The Education Innovator #15
Volume III
Archived Information

The Education Innovator
 April 25, 2005 • Number 15
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What's inside...
RIFNet Distance Learning Literacy Program
What's New
Secretary Spellings speaks at the National Teacher of the Year Dinner; U.S. Department of Education seeks nominations for American Stars of Teaching project; the Teaching American History grant competition is open; award-winning author and historian, David McCullough, speaks at Hillsdale College about the importance of history; the Northeast Regional Charter School Career Fair attracts new employees.
Innovations in the News
Louisiana acts to convert four low-performing schools into charter schools, plus information about American history, reading, and supplemental educational services.

RIFNet Is Cast to Bring Literacy Programming to a Wider Audience
He stands over six feet tall, is covered in blue fur, and when it gets dark, he uses his bright yellow nose as a reading lamp. His name is Riffington, the book-loving monster who represents Reading Is Fundamental to thousands of children across the country. Reading Is Fundamental (RIF), the nation's oldest and largest nonprofit organization dedicated to children's literacy, has used many strategies, including Riffington, over its 39-year history to pique children's interest in reading and inform parents, teachers, librarians, and others about its projects. Recently the organization found a new means of reaching the public that simultaneously helps to train its program coordinators: a distance learning initiative called RIFNet.

RIFNet is offered through television and computer technology so that learners can access the information in their homes, libraries, community centers, Head Start centers, or schools around the country. RIFNet has been designed for RIF program coordinators, literacy advocates, educators, and families and consists of a video series, with supporting print and web-based materials. The complete RIFNet series includes three main programs: RIF in Action, RIF Exchange, and Gateways to Early Literacy.

RIF in Action, is a four-part, 30-minute video series. RIF in Action is distributed to every new RIF program coordinator. Each show details a different aspect of leading and developing a successful literacy program. Topics include: selecting appropriate and interesting books, planning and running book distributions, creating community partnerships, and understanding and implementing fundraising strategies.

RIFNet's second program, RIF Exchange, highlights the latest techniques and research in children's literacy. Each 30-60-minute show depicts different exemplary RIF programs, and offers tips for how caregivers and RIF coordinators can duplicate those successful results. Many of the RIF Exchange programs feature an examination of great books for children, a useful tool for librarians, parents, and educators. One of the videos is available in Spanish, The Parent Primer, which offers parents strategies to foster their children's literacy growth and success in school.

The final program, Gateways to Early Literacy, consists of four 30-minute videotapes that explore the ways in which family childcare providers can enhance children's early language and literacy development. Each video contains interviews with childcare providers who discuss how they promote literacy development for the children they serve. Childcare facilities are showcased so that viewers can observe how different sites can create "reader-friendly" environments rich with books, visually stimulating wall decorations, and quiet areas where children can read and explore books. Nationally recognized early childhood educators offer their advice during each broadcast, emphasizing current research on language and literacy (particularly that of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development) and research-based practices in the classroom. The four video titles include:

  • Setting the Stage, which details the importance of creating a print-rich environment for young children and incorporating literacy activities into a program's daily schedule;
  • Conversation, which gives tips for developing children's oral language skills and offers suggestions for helping children become active participants in conversation;
  • Reading Aloud, which highlights read-aloud strategies, including ways to choose books that complement children's individual reading abilities and interests; and
  • Emergent Writing, which reveals the stages of learning how to write and spell and ways that parents and caregivers can support children's early efforts to express themselves on paper.
RIF has developed a kit to enrich the information on these videotapes. The kit includes an introduction to the video series and guidelines to use when showing the videos to either an individual or a group. Also included are learning objectives, handouts, suggested activities for parents to use with their children, and a list of experts and providers participating in the program.

To complement these three distance learning programs, a special program from RIFNet and the National Education Telecommunication Association (NETA), called A Child's Bookshelf: Inside Children's Literature, is currently airing on public television stations nationwide. The two-part series is designed for parents and educators and demonstrates ways in which they can engage children in reading. Each 30-minute broadcast profiles authors and illustrators of children's books and shows how real families introduce their youngsters to literature.

RIF fulfills a contract with the U.S. Department of Education to operate the federal "Inexpensive Book Distribution Program," first created in 1975. In 1999, RIF received a Star Schools grant to fund its RIFNet Initiative, which was extended in 2003.

Resources: Note: RIFNet is innovative but does not yet have evidence of general effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation.


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

At the National Teacher of the Year Dinner, hosted by the Council of Chief State School Officers, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings praised the efforts of all of the state teachers of the year and the national winner, Jason Kamras, who teaches at John Philip Sousa Middle School in Washington, DC. Kamras started his career there as a Teach for America teacher and decided to stay. (April 20)

The U.S. Department of Education is seeking nominations for the American Stars of Teaching project of the Teacher-to-Teacher initiative. The project recognizes outstanding teachers who are using innovative strategies to raise student achievement. Teachers across all grade levels and disciplines are eligible. One teacher or team of teachers from each state and the District of Columbia will be recognized this fall. (April 22)

From OII

The Teaching American History (TAH) grant competition is open. The purpose of the grant program is to raise student achievement by improving teachers' knowledge of traditional American history. The deadline for submitting applications is Flag Day, June 14, 2005.

American History

Next month, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize -winning author, David McCullough, will publish his latest book, 1776. In February, McCullough spoke at Hillsdale College (MI) during its National Leadership Seminar on the topic "American History and America's Future." McCullough noted that our country needs to do a better job teaching history. He also said that the study of history begins at home as we tell our children stories of history and take them to historic places. (April 25)

Charter Schools

Over 350 individuals looking for employment at charter schools converged on the Northeast Regional Charter School Career Fair. Management companies and 47 charter schools located in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts, and Pennsylvania attended the fair, sponsored by K12connect, Inc., an education software company, Columbia Teachers College, and the New York City Center for Charter School Excellence. [More-U.S. Newswire] (April 16)


Innovations in the News

American History
Students in Cleveland County and surrounding areas of North Carolina are reading the Virginia Resolutions of 1798. They are analyzing the Declaration of Independence. These students and their teachers are taking advantage of the Teaching American History grant awarded to Cleveland County by OII. Students and teachers are now examining primary source documents in their classrooms to gain a better understanding of important events in history. [More-Shelby Star] (April 14)

Charter Schools
Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger said that charter schools are the key to improving education in California, and that they "are a great model, not only for schools in Los Angeles and California, but for the rest of the nation." With more than 500 charter schools in the state, the governor plans to organize community coalitions to build additional charters "as fast as possible." [More-LA Times] (April 22)

More than 600 parents who left Cincinnati Public Schools (OH) for charter schools responded to a survey on why they took their children out of the school district. These parents want smaller classes, improvements in safety and security, and staff members who really care. As part of the survey, parents were asked to rank the importance of charter school characteristics that attracted them, rank the characteristics in the city school that factored into their decision, and rank their satisfaction level with the charter schools. [More-Cincinnati Enquirer] (April 21)

The Louisiana State School Board has recommended that four New Orleans public schools be taken over by Southern University at New Orleans, the University of New Orleans, and two nonprofit organizations, which would sponsor the schools as charters. [More-Times-Picayune] (April 21) (free registration)

Indianapolis (IN) is supporting a multi-million dollar loan fund from the Indianapolis Bond Bank for charter schools that need financial assistance to build or improve their facilities. The Annie E. Casey Foundation of Baltimore and the Local Initiatives Support Corporation of New York are backing the fund. Charter schools will be able to borrow up to three-quarters of a million dollars and repay the loan with interest over five to seven years. [More-WISH TV] (April 18)

U.S. Department of Education Regional Secretary Kristine Cohn visited Wisconsin for the state's PTA annual convention and to check out charter schools and small class sizes in the Oshkosh Area School District. Cohn visited Oaklawn Elementary School and Oshkosh East High School, eating lunch with students and chatting about their charter school experiences. Cohn lauded the district for adapting the charter school idea to meet students' needs. [More-Oshkosh Northwestern] (April 16)

For the last two years, Falkville Elementary School (AL) has been named the state champion of the Reading Is Fundamental (RIF) reading challenge. As part of the RIF challenge, students participate in literacy activities in an effort to reach their reading goals, and each child receives a free book. This year, Falkville has a new reason to be proud. RIF honored Gail Ayres, the school's librarian, who has been behind Falkville's successful reading program, as the Region 4 Volunteer of the Year. [More-The Decatur Daily] (April 19)

Caitlin Powell from Apex (NC) has been awarded the highest honor in Girl Scouting: the Gold Award. Caitlin developed a literacy program for students at Carter Community School in Durham by recording books on tape for teachers to use at listening centers in their classrooms. She also developed an incentive program for students who reached their reading goals, and she led a book drive where over 250 books were collected. [More-The News & Observer] (April 19)

Embracing the Child's Library Development Program was created in Pennsylvania to develop libraries and reading programs at facilities for at-risk children and has also begun after-school programs and summer camps for disadvantaged youth. Centers in Bucks, Montgomery, Delaware, and Chester counties have received books and services from the organization that aims to "get children to love reading." The organization has distributed more than $185,000 worth of new books to organizations and youth centers since 2001. [More-phillyBurbs] (April 18)

Supplemental Educational Services
More families than ever before in Maryland and the nation are taking advantage of the free tutoring, or supplemental educational services, provided under the No Child Left Behind Act. The number of disadvantaged children across the country who received this after-school tutoring jumped to 218,000 last year. In Maryland, most students eligible for tutoring live in Baltimore, Montgomery County, and Prince George's County. [More-The Baltimore Sun] (April 13)


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Last Modified: 08/13/2009