NEWSLETTERS
The Education Innovator
Volume III
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The Education Innovator
 May 16, 2005 • Number 18
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Feature
The Epstein School, Atlanta, Georgia
What's New
Secretary Spellings announces special education guidelines; U.S. Department of Education announces Advanced Placement Incentive program grants; MHz hosts Shortz Student Film Festival; Primers on Implementing Special Education in Charter Schools released; Survey of School Choice Research available; UC Santa Cruz to develop three new online charter schools; Connections Academy issues Learning Without Boundaries: How to Make Virtual Schooling Work for You.
Innovations in the News
Secretary Spellings attended an Advanced Placement (AP) physics class in Louisville and said AP courses provide high-level academic skills that all students need, plus information on closing the achievement gap, public/private partnerships, and technology.

The Epstein School Offers Strong Academics to Achieve Derech Eretz
Today, many families want more options for where they send their children to school. They want a solid curriculum where their children will be supported and challenged. They want teachers who are nurturing and firm. They want a safe campus and, perhaps, a technology program or some extracurricular activities in the arts, community service, or athletics. A large number of families also want a school that is aligned with their specific values or culture. Some Jewish families in Atlanta have found what they desire at the Epstein School, which combines traditional and innovative teaching methods in core subjects with an education in Judaic studies.

Established in 1973 by Rabbi Harry H. Epstein, this Blue Ribbon private Jewish day school encourages students to reach their full potential by equipping them with tools for learning, self-discovery, and responsible leadership. The U.S. Department of Education awarded Epstein its Blue Ribbon distinction in 2004 due to the school's exemplary test scores. Epstein was one of three Jewish day schools in the nation to receive the honor that year. The No Child Left Behind – Blue Ribbon Schools Program was established to recognize successful elementary and secondary schools in the public and private sector that make gains toward closing the achievement gap or whose students achieve at very high levels.

The school's original home in the Ahavath Achim Synagogue accepts children aged two through pre-kindergarten, while its main campus in Sandy Springs, Georgia, serves 554 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. Epstein's tuition is about $10,500 per year in the upper grades, which does not cover the full cost of educating each student; the school covers the difference. About 16 percent of students receive scholarships or tuition assistance at an average amount of $4,500 per student.

Epstein's curriculum is bilingual (English and Hebrew) and all subjects, including mathematics, science, language arts, and social studies, are interconnected and aligned with units in Judaic studies. Teachers strive to instill in the students a love of both the Hebrew and English languages through exposure to different types of literature. The language arts program integrates five areas of study: reading and literature, writing, oral expression, vocabulary and spelling, and grammar. Each social studies unit corresponds to literature in the language arts program, with reading and writing assignments connected to the literature's central themes. The social studies curriculum focuses on the idea of Derech Eretz, or making the world a better place for all to live. Through classroom study and an annual eighth grade field trip to Jerusalem, students acquire a historical perspective that helps them to appreciate their Jewish ancestry, while also better understanding their role in modern society.

Epstein's Judaic studies program reflects the Solomon Schechter educational philosophy within Conservative Judaism, which encompasses learning about Jewish traditions and the land of Israel, practicing Hebrew, reading the Tanach (Bible), and studying Tefilah (prayer). Although its program is based in the Conservative perspective, students from traditional, reform, and orthodox families are welcomed.

Across all subjects, students are immersed in advanced technology through the Media and Technology curriculum, which emphasizes information literacy. Epstein has a wireless mobile technology lab, and every classroom contains multiple computers that are Internet-enabled. An internal e-mail system transmits all school communications, and a bilingual website serves parents of Epstein students and the community. A popular aspect of the program is the Genz television studio that allows students to work with state-of-the-art video and editing technology to produce a weekly live television broadcast called Good Morning Epstein. Through elective classes such as digital photography, website design, robotics, and virtual museum development, students can study other avenues of technology, as well.

Another aspect of the educational philosophy at Epstein is that every person is part of the learning community. Eighty-five percent of its students are white, with 11 percent African American or MidEastern Black, three percent Hispanic, and one percent other.

The community spirit extends to students who require additional support. The REACH (Reach Each Child) program is designed so that teachers can differentiate instruction for every child. In kindergarten through fifth grade, each classroom hosts an additional teacher who provides enrichment or remediation to individual children or small groups. In the second through fifth grade, the Sha'ar (Gateway) program provides a modified Hebrew curriculum to students with mild to moderate learning difficulties in the dual language program. Teachers create an individual learning plan for each student in this program, which is continually modified. For students in the sixth through eighth grade, a learning laboratory program helps to accommodate special needs. For extra help, students meet every day with their teachers and a learning styles specialist, who helps tailor the approach to connect to each child's way of processing information—such as visual, aural, or kinesthetic.

Many students continue their Epstein experience after the academic year comes to a close. They may enroll in the annual four-week "Summer Adventure" program in order to further develop their academic skills, learn new arts and crafts, and expand their computer literacy. Students can also participate in organized sports and enrichment classes devoted to topics such as scuba diving, fashion design, and film.

The faculty members regularly partner with families in order to provide the best education for each student. Teachers send progress reports to families every six weeks for students in the sixth through eighth grade, and report cards are sent home three times each year. Teachers, parents, and students in grades six through eight organize a Celebration of Learning twice annually to acknowledge the work that is done inside Epstein classrooms. Teachers frequently communicate with families through homework assignment books, telephone, email, and the school's newsletter specifically designed for grandparents. Epstein also holds information sessions for parents when standardized test scores are released. Teachers and administrators discuss with parents how to interpret the scores from the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, Degree of Reading Power exam (DRP), and the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAts). In 2004, parents needed little explanation about Epstein's performance when the school scored in the top 10 percent in the country on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

This year, over 20 percent of the 51 students in the seventh grade qualified in the Duke University/Johns Hopkins Talent Identification Program. Eleven of the seventh graders tested in the top 10 percent of all candidates nationally with SAT scores of at least 550 in math or verbal, and two students qualified at the state level with math and verbal scores of 500. This level of achievement foreshadows what happens when Epstein graduates move on to high school: more than 80 percent of them enroll in honors classes and then attend some of the nation's top universities.

The Epstein School is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. As a member of the Georgia Independent School Association (GISA) and the Atlanta Area Association of Independent Schools (AAAIS), Epstein was recently recognized as one of Atlanta's top independent schools.

Resources: Note: The featured program has been recognized under the U.S. Department of Education's No Child Left Behind- Blue Ribbon Schools program; it does not yet have evidence of effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation and may not be replicable under differing conditions.

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What's New
From the U.S. Department of Education

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced new special education guidelines designed to help states better assist and assess students with disabilities. These guidelines reflect the latest scientific research, which shows that two percent of students with academic disabilities can make progress toward grade-level standards when they receive high-quality instruction and modified assessments. (May 10)

The Department is awarding 13 Advanced Placement (AP) Incentive program grants in nine states to increase access for low-income students to advanced courses. Secretary Spellings has said, "We know that low-income students who take AP courses are much more likely to enroll and be successful in college than their non-participating peers." (May 10)

Arts Education

On May 21, MHz of Silver Spring (MD) one of OII's Arts in Education Model Development and Dissemination grantees, is hosting its annual Shortz Student Film Festival of productions by participants in the program and students from the East Coast and beyond. "Shortie" awards will be presented, and the top entries from each film category will be shown. Each entry is judged by a panel of filmmakers, artists, educators, and students. (May 12)

Charter Schools

Primers on Implementing Special Education in Charter Schools is available online at U.S. Charter Schools. The primers and companion web program provide background information and resources on special education for charter school leaders and teachers. The materials were developed under the Special Education Technical Assistance for Charter Schools Project that was funded by the Office of Innovation and Improvement and conducted by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. (Spring 2005)

Choice

The Institute for the Transformation of Learning at Marquette University has released Survey of School Choice Research download files PDF (884KB) The survey reviews the major research conducted on the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (the oldest and largest tax-supported school voucher program for low-income families to attend private school), as well as a range of public and private choice programs in other cities and states. The evidence from this research suggests that the programs improve academic performance, especially among African American students. (Spring 2005)

Technology

UC College Prep Online (UCCP), based at the University of California Santa Cruz, will be using its $550,000 grant from the California Department of Education to develop three online charter schools in Imperial, Mendocino, and Butte Counties, which are slated to open in the fall of 2006. This funding is part of the grant awarded to California under OII's Charter Schools Grant Program. (May 9)

Connections Academy, a provider of virtual education for charter schools or school districts in Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, has released Learning Without Boundaries: How to Make Virtual Schooling Work for You. This book features practical advice from Connections Academy parents and educators on such topics as using the technology; classroom set-up; time management; curriculum planning; and meeting the needs of students with special challenges. (May 10) (offered for sale)

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Innovations in the News

Advanced Placement
U.S. Department of Education Secretary Margaret Spellings visited Iroquois High School in Louisville (KY) to promote the President's high school reform agenda. After visiting an Advanced Placement (AP) physics class, she said that AP courses are a way to build bridges between high school and college, and they offer high-level academic skills that all students need whether they go to work or go on to college. [More-Courier-Journal] (May 12)

Newsweek issued its "Best High Schools" list, ranking schools based on the number of Advanced Placement and/or International Baccalaureate tests taken by all students at a school in 2004, divided by the number of graduating seniors. This ratio is said to measure a school's focus on ensuring student readiness for higher-level work, which is needed in college and for work in the postindustrial age. [More-Newsweek] (May 16)

Chicago Public Schools has been awarded a $2.7 million Advanced Placement grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement. The funds will be used to add more Advanced Placement classes in six city high schools and start pre-AP classes at 18 feeder elementary schools in order to increase the number of low-income teenagers with access to college-level classes. Officials also hope to increase by at least 10 percent the number of low-income students earning a passing grade of 3 or higher on the AP exams. [More-Chicago Tribune] (May 11)

Several middle schools in Nashville (TN) are moving toward providing the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. The Middle Years Program of the IB will help students connect what is being taught in different subjects and at different levels, so that they will be prepared for the high school International Baccalaureate program. The Nashville middle schools will feed into Hillsboro High School that already offers IB. [More-City Paper] (May 12)

Twenty-one thousand Arizona students currently take the AP tests, which is nearly double the number who took the tests five years ago. However, the number of Hispanic, American Indian, and African American students who take the tests is low. Efforts are underway in Arizona to change this. [The state was awarded an AP grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement to help pay for AP preparation for low-income students, as was a consortium of schools in low-income Arizona Chicano communities.] [More-WorldNow/KVOA] (May 2)

Indiana High School student Ashley Ladwig explains the value of taking AP courses. She says, "It's definitely a challenge, but we're in these classes for the challenge and to earn college credit if we score high enough on the exam. ...These classes are worth taking..." [More-NWITimes.com] (April 26)

Closing the Achievement Gap
The class of 2010 will have to pass exit exams in five core subjects in order to graduate from North Carolina high schools under tougher graduation standards passed by the State Board of Education. The goal of the exit exams is to have the same high expectations for all students. Those who do not pass the exams on the first try will have two more tries and will receive extra academic help. [More-Associated Press] (May 5)

Public/Private Partnerships
All new public schools in New South Wales, Australia, will be built and maintained by the private sector. Once the schools are completed, the government will lease them from the contractor for a fixed term up to 30 years, after which schools will be transferred to public ownership. [More-News.com] (April 29)

Technology
A math teacher, who is a soldier in Iraq, is using the U.S. Department of Education's Teacher-to-Teacher eLearning modules to keep up his professional development hours while he is deployed. The Panhandle Area Education Consortium hosts this eLearning system. (See also The Education Innovator, Nov. 8, 2004 for more information about PAEC.) [More-PAEC Horizon] (May 11)

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Last Modified: 08/13/2009