The Education Innovator #9
Volume IV
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The Education Innovator
 August 14, 2006 • Number 9
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The Brighter Choice Charter Schools
What's New

Innovations in the News

Companion Charter Schools Bring Brighter Choices to Students and Families in New York
Inside the gymnasium, 35 students parade to the syncopated beat of popular music and their families' applause. Balloons sway tethered to metal chairs and a slideshow is projected onto a large screen, showcasing pictures of the students from their infancy through their current fourth grade year. While students in most other public and private schools in Albany, New York have been on summer vacation for weeks, these students don caps and gowns to celebrate a milestone. They represent the first graduating class from the Brighter Choice Charter School for Boys and the companion Brighter Choice Charter School for Girls. Housed under one roof, these schools share administration and staff, a rigorous instructional design, an extended academic calendar, and the unique distinction as two of the first elementary charter schools in the nation to educate boys and girls in separate classrooms.

The Brighter Choice Charter Schools were born in 2000 when a group of community leaders, parents, educators, and charter school leaders came together to create a high-quality educational opportunity for Albany students who were attending low-performing public schools. The group submitted a 500-page charter application to the New York State Board of Regents and in December 2000, the application was approved. In order to perfect the curriculum and operational design, the schools extended their planning process for a year. In September 2002, the schools opened to 90 students in kindergarten and first grade, most of whom lived in Albany's poorest neighborhoods.

Currently, the combined schools serve approximately 250 students in kindergarten through fifth grade. Both schools consist mainly of African-American students, and although all students residing in Albany are eligible to apply, special preference is given to students from low-income families. As public charter schools, there are no tests or tuition fees required for enrollment. Instead, an open lottery determines admission, and the schools add two classes of 25 new kindergarten students annually. During the 2005-2006 academic year, the schools received 1,100 expressions of interest for 50 open slots.

The Brighter Choice philosophy is one of high academic and behavioral expectations where all children achieve academic success. The schools believe that every student can learn when provided with sound and challenging educational opportunities. The schools also understand that students learn in various ways and at different paces. For this reason, when the schools were created, the founders paid special attention to research that has pointed to the potential benefits of single-sex education, particularly for traditionally under-served populations such as minority and low-income students.

A 1992 report, for example, from the American Association of University Women (AAUW) entitled How Schools Shortchange Girls asserts that girls are at a disadvantage in school because they are called upon and encouraged by teachers with less frequency than their male counterparts in coeducational settings. American University professors Myra Sadker and David Sadker backed this claim in 1994 with their report, Failing at Fairness: How America's Schools Cheat Girls, which was based on a three-year study involving structured observations in more than 100 classrooms in several states.

More recently, reports have focused on the downward trend in performance for boys. Christina Hoff Sommers, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research and author of The War Against Boys, argues in a new article that America is "strikingly better at educating young women than young men." Ms. Sommers points to minority boys' low scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and states that today, for every 100 women who earn a bachelor's degree, just 73 men earn one. Newsweek also ran a cover story entitled The Trouble With Boys, which asserts that boys across the nation and in every demographic group are falling behind. The author writes that in elementary schools, boys are two times more likely than girls to be diagnosed with learning disabilities and twice as likely to be placed in special-education classes. A new study by the Manhattan Institute hones in on performance at the high school level, noting that nationwide, only 65 percent of boys in the high school class of 2003 earned diplomas, compared to 72 percent of girls. Leaving Boys Behind: Public High School Graduation Rates download files PDF, (1.97 MB), reveals that this "gender gap" is even more prevalent among minorities. In 2003, 59 percent of African American girls, but only 48 percent of African American boys earned diplomas. Among Hispanics, the graduation rate was 58 percent for girls and 49 percent for boys.

After taking into consideration the research related to the performance gaps between boys and girls, the Brighter Choice Charter Schools set out to explore gender differences in learning by creating two single-sex schools. Through his research, Cornelius Riordan, an education researcher and associate professor of sociology at Providence College, has found that single-sex education positively effects the academic achievement of both female and male African-American and Hispanic children. According to Riordan's research, the achievement levels of these students in single-sex schools are higher on all academic tests and, on average, these students score nearly a grade level higher than similar students in coeducational settings. The Brighter Choice Charter Schools do not rely on generalizations regarding the abilities of boys or girls, but rather hold all students to the same high expectations for academic achievement and behavior.

Brighter Choice boys and girls take advantage of the same course offerings, and have equal access to the schools' resources, but are grouped separately for the purposes of classroom instruction. Principal Melissa Jarvis-Cedeno notes, "There is a sense of empowerment here. Girls don't feel competitive with boys. Boys don't feel they have to impress girls. Parents know their children are learning." Unlike traditional elementary schools where one teacher instructs all subjects within a given grade level, Brighter Choice teachers instruct only the subjects that they have mastered through post-secondary study. There is a teacher who instructs kindergarten mathematics and another teacher who instructs kindergarten English language arts. The Brighter Choice schools also hire separate teachers for history, science, special education, performing arts, visual arts, and physical education. For most classes, students are based in one homeroom classroom, and the teachers travel to meet the students when specific class times begin.

A rigorous liberal arts curriculum guides instruction, which is tied to grade- and subject-specific learning standards. The schools align their standards with the 28 New York State Learning Standards as well as standards developed by the Core Knowledge Foundation. The concept of "Core Knowledge" was envisioned by University of Virginia linguistics professor E.D. Hirsch, Jr. who posits, "Literacy depends on a shared knowledge…to be literate means, in part, to be familiar with a broad range of knowledge taken for granted by speakers and writers." The Core Knowledge philosophy is based on the idea that sequentially building knowledge helps ensure that children enter each new grade prepared to learn and prevents learning gaps and repetitive instruction. In line with the idea of broad, intensive learning, Brighter Choice students study a wide range of topics in each subject. For example, students examine the classics in their English language arts classes, but also focus on contemporary works by reading William Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Miguel de Cervantes, and Maya Angelou. In mathematics, students learn basic principles, but also focus on the application of mathematics in real-life situations, such as calculating temperatures, distances, speed, and time.

Along with the challenging curriculum, the schools offer an extended academic day and year. Students attend classes each weekday from 7:30 a.m. until 4:00 p.m. Teachers also are available on Saturdays to schedule enrichment classes on an as-needed basis for selected groups of students. The academic year runs for 205 days, compared to the average 180 days in other Albany public schools.

The schools are so confident in their instructional approach that they provide families with a unique "Learning Guarantee" not offered by any other public school in New York State. Brighter Choice students who fail any State exam in reading, mathematics, or science after three years of solid attendance are entitled to privately funded scholarships that they may use to complete their elementary education at other public or private schools in Albany. The scholarships are worth the lesser of full tuition, or $2,000 annually. Later this month, the Brighter Choice schools will receive results for their first State exams in English language arts and mathematics.

Based on results from the fourth grade TerraNova exams in September 2005, students at Brighter Choice are experiencing marked academic gains. In 2002-2003, the schools' opening year, girls scored in the 26th percentile in mathematics and in the 41st percentile in reading. By September 2005, girls scored in the 71st percentile in mathematics and in the 66th percentile in reading. Gains also were strong for boys. In 2002-2003, boys scored in the 44th percentile in mathematics and in the 20th percentile in reading. Three years later, boys ranked in the 83rd percentile in mathematics and in the 76th percentile in reading.

As a result of test score gains, a positive school culture, and high attendance rates, the Brighter Choice schools recently received approval from the New York State Board of Regents for a five-year extension of their charters, the maximum allowed in New York. The Regents also authorized Brighter Choice to expand to 250 students each for the boys' and girls' schools.

Due to this expansion, in 2007, the boys' school will move out of the current building to a different facility located less than one block from the original site. This new building was secured through the Brighter Choice Foundation, a nonprofit group that provides fundraising and technical assistance for the two Brighter Choice schools and manages the schools' "Learning Guarantee" scholarship program. The Foundation also has constructed new school facilities for the charter schools it has helped to establish in Albany over the last few years.

The creation of six of these charter schools was aided by the work of the Brighter Choice Public School Choice Project. The Project works to expand public educational options in Albany, as well as in Buffalo, New York, with the intent of effecting widespread school reform across the State. In 2002, the project received a Voluntary Public School Choice grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Innovation and Improvement to help achieve this mission. Working with the companion Brighter Choice Foundation, the project has spread awareness about public school choice through television and radio advertisements, brochures, and postcards. Additionally, the project has posted toolkits related to supplemental educational services (SES) on its website so that interested groups may begin the application process to become SES providers in Albany and Buffalo.

Last fall, the Brighter Choice Foundation and the Brighter Choice Public School Choice Project helped open three new charter middle schools in Albany: KIPP (Knowledge Is Power Program) Tech Valley, Achievement Academy, and Albany Preparatory Charter School. Two more elementary schools are slated to open and, in fall 2007, the first charter high school in the city, Green Tech High, will open. Currently, the Brighter Choice partnership works with eight charter schools in Albany. Starting this fall, the Brighter Choice Foundation will offer free, unused space in the new charter school buildings to local SES providers.

Chris Bender, Executive Director of the Brighter Choice Foundation, states, "By concentrating our efforts mainly in one city, the Foundation and the Project have been able to support charter schools by providing start-up capital, new facilities leased to schools at cost, short-term cash-flow loans, coordinated searches for school leaders, and crucial community connections. Additionally, we believe that our approach will maximize the opportunity for sustainable high academic achievement."

Last month, Mr. Bender joined families and graduates of the Brighter Choice Charter Schools to celebrate a successful venture into single-sex education and the bright future of the overall Brighter Choice movement. In the fall, 32 of the 35 Brighter Choice graduates will attend Albany charter middle schools. (Two graduates are moving out of the city and one will attend a private school.) Principal Melissa Jarvis-Cedeno notes, "Brighter Choice is living up to its name. It has taught parents that they have options regarding the education of their children."

Resources: Note: The featured program is innovative; however, it does not have evidence of effectiveness from a rigorous evaluation and may not be replicable under differing conditions.


What's New
From the U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings issued a statement regarding the award of 33 new grants totaling more than $20.5 million that will benefit Hispanic-serving institutions of higher education. (Aug. 7)

Secretary Spellings announced new regulations for Part B of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The final regulations further the President's goal that no child - including children with disabilities - is left behind. (Aug. 3)

Education programs in seven states have been selected to receive funds from the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Indian Education's Professional Development program. Funds will be used to provide training programs to recruit and graduate new American Indian teachers and school administrators, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced. (Aug. 3)

Secretary Spellings issued a statement regarding the reauthorization of the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act. She praised Congress for making needed reforms to the program, noting, "For the first time, Career and Technical Education [CTE] programs will be held accountable for continuous improvement in performance, measured by the academic proficiency of CTE students." (July 29)

Secretary Spellings announced a partnership with states to improve and develop fair and accurate assessments designed for limited English proficient (LEP) students. The Department immediately is inviting about 20 states to work on these assessments, but all states are welcome to participate in the LEP Partnership. (July 27)

Secretary Spellings issued a statement regarding the introduction of legislation for America's Opportunity Scholarships for Kids . The President's proposal would help low-income students in under-performing schools transfer to the private schools of their choice or enroll in intensive tutoring after school or during the summer. Secretary Spellings noted, "We've already seen the power of choice in Washington, DC when we launched the first federally funded opportunity scholarship program. (See Innovator, May 2006) With this new legislation, we will spread that success to communities across the country." (July 18)

At the commencement of the University of Notre Dame's Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE) Master's Program, Secretary Spellings delivered an address where she discussed the important role Catholic educators play in reaching out to students, families, and communities in need. (July 15)

Teachers who attended the Teacher-to-Teacher workshop in Hopkinton (MA) heard Secretary Spellings deliver remarks regarding the importance of high-quality teaching. Secretary Spellings was joined by Massachusetts' Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey. Representatives from EMC2 and TechNet, organizations that co-sponsored the session, also were on hand. (July 12)

Deputy Secretary Ray Simon announced the extension and expansion of two supplemental educational services (SES) pilot programs. The pilots, which were initiated by the Department last year, focus on increasing student participation in SES provisions offered under the No Child Left Behind Act. (July 26)

Schools in 13 states and Washington, DC will share $15.5 million in grants from the Partnerships in Character Education Program at the U.S. Department of Education. The grants are designed to help schools implement programs that teach the principles of strong character and good citizenship. (July 26)

According to the newly released Reading First Implementation Evaluation: Interim Report, children in Reading First classrooms receive significantly more reading instruction, and schools participating in the program are more likely to have reading coaches. The report, issued by the U.S. Department of Education, shows significant differences between what Reading First teachers report about their instructional practices and what non-Reading First teachers report who teach in similar Title I schools report. (July 24)

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) has issued a report presenting information on the postsecondary educational experiences of students from the high school class of 1992 who participated in career and technical education (CTE) while in high school. (July 20)

NCES has released an issue brief that examines how often young children are exposed to arts education in the general classroom from first to third grade. The brief also analyzes the differences in exposure by the children's level of poverty and/or the schools' urbanicity. (July 18)

A new NCES study compares mean 2003 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) reading and mathematics scores for public and private school students in fourth and eighth grades, statistically controlling for individual student characteristics (such as gender, race/ethnicity, disability status, identification as an English language learner) and school characteristics (such as school size, location, and the composition of the student body). (July 14)

The U.S. Department of Education's Office of Indian Education announced the winners of the 2006 Native American Student Art Competition. Winning entries may be viewed beginning July 17 at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, DC. In September, the exhibit will travel to the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian. (July 13)

Nineteen school districts in 14 states have received grants as part of the Safe School/Healthy Students Initiative. The program is a joint effort by the U.S. Departments of Education, Justice, and Health and Human Services to support schools in their effort to create safe learning environments that promote healthy childhood development and prevent youth violence and drug use. (July 11)

NCES has created a forum guide that provides recommendations for collecting accurate, comparable, and useful data concerning virtual education at both the elementary and secondary levels. (June 29)

The latest report in the NCES series on dropout rates in the United States has been released. The report is based on several data sources and provides details on high school dropouts and high school completers during 2002 and 2003. The report also traces trends regarding high school dropout and completion, dating back to the 1970s. (June 22)

A new study from NCES presents the averaged freshman graduation rate for public high schools for the 2002-2003 and 2003-2004 academic years. Information in the study is based on data reported by state educational agencies to NCES. Forty-eight states and Washington, DC submitted data. (June 20)

Public speaking engagements for Secretary Spellings and news announcements from the U.S. Department of Education for the month of June, during The Education Innovator's break, are available online. (Aug. 2006)

From the Office of Innovation and Improvement
Five new grants have been awarded under the Professional Development for Arts Educators grant program. The purpose of this program is to strengthen standards-based arts education programs and to help ensure that all students meet challenging State academic content standards and challenging State academic achievement standards in the arts. (Aug. 4)

The Transition to Teaching program awarded 31 grants to assist high-need school districts recruit and retain highly qualified mid-career professionals, paraprofessionals, and recent college graduates who have not majored in education to teach in high-need schools. (Aug. 4)

Arts in Education
The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum released the second year findings of a three-year study that evaluates the impact of arts education on literacy among elementary school children. The study found that students who participated in the Guggenheim's Learning Through Art program performed better in several categories of literacy and critical thinking skills than students who did not participate in the program. (Aug. 1)

The Education Commission of the States (ECS) has released from the Governor's Commission on the Arts in Education. The report includes a summary of current State arts education policies, a summary of policymakers' perspectives on arts education, current research on the benefits of arts instruction, and recommendations to strengthen arts programming. (July 2006)

Charter Schools
Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Eugene White and Decatur Township Schools Superintendent Don Stinson are featured in an interview in the summer 2006 edition of the Greater Educational Opportunities (GEO) Foundation's newsletter, Charter Schools Today. This quarterly publication documents the growth of the charter school movement in Indiana. (Summer 2006)

A new report from the Charter School Achievement Consensus Panel examines existing research on student achievement in charter schools and suggests how future research could be improved. (May 2006)

The Center on Education Policy (CEP) has produced a primer download files PDF, (1.80 MB), that compiles data, mainly from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The primer is intended to give background information about public education and encourage interest in education issues and schools. (2006)

Phyllis Blaunstein and Reid Lyon have edited a new book entitled, Why Kids Can't Read: Challenging the Status Quo in Education. The book includes a collection of 12 essays. The essays contain individual stories, information for teachers and parents, and advice for policymakers. An essay by Dr. Sally Shaywitz (see Innovator, June 2006) includes information about neurological research as it relates to reading instruction. (2006)

Raising Student Achievement
The National Association of State Directors of Special Education (NASDSE) has launched a new website featuring recent documents from NASDSE's Project Forum, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Special Education Programs. (July 2006)

World history standards for most States are weak, according to a report from the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation. Walter Russell Mead, the Henry A. Kissinger senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, conducted the Fordham Foundation's review of States' academic standards for K-12 world history. Mr. Mead found two-thirds of States earn grades equal to a "D" or an "F." Fully passing "A" grades went out to only eight States. (June 6)

Ron Fairchild, director of the Center for Summer Learning at Johns Hopkins University, urges parents to seize "teachable moments" during these hot months when many families are taking trips to the beach. Research shows that students typically lose one to two months of reading and mathematics skills during summer break. In a new handbook, Mr. Fairchild examines high-quality summer programming and reminds parents that summer learning does not have to be expensive or arduous to be effective. (June 2006)

A new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education examines why a plethora of different graduation rate formulas and statistics currently exists. The report also addresses the limitations and benefits of each method and offers suggestions for policy changes. (June 2006)

Recognizing Achievements
ClassLink Inc., a technology provider for K-12 schools, recently announced the winners of its College Scholarship Program. The program is open to high school seniors in participating ClassLink schools. Scholarship selection is based on a written essay, academic standing, extracurricular activities, and recommendations. (June 22)

School Facilities
The American Architectural Foundation (AAF) and KnowledgeWorks Foundation have collaborated to release a new report on school design. The report reflects recommendations made during the National Summit on School Design held earlier this year. (June 12)

School Reform
The Aspen Institute's Program on Education and Society has issued a new paper PDF, The paper draws on the expertise of teachers, principals, superintendents, policymakers and researchers and offers a framework and suggestions for a different approach to high school improvement. (May 2006)

Teacher Quality and Development
The College Board's Center for Innovative Thought is calling for a new "compact" between America and its teachers. In Teachers and the Uncertain American Future download files PDF, (1.86 MB), the Center proposes the establishment of a public-private Teachers' Trust, which would finance a pay increase of 15 to 20 percent for teachers as well as targeted programs to increase the number of qualified math and science teachers. (July 12)

The Teaching Skills Assessment Program (TSAP) is an online assessment of competencies associated with effective teaching that alternative teacher preparation programs across the country are finding useful. The simulation and scenario-based modules assess novice teachers' existing knowledge and skills as a means to identify their strengths and weaknesses. TSAP was developed by Eckerd College in St. Petersburg (FL). (Aug. 2006)


Innovations in the News

Arts in Education
Puerto Rican artists will work with teachers and students in Springfield (MA) classrooms through the city's "Explorations in Puerto Rican Culture" project. The project aims to create a culturally sensitive curriculum that encourages students and parents to become involved in education. More than 50 percent of Springfield's population is Latino, with a large proportion of that group consisting of individuals from Puerto Rican descent. A new U.S. Department of Education grant will help Springfield launch the program. [More-The Republican] (July 21)

You are sixteen and an aspiring artist. Imagine the thrill of receiving feedback about your artwork from some of the most successful animators in Hollywood. For many students across the country, this dream has become a reality through the work of ACME Animation, a program that uses technology to link professional artists with high school students, and sustains this connection through college . During live telecasts, students present their work to a panel of animators. In order to "earn" a critiquing session with an expert, a student must first review the work of his peers using the tools on ACME's website. Former high school art teacher, Dave Master, and the ACME Network, a nonprofit organization, created ACME Animation. ACME Animation has received a three-year grant from the Arts in Education Cultural Partnerships for At-Risk Children and Youth Program in the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education. [More-Edutopia] (July 2006)

Charter Schools/Choice
The small Persian Gulf nation of Qatar is home to a new charter-like public education experiment. Since 2004, more than 30 autonomous, government-financed schools have opened offering a variety of options to families accustomed to the rigid, highly centralized educational system dictated by the Ministry of Education. Thirteen additional schools will open this fall. The schools operate under three-year renewable contracts approved by a new government entity called the Supreme Education Council. The schools have considerable freedom in design and operation, but must meet standards in Arabic, English, mathematics, and science. [More-Education Week] (July 26) (paid subscription required)

Charter schools are gaining popularity in New Jersey. Thirty groups have applied to open charter schools in the state in the next two years. The application pool is the largest since 1997, the first year charter schools were approved in New Jersey. At least 50 charter schools will operate this fall, serving about 14,000 students. The U.S. Department of Education awarded a $10.1 million grant to New Jersey, one of nine states selected for funding. The money will go to both new and existing charter schools and is aimed at improving instruction, planning, and training. [More-New Jersey Star-Ledger] (July 26)

Charter schools in New York City are outperforming district schools in their neighborhoods, according to the preliminary release of an Education Department report. The report shows that, in 2005, students in 11 of 16 city charter schools outperformed students in district schools on the State's fourth grade English and mathematics exams. The 2004-2005 Annual Report on the Status of Charter Schools in New York State provides information on student enrollment, student performance, and finances for the 61 charter schools in operation during the 2004-2005 academic year. The report also makes recommendations for changes to the State's charter school law. [More-The New York Post] (July 25)(subscription required)

After experiencing success with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Bay School Program at Morrell Park Elementary/Middle School in Baltimore (MD), nine teachers banded together two years ago to form their own school rooted in the same environmentally focused curriculum. The Green School of Baltimore will open as a free, public charter school this fall with 60 students. The school will begin with single kindergarten, first, and second grade classes. Over the next three years, the school will add third, fourth, and fifth grade classes, and eventually aims to serve 240 students. The school is already wait-listing kindergarteners and is close to capacity in the other two grade levels. [More-The Examiner] (July 25)

Senators Mary Landrieu (D-LA), Richard Burr (R-NC), and Lamar Alexander (R-TN) praised local education officials in New Orleans (LA) for their efforts to significantly restructure and improve their public schools after the devastation of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. "New Orleans has an opportunity out of this tragedy that no city in America has," said Senator Alexander, chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development. Noting that 34 of 57 schools opening later this summer will be charters, the Senator added: "New Orleans will be the leading big city in America creating new charter schools. The idea of giving free market choice to families of New Orleans primarily benefits low-income people because people with money often (only) have those choices." [More-The Times-Picayune] (July 17)

Indianapolis Mayor Bart Peterson's charter schools initiative leverages the power of his office and his accountability as an elected official to make him the only mayor in the nation authorized to create and oversee charter schools. This unique role helped Mayor Peterson win "The Innovations in American Government Award" from the Ash Institute for Democratic Governance and Innovation at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government. The award is administered in partnership with the Council for Excellence in Government and recognizes local, State, and Federal programs that are creative, effective, meet a significant need, and can be transferred to other jurisdictions. The award comes with a $100,000 prize, intended to help winning programs disseminate their model to other areas of the country. Mayor Peterson's program earned recognition for its novelty, strict evaluation of charter schools (both before and after they are approved), and track record. [More-The Indianapolis Star] (July 10)

Pennsylvania expanded its existing corporate Education Tax Credit Program by $10 million. Two-thirds of the increase will go toward scholarships that will expand educational options for more than 6,000 students in the State. The remaining third will go toward education improvement organizations. Currently more than 27,000 students in Pennsylvania participate in the tax credit program, along with more than 2,200 businesses. [More-Alliance for School Choice] (July 3)

Arizona legislators recently passed school choice measures that would allow low-income, disabled, and foster-care children to receive education scholarships. Each measure provides families with funds that they may use to pay tuition at a school of their choosing, whether it is public, private, or charter. [More-The Arizona Republic] (July 1) (Editorial)

Governor Donald L. Carcieri signed into law the Rhode Island budget for Fiscal Year 2007. The budget includes a tax credit program that the Governor proposed to encourage businesses to contribute to scholarship funds for non-public schools. The tax credit is aimed at providing students and their families with more school choice. [More-State of Rhode Island Office of the Governor] (June 30)

Iowa Governor Tom Vilsack has signed the Educational Opportunities Act (EOA), which will enable thousands of children in the state to attend a school of their parents' choice. The program establishes a 65 percent tax credit for individuals who make contributions to approved school tuition organizations, which distribute scholarships to families. Families then use these scholarships at a school of their choosing. To qualify for the program, families must have an income that does not exceed 300 percent of the Federal poverty level. School tuition organizations must spend 90 percent of funds raised on scholarships, and the scholarships may not exceed tuition at the chosen private school. The program is capped at $2.5 million for 2006, but the cap will rise to $5 million for subsequent years. [More-The Milton & Rose Friedman Foundation] (June 2)

Raising Student Achievement
The Neshaminy School District (PA) is sponsoring special mathematics and reading tutorial camps for the first time this summer, offered through the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment. More than 80 elementary school students and 35 middle school students are enrolled in the five-week program, which wrapped up at the end of July. Classes consist of ten students each, and according to first grade teacher Kristy McDonough, the students are benefiting from the individualized attention. [More-The Bucks County Courier Times] (July 24)

School Reform
Interest in single-sex schools has sharpened with recent reports indicating that American boys are not performing as well academically as American girls. Some of the research has indicated that boys encounter more discipline problems, drop out of high school at higher rates, and attend college in fewer numbers than girls. In this editorial, the author asserts that students perform the best when schools and teachers give each child the individual tools he or she needs to succeed, and that single-sex schools should be allowed to exist if they help achieve this outcome. (See Feature) [More-The Tennessean] (July 24) (Editorial)

"Best practices" used by elementary and secondary schools in 20 states have been pinpointed in a new report from the National Center for Educational Accountability at the University of Texas in Austin. Researchers at the national center based their findings on studies from the last six years that included more than 250 schools across the country. From that initial pool, the researchers focused on 140 schools that consistently outperformed demographically similar schools for at least three consecutive years and across grade levels on State exams. Researchers found, for example, that successful schools anchor their instruction to the curriculum standards in their States, differentiate instruction, and use practices such as "looping," in which teachers stay with the same group of students over the course of two or more years. [More-Education Week] (July 14) (paid subscription required)

What can a foundation with an endowment of more than $29 billion do with an extra $30 billion donation? This question has been circling the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation since last month when investor Warren E. Buffet announced his plan to give the foundation most of his $44 billion fortune. Mr. Buffet's gift will go out in annual contributions of stock from Berkshire Hathaway, the Omaha (NE) company he founded. The Gatses have not offered any specifics for how the Buffet gift may influence their investments in education. Since 2000, the foundation has committed about $1 billion to support the creation of small high schools or the restructuring of large high schools into smaller learning communities. Increasingly, the foundation has been investing money to help urban districts with broader efforts to revise high school curricula and instruction. [More-Education Week] (July 12) (paid subscription required)

Denver (CO) kindergarten teacher, Linda Alston, has won the $100,000 Kinder Excellence in Teaching Award. Named for its donors, Houston (TX) philanthropists Nancy and Rich Kinder, the award is thought to be the largest single unrestricted award given to an American pre-collegiate teacher. The KIPP Foundation, the group associated with the Knowledge Is Power Program (KIPP), administers the award competition. Teachers are eligible to apply who teach in public or private schools where at least half the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals. Ms. Alston has been teaching for 25 years and plans to use her award to visit Martha's Vineyard, attend a Carly Simon concert, and buy orange geraniums for her garden. [More-Education Week] (June 26) (paid subscription required)

Teacher Quality and Development
Christine Hutchins majored in Chinese in college and lived in Taipei for a year. She currently teaches privately at Spaulding University (KY), but is unable to teach Chinese in the public school system because she lacks education courses required for a teaching certificate. Northern Kentucky University is helping individuals like Ms. Hutchins who want to teach in the public schools but lack the appropriate coursework by offering a six-week summer program, which is the equivalent of five graduate-level courses. [More-The Enquirer] (July 24)

Dawn Robertson, who teaches fourth to sixth grade students at the Boston Renaissance Charter Public School (MA), hopes to bring more hands-on experiences into her classroom. "[I'm] basically competing with the video age, so [I've] got to be fascinating," she notes. Ms. Robertson is one of about 250 teachers who attended a two-day, teacher-led session on instructing mathematics and science hosted by the U.S. Department of Education at the EMC Corporation in Hopkinton (MA). This workshop was one of 14 free sessions held this summer that are part of the Teacher-to-Teacher Initiative. Teachers receive hands-on professional development and practical advice from their peers. Presenters share effective practices along with research regarding their effectiveness. [More-The Christian Science Monitor] (July 20)

In an effort to boost mathematics and science test scores and attract and retain teachers in those subjects, Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has launched a new initiative. New teachers who are fully credentialed in mathematics or science, or teachers in those subjects who transfer to low-performing schools, will receive a $5,000 recruitment bonus. The incentive program also includes money to encourage teachers to obtain credentials. The district will offer up to $5,000 in reimbursement for education. In addition, a handful of high schools will have a staff member available to support new teachers. This program is open to special education teachers as well, another area of need for the district. The program is a result of a deal between LAUSD and its teachers' union, and is funded by an $11.2 million three-year State grant. [More-The Los Angeles Times] (July 17) (subscription required)

The Teacher Advancement Program (TAP) has been highlighted in Business Week's recent top-ten list of best practices in education. TAP was created in 1999 by the Milken Family Foundation and has received a grant from the Office of Innovation and Improvement's Teacher Quality Programs office. TAP promotes veteran teachers to become mentors or "master teachers." These master teachers work with junior teachers to improve their instructional practices. TAP also promotes performance-based bonuses and encourages schools to use financial incentives to attract mathematics and science teachers. [More-Business Week] (June 26)


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Last Modified: 07/10/2009