[ECP] PEN Weekly NewsBlast for December 8, 2006

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Public Education Network Weekly NewsBlast
"Public Involvement. Public Education. Public Benefit."

A new Kettering Foundation report, "Public Thinking about Democracy's
Challenge: Reclaiming the Public's Role"  highlights the public's
thinking when deliberating the importance of community life and civic
skills, the role of religion and moral values in a democratic society,
and barriers and opportunities for fuller citizen engagement in the
political system. More than 949 average Americans took part in the
nonpartisan forums and deliberated over broad approaches to the
problems facing the nation's democracy.  In many forums, people saw
themselves as part of the audience, bystanders in the democracy
instead of active members with a sense of ownership. Others saw
themselves as participants at the local level but not nationally.
Citing their involvement with community organizations, some felt like
citizens in their community, but not in the democracy. Some felt that
Americans have become consumers in the democracy instead of its
citizen-proprietors. Participants felt that Americans today focus far
too much on their rights and not enough on their responsibilities. On
the whole, these results suggest that a national dialogue focused on
public involvement about this deeply troubling issue might be the key
to reducing the alienation, mistrust, and cynicism that are so
widespread. Public deliberation just might rejuvenate the hope and
public-mindedness that typify the nation at its best.

Rodent and roach infestation. Mice droppings. Mold that has caused
mushrooms to grow. Asbestos. Extreme heat or cold in classrooms.
Severe overcrowding. Nonfunctional bathrooms. These are just some
examples of the appalling physical conditions found in thousands of
our nation's public schools, a recent American Federation of Teachers
(AFT) report revealed. These conditions are adversely affecting
millions of students and school staff -- and potentially every student
and school employee who walks through the doors of our public schools.
The research is unequivocal: Poor building conditions are a serious
threat to the health and academic performance of students. Achievement
is significantly lower in schools with poor conditions, studies show.
Likewise, asthma induced by mold and other indoor air quality problems
is an increasingly prevalent school health issue and a major
contributor to student and staff absenteeism. Things don't have to be
this way. Schools can be modernized or built from scratch using
proven, cost-effective and environmentally sound solutions. Many
schools already are meeting these high standards, serving as models to
others. The AFT believes that healthy, well-maintained schools that
are conducive to learning cannot be reserved for select communities;
they must be part of the academic agenda for every American student.

When one considers the number of people involved in educating and
being educated in kindergarten through 12th grade in America, it's
hard to take the state of our schools for granted. Each day in the
U.S. and Canada, the equivalent of the entire population of Italy
(approximately 60 million people) attends school in K-12, writes Barry
Boyce. These students are taught by a cadre of teachers equal to the
population of Ireland (four million people). What should they teach,
and how should they teach it? Each generation of teachers -- and the
administrators, university education departments, governments, and
gurus that support and bedevil them -- asks that question all over
again. Some of the freshest voices today are talking about, and trying
out, methods that go beyond transmitting information and training in
cognitive skills. In having children pay attention to their breath, to
their walking, to the world around them, and to their own emotions and
those of others, they are trying to include all parts of the child,
and all parts of the teacher, in the process of education. Beyond
that, they are fostering a nurturing and caring climate in the
classroom, and even expanding the object of study to include the
workings of the mind itself. Some call it "contemplative education";
others are reluctant to name it anything just yet. The common thread
that runs through this movement is that school can be a place of
tremendous discovery, and real discovery requires all the resources of
body, mind, and spirit that teacher and student can muster.

Boston Plan for Excellence, a local education fund, has organized
Principal For A Day (PFAD) in the city's schools annually since fall
2003, and to date more than 250 corporate and civic leaders have
participated. The purpose is quite specific: to allow them to see
first hand how dramatically Boston's schools have improved, how much
teaching and learning have changed, and how much challenge remains.
Many PFAD alumni return year after year, and all have been affected at
some level: As one participant said recently, "I went in a cynic and
came out a believer." When they join the mayor and superintendent for
lunch, they are buoyed by their experiences and ready to raise
concerns, such as how few resources schools have.

In conjunction with World AIDS Day, the National School Boards
Association (NSBA) has released "Living with HIV/AIDS: Students Tell
Their Stories of Stigma, Courage, and Resilience." The book focuses on
the challenges that students affected by HIV and AIDS have dealt with
in growing up and at school, as well as the opportunities school
officials have to contribute to their well-being and HIV/AIDS
awareness and prevention. The book is a timely reminder that 25 years
after the first reports of AIDS in the United States, schools are
still defining their role in dealing with students living with HIV and
AIDS. In addition to firsthand accounts of children and their parents
who are living with HIV and AIDS, the book also includes
recommendations for school officials and personnel as they reflect on
the policies and procedures in place in their districts.  "Living with
HIV/AIDS" serves as a resource, not merely for school districts
officials, but also for parents, teachers, and students.

If every student in the class of 2005-2006 graduates from high school,
the nation could save $17.1 billion in lifetime health costs,
according to conservative calculations by the Alliance for Excellent
Education in its new brief, "Healthier and Wealthier: Decreasing
Health Care Costs by Increasing Educational Attainment," funded by
MetLife Foundation. Since healthcare costs are highest for the least
educated, the Alliance calculated savings by combining the lifetime
costs of Medicaid and expenditures for uninsured care, then
multiplying this total by the number of students who drop out of the
nation's high schools.  If these students were to graduate instead,
the nation would realize a significant benefit. The report argues that
higher educational attainment improves a student's future income,
occupational status, and social prestige, all of which contributes to
improved individual health.  The brief cites several reasons why,
including the fact that Americans with higher educational attainment
have more insurance coverage, individuals who lack health insurance
receive less medical care and have poorer health outcomes, and lower
education levels generally lead to occupations with greater health hazards.

Foundation leaders are pessimistic about the intentionality of
educators when the assessment and improvement of teaching and learning
are on the table. When it comes to probing deeply, being analytical,
mobilizing follow-through and, most of all, tackling problems in ways
designed to have field-wide payoff -- those in foundations are often
skeptical and occasionally cynical about educators' commitment to such
work. Educators, for their part, think that foundations are too
distant in their understanding of how schools and colleges work and
that they are looking for speedy solutions to long-germinating
problems and indifferent to academic priorities. In this month's
Carnegie Perspectives, Ray Bacchetti and Tom Ehrlich, introduce the
concept of "educational capital." They call for both foundations and
educational institutions to build their programs around the goal of
increasing educational capital through more open and accountable forms
of education grantmaking and educational activity.

Is it worth $300 a year for your child to go to the Milwaukee High
School of the Arts? A group of parents involved with the Milwaukee
Public Schools' specialty school is answering yes and has sent all the
school's parents a letter asking them to donate or raise that much per
student to strengthen arts programming there. Although the $300 is not
a fee or a requirement, the campaign is about as close as a public
school can come to making parents pay extra for activities that are
part of the regular content of a school's program and may be
unprecedented in MPS.  But leaders of the campaign say it is important
for saving the arts specialty programs at a school that is a showcase
for MPS and -- at the same time -- one of its most financially
stressed operations. There will be no consequences for those who can't
or don't contribute, reports Alan J. Borsuk. Although $300 is a lot of
money for many parents in the city, parent fundraiser John Glaspey
compared it to the fees in the three-figures that some suburban
schools charge to take part in extracurricular programs such as football.

The law is clear about a school district's obligation to prevent
harassment of students and take action when it occurs, and now parents
and advocacy groups are delivering a loud message to school officials
and other policymakers that children should not have to endure ugly
bullying at school as an inevitable rite of passage. They point out
that students who are picked on are more likely to have trouble
staying focused on learning. School boards and school boards
associations have gotten the message and have been busily tweaking
codes of student conduct, adopting or revising board policies, and
approving new initiatives. Bullying has become a hot topic for the
politicians, too, and many states have at least considered new
legislation or other state action. This edition of the National School
Boards Association's "Leadership Insider" newsletter compiles
viewpoints and resources about how school districts can address these
problems. Articles include an overview of the legal considerations, a
review of court decisions relevant to cyber-bullying, a warning about
pitfalls in the anti-bullying push, profiles of anti-harassment and
anti-bullying efforts in several states and communities, and a success
story about how one school board set up a process to resolve a
controversy over whether sexual orientation should be specified as a
protected category in its anti-harassment policy.

A new research report from Girls Inc., reveals that girls today
experience intense pressure, at ever younger ages, to be everything to
everyone all of the time.  Girls are particularly frustrated with the
growing expectations that girls should please everyone, be very thin,
and dress "right."  And while stereotypes about girls' leadership
capabilities and math and science abilities have diminished,
persistent gender stereotypes and escalating stress levels limit
girls' potential and undermine their quality of life.
Gender Equity

According to a new study, uncertified teachers end up performing just
as well in the classroom as certified teachers and alternatively
trained teachers. The study's results appear to challenge requirements
under the federal No Child Left Behind Act that every classroom have a
"highly qualified" teacher, instead suggesting that schools should put
more emphasis on weeding out bad apples after the teachers have been
hired. "These are people who have no prior experience in teaching and
they go into the lowest performing schools, and they do just as well,"
said Jonah Rockoff, a Columbia University Business School professor
who co-authored the study. "Where you went to college and what your
GPA was doesn't seem to tell you how good you're going to be in the
classroom." In the study, reports Sarah Garland in the New York Sun,
researchers at the Hoover Institution used standardized test scores to
measure the performance of New York City students taught by
traditionally certified teachers, uncertified teachers, and teachers
who enter the profession through alternative programs such as Teach
for America and Teaching Fellows. They found that while alternatively
certified and uncertified teachers do worse at first, they appear to
improve at faster rates than traditionally certified teachers in their
first years on the job. By the teachers' third year on the job,
students of alternatively certified and uncertified teachers are
performing just as well as those of traditionally certified teachers.

The oil industry, the coal industry and other corporate interests are
exploiting shortfalls in education funding by using a small slice of
their record profits to buy themselves a classroom soapbox, through
textbooks, classroom posters and teacher seminars. Students should
expect, and parents should demand, that educators present an honest
and unbiased look at the true state of knowledge about the challenges
of the day, writes Laurie David, the producer of documentary "An
Inconvenient Truth." In the meantime, Mom and Dad may want to keep a
sharp eye on their kids' science homework.

Science Book Errors and Censorship

The use of standardized testing as a key means to improve public
school performance has been a fact of life in Texas since 1993. A
lesser-known fact: More kindergarten students have been held back each
year during that period. Both the number and percentage of Texas
students repeating kindergarten has inched up each year since the
1994-95 school year, reports Jeanne Russell and Jenny LaCoste-Caputo.
Some San Antonio area districts are retaining kindergarten students at
particularly high rates, despite the concerns of early childhood
experts who criticize the practice as ineffective and
confidence-sapping for young children. It is not clear whether the
emphasis on standardized testing performance alone has led to more
5-year-olds repeating kindergarten here. Nationally, the retention
rate has remained flat. What is clear in Texas, however, is that those
who teach the youngest children are feeling pressure to prepare their
students, not for first grade or even for second, but for third grade,
when students take the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills for
the first time.

Retention And Social Promotion
Criteria for who benefits from retention.
While Texas has one of the most sophisticated systems
for tracking its public school students, the dropout and
graduation rates that it culls from that data are among
the most misleading in the nation, reports Jennifer Radcliffe

Skills Checklist for Kindergarten

The Massachusetts 2020 Foundation is currently seeking information
about initiatives to expand the public school day and/or year in any
school or district in the U.S.  The Foundation is reaching out to the
education community via online survey in order to identify ongoing or
planned initiatives focusing on expanding the learning day and/or year
for all students at the state, district or school level.  The
information compiled from this survey will be made publicly available
on the Massachusetts 2020 website.  If you have any information on
this topic, please visit:

|--------------- NEW GRANT AND FUNDING INFORMATION--------------|

"Grants for Youth Sustaining Community Change"
The YSA Youth Venture Program uses the Youth Venture model and
incorporates resources and materials from Youth Service America to
help create an emerging network of young people leading sustainable
community change. Maximum Award: $1,000 per team. Eligibility: youth
ages 12-20. Deadline: December 18, 2006.

"Creative Ketchup Contest for Young Artists"
The H.J. Heinz Co. is sponsoring a contest for young artists, in which
winners' designs will be on single-serving Heinz Ketchup packets for
2007. Maximum Award: $750 for arts supplies and $750 worth of ketchup
for winner's school. Eligibility: students grades 1-12. Deadline:
December 31, 2006.

"Grants for Character Development, Volunteer Service & Career Exploration"
The Target and Tiger Woods Foundation Start Something Program is a
free program for youth that addresses three priorities: character
development, volunteer service and career exploration. Maximum Award:
N/A. Eligibility: youth ages eight to 17. Deadline: January 1, 2007.

"Safe Schools Grant"
SchoolSpan is offering a Safe Schools Grant that provides its
Anonymous Alert tip line service free of charge to school districts.
SchoolSpan Anonymous Alert is a web-based module that enables anyone
in the school community to send an anonymous message to school
officials, warning them of drugs, guns, violence, unusual student
behavior, unauthorized visitors or any potential student crisis that
warrants immediate attention. Information is immediately relayed via
email directly to the school principal or district administrator for
proper action. Eligibility: School districts in the U.S. and Canada.
Maximum Award: $500 value. Deadline: January 15, 2007.

"Apply Now to Become an Urban Public School Principal"
New Leaders for New Schools (NLNS) promotes high academic achievement
for every child by attracting, preparing and supporting the next
generation of outstanding leaders for our nation's urban public
schools.  This year NLNS is seeking over 130 highly motivated
individuals nationwide to become New Leaders in Baltimore,
California's Bay Area, Chicago, Memphis, Milwaukee, New York City, and
Washington, D.C.  Successful applicants have a record of success in
leading adults, K-12 teaching experience, a relentless-drive to lead
an excellent urban school, and most importantly, an unyielding belief
in the potential of all children to achieve academically at high
levels. New Leaders for New Schools' online application is now
available.  Final deadline is March 1, 2007.  All applications must be
submitted online at www.nlns.org.  If you have any questions please
email info@xxxxxxxx or call 646-792-1070.

Howie Schaffer
Public Outreach Director
Public Education Network
601 Thirteenth Street, NW #710S
Washington, DC 20005

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