NEWSLETTERS
The Education Innovator #1
Volume IV
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The Education Innovator
 January 13, 2006 • Number 1
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Dear Readers,

This is my last week at the U.S. Department of Education and as The Education Innovator's publisher. In moving from one position to another, it is always good to try to leave something of value behind. This issue of the Innovator features a new product that pulls some of this office's areas of focus together in one place. The new website www.BuildingChoice.org has many tools and resources on public school choice, magnet schools, and charter schools that we hope will be useful to you and others.

Also, the results of The Education Innovator reader survey are in. I would like to thank those of you who completed the survey and provided comments. Overall, the results are positive. Three-fifths of you read the Innovator every week, and the vast majority of you find the content of the features to be useful. Producing a weekly newsletter such as this one in a federal agency is no small task. Thanks to Cynthia Dorfman, Tiffany Taber, Cynthia Cabell, Margarita L. Meléndez, and myriad volunteer editors in our office, we've been able to produce 138 newsletters since our inception, reaching nearly 10,000 readers. Our goal has been to show how innovation fits within the framework of No Child Left Behind in a user-friendly way. It is heartening to see that you seem to enjoy reading our work as much as we have enjoyed producing it. Best wishes to you and yours for a very Happy New Year!

Nina S. Rees


What's inside...
Feature
BuildingChoice.org Web-Based Toolkit
What's New
Innovations in the News

BuildingChoice.org: A Virtual Toolkit for Public School Choice
January has been designated Magnet Schools Month to celebrate one of America's school choices that has become an institution. Now, through the marvel of technology, information about what a magnet school is, how to manage one, and how to evaluate its effectiveness, along with information about other school choice options, such as voluntary public school choice and charter schools, is available on a new OII website: www.BuildingChoice.org. Designed for school administrators and others involved with education management, the site offers an array of tools taken from real life experiences and used by districts and schools which have succeeded in implementing public school choice programs.

Visitors to www.BuildingChoice.org will find 14 districts spotlighted on the site. Some are large urban districts serving over 300,000 students in states such as Arizona, California, Florida, New Hampshire, and Wisconsin, while others are rural and suburban serving about 3,000 students. The website acknowledges that these districts began their programs at varying points, had unique needs, operated under different contexts, and may not have had access to the same resources. It also recognizes the multifaceted purpose of school choice; some districts pursued choice to increase school integration or parental involvement, while others wanted to encourage innovative teaching practices or provide an array of learning environments to cater to children's individual needs. Whatever the reasons for pursuing school choice, the website points out that these objectives align with every district's ultimate goal of improving student achievement.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) has underscored the importance of public school choice, ensuring that students who attend Title I schools that are in need of improvement are not denied a high quality education. The law requires that these students have the option to enroll in supplemental educational services or transfer to another, higher performing public school. This idea in the "Communicate With Parents" section of www.BuildingChoice.org, is reinforced by a quote from U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings: "School choice is part of the strategy to give every child an excellent education. It is amazing what can happen when parents get involved. School choice gives you more opportunities to achieve your expectations for your child."

The site organizes five action areas in a general progression from planning through implementation to evaluation and continuous improvement. The action areas include: Create a Vision, Communicate with Parents, Manage Operations, Support Schools, and Evaluate the Program. Each area offers several types of resources including vignettes illustrating promising practices; sample materials such as forms, brochures, and meeting agendas that districts have used; tools such as templates and examples of processes developed specifically for the website; links that direct visitors to other helpful websites, articles, and organizations; and profiles of districts that have implemented school choice.

Visitors to the "Create a Vision" area of www.BuildingChoice.org are welcomed to the webpage with advice from featured districts. These districts stress the importance of starting a choice program with a shared vision based on the needs and interests of the community. They also note that a clearly defined vision can help a district planning team map out the steps for bringing a quality choice program to fruition. Aside from introductory tips, the "Create a Vision" area, like every action area on the BuildingChoice website, is broken down into three subsections. The first, "Take Stock," asks districts to consider what types of data should inform their planning process. The second, "Articulate a Vision," asks districts how they will involve stakeholders in creating a vision for choice. The third subsection, "Develop a Plan," asks districts to map out their programs' goals, objectives, and strategies.

The "Communicate with Parents" area asks districts to think about how they will build awareness of their choice programs, how they will assist parents in making the best decisions for their children, and how they will engage community leaders and businesses in an effort to connect with hard-to-reach parents. This action area includes a vignette from Minneapolis Public Schools (MN) detailing how the district created an "online school choice center" that allows parents to choose a school with the help of a web-based filter that sorts schools on a variety of factors such as curricular, extracurricular, and family support options.

The next action area, "Manage Operations," asks districts to look at their staff roles, anticipated or ongoing student transportation issues, and their application and school assignment processes. This area's sample materials include a job description for the Houston Independent School District's (TX) Magnet Program Manager, an organizational chart for Hillsborough County Schools (FL) that maps out roles and responsibilities for choice across the district, and a link to Miami-Dade County's (FL) Charter School Operation website.

Because district choice programs are only as effective as their individual schools, www.BuildingChoice.org includes an action area called "Support Schools." Here, districts are urged to help teachers implement curricula, streamline transportation systems, and provide necessary professional development to school staff. Districts also are encouraged to look at ways to involve parents in the schools from contracts to volunteer commitments, and to recruit qualified staff and reposition existing staff to fill the needs created by new choice programs.

The final action area, "Evaluate the Program," stresses the importance of using data to guide program improvement. Featured districts note that data is crucial to make sure that choice programs continue to be effective and relevant. The website points out that districts may have to build staff capacity to analyze and use information and to understand where schools are making progress, where they are not, and why. Districts are asked to consider how they will use data to monitor school and district program effectiveness, how they can track stakeholders' satisfaction, and how they can ensure that their evaluations lead to improved programming. This action area includes tools such as a site evaluation template, guidelines for conducting a focus group, and a checklist for creating a community report.

In addition to its action areas, www.BuildingChoice.org includes background information about the school choice movement and its components. It also links to websites that focus on programs, research, and commentary related to increasing parents' public school options. Links to support organizations include the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO), the Center for Education Reform, the Heritage Foundation, and the U.S. Department of Education, among others. A helpful glossary defines terms such as Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), concurrent enrollment, charter schools, and unitary status. The website's "Hot Topics" listed appropriately in red, include NCLB, hard-to-reach parents, and funding. Visitors may also use search buttons on the homepage to find specific information on particular topics related to choice.

This website is the most recent product from the Office of Innovation and Improvement. The website includes materials primarily drawn from OII's Innovations in Education guides, each of which contains information about promising practices in education. Four of these guides showcase innovative programs for increasing parents' school choice options and were of particular use in constructing the new website: Creating Strong District Choice Programs, Creating Successful Magnet School Programs, Creating Successful Charter Schools, and Creating Strong Supplemental Educational Services Programs. The website also includes developing practices from projects funded under the federal Voluntary Public School Choice program. A booklet, "An Invitation to BuildingChoice.org," with an overview of the site, is also available free from ED Pubs at www.edpubs.org (order #EU0159P).

Resources:
  • www.BuildingChoice.org
  • Innovations in Education Virtual Field Trips - (Public School Choice, Toledo, Ohio and Magnet Schools in Miami-Dade, Florida)
Note: www.BuildingChoice.org was produced by the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education under a contract with WestEd and in collaboration with Edvance. Listing of resources on the website should not be construed or interpreted as an endorsement by the U.S. Department of Education of any private organization or business listed thereon.

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What's New
From the White House

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings participated in "Ask the White House," an online interactive forum where administration officials answer questions from the public. The Secretary opened by acknowledging the fourth anniversary of No Child Left Behind and talked about the resources available through the Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative. (Jan. 9)

From the U.S. Department of Education

Secretary Spellings released a statement commemorating the signing of the No Child Left Behind Act: She stated, " The results are beginning to come in. They show a revival in mathematics achievement in the early grades, coupled with more reading progress in the past five years among nine-year-olds than in the previous three decades." (Jan. 9)

Secretary Spellings outlined the accomplishments and resources available through the Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative in a press release, saying, "Teachers are responding enthusiastically, and the Department is working hard to meet educators' demands for high-quality training and assistance." She listed the resources available, including summer workshops, roundtables, e-Learning courses, and the American Stars of Teaching project. (Jan. 11)

The U.S. Department of Education is seeking nominations for the 2006 American Stars of Teaching project. The award recognizes exemplary classroom teachers who are successful in using innovative teaching strategies and raising academic achievement for all their students. The deadline for completing nominations is April 15, 2006. The 2005 American Stars of Teaching award winners have been posted online; the list includes three teachers in arts education programs in Idaho, New Hampshire, and Washington State. (Jan. 11)

The U.S. Department of Education has published frequently asked questions download files (MS Word-46KB) about the Immediate Aid to Restart School Operations program of the Hurricane Education Recovery Act. Under this program, assistance for expenses related to reopening schools is available to local education agencies and private schools. (Jan. 12)

The National Center for Education Statistics has released Parents' Reports of School Practices to Provide Information to Families: 1996 and 2003, which focuses on what schools are doing to provide parents with information and examines their practices in relation to the frequency of parents' involvement at their children's schools. (Jan. 9)

The National Center for Education Statistics has also released Teacher Professional Development in 1999-2000: What Teachers, Principals, and District Staff Report. This report uses data from the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey to address how professional development for teachers in public and private schools was organized and managed, what kinds of activities were available to teachers, and which ones they participated in. (Jan. 9)

From the Office of Innovation and Improvement

The Teaching American History program grant application deadline has been extended to February 9, 2006, at 4:30 p.m. EST. The e-Grants system will be unavailable from 7:00 p.m. EST on February 2 until 7:00 a.m. EST on February 6, and grantees will not be able to access the site or work online between those times. Please contact teachingamericanhistory@ed.gov if you have questions. (Jan. 3)

D.C. School Choice

The Washington Scholarship Fund has issued its first semi-annual report, Changing the Status Quo, about the District of Columbia School Choice Incentive program, which provides federally funded scholarships for K-12 students to attend private schools. The report was supported by a grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation and chronicles lessons learned from the first year of the program. The Washington Scholarship Fund operates the scholarship program, which is funded by a grant managed by OII in partnership with the D.C. Mayor's Office. This is the first in a series of semi-annual reports that will describe the implementation of the program. (Jan. 12)

Reading

Scholastic, the global children's publishing, education, and media company, has honored Reading Is Fundamental's (RIF) 40th anniversary by donating 250,000 new children's books to educationally at-risk students across the country. RIF is the nation's oldest and largest family literacy organization. To date, more than 100,000 of the donated books have been delivered to needy students. (Dec. 13)

The Maryland State Department of Education has approved Voyager Passport K-3 for Reading First. Voyager Passport is a reading intervention program which is used to teach critical skills and strategies that children need to become successful readers, including phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Use in Baltimore City Public Schools showed that in 2004-05, 67-88 percent of the first through fifth grade students who were held back were no longer struggling readers. Voyager Passport is currently being used in over 500 school districts across the country. (Dec. 1)

Technology

An automated "Hallpass" has been developed by the partnership of Impact Strategy Group, IBM Global Services, Affinity LLC, and Fargo in conjunction with school districts in Southern California. This student identification card can process and store information from students and school districts and can be accessed by parents. Parents can transfer money to this "smart card" so that students do not have to carry cash to school. Also, parents can access the history of the card to review their child's spending habits in the lunch line or the student store. The software and portal are offered to schools at no cost. Future development of the pass will include being able to view attendance, health, busing, and security information. (Dec. 1)

Update

Dr. Martin Haberman of the Haberman Educational Foundation, Inc., (see Innovator, February 23, 2004) has released the book Star Teachers, which describes what his research has found to be best practices of teachers of at-risk students. The book covers such topics as teacher preparation and recruitment, teaching in urban settings, and the behaviors of star teachers. (2005) (offered for sale)

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Innovations in the News

Charter Schools
Isaac Ewell, a Black Alliance for Educational Options' (BAEO) national staff member has the task of taking a $4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and opening 15 theme-driven, project-based charter schools in low-income, urban black communities. So far, he has opened three schools in three cities: Philadelphia, Oklahoma City, and Milwaukee. To ensure the criteria for excellence are consistent at each of its school sites, BAEO provides shared resources and sponsors professional development for teachers. The hope is for the network of sites to function as a decentralized school system. One of Mr. Ewell's ideas is to replicate the High School for the Recording Arts in St. Paul, Minnesota, as a charter school in Philadelphia, based on his experience operating an independent record label in the late 1990's and the school's approach to using the culture of the community in its curriculum. [More-Philadelphia Weekly] (Jan. 11-17)

Magnet Schools
Curious elementary school students in Washington County (MD) who ask lots of questions have their choice of magnet schools, which offer accelerated learning experiences in technology or the arts for students in grades 2-5. The school system is also considering new magnet schools that would emphasize languages or math. [More-Herald-Mail]

In Broward County (FL), January and February means that thousands of parents search for the right school for their children. That's when magnet schools in the county will hold open houses and market themselves to parents. The almost 50 schools in Broward draw high-achieving students who score well on state exams. [More-Sun-Sentinel] (Jan. 9)

Magnet schools usually focus on a theme of study to attract students with particular interests or talents. When shopping for magnet schools, Broward County Schools offers tips, among them: know your child's interests and learning styles; find out how many students complete the program or drop out; find out how students perform after graduating from the magnet school. [More-Sun-Sentinel] (Jan. 9)

Public School Choice
When students choose a school, must they also choose the extracurricular activities at that school? In Canton (OH), members of the school board are debating the idea of giving Early College students a choice between two high schools' activities. High school-aged students attend the Early College program at the Timken campus of Stark State College of Technology, where they can earn an associate's degree upon graduation; but some students would like to participate in activities at another high school, McKinley. [More-The Repository] (Jan. 10)

The Winston–Salem/Forsyth County (NC) school system is creating more systematic communication with parents about school choice in their area. The school system offers parents a choice of elementary and middle schools and has 12 magnet schools. [More–Journalnow] (Jan. 10)

Raising Student Achievement
South Dakota Governor Mike Rounds recently announced his 2010 Education Initiative, an education plan he hopes to implement over the next several years. The plan seeks gains in high school graduation rates, sets goals for public universities and other postsecondary schools, increases education outcomes for American Indian students, and offers ideas for recruiting and retaining teachers. Of the more than 50 initiatives in the plan, two will require immediate attention from the Legislature. One of these initiatives would make kindergarten mandatory and the other would require students to stay in school until they are 18, which is two more years than the current requirement. [More-Sioux Falls Argus] (Jan. 5)

Teacher Quality
Guilford County Schools (NC) will be hiring over 100,000 new teachers over the next 10 years. The school district wants to make sure that it meets the requirements of No Child Left Behind to employ highly qualified teachers, but it also wants to go a step further. The county is interviewing potential teachers using the Star Teachers attributes developed by Dr. Martin Haberman (see also What's New). These attributes help to predict how successful a person will be in the teaching profession by assessing whether a person is able to work in large, impersonal institutions and to make personal sacrifices of time and energy to meet students' needs, for example. Principals in the county will learn about the Star Teacher interview and online selection tools available to them in training sessions in January. [More-GCS Insider] (Jan. 11)

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Last Modified: 07/09/2009