NEWSLETTERS
The Education Innovator
Volume IV
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The Education Innovator
 February 2, 2006 • Number 3
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Editor's Note: The Education Innovator has been online since December 2002 due in large part to the creative vision and leadership of Cynthia Hearn Dorfman, Director of Communications in the Office of Innovation and Improvement. Under Mrs. Dorfman's direction, 139 issues have been published reaching nearly 10,000 readers weekly. Mrs. Dorfman is now using her skills in the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Communications and Outreach as Chief of Staff for External Affairs, and all of OII and The Innovator team wish her the best in her new role.
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Feature
Viers Mill Elementary School, Silver Spring, Maryland
What's New
Innovations in the News

Literacy and PRIDE Help Close the Achievement Gap at Viers Mill Elementary School
Laura enjoyed learning at Viers Mill Elementary School in Silver Spring, Maryland, so much when she was young that it influenced her to become a first grade teacher. Paul attended the school in 1964 and used the knowledge he gained there as a foundation for a degree in accounting from Georgia State University. Tracie, a mother of a current Viers Mill student, says, "If I had to rate this school on overall performance, I would give it a ten out of ten." Scrolling through the "virtual guestbook" on the Viers Mill website reveals these voices of past and present students, teachers, and parents, all of whom express appreciation to the school for its challenging academic programs and vibrant, inclusive community.

In 2005, Viers Mill was recognized as a No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon School, honored particularly for its recent success in raising student achievement. For example, from 2003 to 2004, the percentage of Viers Mill students scoring at the proficient/advanced level on the Maryland School Assessment (MSA) increased from 60.2 to 76.7 percent in reading. The percentage of students scoring at that level in mathematics rose from 79 to 85.3 percent. At the same time, the achievement gap narrowed. On the 2003 third grade Reading MSA, there was a significant gap between the proficiency levels of White students (77.3 percent), African American students (52.4 percent) and Hispanic students (40 percent). By 2004, however, the gap was nearly eliminated with all groups scoring within four percentage points of each other.

The Montgomery County School System (MD), located in the Washington, D.C. metropolitan area, is the nation's 17th largest school system and home to Viers Mill. The school serves 658 students in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade. Bright Eyes, a day care center on the Viers Mill campus, provides care for infants, toddlers, and school-aged children. Despite its suburban setting, the school is far from homogeneous. Rather, it is quite diverse, housing a population of students who hail from 44 countries and speak 32 different languages such as Mandarin, Farsi, Bulgarian, Greek, and Spanish. The school's population consists of students who are 54 percent Hispanic, 23 percent African American, 14 percent White, nine percent Asian/Pacific Islander, and one percent American Indian/Alaskan Native.

As a result of their varied racial and ethnic backgrounds, more than 30 percent of Viers Mill students are English language learners (ELLs) who receive instruction based on techniques from the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) program. The Montgomery County Public Schools' (MCPS) ESOL curriculum is based on national and district standards for the language and literacy development of these students. The goal of ESOL instruction is to enable students to develop the language skills they need to succeed academically and to participate fully in regular classroom instruction. To achieve these goals, ESOL teachers focus primarily on the development of students' reading, writing, listening, and speaking skills. Each day, ESOL teachers "plug in" to kindergarten classrooms by working with ELL students during language arts and reading lessons. In first through fifth grade, teachers work individually with students outside of the classroom. Viers Mill ESOL teachers continue to support ELL students during tutoring sessions even after the students formally exit the school's ESOL program.

The importance of reading and writing are emphasized to students throughout the school day, and well into the evening on "Family Learning Nights." These events are held at the school once every month during the academic year. Students are escorted to classrooms for reading activities with teachers who have volunteered to lead the sessions, while parents remain for a Parent Teacher Association (PTA) meeting and a training seminar on techniques to use when reading with their children. Afterwards, students return with books they will be able to take home and keep, and families read together. Books are provided through the school's federal Title I Family Involvement Fund. Due to the high number of Hispanic families at Viers Mill, all PTA meetings are translated into Spanish. Individual parent conferences are translated into Chinese, French, Amharic, and Vietnamese.

According to Matt Devan, the school's principal, "We know that great readers have great choices in life, and great opportunities are what every student deserves." As a result of this belief, the Viers Mill PTA raises money each year for Project READ, an initiative to keep the school's computer laboratory and media center open after the school day ends. During Project READ, students and families work on language arts activities and homework and learn how to find and evaluate information in print and online. The local community gets involved with literacy as well. For example, The Gazette Newspaper sponsors a newspaper club for interested students, and Gazette volunteers spend one hour per week working with individual students as mentors and tutors.

In addition to its literacy focus, Viers Mill provides students with hands-on learning opportunities in core subjects such as mathematics, science, social studies, art, music, and technology. All students participate in an extended 90-minute math block each day. In their science classes, students use MCPS science kits that contain resources for both students and teachers. For example, kindergarten students discover the laws of physics using the "Balls and Ramps Kit" while fourth grade students learn about electricity through the "Electric Circuits Kit" with which they explore parts of a light bulb and examine conductors and diodes. Many of the kits were developed in partnership with the National Science Resources Center, the National Academy of Sciences, the Smithsonian Institution, the National Science Foundation, and Education Development Center, Inc.

To create consistency across subjects and grade levels, teachers at Viers Mill post "content maps" in their classrooms. These maps are developed at the beginning of each year by grade level instructional teams. Content maps display objectives for each unit, vocabulary terms, and instructional activities so that students can look at a veritable road map of their learning, reviewing concepts and looking ahead to new content. These maps are posted on the school's computer network, allowing staff to monitor what each class is studying at any point in the year.

Sharing information about the curriculum and student progress is an integral part of operations at Viers Mill. Every Friday, students take home a parent bulletin, which contains information about the school's goals, performance, and various programs. At the midpoint of each marking period, all teachers send home Individual Student Progress Reports. These reports include information about students' academic achievement, attendance, on-time arrival, and homework completion. An up-to-date website provides students and families with details about upcoming events, school projects, and PTA activities. A special "Student Zone" on the site connects students to websites where they can conduct research, play educational games, and read more about subjects covered in their classrooms.

From the long stream of comments on the "guest book" page of the Viers Mill website, it is clear that current students, alumni, teachers, and parents are proud of the work that is done at the school. Pride, in fact, is a key ingredient in Viers Mill's success. According to its credo, PRIDE, every student and teacher must demonstrate Perseverance, Respect, Integrity, Discipline, and Excellence.

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

U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings issued a statement regarding the recent State of the Union address noting that President Bush stressed the importance of education in maintaining the nation's global leadership position. The President proposed reforms that aim to prepare the nation's children to become leaders. (Feb. 1)

Secretary Spellings issued a statement commending the American Legislative Exchange Council's (ALEC) adoption of a resolution affirming the principles of the No Child Left Behind Act. Secretary Spellings noted, "[ALEC and its members] understand that for our country to remain economically, civically and democratically viable, we must provide a quality education for [all] children." (Jan. 24)

Secretary Spellings commemorated the 20th anniversary of the loss of the space shuttle Challenger in a statement noting, "Christa McAuliffe [a teacher who was to be the first private citizen in space] wanted to inspire students across the country by sharing the wonders of space and science with them. And today, she and the other members of the Challenger continue to inspire us. We honor their lives of courage and remember the great cause for which they gave them." (Jan. 27)

In observance of Catholic Schools Week ( January 29 - February 4), Secretary Spellings issued a statement recognizing the nation's Catholic schools as valuable partners in educating all children, and thanking the schools for reaching out to displaced students after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. (Jan. 30)

The What Works Clearinghouse of the Institute of Education Sciences at the U.S. Department of Education has launched a help desk to assist policymakers, practitioners, and researchers in conducting rigorous evaluations of educational programs. The What Works Clearinghouse was established to be a source of scientific, evidence-based information on successful education practices. (Jan. 20)

The Public Elementary and Secondary Students, Staff, Schools, and School Districts: School Year 2003-2004 report is now available. The report contains information from the Common Core of Data (CCD) non-fiscal 2003-2004 state, local educational agency, and school surveys. It presents data about public school students, including the number of students by grade and the number receiving special education, migrant, or English language learner (ELL) services. (Jan. 19)

From the Office of Innovation and Improvement

The Office of Non-Public Education offers a listserv subscription service. Those who register for this free service receive regular announcements about issues related to private schools. (Jan. 25)

The Transition to Teaching grant competition is now open. The purpose of the program is to recruit and retain highly qualified mid-career professionals, including qualified paraprofessionals, and recent college graduates, to the teaching profession. The deadline for submitting applications is March 20. (Feb. 1)

The Charter Schools grant competition is now open. The Public Charter Schools Program supports the planning, development, and initial implementation of charter schools. The deadline for submitting applications is March 10. (Feb. 1)

Charter Schools

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools recently released a brief, Stunting Growth: the Impact of State-Imposed Caps on Charter Schools. The brief identifies states with legislated limits on charter school growth and tracks the impact these laws have on families looking for high - quality public schools. Twenty-five states and Washington, DC, have some cap on charter schools. The report urges policymakers to focus on stronger oversight and implementation procedures for charter schools instead of limiting school size and the number of schools that can be created. (Jan. 18)

The new 2005 KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Report Card contains student achievement and demographic data for the oldest grade (or cohort) of students for all 37 KIPP schools in operation during the 2004-2005 academic year. Currently there are 47 KIPP schools operating in 16 states and Washington, D.C. Results show that while the average fifth grader enters KIPP in the bottom third of test-takers nationwide (28th percentile), the average KIPP eighth grader outperforms nearly three out of four test-takers nationwide (74 th percentile) on norm-referenced reading and mathematics exams. For a free copy of the 2005 KIPP Report Card, please e-mail your name and mailing address to KIPP Foundation, San Francisco. (Jan. 17)

Choice

On February 8, an interactive online presentation will introduce an online toolkit, BuildingChoice, (See Innovator, January 13) produced by the Office of Innovation and Improvement under U.S. Department of Education contract with WestEd. The session will be hosted by Kristin Arnold, Director of Edvance, a nonprofit group dedicated to improving student achievement by partnering with education organizations and disseminating information. BuildingChoice.org is designed to help districts implement and expand school choice, and draws upon the practices of districts that are successfully offering choice options. These districts were featured in the Innovations in Education book series developed by WestEd and published by OII. Free registration is required. (Jan. 31)

Grant Opportunities

As a result of recent events and state budget cuts, fall and early winter deadlines for grant competitions sponsored by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities were eliminated. The Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities is calling for prospective grant applicants to submit information that will help the organization make an informed request for appropriations from the state. Each prospectus should include project title; sponsoring organization with address; project director and contact information (address, phone, and email); three- to five-paragraph project narrative; and a budget. The deadline to submit a prospectus is February 10. For more information, contact Jennifer Mitchel at 504-523-4352, ext. 125. (Jan. 3)

The National Endowment for the Arts' Learning in the Arts for Children and Youth Program offers funding for projects that help children and youth acquire skills as well as appreciation, knowledge, and understanding of the arts. Projects must provide students with engagement with skilled artists, teachers, and high quality art, and ensure the application of national, state, or local arts education standards. The maximum award is $5,000-$150,000. Local education agencies and state and regional education agencies are eligible. Schools may participate as partners in projects for which another eligible organization applies. The deadline is June 12.

High School Reform

Edvantia (formerly known as the Appalachian Regional Educational Laboratory and the former Regional Educational Laboratory for Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia) offers a planning tool on "Establishing a High School on a College Campus." The guide is based on case studies of high schools on college campuses and gives tips on building partnerships, designing the program, planning the budget, and selecting students. (Jan. 2006)

Supplemental Educational Services

Under the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), every State is required to monitor and evaluate its supplemental educational services (SES) providers. New Mexico recently released its report download files PDF, (787K), for the 2004-2005 school year. The evaluation examined the academic progress of students who participated in SES during the school year, as well as whether providers were meeting the conditions of their agreements. Sixteen providers were evaluated. Half were rated as "satisfactory" and half were given a "warning." Over 3,700 students participated in SES in New Mexico in 17 districts last year. (Jan. 27)

Teacher Quality

The OII-supported National Center for Alternative Certification will hold its annual conference February 8 -11 in San Diego, California. The conference agenda includes research about effectiveness of alternate routes to certification, assessments of alternate route candidates, and reciprocity across states. (Jan. 19)

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) is accepting applications for its Landmarks of American History and Culture Workshops for School Teachers, scheduled for summer 2006. The weeklong residence-based programs are designed to give participants experience in interpreting significant historical sites and using primary sources. All K-12 educators, including home-schooling parents, are eligible. The application is March 15. Email or call 202-606-8463 with questions. (Jan. 31)

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Innovations in the News

Charter Schools
NC SELF (North Carolina Students for Equitable Lottery Funding) held press conferences to have charter schools included in state lottery funding for school construction. The group wants to amend the law so that charter schools are authorized as lottery fund recipients. Over 30,000 children attend North Carolina's 100 charter schools. One charter operates in a former wine distribution storefront. Many such charters face the choice of paying mortgages/rent or hiring needed personnel. [More-Courier-Times] (Jan. 21)

The Harford County Board of Education (MD) will consider proposals for two new charter schools. If approved, Restoration Alternative Academy and Eagle's Wing Academy will be the first charter schools in the county. They were granted conditional approval last year. Restoration Alternative Academy will target at-risk high school students, while Eagle's Wing will have a Spanish immersion program and emphasize technology. [More-Baltimore Sun] (Jan. 22)

After a rocky, 10-year journey, charter schools in Tucson and across Arizona are showing signs of success. Arizona now has 517 charter schools, the most per capita in the country. Ninety-three percent of the state's charter schools are rated "satisfactory" or better according to the Arizona Learns school labels, up from 76 percent in 2002, according to the state Department of Education. Tucson's school operators attribute their charters' success to students and parents who hold schools accountable for results. [More-The Arizona Daily Star] (Jan. 15)

Elementary public charter school students perform at higher levels than students in traditional schools, according to a report released by the Colorado Department of Education. Over the past three years, charter school students generally have made greater gains in reading, writing, math, and science than students in traditional schools. Middle school students' scores on the Colorado Student Assessment Program were about the same in traditional and charter schools. However, charter high school students' scores were lower than that of their traditional high school peers. [More-The Denver Post] (Jan. 25)

Choice
Officials who run the Washington DC school voucher program are calling it a success. The Washington Scholarship Fund (WSF), the nonprofit group administering the U.S. Department of Education-funded program, has offered its experience as a model for expanding programs like it to other cities. The DC voucher program is the first federally funded program in the U.S. and now serves 1,700 students, awarding approximately $12 million in scholarships to those students. The program will accept new recipients only in grades one through six this upcoming academic year because of a space shortage in secondary schools. [More-The Washington Times] (Jan. 13)

Magnet Schools
Salura Jackson has been offered an opportunity of a lifetime - to set up a new school. After 20 years in Detroit schools, she will become the principal of a new high school scheduled to open in August 2007 in Ann Arbor (MI). The school will be organized into smaller schools, including four small magnet schools, when it opens. Ms. Jackson moved from being an accountant to becoming a teacher and then a principal. [More-Mlive] (Jan. 23) (subscription required)

Pleasant View Magnet School is one of the most popular of the nine magnets in the Lansing School District (MI). Since the school became a magnet in 2001, enrollment has nearly doubled. Pleasant View earned a Magnet School of Distinction award from the Magnet Schools of America last year. The school's academic program uses the arts to help students understand the basic curriculum. For example, in math lessons visual patterns are used, music beats are related to fractions, and illustrations are used to explain word problems. [More-Lansing State Journal] (Jan. 23)

School Leadership
Four high-performing superintendents from public school districts have been selected as finalists in the American Association of School Administrators' National Superintendent of the Year program. The finalists are Sharon Patterson, Bibb County School District (GA); Larry Price, Wilson County Schools (NC); Manuel Rivera, Rochester City School District (NY); and Benjamin Soria, Yakima School District (WA). Established in 1988 and co-sponsored by ARAMARK, this annual award is bestowed upon a superintendent who has demonstrated all-around outstanding leadership. [More-AASA] (Dec. 22)

A team of professors from the University of Nevada, Reno contends that principals who have clearly defined goals for their staff and tackle problems rather than symptoms in their schools are more likely than "care-taker" styled principals to help their schools move off the No Child Left Behind Act's "in need of improvement" list. The team visited 16 schools designated for improvement, meeting with school principals and teachers. Although the team drew no correlation between the number of students failing proficiencies and lack of leadership at the schools, it did conclude that schools likely to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) in the future were ones where principals exhibited strong leadership styles and curriculum assessments were aligned with school improvement plans. [More-The Nevada Appeal] (Jan. 22) (subscription required)

A new breed of leaders is emerging from a master's-degree program that combines courses in education and business. The Leadership for Educational Entrepreneurs (LEE) program, housed at the west campus of Arizona State University in Phoenix, began in 2002 and targets charter school leaders. Program participants, or protégés, take 12 courses focused on subjects like educational leadership, assessment, marketing, accountability, and facilities. They are paired with a mentor, participate in a 140-hour internship, dialogue with school administrators and businesspeople, and design an independent research project within the 18-month program. [More-Education Week] (Jan. 25) (subscription required)

Teacher Quality and Development
After 21 years in the Army, Joseph Cofield switched careers to be with 12-year-olds at Bonita Springs Middle School in Bonita Springs (FL) where he now teaches social studies. Mr. Cofield went into teaching through the OII-funded Troops to Teachers program and was one of 8,392 teachers hired through the program nationwide. He, as many other "Baby Boomers," thinks of retirement from one career as a time to transition to another. [More-ABC News] (Jan. 10)

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Last Modified: 07/09/2009