PEN Weekly NewsBlast for March 24, 2006

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Public Education Network Weekly NewsBlast
"Public Involvement. Public Education. Public Benefit."
In his new book "Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy,"
David Mathews identifies a growing chasm between the American public and
education professionals. Mathews enumerates the goals that citizens and
educators alike want from public education, before he sets to work
pinpointing the obstacles that block progress. He focuses especially on
significant differences in the ways citizens view problems in the schools
and the ways professional educators and policymakers talk about them. Some
of the disconnections he identifies include: (1) Citizens say they are
frustrated by their inability to make a difference in improving the public
schools. But educators say they can't get the public support they need;
(2) Citizens think local school boards determine what happens in schools.
But board members complain that their hands are tied by outside
restrictions and conflicting demands; (3) Citizens want schools that
instill self-discipline and promote social responsibility. But schools are
overwhelmed by the need to raise test scores and meet legislatively
mandated standards. To learn more and read a free excerpt, visit:

No Child Left Behind not only is not working, writes Peter Henry, but
results in negative impacts up and down the educational continuum -- from
distorting educational experiences for our youngest to ensuring when they
get to college, more students than ever will need remedial courses in
reading and math. In these cash-strapped times, No Child Left Behind has
driven up costs in terms of administering exams, tutoring students,
altering curriculum, increasing teacher dissatisfaction and turnover, as
well as outsourcing education dollars to corporations that create further
exams exacerbating the downward spiral. Some states are spending
additional sums seeking court judgments to force the federal government to
pay these costs as unfunded mandates. Add to this that two recent studies
have directly challenged the Bush administration claim that No Child Left
Behind is nonpartisan and that its principal objective -- closing the
achievement gap between whites and students of color -- is being met. No
Child Left Behind has been subverted into just another shell game that
disadvantages, once again, those with the least resources to fight back.
There are other problems engulfing No Child Left Behind: fairness and
accuracy in exams, gaming of numbers by states and school districts, and
access to tutoring and summer school programs by those most in need.
According to Henry, by reducing human effectiveness in education to paper,
pencil and marking ovals, we are cheapening and even destroying the
fundamental inspiration that drives learning.

Batten down the hatches! The governors have come back from last year?s
National High School Summit and are actually proposing fixes for the
nation?s high schools. Those efforts generally fall into three categories:
forming commissions, improving the collection of data, and the hands-down
favorite, changing high school core curricula and/or graduation
requirements to more closely align with four-year public colleges?
entrance requirements. What all these initiatives have in common is that
they cost relatively little and generate just enough controversy to make
the governors look like they are doing something. They are the elements of
a perfect political program, which of course is not the same thing as
being the elements of a perfect school reform. This is especially the case
for proposals that demand that students take and pass more and harder
courses. Such proposals certainly meet the test of political viability,
but do they serve students, schools, or even the nation? Rona Wilensky
says no. Raising standards without a systematic program for ensuring that
all students have the support to reach them will produce two predictable
outcomes: higher high school dropout rates and lower college-entrance
rates, especially for students who are poor or of color or both. Raising
requirements looks like a stand against "the soft bigotry of low
expectations," but without the simultaneous commitment of will and
resources to achieving equity, it is most likely to have the perverse
effect of locking those without privilege out of opportunities for which
they are truly qualified.

A New York state appeals court in Manhattan has directed the governor and
the Legislature to spend up to $5.63 billion a year on New York City's
public schools to remedy "deprivations" that the students have suffered.
The Appellate Division of State Supreme Court voted 3-to-2 to require
state officials to consider spending between $4.7 billion and $5.63
billion dollars. The judges said the money was to be phased into the
budget within the next four years.  The court also voted to require
additional spending for capital improvements -- buildings and other
facilities -- of at least $9.179 billion dollars, to be phased into the
budget over the next five years. Governor George Pataki had resisted court
rulings that ordered the state to spend the money. Pataki claimed that the
judiciary couldn't tell the executive branch what budget decisions to

Tragically, public schools have become front lines in the culture war over
homosexuality -- and the biggest losers are the kids caught in the
crossfire of incendiary rhetoric and bitter lawsuits. In school districts
across the nation, escalating conflicts involving sexual orientation in
the curriculum, student clubs, speech codes and other areas of school life
are undermining the educational mission of our schools. When people are
this far apart, every act by one side is seen as a hostile move by the
other. Can we do better? If we care about education -- and the future of
the nation -- we must, writes Charles C. Haynes. To avoid divisive fights
and lawsuits, educators and parents must agree on civic ground rules to
ensure fairness for all sides. After all, public schools belong to
everyone. However deeply we disagree about homosexuality, the vast
majority of us want schools to uphold the rights of all students in a safe
learning environment. It isn't possible for us to reach ideological or
religious consensus, but it is possible -- and necessary -- to reach civic
consensus on civil dialogue. School districts divided about how to handle
issues concerning sexual orientation should take a step back from the
debate and find agreement on First Amendment principles. Most Americans
can agree that freedom of religion and speech are inherent rights for all.
Starting with an acknowledgement of inalienable rights immediately levels
the playing field, helping to ensure that everyone has a right to speak ?
and everyone's claim of conscience is taken seriously. More challenging,
but still attainable, is an agreement that we all have a civic
responsibility to guard the rights of others, including those with whom we
disagree. And, finally, people must agree to debate one another without
resorting to personal attacks, ridicule, false characterizations of
opposing positions and similar tactics.

Character Education

LEADERSHIP THAT BRINGS LEARNING & SCHOOLING TO LIFE In this important new book, Stephanie Pace Marshall argues that by focusing on reforming the contents of schooling and not transforming the context and conditions of learning, we have created false proxies for learning and eroded the potentially vibrant intellectual life of our schools. Finishing a course and a textbook has come to mean achievement. Listening to a lecture has come to mean understanding. Getting a high score on a standardized test has come to mean proficiency. Credentialing has come to mean competence. To educate our children wisely requires that we create generative learning communities, by design. Such learning communities have their roots in meaning, not memory; engagement, not transmission; inquiry, not compliance; exploration, not acquisition; personalization, not uniformity; interdependence, not individualism; collaboration, not competition; and trust, not fear. Read a free chapter at:

Boston has stood out among urban school districts and won national
attention for its stability in leadership and success in improving
results. Now, as the city prepares to make a leadership transition, a new
study from the Aspen Institute and Annenberg Institute for School Reform,
"Strong Foundation, Evolving Challenges: A Case Study to Support
Leadership Transition in the Boston Public Schools," examines what the
Boston Public Schools? 10-year-long focus on instructional improvement has
accomplished and the challenges that remain. Launched in 1996, Boston?s
reform plan, known as Focus On Children, emphasized five key elements that
together constitute a theory of action for district improvement. These
elements include common expectations for all students; a curriculum that
gives students access to rigorous content; expectations about
instructional practice; support for teachers; and assessments that provide
information to guide instruction and hold schools accountable for results.
In addition, the plan also stressed high-quality stable leadership at the
school and district levels. The study suggests that leadership
transitions, while challenging, can provide the opportunity for thoughtful
community reflection. The report acknowledges the important contributions
of the Boston Plan for Excellence, a local education fund.

K12 Administrators

NATIONAL POETRY MONTH: ONLINE POETRY CLASSROOM In April 2006, the Academy of American Poets will launch the first-ever Poetry Read-a-Thon. Geared for middle school students (grades 5-8), the Read-a-Thon?s goals are to celebrate the reading of poems and writing about poems. In addition to emphasizing the pleasure and fun of reading poetry, the Read-a-Thon will facilitate the students? development of writing and comprehension skills. Visit the Online Poetry Classroom to find a wealth of resources, including Teacher Forums where teachers can share ideas and seek help from colleagues; Pedagogical & Critical Essays about poetry; extensive links to relevant websites; Curriculum Units & Lesson Plans; biographies of hundreds of poets; and nearly two-thousand poems.

K12 Poetry in the Classroom Resources

TEACHERS TEACHING TEACHERS In recent years, the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation has pushed administrators to grab quick solutions to get a fast "bump" in their test scores. Instead of taking the time to build teacher capacity by improving instruction or creating schools as learning communities where teachers have opportunities to have honest discussions about classroom practice, share successful lessons and strategies, or examine student work together, more and more administrators opt for what Linda Christensen calls "boxed" professional development -- from fill-in-the-blank writing curricula to "stick-the-kid-on-the-computer" reading and math programs. When high school language arts teachers in Portland, Oregon were asked by the Professional Development Committee -- a group founded by the school district and the Portland Association of Teachers -- which professional development programs had the greatest impact on their students' learning, they overwhelmingly named the Portland Writing Project, the Summer Literacy Curriculum Camp, and the Professional Development Days -- which were all led by classroom teachers. Teachers stated that these three programs were practical and related specifically to their content. The programs gave them models of new strategies and curricula, hands-on practice, and time for collaboration and implementation. Teachers also said they appreciated the support of ongoing professional development, instead of the one-shot variety. The top-down approach of telling teachers what to do without engaging them in active learning is as ineffective in professional development as it is in the classroom.

The annual report on state preschool initiatives shows that state-funded
programs increased enrollment by more than 100,000 4-year-olds from 2002
to 2005, but state spending per child is down and enrollment actually
declined in 11 states. The yearbook ranks all 50 states on access to,
resources for and quality of state preschool initiatives in the 2004-2005
school. When the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER)
began reporting on state-funded preschool programs for 2002, 38 states
were funding programs and enrolling 700,000 3- and 4-year old-children. By
?05, those states served more than 800,000 children. "This represents an
astounding jump of 16 percent enrollment during those four years," said
NIEER Director W. Steven Barnett. "When ?06 is reported, a new program in
Florida will likely add another 100,000 4-year-olds to the total."
However, 12 states had no state-funded preschool programs and over the
four-year period, funding shortfalls produced enrollment declines in 11
states. "Clearly, these states do not yet treat prekindergarten as real
education to be delivered in good and bad financial times," Barnett said.

Our schools are only as good as their teachers. The Teaching Commission
has released a final report urging state and local leaders to go "far
further, far faster" in transforming the teaching profession. "If teaching
remains a second-rate profession, America's economy will be driven by
second-rate skills," said former IBM Chairman Louis V. Gerstner, Jr. "We
can wake up today -- or we can have a rude awakening sooner than we
think." Due to the urgency of the challenge of improving America?s skills
in an increasingly competitive global economy, this new report gives
state, local and federal leaders disappointing grades for their work in
four crucial areas: (1) Transforming Teacher Compensation; (2) Reinventing
Teacher Preparation; (3) Overhauling Licensing and Certification; and (4)
Strengthening Leadership and Support.

There is a growing perception that public schools are not safe places.
Media headlines contribute to the myth that school buildings are unsafe,
when compared to other public gathering places. While the threat of
violence has afflicted many aspects of our entire society in recent years,
schools, in general, remain among the safest public places in the country.
Citizens should have high expectations that children will be safe at
school, writes William L. Bainbridge. Educational leaders have focused in
recent years on providing safe and disciplined school environments for
students and teachers. Many schools have increased expulsions of violent
students by adopting "zero tolerance policies" toward serious offenders.
Since students often know when dangerous activities are being planned,
educators are trying to develop processes and atmospheres where young
people are willing to report what they know. With better data, schools can
more effectively identify threats and reduce violence. Some school systems
have invested in high-tech security devices that are helpful. Others have
even hired SWAT teams to practice emergency evacuation drills. Evidence
indicates the efforts are paying off. Recent statistics show the number of
violent crimes on school campuses is small and continues to decline. While
improvements have occurred in school security, safety remains the most
important responsibility school leaders face today.

Parents are needy, overanxious and sometimes plain pesky -- and schools at
every level are trying to find ways to deal with them, writes Valerie
Strauss. Many educators are discovering that some parents can't let their
kids go. They text message their children in middle school, use the
cellphone like an umbilical cord to Harvard Yard and have no compunction
about marching into kindergarten class and screaming at a teacher about a
grade. To handle the modern breed of micromanaging parent, educators are
devising programs to help them separate from their kids -- and they are
taking a harder line on especially intrusive parents.

Recent policy studies have tried to identify "high-flying" schools --
schools that help students reach very high levels of achievement, despite
significant disadvantages. A new policy brief demonstrates three major
problems with the findings of these reports. (1) Due to questionable
methodological assumptions, the number high-flying schools is
significantly smaller than the number reported in those studies; (2) The
numbers in these reports are being misused in a way that understates the
significance of, and need to address, socioeconomic disadvantages; and (3)
these reports fail to directly address the vast amount of evidence that
inequity in educational outcomes is primarily due to students? social and
economic disadvantages. Only 1.1 percent of high-poverty schools
consistently achieve at high levels on standardized tests, according to
"Ending the Blame Game on Educational Inequity: A Study of 'High Flying'
Schools and NCLB," written by Douglas N. Harris. This finding directly
challenges the results of policy studies published by the Education Trust
and Heritage Foundation which claim that 15.6 percent of high-poverty
schools are highly performing.  The federal No Child Left Behind Act
(NCLB) makes the same mistake, Harris argues.  The law provides
performance incentives for schools to help all students reach proficiency,
but ignores the fact that, due to economic and social conditions, students
start school at very different levels of readiness.  As a result, the law
holds schools responsible for factors outside their control. In addition,
Harris finds that a low-poverty school is 22 times more likely to be high
performing than a high-poverty school.  Equally alarming, low-poverty,
low-minority schools are 89 times more likely to be high performing that
high-poverty, high-minority schools.

Student athletes, musicians and others who participate in after school
activities could increasingly be subject to random drug testing under a
program promoted by the Bush administration. White House officials say
drug testing is an effective way to keep students away from harmful
substances like marijuana and crystal methamphetamine, and have held
seminars across the country to promote the practice to local school
officials. But some parents, educators and school officials call it a
heavy-handed, ineffective way to discourage drug use that undermines trust
and invades students' privacy. "Our money should be going toward educating
young people, not putting them under these surveillance programs," said
Jennifer Kern. The Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that schools can randomly
test student athletes who are not suspected of drug use, and in 2002 ruled
that all students who participate in voluntary activities, like
cheerleading, band or debate, could be subjected to random tests. Since
then, the Bush administration has spent $8 million to help schools pay for
drug testing programs. The White House hopes to spend $15 million on
drug-testing grants in the next fiscal year, reports Andy Sullivan.

FOCUS ON AFTERSCHOOL MATH ACTIVITIES & ENRICHMENT As soon as you hear squeals of delight from students after their teacher calls out a math problem, you know this isn't an ordinary math class. The students are playing a competitive game called "bacon and egg" in their afterschool program at an elementary school in Houston, Texas. For these students learning mathematics doesn't end as soon as class is dismissed -- and that is the philosophy behind the mathematics toolkit created by The National Partnership for Quality Afterschool Learning. Filled with lesson plans for different grade levels and for different mathematics skills, the Afterschool Training Toolkit was designed for afterschool program staff around the country. It highlights best practices for supporting mathematics learning and meeting standards. The toolkit features several videos of lesson plans and math games in action, including the bacon and egg game enjoyed by Houston students. Deborah Donnelly, who contributed to the toolkit, sees an advantage in learning subject matter afterschool. "While student engagement may be a challenge in the school day given time constraints and the number of topics to be covered, in afterschool it's much easier. Content matter can be included in fun formats that would be difficult in a regular classroom setting. This focus on engagement is key to the lesson plans in the mathematics toolkit."

The nation's schools, recognized incubators of respiratory diseases among
children, are being told to plan for the possibility of an outbreak of
bird flu. Federal health leaders say it is not alarmist or premature for
schools to make preparations, such as finding ways to teach kids even if
they've all been sent home. School boards and superintendents have gotten
used to emergency planning for student violence, terrorism or severe
weather. Pandemic preparation, though, is a new one. Who coordinates
decisions on closing schools or quarantining kids? If classes shut down
for weeks, how will a district keep kids from falling behind? Who will
keep the payroll running, or ease the fear of parents, or provide food to
children who count on school meals? "Those are the kinds of issues that I
don't think people have spent a lot of time talking about yet," said
Stephen Bounds, director of legal and policy services for the Maryland
Association of School Boards. "But if New Orleans and Katrina taught us
nothing else, it taught us you need to be thinking about things ahead of
time -- and preparing for the worst," Bounds said. The urgency is about
bird flu, the name for the deadly H5N1 strain of the avian flu. The
government has created checklists on preparation and response steps,
specialized for preschools, grade schools, high schools and colleges. The
dominant theme is the need for coordination among local, state and federal
officials. Some of the advice is common sense, like urging students to
wash their hands and cover their mouths when they cough or sneeze to keep
infection from spreading. Other steps would take schools considerable time
to figure out, such as legal and communication issues.





Many parents of 5-year-olds will be wrestling with in the next few months
as they decide where to send their children next fall. About 9 percent of
5-year-olds nationwide are "academically redshirted," or held out of
kindergarten for a year, according to the National Center for Education
Statistics. To be eligible for kindergarten children must be 5 years old
on or before Sept. 1 of the current school year. The redshirts will enter
school at age 6, sometimes 18 months older than their classmates. It?s
found more often among boys in wealthier communities, reports Katherine
Cromer Brock, and in private schools. But the practice is growing in
public schools. Academic redshirting is a result of higher expectations of
kindergartners, some educators say, and makes sense for students with
summer or early fall birthdays, or for ones, usually boys, too immature to
handle kindergarten. While some parents and teachers praise the idea,
education researchers fear that holding students back can hinder them
socially as they reach their early teens. They also say kindergarten
teachers must educate all children, regardless of their level of

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

"Christa McAuliffe Reach for the Stars Award"
National Council for the Social Studies Christa McAuliffe Reach for the
Stars Award aims to help a social studies educator make his or her dream
of innovative social studies a reality. Grants will be given to assist
classroom teachers in: 1) developing and implementing imaginative,
innovative, and illustrative social studies teaching strategies; and 2)
supporting student implementation of innovative social studies,
citizenship projects, field experiences, and community connections.
Maximum Award: $1,500. Eligibility: Full-time social studies teachers or
social studies teacher educators currently engaged with K-12 students;
NCSS membership required. Deadline: May 1, 2006.

"Grants for Youth and Scientific Education"
The American Honda Foundation Grants Program is accepting proposals from
organizations working in the areas of youth and scientific education. The
American Honda Foundation defines "youth" as pre-natal through 21 years of
age. "Scientific education" includes both physical and life sciences,
mathematics and the environmental sciences. Eligibility: Educational
institutions, K-12, accredited higher education institutions (colleges and
universities), and others. See website for full listing. Maximum Award:
$40,000 to $80,000. Deadline: May 1, 2006.

"The Horace Mann Scholarship Program for Educators"
The Horace Mann Scholarship Program for Educators is offering scholarships
for public and private school educators to take college courses. Maximum
Award: $5,000. Eligibility: Educators must be employed by a U.S. public or
private school district or U.S. public or private college or university at
the time of application and at the time the scholarship is awarded, and
must have at least two years teaching experience. Program is not open to
residents of Hawaii, New Jersey and New York. Deadline: May 16, 2006.

"Service Learning Grants to Promote Crime Prevention & Community Service" The National Crime Prevention Council will award grants to support service-learning projects planned and implemented by youth who identify needs and create projects to address or prevent crime, violence, and drug abuse in their schools and communities. These grants are intended to encourage and promote crime prevention, community service, and civic responsibility. Maximum Award: $500. Eligibility: Ages 11-19; Youth must be participating in a Community Works or Youth Safety Corps program or be in a youth group or class of six or more members. Deadline: June 1, 2006.

For a detailed listing of EXISTING GRANT OPPORTUNITIES (updated each
week), visit:

"Once upon a time a man whose ax was missing suspected his neighbor's son.
The boy walked like a thief, looked like a thief, and spoke like a thief.
But the man found his ax while digging in the valley, and the next time he
saw his neighbor's son, the boy walked, looked and spoke like any other
-Lao Tzu (philosopher)

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

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