, it’s totally fun — really fun! Usually, kids don’t like going to school, but I love going to school here. It helps me learn a lot.”

Not only do Enota’s students know that they’re learning, but they also know how they’re learning. And it does wonders for their self-esteem, their teachers report. “The other day, I had a child hit me on the head with a piece of fried okra from three tables away,” says first-grade teacher Amy Anderson with a laugh. “And although I scolded him, I said, ‘Matthew, I had no idea you had so much body smart! Why don’t you start doing some productive things with that smart?’”

That’s the language of this school, and the children understand it. “If you tell them, ‘You are smart and you have these wonderful skills,’ then even the things they aren’t as strong in will improve because they feel so good about trying,” Anderson says. “I think that’s part of the beauty here. Students feel safe to explore.”

Sara Bernard is a former staff writer and multimedia producer at Edutopia.

Go to “How to Address Multiple Intelligences in the Classroom.”

This article was also published in the April 2009 issue of Edutopia magazine under the headline “From Theory to Practice”.

The Big Idea
How Not to Choke When It Counts
You — or your students — prepared diligently, then crumbled. Why? And how can you make sure it doesn’t happen again?

In her education.com article Helping Good Students Do Better on the SAT, Hannah Boyd quotes Richard Bavaria, Ph.D., who notes, “Smart, well-prepared kids can test badly for many reasons.” Bavaria, who is Senior Vice-President for Education Outreach at Sylvan Learning Center, explains, “The most common reason is stress. Stress can rob a student of confidence and even cause forgetfulness — the worst thing when you’re taking an important test.” See the article for stress-busting tips which work for the SAT and other pressure-cooker situations.

Sian L. Beilock, an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago, says we may freeze because “pressure situations can fundamentally alter the way individuals think about and exercise their skills.” In the University of Chicago Magazine article “Choking Hazards,” Beilock explains that “pressure situations” can throw off “even the most talented individuals.” Her good news: “Those who prepare by mimicking real-life situations can bypass pressure’s pitfalls. Whether timed practice tests or full-length football scrimmages, such simulations reduce the novelty of stressful events and curtail choking.”

In the Scientific American article “How to Avoid Choking under Pressure,” Elizabeth Svoboda cites Trinity University psychologist Harry Wallace who advocates developing effective strategies which “imbue performers with the assurance that they can deal with any eventuality. This mind-set proves helpful even (and perhaps especially) when something goes wrong.”

Wei-Hsuan Lin looks at “how mere mortals can obtain nerves of steel” in Psychology Today‘s “Mind Your Body: Lost in Thought.” Emphasizing that “Pressure is inevitable, but choking is not,” the article’s practical tips to help athletes avoid the big choke also have broad application. “Practice under Pressure: Play matches with friends, but with consequences (e.g., the loser has to buy dinner). Keep it Real: Train in conditions that match the event. Wear a real jersey or find an audience. See the Big Picture: Focus on global cue words, like smooth, tempo, and rhythm instead of details that might make you self-focus.”

Write Better
Smooth Transitions
Providing transitions which connect your ideas, says Capital Community College Foundation, begins with your attitude. “You must never assume that your readers know what you know… You might be able to leap from one side of the stream to the other; believe that your readers need some stepping stones and be sure to place them in readily accessible and visible spots.”

CCC Foundation provides valuable information on the stones to use and where to place them in Coherence: Transitions Between Ideas.

“There are four basic mechanical considerations in providing transitions between ideas: using transitional expressions, repeating key words and phrases, using pronoun reference, and using parallel form,” they explain and offer these details about each:

Using Transitional Tags
Transitional tags run the gamut from the most simple — the little conjunctions: and, but, nor, for, yet, or, (and sometimes) so — to more complex signals that ideas are somehow connected — the conjunctive adverbs and transitional expressions such as however, moreover, nevertheless, on the other hand.
The use of the little conjunctions — especially and and but — comes naturally for most writers. However, the question whether one can begin a sentence with a small conjunction often arises. Isn’t the conjunction at the beginning of the sentence a sign that the sentence should have been connected to the prior sentence? Well, sometimes, yes. But often the initial conjunction calls attention to the sentence in an effective way, and that’s just what you want. Over-used, beginning a sentence with a conjunction can be distracting, but the device can add a refreshing dash to a sentence and speed the narrative flow of your text.

Repetition of Key Words and Phrases
The ability to connect ideas by means of repetition of key words and phrases sometimes meets a natural resistance based on the fear of being repetitive. We’ve been trained to loathe redundancy. Now we must learn that catching a word or phrase that’s important to a reader’s comprehension of a piece and replaying that word or phrase creates a musical motif in that reader’s head. Unless it is overworked and obtrusive, repetition lends itself to a sense of coherence (or at least to the illusion of coherence).

Pronoun Reference
Pronouns quite naturally connect ideas because pronouns almost always refer the reader to something earlier in the text. I cannot say “This is true because . . .” without causing the reader to consider what “this” could mean. Thus, the pronoun causes the reader to sum up, quickly and subconsciously, what was said before (what this is) before going on to the because part of my reasoning.

Parallelism
Music in prose is often the result of parallelism, the deliberate repetition of larger structures of phrases, even clauses and whole sentences.

To find more information from CCC Foundation on parallelism, a chart of transitional devices, and examples of “Coherence Devises in Action,” click here.

Search Smart
Making Contact with Experts
In last month’s Q&A! search article, we explored Tara Calishain’s recommendations for finding experts online. Here we present her “five rules for contacting an expert.”

Calishain, whose advice we shared in “Strike Expert Gold” (Q&A! Volume 4 – Issue #17), and who is the author of Web Search Garage (Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall Professional Technical Reference, 2005), 90, offers “The Commandments for the Questioner.”

  1. Thou shalt be polite — It should go without saying but often doesn’t. Don’t demand; request… E-mail them the contact information they request. Be sure to use their title if they’re a professor, doctor, etc. And if they say on their Web site that they can’t answer e-mailed questions, don’t ask! Sometimes folks are just really busy.
  2. Thou shalt make it clear what you want — You should be polite, but you don’t have to be obscure. If you’re looking for a particular fact, say so… If you’re trying to get more information on a particular point, describe it clearly.
  3. Thou shalt give a reasonable amount of time for an answer — Part of courtesy is giving the expert plenty of time to answer your question. Try to give them three or four days. Sometimes it might take longer. Don’t email them and say you have to have an answer in an hour… On the other hand, if you have a deadline say so, so the expert knows you need to hear back from them within a certain time frame.
  4. Thou shalt not ask the expert to do thy homework — If you write to an expert on Shakespeare with a request like, “Please send me 500 words on the underlying themes in Romeo and Juliet,” don’t be surprised if you get no response… I’ve found in my research that an expert is a lot more willing to help if you describe what you’ve done already, where you’ve tried to get the answer, and why you’re contacting them.
  5. Thou shalt not get in a twist if the expert does not answer — Sometimes people get busy, or tired, or their computer breaks, or they can’t get their e-mail, or they get carpal tunnel syndrome. Sometimes you won’t get an answer. Don’t take it personally!… If you want to, send one follow-up e-mail — sometimes e-mail gets caught in a spam filter or otherwise undelivered — but then leave it alone.

“If you follow these rules,” says Calishain, “I’d say there’s a better than even chance that your mail will get answered.”

Is It Possible To Recover From Autism?

By Shaun Heasley

April 17, 2009

Like many children who develop autism, Jake Exkorn experienced normal development, then lost nearly all of his communication skills before the age of two. But unlike most children who received the diagnosis, today at age 13, doctors say Jake no longer has the disorder.

After two years of intensive therapy including applied behavior analysis (ABA), Jake’s doctor reported that he had recovered from autism.

But the question of whether or not anyone can “recover” from autism remains a hot one. And researchers are delving in to determine whether or not that is in fact possible.

Some research relying on social skills testing and MRI’s does indicate recovery has occurred in some people with autism. However, researchers warn that the number of people who “recover” is minimal and recovery does not mean that all challenges disappear, reports The Today Show.

Visit msnbc.com for Breaking News, World News, and News about the Economy

Title I Turnaround Programs Due for Big Cash Boost

Title I Turnaround Programs Due for Big Cash Boost
By David J. Hoff

In the seven years since enactment of No Child Left Behind Act, the number of academically troubled schools identified for turnarounds has grown steadily.

The federal money for the work of turning around them hadn’t—until now.

The change came last month when President Barack Obama signed the economic-stimulus measure into law. The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will give states a previously unexpected $3.4 billion to spend on improving the schools that are farthest from reaching the NCLB law’s goal that all children be proficient in reading and math by the end of the 2013-14 school year.

“With these kind of revenues, you can do some things that had been on the table but weren’t attainable,” said Peter McWalters, Rhode Island’s commissioner of education. He listed options such as summer professional development for teachers, leadership training for principals, and academic and leadership coaches for struggling schools.

Help on the Way

Federal money for school improvement projects will rise dramatically this and next fiscal year.

Note: Totals include money appropriated specifically for school improvement and money reserved for that purpose under the NCLB law’s Title I.

Other state leaders are mulling similar ways to use the $3.4 billion in stimulus money for school improvement over the next two years.

Such comprehensive approaches are important, one researcher said, because schools identified for help under the program need comprehensive and sustained interventions for them to succeed.

“It’s a really complex problem, and no single thing … is guaranteed success,” said Caitlin Scott, who has studied states’ school improvement efforts for the Center on Education Policy, a Washington-based research and advocacy group that is tracking implementation of the NCLB law. “There’s not just one thing you can purchase.”

Big Pay Day

As with several other K-12 programs, the so-called school improvement section of the NCLB law will receive a sudden infusion of money that many in the education field could not have expected before the nation’s economy fell into crisis, prompting the stimulus package.

The new measure appropriates $6.5 billion in fiscal 2009 and again in fiscal 2010 for the NCLB law’s Title I program, which serves schools with high numbers or percentages of disadvantaged students. In each fiscal year, $1.5 billion is reserved for the so-called school improvement program under Title I.

And of the $5 billion remaining each year, the No Child Left Behind law requires states to reserve 4 percent for improving schools that have persistently failed to make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the 2002 law and to provide other technical assistance to districts.

In all, that will give states $1.7 billion in fiscal 2009 and fiscal 2010 for school improvement.

What’s more, states will receive another $1.1 billion for school improvement efforts under the fiscal 2009 omnibus spending bill that President Obama signed last week. (“Winners vs. Losers In 2009′s Budget,” this issue.)

With a total of $2.8 billion allocated in fiscal 2009, and probably at least that much again in fiscal 2010, states’ school improvement efforts will receive a dramatic influx of cash over spending levels from two years ago.

Using that money to fix struggling schools will be a key part of the Obama administration’s efforts, federal officials say, to reduce the dropout rate and increase the number of students earning college degrees.

“Stemming the tide of dropouts will require turning around our low-performing schools,” President Obama said in a March 10 speech at a meeting of the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

And in guidance released March 7 on how to spend the stimulus money available for education, the U.S. Department of Education underscored the emphasis on school improvement efforts by saying it would not grant states’ requests to spend the improvement money on other priorities in the Title I program.

Working With Districts

Under the NCLB law, states must allocate 95 percent of such improvement money to districts. So far, states have taken several approaches to spending it, according to Ms. Scott of the Center on Education Policy, who has studied such efforts in five states.

Most states send a team of experts to review a school who recommend and monitor changes. In that process, the team or other consultants provide professional development for teachers and principals. Some states hire academic coaches for teachers or mentors for principals, with the aim of helping them improve their instructional strategies and leadership.

Arkansas, for example, is using America’s Choice, a school improvement model developed by the National Center for Education and the Economy, based in Washington.

But critics say such approaches have been inadequate so far.

“By and large, most cities feel that [states’ help] isn’t meeting their needs, is weak, is not focused, and is not terribly effective,” said Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, a Washington group that represents about 60 of the nation’s largest urban districts.

Big Task

At the end of the 2007-08 school year, about 3,600 public schools—or 4 percent the total—had failed to make adequate yearly progress for five or more years. That number had doubled by 2008-09. (“Schools Struggling to Meet Key Goal on Accountability,” Jan. 7, 2009.)

And states may end up considering drastic steps in schools failing to show signs of improvement.

Those steps could include closing poor-performing schools and converting them to charter schools, or using school interventions that have proved successful elsewhere, said Alex Medler, the vice president of research and analysis for the Colorado Children’s Campaign, a Denver-based advocacy group that helps run school improvement programs.

Without such aggressive moves, improvement efforts could result in little change or progress, said Rae Belisle, a member of the California board of education.

“We keep doing the same old thing out there,” said Ms. Belisle, who is the chief executive officer of EdVoice, a Sacramento-based nonprofit organization that links donors with parent groups working to improve California schools.

“They piddle this money away,” she said of her state’s efforts under the NCLB law and state programs.

Rules Allowing Extended Time on Graduation

Advocates Debate Effects of Change in Regulations

Federal regulations have opened a door that allows schools to get credit under the No Child Left Behind Act for students who take longer than four years to earn a high school diploma. But that option worries some education advocates, who fear it could relieve valuable pressure on high schools to graduate students on time.

Under the law’s accountability provisions, students who don’t graduate in four years count against schools’ graduation rates. Many educators have complained that such an approach punishes schools that go the extra mile to keep students from dropping out or to lure back those who have left school.

Several states have now applied for federal permission to use extended-year rates, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Only one state, Washington, has permission to use them, as the result of a waiver granted in 2005.

In a recent interview, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan declined to say whether he would change the regulations, issued last October by his predecessor, Margaret Spellings, that allow extended-year rates. But his comments strongly suggested that he believes schools should get some credit for students who take more than four years to get a diploma.

“In an ideal world, students graduate in four years,” Mr. Duncan said. “[A]nd to be clear, you never ever want to bend in that. … Having said that, what I worry about is if you only do the four-year rate, you, I think, create some unintended consequences, or some disincentives for schools to really work with those students that are struggling, … and those are exactly the kids that obviously need the most help.

“You want to really reward the schools that do a great job of helping those students who are most at risk. So you need to balance there. While [graduating in] three years is magical, and four is great, five is good, too,” the secretary said on March 13. “There’s nothing sacred about four.”

In a bid to illuminate how well high schools are serving students, the revised regulations tighten up the rules governing how states must calculate and report graduation rates, and how they will be held to account for them. The highest-profile change requires states to depict their graduation rates the same way: as the proportion of each incoming freshman class that earns standard diplomas four years later. Previously, states could decide for themselves how to calculate their graduation rates.

Extended Year

Under the 7-year-old NCLB law, high schools are judged by their test scores and graduation rates. Whether they make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, has depended on their schoolwide graduation rates and test scores, and on the test scores of students in specific ethnic and socioeconomic subgroups. The new regulations require high schools to be judged on their graduation rates by subgroup, also. That means that a high school that doesn’t meet state graduation-rate targets for one or more subgroups could fail to make AYP, putting it on a clock for potential intervention.

 

 

Leaving High School

Regulations issued late last year by the U.S. Department of Education made key changes in the graduation-rate requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. Among the highlights:

States May:
• Apply for permission from the U.S. secretary of education to use one or more “extended year” graduation rates in addition to the separate four-year rate. States must show that their use of the multiple rates is designed to graduate the vast majority of their students in four years.

• Include summer graduates in their graduation-rate calculation.

States Must:
• Use the four-year adjusted-cohort method of calculating their graduation rates and report the data by the 2010-11 school year.

• Use the four-year adjusted-cohort method to determine adequate yearly progress, or AYP, under the No Child Left Behind law by 2011-12.

• Report those rates, at the school, district, and state levels, in the aggregate and by subgroup, for determinations of adequate yearly progress.

• Count as graduates only those who receive a “regular high school diploma.”

• Have written confi rmation of transfer, emigration, or death to remove a student from the graduation-rate cohort calculation.

• Have a single, long-term graduation-rate goal for all schools.

• Set aggressive yearly graduation-rate improvement targets. To make AYP, schools and districts must meet their states’ graduation-rate goals or show “continuous and substantial improvement” in their graduation rates.

The revised regulations allow states to apply for permission to use one or more “extended year” rates alongside their respective four-year rates, which would allow the states to get some credit for students who took five or more years to complete high school. Guidance issuedRequires Adobe Acrobat Reader by the Education Department in December cautioned, however, that states’ proposals should show that they would assign “predominant” weight to their four-year rates.

The guidance laid out a couple of scenarios to do that. A state could assign an 80 percent weight to its four-year rate and a 20 percent weight to its extended-year rate. Or it could set a “more aggressive” annual-improvement target for the five-year rate than for the four-year.

Louisiana is already using its own version of a weighted approach for its state accountability system. Its graduation-rate index assigns points for various student outcomes, from zero for a dropout and 90 points for a General Educational Development certificate to 120 for a regular diploma and up to 180 for a diploma with additional endorsements. Under that matrix, schools earn a better score for taking more time to help students earn diplomas than they do if students drop out.

Eighteen states already use a four-year-cohort calculation that the National Governors Association urged in 2005, and which all 50 governors have agreed to use eventually. That approach allows selected English-language learners and students with disabilities to be reassigned into the following year’s cohort, essentially letting them take five years to graduate.

Some advocates worry that because the federal regulations set no clear requirements on how the separate four-year and extended-year rates should interact, states could win the right to use formulas that place too much weight on the longer rates. That approach, they say, could essentially lower the pressure on schools to ensure that the overwhelming majority of students graduate in four years.

“We need to be careful,” said Dane Linn, the director of the education division of the NGA’s Center for Best Practices. “An extended-year rate for 1 percent of the kids today can turn into 12 percent of the kids tomorrow. We can’t yield to pressure that lots of kids need extra time, when all they might need is extra support to finish the requirements.”

Benefits for Students

Massachusetts, which calculates four-year and five-year rates for its state accountability system, has found that traditionally disadvantaged groups of students benefit the most from having a fifth year.

In 2007, the state’s four-year graduation rate—for the group of students who entered as freshmen in 2003—was 81 percent. A year later, the five-year rate was 84 percent, state data show. For Hispanic students, the difference between the four- and five-year rates was 5.9 percentage points. Among those with limited English skills, it was 7.5 points; for African-American males, the difference was 7.6 points.

“Obviously, those students are benefiting from an additional year,” said JC Considine, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Education. “We think it’s important to be able to reflect that in our reporting.”

But Massachusetts has been unable to get credit for those additional diplomas under the federal accountability system; the U.S. Education Department last year rejected its proposal to factor in the five-year rate.

Washington state is the only state that is allowed to use an extended-year rate for federal accountability purposes.

“For us, it was the right thing to do,” said Bob Harmon, the state education department’s assistant superintendent for special programs and federal accountability. “The standard graduation-rate calculation only allowed for a four-year cohort to be calculated, and that might work for the majority of students … but it doesn’t get at what I think is the whole purpose, the heart and soul, of No Child Left Behind: those students who are successful, but not necessarily successful in a four-year time frame.”

Washington’s experience shows that statewide, relatively few students take the extra year to graduate. But among some subgroups, and in some districts, the proportions are larger.

In 2005-06, the most recent year for which data were available, Washington state’s four-year graduation rate was 70.4 percent. The five-year rate was 75.1 percent, or 4.7 percentage points more.

The five-year rates for key subgroups were even higher: for African-American students and low-income students, 6.8 percentage points more; for Hispanics, 7.8 percentage points; for those with limited English, 10.7 percentage points; and for students in special education, 13.9 percentage points.

Most Washington state districts showed five-year rates that were 3 to 7 percentage points higher than their four-year rates, but for one, the extended rate was nearly 15 percentage points more.

Education groups eyeing the reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law by Congress are trying to figure out a “next-generation” accountability system that delivers the right pressure and credit to high schools, and the right opportunities to students. They are asking not only how to assign weights to the four- and five-year graduation rates, but how to balance graduation-rate and test-score information in determining high schools’ performance.

A bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, proposes that every school graduate 90 percent of its students in four years in order to make AYP. Rep. Robert C. Scott, D-Va., introduced a companion measure in the U.S. House on the same day, March 17.

Bethany M. Little, who worked with the two lawmakers on the bills as the vice president for federal policy and development for the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based group that advocates high school improvement, said the proposed 90 percent requirement addresses the concern that too many students would be allowed to take extra time to graduate.

Ms. Little, who is now the top education advisor to the U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, said the proposal is based on the fact that “almost nowhere” are schools finding that more than 10 percent of students need the longer timetable.

The alliance also advocates giving test scores and graduation rates equal weight under a reauthorized NCLB, so that schools have equal incentives to graduate their students and to raise their test scores.

‘Tricky’ Policy Issue

Some of those debating the extended-year provision in the Education Department regulations worry that it could let subgroups of disadvantaged students slide into a fifth year, when they might finish in four with better supports. Research shows better life outcomes for students who graduate in four years than for those who take longer, they note.

The Education Department’s December guidance appears to respond to that concern when it says that extended-year rates may not be used “to account only for students in particular subgroups (e.g., only a five-year graduation rate for students with disabilities).”

Daria L. Hall, the director of K-12 policy development for Education Trust, which promotes better education for poor schoolchildren, called the extended-year debate “one of the trickier policy conversations we’ve been involved in for a while.”

She said she worries that it might not be possible to create sound policy without knowing what portions of students need more time and why. That question is further complicated, she said, because the need varies from school to school.

“You could have 25 percent [of students needing five years to graduate] in some places and 2 percent in others,” she said. “Is it best to craft policy broadly if we assume kids who need more time are evenly distributed? Or should it be more targeted to sets of schools that serve populations that need more time?”

George H. Wood, the principal of Federal Hocking Middle and High School in Stewart, Ohio, described the frustration many educators feel when their schools are penalized for students who take longer than four years to graduate.

“We get dinged for taking a risk on a tough kid,” he said at a forum in Washington last fall on dropout prevention.

“Say we have an 18-year-old, with six or seven credits, just out of the justice system,” Mr. Wood said. “He takes off. Even if we find him and get him to earn a diploma, we still get dinged [under federal accountability rules]. How is that consistent with trying to get all kids to earn diplomas?”

Proposed Title I Changes Ease Tutoring Rules

Proposed Title I Changes Ease Tutoring Rules
By Catherine Gewertz

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced plans last week to lift a ban on allowing underperforming school districts to serve as tutoring providers under the No Child Left Behind Act, and to grant reprieves from a school-choice-notification requirement issued last fall.

The proposed changes, outlined in an April 1 letter to state schools chiefs, also would relieve states of a requirement to update their “accountability workbooks,” the blueprints each state must submit to the Education Department when they propose or revise the ways they intend to carry out NCLB mandates.

Two of the provisions Mr. Duncan wants to change were in regulations issued last October by his predecessor, Margaret Spellings.

One is a requirement that districts notify parents at least 14 days before the school year begins if their children are eligible to transfer to another school under NCLB. Under the law, students receiving Title I services in schools that fail to make adequate yearly progress for two years in a row are eligible to transfer to another public school.

The other is the mandate that states update their workbooks to explain how their approaches to such matters as testing-group size include as many student subgroups as possible, yet still are statistically sound. (“Rules Mandate Uniform Graduation Rates,” Nov. 5, 2008.)

Mr. Duncan said in his letter that he would consider waiving—only for the 2009-10 school year—the 14-day-notification requirement on public school choice because some states’ testing schedules make it impossible to give that amount of notice. He noted, however, that he supports the notification provision and expects states to comply with it in the future, even extending it to 30 days before the start of school if possible.

The education secretary said he intends to revise the regulatory provisions on workbook updates and on districts’ serving as tutoring providers by issuing proposed new regulations and allowing time for public comment before publishing final regulations.

Relief from the 14-day-notice requirement would be secured differently: States would seek waivers from the Education Department.

In proposing to excuse states from the workbook update, Mr. Duncan said he didn’t think it made sense to impose that burden on states when they are scrambling to disburse federal stimulus funding, especially because a reauthorization of the NCLB law later this year would likely require them to update the workbooks again.

Changes Welcomed

The third provision Secretary Duncan wants to change is a 2002 regulation that prohibits states from approving school districts as providers of tutoring, or “supplemental educational services,” under NCLB if they have been deemed “in need of improvement” because they failed repeatedly to meet their states’ academic-improvement targets. He proposed lifting that ban, which would allow states to approve providers, whether they are private tutoring entities, nonprofit groups, or school districts, regardless of their NCLB status.

Under Mr. Duncan’s leadership as chief executive officer, the Chicago district fought hard and successfully in 2005 to be allowed to use some of its federal Title I money to serve as a tutor under NCLB, something it had been barred from doing since it had been deemed in need of improvement under the federal law. The Education Department later granted that same right to a handful of other districts as part of a pilot program. (“Department Expands NCLB Tutoring Pilot Programs,” Aug. 9, 2006.)

Jack Jennings, the president of the Center on Education Policy, Washington-based a research and advocacy organization that tracks implementation of the No Child Left Behind law, said the proposed changes were “a clear signal to educators that there is somebody in the department who understands how schools operate.”

Mary Kusler, the assistant director of advocacy and policy for the Arlington, Va.-based American Association of School Administrators, welcomed the proposed changes, but said her group still hopes that the waiver of the 14-day transfer-notification requirement will be extended for more than one year.

“States don’t always have the data [to allow districts to give 14 days’ notice of transfer eligibility],” she said. “Some of this is out of districts’ hands.”

Steven Pines, the executive director of the Education Industry Association, a Rockville, Md.-based group that represents many private tutoring companies, said districts that serve as tutoring providers should have to agree to certain rules to ensure “fair and even-handed competition” between them and outside providers.

Such measures include guaranteeing equal access in recruiting and enrolling students, he said. Outside tutoring providers have complained that districts make it hard for them to sign up students, or to use school buildings, because they compete for the federal Title I dollars set aside for the tutoring program.

Mr. Duncan proposed no changes to the graduation-rate requirements that were a much-discussed part of Ms. Spellings’ October regulations package. They include a requirement that all states be judged for federal accountability purposes on the proportion of each entering freshman class that receives regular diplomas four years later. The rules also give states the option of applying for permission to get some credit for students who take more than four years to graduate. (“Rules Allowing Extended Time on Graduation,” April 1, 2009.)

State Contacts & Information

State Contacts and Information
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