Saturday, December 31, 2005

Teacher Ed: A Cautionary Tale For Student Teachers

It is an unfortunate fact the many student teachers do not receive any training in what is and is not an appropriate level of familiarity with students. This should serve as an object lesson for all would-be educators:
A student teacher at a Moore Public Schools elementary school has been banned from the district after parents complained of alleged inappropriate contact with students.

Superintendent Debbie Arato confirmed Tuesday night a student teacher at Briarwood Elementary School had been removed this week, emphasizing the woman was not a school employee. She said she couldn't comment further.

A police report filed with the Oklahoma City Police Department claims the 24-year-old woman was allegedly sending "dirty e-mails" to a 12-year-old Briarwood student.

Charges have not been filed against the woman.

An Oklahoma City police officer was called to the school Monday afternoon in response to a parent wishing to file a report against her son's student teacher. When the officer arrived, the student teacher had already left the premises, so he couldn't talk to her.

The mother told the officer she started questioning her son the previous day about whom he was talking to when he had been on the phone for a long time. He told her it was his student teacher, according to the police report.

The report states the mother was shocked and checked her son's e-mail account that night, finding many messages between the student teacher and her son that "contained a lot of flirting and suggestive material in them."

The mother printed them out and took them to the school's principal Monday. The mother gave the officer copies of the e-mails which he later logged into evidence, according to the report. The messages were dated between Dec. 13 and Dec. 18.

The officer quoted the e-mails in his report. According to the report, one e-mail dated Dec. 18 read, "If I was 12, there are a few others that like me that I would also like. It's hard sometimes when I'm around all of you all day. I forget I'm older and once in a while find myself flirting back. Which you've probably noticed. I'm sure some people have if they've paid any attention to me."
During my 14 years of teaching service, I've hired and supervised a number of young college students who've worked with our junior high school pupils.

For many of these aspiring teachers, it's the first time that they've ever been on campus as a grownup "staff member" and not as a pupil. Consequently, many of them really don't know how to act around students. They don't know what demeanor is expected of them in the classroom, around the campus, and out in the community.

One of the things that I emphasized when training these paid tutors was the need for all adults who work with students to maintain what I termed as "professional distance" between themselves and students. I indicated that it was great to model courteous behavior with students and to show concern when things aren't going well. But I also pointed out that they were not there to be a buddy with students and to remember that they were a part of the school's professional staff.

In other words, they were there to do a job that they would hopefully find to also be fulfilling and enjoyable.

I think that all student teachers should be reminded of this several times by their building principals and supervising teachers as a part of their orientation and continuing on-campus training.

I firmly believe that with thorough preparation and communication between supervisors and beginning staff, many of these types of incidents can be prevented.
Visit this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education here and our latest posts over there.

The Beaver State Shuffle

What does a state's education system do when it's chronically short of money and its high schools aren't doing well enough to satisfy the federal government? proposes throwing-out its student competency test and replacing it with a "must pass" high school exit exam. Oh, yes... the state of Oregon is also considering additional mandatory classes and increased performance expectations:
State schools superintendent Susan Castillo laid the groundwork for major changes this month, when she threw her weight behind a plan that's long been bandied about the Legislature: Abolishing the test given to Oregon 10th graders, formally known as the certificate of initial mastery, or CIM.

The CIM, designed to demonstrate that students could meet state standards in reading, math and writing, was not required for graduation in most districts, and never caught on widely among high school students. Colleges — even the state's seven public universities — paid it little heed, never linking it to either scholarship money or admissions.

The changes Castillo wants to make, which will need approval from legislators, should become clearer in 2006. But she has said she'd rather see high school diplomas mean more, perhaps requiring students to pass a test in order to earn one, a practice that's already in use in 25 other states.

State officials have also said they're intrigued by the concept of having students complete a mandatory portfolio project, a method that's expensive and time-consuming for teachers, but also deflects complaints that too much emphasis is being placed on a single test.

The state board of education, usually a fairly quiescent body, expects to weigh in on all this in 2006, and is also considering a recommendation to ratchet up high school graduation requirements, beyond even the extra year of math and English that legislators tacked on, beginning with the class of 2011.

All the focus on the state's high schools comes from years of data showing that student standardized testing scores peak in elementary school and dip steadily from there, reaching dismal lows by the time students hit 10th grade. Only 80 of the state's high schools got their students to meet target federal education standards in the 2004-2005 school year, compared to 731 elementary and middle schools.

The state has petitioned the U.S. Department of Education, though, for some flexibility in how schools can chart the student progress required under the federal No Child Left Behind act. The hope is that if schools are allowed to account for the improvements individual students make over time, more schools will meet federal standards, particularly at the high school level. Up to ten states will be chosen for the flexibility; Oregon will find out this May whether it is among them.
Interestingly, State Superintendent Susan Castillo had nothing to say about reducing class sizes or giving teachers the additional classroom disciplinary authority needed to ensure that parents and students also do their part to help increase the likelihood of academic success.
Visit this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education here and our latest posts over there.

Awards! Awards! Awards!

Spunkyhomeschool has posted the names of the winners of the first-ever Homeschool Blog Awards.

Congratulations to all the sites that were finalists!

Nominations will be accepted through January 3, 2006 for the Best Of Blogs Awards (BoB). The education/homeschooling category
is here, and the complete slate of categories over there.

Over at eSchool News, nominations are being accepted for their first Education Blog Awards. Nominations must be received by January 6th. Get
more info info or make a nomination right here.
Visit this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education here and our latest posts over there.

Carnival Barking: Calling All Homeschooling Sites!

The very first edition of The Carnival of Homeschooling is calling for submissions. The inaugural midway will be hosted over at Why Homeschool and the deadline for contributions is 6:00 PM (Pacific) Monday, January 2, 2006.

If you write a homeshooling blog, this is your opportunity to be there at the beginning...
Visit this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education here and our latest posts over there.

The Watcher's Council Has Spoken!

Each and every week, Watcher of Weasels sponsors a contest among posts from the Conservative side of the 'Sphere. The winning entries are determined by a jury of 12 writers (and The Watcher) known as "The Watchers Council."

The Council has met and cast their ballots for last week's submitted posts.

Council Member Entries: Gates of Vienna received the most votes from among fellow Council Members with their entry, Above Thy Deep and Dreamless Sleep…

Non-Council Entries: Sigmund, Carl, and Alfred was the winner in the non-council category with their entry, The New, Updated, Alice In Wonderland

Friday, December 30, 2005

Teacher Education: How Can It Be Done Better?

Lee S. Shulman, President of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and professor emeritus at Stanford University, has some strong words about the state of teacher education in this country:
Teacher education does not exist in the United States. There is so
much variation among all programs in visions of good teaching,
standards for admission, rigor of subject matter preparation, what is
taught and what is learned, character of supervised clinical
experience, and quality of evaluation that compared to any other
academic profession, the sense of chaos is inescapable. The claim
that there are "traditional programs" that can be contrasted with
"alternative routes" is a myth.

We have only alternative routes into teaching. There may well be ways in which the teaching candidates of Teach for America or the New York City Fellows program meet more rigorous professional standards than those graduating from some"traditional" academic programs.

Compared to any other learned profession such as law, engineering, medicine, nursing or the clergy,where curricula, standards and assessments are far more standardized across the nation, teacher education is nothing but multiple
pathways. It should not surprise us that critics respond to the
apparent cacophony of pathways and conclude that it doesn't matter
how teachers are prepared.

I am convinced that teacher education will only survive as a serious
form of university-based professional education if it ceases to
celebrate its idiosyncratic "let a thousand flowers bloom" approach
to professional preparation. There should be no need to reinvent
teacher education every time a school initiates a new program. Like
our sibling professions, we must rapidly converge on a small set of
"signature pedagogies" that characterize all eacher education. These
approaches must combine very deep preparation in the content areas
teacher are responsible to teach (and tough assessments to ensure
that deep knowledge of content has been achieved), systematic
preparation in the practice of teaching using powerful technological
tools and a growing body of multimedia cases of teaching and
learning, seriously supervised clinical practice that does not depend
on the vagaries of student teaching assignments, and far more
emphasis on rigorous assessments of teaching that will lead to almost
universal attainment of board certification by career teachers.

The teacher education profession must come to this consensus; only then can accreditation enforce it. Commitment to social justice is
insufficient; love is not enough. If we do not converge on a common
approach to educating teachers, the professional preparation of
teachers will soon become like the professional education of actors.
There are superb MFA programs in universities, but few believe they
are necessary for a successful acting career.
Just a few days ago, we asked our readers, many of who actually teach in public school classrooms, what college courses that they would like to see would-be or practicing teachers take. Their real-world answers make for some very interesting reading indeed.
Visit this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education here and our latest posts over there.

The School Start-Date Wars

In the struggle to halt the inexorable trend toward earlier and earlier school-year starting dates, here's the latest dispatch from the Florida front:
A state legislator wants to require public schools to wait until the week before Labor Day to open their classrooms.

State Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, has filed a bill to prohibit public schools from starting earlier in August.

This year, more than one-third of Florida's public school districts started classes in the first week of August.

Gelber said he thinks schools are starting classes too early to have more time to prepare students for the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Gelber said it doesn't make sense to start classes in the middle of hurricane season, when there's a chance that storms will shut down schools.

He said the early start also is out of synch with many summer-enrichment programs and family vacations.

Gelber said his plan would not change the number of days children go to school.
Even though Gelber's bill may have some merit, it might have been much more effective if it had also pushed back the FCAT's test date. It has been noted that once this annual test is administered, some classrooms don't seem to put forth the same levels of academic effort and focus as they did before the examiniations were administered.

A later testing-date may help some classes to maintain a more academically-focused atmosphere for a longer period of time in the school year. In fact, I see no reason why the exams should not be given during the last two weeks of school.

A more standardized starting date has one other possible benefit: If all schools start at about the same time, it helps level the playing field when comparing one district's test scores with another's.
Visit this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education here and our latest posts over there.

A 16-Year-Old's Incredible Journey To Baghdad

Would you believe that a 16-year-old Florida high school student traveled alone to Iraq during winter vacation? And would you believe that he did this not knowing a single word or Arabic?

Believe it!

And to think that Farris Hassan's parents knew nothing until he called them from Kuwait City.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Teaching And Learning Resource

If you're looking for news about the Iraq War and the conflict in Afghanistan, then this is the website for you.

It's informative, scary, and infuriating.

Teachers Grading Teachers

In Chicago, the current system of evaluating teachers is said to be "meaningless." So the union and administration have agreed to experiment with a new paradigm:
Declaring that the current system of evaluating Chicago teachers is "meaningless," district and union officials have created a pilot program where skilled teachers mentor and evaluate their peers.

The program, modeled after a successful peer-review program in Toledo that over 20 years screened out 8 percent of non-tenured teachers for incompetence, will launch next year in eight struggling city schools. The peer-review system works, leaders say, because it gives top-notch teachers a stake in improving professional standards and holding colleagues accountable.

"No one has a vested interest in incompetence, but we accept it," said Dal Lawrence, a 30-year teachers union president in Toledo and the architect of the nation's first peer review teacher evaluation system. "Shame on us for not thinking we can do it better."

Both Schools Chief Arne Duncan and Union President Marilyn Stewart are convinced Chicago can do it better. If the program works as expected, Duncan vowed to take the program systemwide--a rollout that could take years and would cost millions more to pay for teachers to work as evaluators rather than in the classroom.

Now, about two-thirds of the 20,600 Chicago teachers evaluated in the last two years received the top rating of "superior." Most of the rest received the second-best rating of "excellent." Principals say they end up marking a lot of teachers as superior because downgrading a teacher's rating is not worth the hassle--sometimes it even triggers a union grievance. And because the top grade is given out so freely, principals don't view these ratings an accurate measure of performance.

Trying to get rid of a bad teacher is an even bigger hassle for principals. In a typical year, only about 20 tenured teachers--out of a total of 26,000--face firing because of unsatisfactory ratings, and fewer than half of these end up leaving the system, according to district reports. Some transfer to other schools after a principal marks them for firing. Others take extended medical leaves, which stops the legal process and allows the teachers to keep getting paid by using sick days.
Apparently, the union had put a similar proposal on the table back in 1985. The proposal went nowhere, and that particular negotiating cycle ended in a strike.

In our own California district, principals are responsible for evaluating classroom teachers. A three-tier ranking system is used:

1. Meets professional standards
2. Needs Improvement
3. Unsatisfactory

Tenured staff are evaluated every other year. The probationary period is 2 years.
Visit this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education here and our latest posts over there.

Addressing The Science And Math Teacher Shortage

A group of Albany, New York businessmen think that they've found a way to recruit more science and math teachers:
A business group wants the state to provide scholarships to college students who want to be math or science teachers.

Under the Business Council's plan, students receiving grants of up to 20-thosuand dollars a year would have to agree to teach for at least five years. The lobby group is proposing a 50 (m) million dollar scholarship fund to provide up to 500 scholarships a year.

The Business Council says the competitive scholarships would eventually provide the state with thousands of new science and math teachers -- which are needed if New York wants to keep its high-tech industry and workers from going elsewhere.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that U-S demand for science and engineering workers will grow at least three times as fast as the overall economy in the next 10 years. But the number of U-S engineering students has dropped 20 percent since 1985.
While state-funded scholarships might help recruit some who would serve the required 5 year stint in the classroom, I think that I know an even better way to substantially increase the applicant pool for teaching positions.

If the powers-that-be truly want to attract large numbers of higher-caliber would-be teachers into teacher training programs, raise the level of compensation sufficiently so that teaching isn't nearly always at the bottom of those lists of entry-level salaries for college graduates.

Supply and demand. The basic law of economics. Increase the compensation, (demand) and the supply of teachers will also go up, as will the overall quality of the applicant pool. Any business person should be able to understand that simple premise, as it's the same one that is used in the business world to attract top executive talent.

When it comes to quality, you get what you pay for.
Visit this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education here and our latest posts over there.

History Textbooks: Sanitized For Their Protection?

I thought that this would've happened later, rather than sooner:
Historians say the impeachment and trial of President Clinton is closeted in a gray area of history, an episode too far in the past to be a current event, too recent to be judged in perspective.

Yet these historians already are judging Mr. Clinton in the place where millions of students get their information about him -- their textbooks.

Seven years after he was impeached in a scandal of sex, perjury and bitter politics, Mr. Clinton has become a fixture in major high school texts.

The impeachment is portrayed in the context of his two-term tenure, a milestone event, but not one that overshadows how Mr. Clinton handled the economy, crime and health care.

The most commonly used texts give straightforward recaps of Mr. Clinton's toughest days, with some flavor of how it affected the nation. Absent are any of the lurid details of his relationship with Monica Lewinsky that spiced up daily news reports and late-night talk shows as the scandal and impeachment played out in 1998 and early 1999.

Mr. Clinton was president from 1993 to 2001, the growing-up years of today's high school students. Even today's oldest high school students were only 10 or 11 during the height of the scandal, and today's middle schoolers were just approaching or entering first grade.

So, for students, the impeachment is literally a subject for the history books. "This is very difficult for everybody, because it's so fresh," said Gilbert Sewall, director of the American Textbook Council, an independent research group that reviews history texts used in schools. "It's easier to nail down history like the transcontinental railroad. With Clinton, you're dealing with material that has by no means been settled."

The House impeached Mr. Clinton on charges of lying to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice to conceal his affair with Miss Lewinsky, a White House intern. Although he was acquitted in a Senate trial, Mr. Clinton was branded as the second president impeached for conduct in office.

The topic is covered briefly in middle school texts. McGraw-Hill's "The American Journey" offers a description that is representative of other accounts -- balanced and methodical.

"Although there was general agreement that the president had lied, Congress was divided over whether his actions justified impeachment," the authors say.
I guess the fact that Monica Lewinsky's stained dress isn't mentioned is probably a good thing.

And for the record, I don't think that the history books are going to be very generous to President Bush regarding the invasion and occupation of Iraq.
Visit this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education here and our latest posts over there.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

The Question Of The Day

If you could require all would-be and actual working teachers to take a college course, what would that course be and why?
To see today's edition of The Carnival Of Education, just scroll down.

The Carnival Of Education: Week 47

Welcome to this week's edition of The Carnival Of Education. All entries were submitted by the writers except those labeled "Editor's Choice," and are grouped into several categories. As always, one can find a wide selection of posts from a variety of educational and political viewpoints.

A successful carnival is a team effort. Please consider helping spread the word. And as always, your comments and constructive criticism are most welcome.

Special announcement: If you have a site and are interested in guest hosting an edition of The Carnival Of Education, please let us know via the email address given below.

Next Week's Carnival midway will be hosted by us here at The Education Wonks. Please send contributions to: owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net. We should receive them no later than 9:00 PM (Pacific) Tuesday, January 3rd. Please include the title of your post, and its URL, if possible. Barring unforeseen circumstances, the midway of the 48th edition of the Carnival should open next Wednesday morning.

Last week's Carnival, guest hosted by Bora over at Circadiana, is here. See the complete set of archives
there. For our latest posts, please visit our home page.

Let the free exchange of thoughts and ideas begin...

Education Policy:

Many folks in the EduReform movement are enamored with the concept of merit pay for teachers. But what lessons can the corporate world teach us regarding this type of compensation? A Shrewdness of Apes has
today's informative lesson. On the other hand, over at Going to the Mat, they have an altogether different take regarding this highly controversial topic.

Is it ever appropriate for a school's administration to sponsor an activity that belittles its own teaching staff in order to amuse students? Read this
shocking story here and the background over there.

Chris Lehmann is the principal of a soon-to-be opened Philadelphia charter school called the Science Leadership Academy. In a great two-parter, Chris shows us the processes used to develop the school's science curriculum. See part I
here and part II over there.

is reporting on what I think is a terrible case of EduCracy run amok. Don't any of Arizona's policy makers understand that schools are supposed to be about doing what's right for kids? Here's a peek:
You might wonder why Manzenberger just doesn’t bend to the bureaucracy and sign up for the course. Surely, after all, sitting through such a “methods” course might expose this old education workhorse to new and innovative methods of teaching. It’s possible, right?

Not likely. The reason Manzenberger clings to principle with his Arizona career on the line is because while he may never have taken the course, for nine years he taught the very college course that Arizona now insists he must take.
EdWahoo is bringing to our attention a disturbing trend: Higher-level comprehension skills among college graduates are falling. What is the cause of this? Wahoo offers a possible explanation.

Have you ever considered serving on your local school's committee? Diane Weir
has the inside scoop on what it's like to be involved in the policy-making process.

Extreme Wisdom
asks a question that is sure to provoke thought: Are Public Schools Unconstitutional?

Should limits be placed on teachers who express their opinions about the Iraq War in the classroom? Humbly
submitted for your consideration is our post about free speech and the public school classroom.

Testing And Technology:

Would you believe that many of our schools are being subjected to an Invasion of Student Body Snatchers? It's true, and over at Reform K12
they show us how it's being done and why both kids and schools are being made to pay the price.

Editor's Choice: Over at Teach 42,
they've got the lowdown on the comparison between Wikipedia Vs. Britannica.

Teaching And Learning:

The intense debate over the teaching of intelligent design continues in the EduSphere. Rhymes With Right offers
a classroom teacher's perspective on this very controversial subject.

Snow owls in Antarctica? Ice cores two miles long? And who (or what) is a Tuck? These mysteries and more
will be solved over at Donna's Mundane Little World.

We think of early winter as the "Holiday Season." But other cultures view this time of the year quite differently. Check out the Jewish perspective on
winter's darkness.


The fact that many schools are no longer observing Christmas hasn't escaped notice by Spunkyhomeschool who presents an
altogether new take on the classic Yuletide poem, "T'was the night before Christmas."

The Secret Lives Of Teachers:

Classroom teacher Darren has had enough of the National Education Association and the California Teachers Association. He has formally resigned from both organizations. Today, he got a refund from NEA/CTA as well as
the surprising data about what percentage of dues are actually used for negotiating salary and benefits.

The Common Room offers
the third installment in its highly readable and informative series about what The Teaching Life was like in 1900. Wow. All I can say is that the good old days often weren't.

Editor's Choice: Fred teaches history in a Tampa high school. See what happens when he went on
a little family vacation to Disney with his wife and five girls. Key Vocabulary needed for understanding: penalty flag, skin-tight red spandex, kilts, and "special" shampoo.

Survival Guide For Students And Parents:

Here is something that is long overdue: With so many kids using code to communicate with each other on the computer, An Educational Voyage presents
this handy field guide to Computer Kidspeak and keeping an eye out for our children as they use the technology.

Most teachers have experienced at least one "parent from hell." But what's a caring and involved parent to do when he or she encounters a parent from the nether regions at their child's school? Scott Elliott
had that rude encounter.

The large number of kids inappropriately using prescription drugs is the subject of
an informative and cautionary post that every parent should read.

Because of California's requirement that all students (including those with learning disabilities) must pass a high school exit exam in order to graduate, many students
are now leaving the state in order to get their diplomas.

Inside The EduBlogs:

Editor's Choice: Jenny D. has
a thought-provoking post on whether or not "School Choice" will affect the formal training that teachers receive in Ed. School.

Editor's Choice: Over at The Super's Blog, the Super (as in superintendent) has posted a "legal" holiday greeting that will confound (yet satisfy) any attorney who happens to read it.

Editor's Choice: The recent New York City transit workers strike was the topic of several posts by Edwize. One morning, they had some hot coffee for cold New Yorkers.
This midway is registered at TTLB's carnival roundup. See The Education Wonks' latest posts here, and the complete Carnival archives over there.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Free Speech And The Public School Classroom

She says that she was fired from her teaching job because she expressed disapproval of the Iraq War in her classroom. The district said that she was fired "mainly" because of her poor classroom performance:
In the tense months before the United States invaded Iraq, elementary school teacher Deb Mayer was asked by one of her students whether she'd ever join an anti-war protest. The question was prompted by a Time For Kids magazine story that Mayer's students had just read about a peace march in Washington, D.C.

Mayer, who had never been politically active, told her Bloomington, Ind., class that she sometimes blew her car horn to support demonstrators carrying "Honk for Peace" signs at the local courthouse. Mayer also told the class she thought it was important to seek out peaceful solutions before going to war.

That conversation in January 2003, which lasted all of five minutes, launched a nearly three-year odyssey for Mayer, who now lives in Madison as she awaits the outcome of her federal lawsuit against the Monroe County, Ind., school system for firing her.

Mayer and her son, Jake, share an apartment near the Veterans Hospital in Madison, where he is the chief resident for internal medicine. Mayer has two other sons, including one who is in the Army, deployed to Afghanistan.

Mayer, 56, insists her contract to teach at Clear Creek Elementary School was not renewed because administrators and the parents of one of her students strongly disagreed with her pro-peace statements. In her lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana, Mayer alleges the school District violated her constitutional right to free speech.

A call to the attorney for the Monroe County Community School Corp. wasn't returned. But the district's position is outlined in a 34-page court brief seeking dismissal of the case.

School officials contend Mayer was fired for poor performance in her alternative learning classroom, which included students in grades 4 through 6. They say Mayer's statements concerning peace were just a small part of the problem.

"Ms. Mayer's speech on the war was not the reason for her ultimate termination," the School District said. "Instead . . . the motivating factor for her termination was her poor classroom performance, the ongoing parental dissatisfaction and the allegations of harassment and threats toward students."

They allege that Mayer was rude and demeaning to students and their grades suffered as a result. They said six students asked to be transferred from the class, including the daughter of the parents who protested Mayer's peace discussion. And after being told not to talk about the impending war, Mayer did it again, the brief said.

Mayer said she never talked about it after the "peace incident," for fear of losing her job. Her concerns were heightened by the school's decision to cancel its annual Peace Month, a memo sent to teachers warning them "not to promote any particular view on foreign policy related to the situation in Iraq" and a note sent to her to "refrain from expressing your political views."

Mayer said the allegations that she was demeaning and rude to students are "patently false." She said she heard the allegations for the first time this summer, more than two years after her contract was discontinued and only after she rejected the district's offer of a $5,000 settlement.

"The school is really trying to prove that I was a bad teacher when I have never been known except as an excellent teacher," said Mayer, whose teaching career spanned more than 20 years, including at the university level and at The Key School, a well- respected public school run by teachers in Indianapolis.

Mayer believes the decision in her case, expected to go to trial March 6, could provide important guidance about what teachers can say to students.

"This is what I would call a classic First Amendment, free-speech case," said Mayer's attorney, Michael Schultz of Indianapolis. "It tests the boundaries of what rights under the Constitution a teacher has to say things. It's really hard to imagine a situation in which a teacher gives lessons about peace as an alternative to war, and she gets disciplined for it."

The Bloomington, Ind., School District argues that previous courts have ruled teachers have no constitutional right to choose their curriculum and therefore "Ms. Mayer's classroom speech is not constitutionally protected." Mayer and Schultz counter that other court decisions hold that "neither students nor teachers 'shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.'"

In November, Madison had its own debate over the limits of political expression in the classroom. Allis Elementary School canceled a student project to write a series of letters to a variety of recipients urging an end to the war after the grandmother of a student complained. Superintendent Art Rainwater said the assignment violated a School Board policy against using students in any political activity.

John Matthews, president of Madison Teachers Inc., said the district's collective bargaining agreement advises teachers to present controversial topics "only after careful study and planning" and to confer with the principal if there's any doubt. Teachers also are advised to withhold expressing their personal opinions unless responding to a direct question.

"We've had zero problems if people follow this," Matthews said.

The statewide teachers union also gets very few inquiries from educators who feel their free-speech rights have been violated, said Bruce Meredith, general counsel for the Wisconsin Education Association Council.

Meredith said in most Wisconsin cases, disputes about what teachers can say in the classroom are worked out informally on the local level. Most teachers use common sense in determining what they should say to students and "most school districts, to use a phrase, don't want to make a federal case of it," he said.

"Most teachers are pretty sensitive to their audience, and most school boards are sensitive to their teachers' First-Amendment rights," Meredith said. "If you're teaching a social- studies class, obviously you've got more leeway talking about the Iraq war than if you're teaching a biology class."

Mayer said her experience has turned her, for the first time in her life, into a peace activist. Mayer moved to Vermont for a time in 2004 to work for Howard Dean, the anti-war Democratic presidential candidate. When Dean was knocked out of the race, she joined the John Kerry campaign in Madison.

This summer, Mayer camped with Cindy Sheehan in Crawford, Texas, outside President Bush's ranch. And in September, she joined thousands of anti-war protesters at a march in Washington, D.C. She now heads a fledgling Madison-based group called Share the Sacrifice to help returning war veterans and to advocate for peace.

Mayer hopes her lawsuit will at least recoup the $60,000 she's spent in legal fees fighting the black mark on her teaching career. And she hopes it will make it safer for teachers to talk about the important issues of the day.

Said Mayer: "I had $90,000 in the bank. I had a home. I had health insurance. I had all of that. And now that's all gone - and all because I made one simple statement. It turned my life upside down."
During World War II, which was America's last declared war, folks on the homefront were often reminded that "A slip of the lip could sink a ship."

It may very well be that during this very different conflict that a "slip of the lip" can cost one his or her job.

Be that as it may, this particular incident is so full of charges and counter-charges that it would be difficult to make an educated guess about what the facts are until after the legal proceedings have concluded.

If what the district says is true, (that Mayer refused to cease classroom discussions about the war after being directed to do so) then the district would likely have a legally-sound case for terminating her employement due to insubordination.

Most collective bargaining agreements indicate that teachers must comply with their supervisors directives pending the outcome of grievances or other appeals. This might explain why her union doesn't seem to eager to rush to Mayer's defense.

Whatever the facts are, this incident does provoke some interesting questions:
What, if any, limits should be placed on teachers when discussing current events with their students?

Should a district be able to dismiss a teacher for the expression of political opinions in the classroom assuming that those discussions do not violate the law?
Food for thought.
Submissions for The Carnival Of Education are due by 9:00 PM (Eastern) tonight. Get entry instructions here. See our latest posts, over there.

The School Of Optimal Use

Here's a contradiction: Many school buildings in the Washington area are under-utilized (or not used at all) and yet the city's public charter schools are left scrambling for space due to overwhelming demand from parents to enroll their children in these schools.

School officials seem amicable to the idea of turning over surplus property to the public charters.

However, disgraced ex-mayor,
convicted crack cocaine user, admitted tax-evader, and jailbird current D.C. Council member Marion Barry has other ideas for some of that surplus school property:
In Ward 8, for example, some community activists and council member Marion Barry (D-Ward 8) want to see the Old Congress Heights School become a community and senior center. Barry has introduced legislation saying that "economic and other policy factors'' should be taken into account in deciding the future use of the building. There will be a hearing on Barry's legislation Thursday.
Luckily for the children of our Nation's Capital (and unfortunately for Mr. Barry) current guidelines give charter schools priority for the use of "surplus" school property. I can certainly understand the need for a "community and senior center," but those nebulous "economic and other policy factors" should not be placed ahead of our kids' education.
Submissions for The Carnival Of Education are due by 9:00 PM (Eastern) tonight. Get entry instructions here. See our latest posts, over there.

How About A Side Order Of Mandarin With That English?

Considering that many schools are cutting-back or even eliminating elective classes, here's some news out of the heartland that we really like:
A suburban Kansas City-area school district plans to add Chinese to its curriculum next year, making it the third area school system to teach the language.

"We just can't ignore the whole area (East Asia) anymore," said Dan Lumley, director of curriculum and instruction for the Lee's Summit School District. "It's just unfair to the kids."

On the Kansas side of the Kansas City area, the Shawnee Mission and Olathe districts teach the language. According to the education departments in Kansas and Missouri, the only other district to teach Chinese in those states is St. Louis' public schools.

The Kansas Consortium for Teaching About Asia at the University of Kansas is promoting Chinese instruction in Kansas City-area schools. It is arranging for Chinese exchange teachers for the Lee's Summit and Shawnee Mission districts.

The Shawnee Mission teacher, Hongli Wang, has been there since September, and the Lee's Summit's teacher is expected to be there in January.

Tanya Low, who has taught Chinese in the Shawnee Mission district for about 12 years, said Wang is a big help.

"I can get their attention and get them focused," Low said of her students. "I cannot give them authenticity."

Lumley said that without the exchange teacher, the Lee's Summit district couldn't add the Chinese class.

District officials said the course has generated a lot of interest and could serve 150 students. Shawnee Mission has 23 students, Olathe has five and St. Louis has 122.

Those who believe teaching Chinese is important point out that trade between the U.S. and China is growing. U.S. trade with China exceeded $230 billion last year, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, trailing only Canada and Mexico.

It's difficult to learn. To read Chinese, one must know thousands of characters, because the language does not have an alphabet. And when speaking Chinese, tone can determine meaning. For example, "ask" and "kiss" are pronounced the same in Chinese but are differentiated by tones.
We get excited whenever we learn of a school system expanding its foreign language offerings. The ability to speak another language is one of the most marketable skills that a student can learn in school.

Because Chinese is such a difficult language to learn, I just wish that instruction would begin in the elementary grades.

When it comes to learning another language, sooner is much better than later.
Submissions for The Carnival Of Education are due by 9:00 PM (Eastern) tonight. Get entry instructions here. See our latest posts, over there.

Carnival Entries Are Due!

Entries for the 47th edition of The Carnival Of Education are due TONIGHT. We should receive them no later than 9:00 PM. (Eastern). Please note the time change. Send all submissions to owlshome [at] earthlink [dot] net. Include the title of your site's post, and URL if possible. View last week's edition, guest hosted over at Circadiana, right here and the complete Carnival archives over there.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, the carnival's midway should open here at the 'Wonks Wednesday morning.

Monday, December 26, 2005

The Disappearing Middle School

Earlier, we reported that it seems as though many public school systems are giving serious consideration to phasing-out their middle schools and returning to a traditional two-school configuration. Louisiana's state superintendent of education is the latest policy-maker to consider this fundamental change:
Some middle schools in the state appear to be their own worst enemies and possibly should be phased out, says Superintendent of Education Cecil Picard.

Picard said national studies and results in New Orleans show that having schools with students from kindergarten through eighth grade, instead of middle schools for grades six, seven and eight, produces a better atmosphere for learning and eases tension among the older students.

"I'm not saying getting rid of middle schools is for everybody," Picard said. "But there's enough evidence, particularly in urban areas, that it works."

He said he would not push school systems to do it, but will ask urban school districts about trying it.

Studies found academic performance improved among students in their early teens after Minneapolis, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Memphis, Tenn., shifted many middle schools to K-8 schools. The idea worked so well that by 2008, Philadelphia will drop the number of middle schools from 42 to eight.

Picard said he was doubtful of the studies, but he found that when former Orleans Parish Superintendent of Schools Tony Amato created "renaissance schools" with K-8 classes, it worked.

"After years of New Orleans' eighth-graders being among the worst in the state accountability testing, for the first time, New Orleans students started going up," Picard said.

Middle schools are "the Bermuda triangle of education," he said, because "something dramatic happens after elementary school. Students' social and academic behaviors start to fail."

Louisiana school systems have made great strides in improving elementary schools. The focus of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education is redesigning high schools to better prepare students for college or the workforce.

"We need to focus on the wonder years," Picard said. Many students who have done well in elementary school "lose their way, academically and socially, when they hit middle school. By the end of the eighth grade, many never recover and drop out of school or continue to sink in high school."

A new certification program for middle school teachers is designed to help them better handle that situation.

"It's a very trying time," Picard said. "Hormones are flying all over the place. There is a lot of peer pressure. They feed on each other."
I would be curious to know if under these "new traditional" configurations students in the upper elementary grades of 6, 7, and 8 change classrooms/teachers for different core subjects (as is the case in most middle/junior high schools) or spend the entire school day with one teacher, as is the case on some campuses here in California's "Imperial" Valley.
See our latest posts right here.

A Life-Saving Idea From Some Maryland Parents

This sure sounds like a fantastic idea to me:
The parents of a Silver Spring teen who died of a heart condition are launching a campaign to put defibrillators in all Montgomery County public schools.

Rita and Richard Helgeson are joining a growing number of parents across the country who want to encourage local officials to make the machines available at schools.

Some medical experts say defibrillators can save people in cardiac arrest with a jolt of electricity that can restore a person's heartbeat to its normal rhythm. The portable machines cost $1,800 to $2,000. They are becoming increasingly common in such public areas as malls and health clubs.

Andrew Helgeson, 18, was not at school when he died. Still, his parents think the machines could help prevent deaths on school campuses. The American Heart Association estimates that the devices could prevent at least 20,000 deaths each year.

Rita Helgeson said the Gregory W. Moyer Defibrillator Fund, named for a student athlete from Pennsylvania who died at school of sudden cardiac arrest, has promised to donate a machine to Montgomery Blair High School, where Andrew attended.

"This has been a very important issue for us," she told The Washington Post. "Andrew would not have wanted another child to die of sudden cardiac death."

Montgomery school officials said they have no plans to place defibrillators in schools. Brian Edwards, a schools spokesman, said officials are concerned about the cost and liability. But he said Montgomery County Fire and Rescue officials are working with a panel to examine whether the machines should be placed in public facilities.

The Helgesons are determined.

"We need to have them there. (Sudden cardiac death) can happen at school or on the field," Richard Helgeson said.

Sandy Canfield agrees. The Burke mother of three led a similar campaign in Fairfax County after her 15-year-old daughter, Danica, died after going into cardiac arrest during crew practice at Robinson Secondary School in 2002. The campus had a defibrillator on site, but apparently no one at the school was aware of it, Canfield said.

"It's like having fire extinguishers," she said. "They're there, and you hope you never need to use them."
As is all too often the case with ideas generated outside of the EduCracy, this idea is meeting with EduCratic resistance not because it isn't good for kids or staff, but because of its relatively modest cost and issues of "liability."

In response to the concerns raised by district spokesman Edwards, couldn't several people at each school be trained to use this life-saving technology? And while we're on this subject, many schools such as ours in California's "Imperial" Valley have no school nurse on site. Wouldn't it be a good idea for each school have at least two individuals on site with the most current Red Cross First Aid training? This training isn't all that expensive and it could very well save the life of a student or adult.

Ed's Note to the
folks in the administrative suites of Montgomery County Public Schools: Passing the buck to your county's Fire and Rescue folks doesn't address this potentially life and death issue. Wouldn't a better response to the parents' suggestion have been, "That's an interesting idea. We'll put the question to the governing board and see what they think at their very next meeting."

Just a suggestion from a lowly classroom teacher.
See our latest posts right here.

The Watcher's Council Has Spoken!

Each and every week, Watcher of Weasels sponsors a contest among posts from the Conservative side of the 'Sphere. The winning entries are determined by a jury of 12 writers (and The Watcher) known as "The Watchers Council."

The Council has met and cast their ballots for last week's submitted posts.

Council Member Entries: Dr. Sanity received the most votes from among fellow Council Members with her entry, The Idiot's Guide To Victimhood -- Getting It and Keeping It.

Non-Council Entries: The Volokh Conspiracy was the winner in the non-council category with their entry, Legal Analysis of the NSA Domestic Surveillance Program

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Shenanigans Alleged In California's Education Lottery

How's this for Christmas irony? California's state lottery, one-third of the proceeds of which are to go for education, has now become embroiled in a court case that threatens to substantially reduce this vital source of funding:
Everyone from educators to gamblers are concerned about the Mega Millions court battle involving the $3 billion-a-year lottery operation, which gives a third of sales to schools under the voter-approved Lottery Act of 1984.

A judge's decision early next year may end California's participation in the multistate game with jackpots that can climb into the hundreds of millions.

Reports by the Oakland Tribune led to the suit — filed by an anti-gambling-expansion group seeking to maintain the lottery's integrity — and brought to light a string of other developments.

Democratic lawmakers and other critics say the lottery went rogue, racing ahead with the new lotto despite lawmakers' pleas and a formal Legislative Counsel's Office warning that the Lottery Act requires games be operated within California.

Drawings for the 12-state Mega Millions game are held in Georgia.

Then in a development condemned by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's administration, the lottery admitted to undercover spying on its court opponents during a news conference.

Policy-setting lottery commissioners, appointed by Schwarzenegger, were grilled by lawmakers but cited an informal agreement on Mega Millions from the state Attorney General's Office and were confirmed.

Among the highest profile repercussions, so far, have been the departure of two top lottery officials.

Earlier this month, attorneys arguing on behalf of continuing Mega Millions were heavily grilled by a Sacramento Superior Court judge, who will rule early next year.

"The lottery is an out-of-control state agency that believes it is answerable to no one," said Woodland Hills attorney Nick Roxborough, who is representing Californians Against Gambling Expansion.

But state attorneys say the lottery was set up purposely like a business, the state's only money-making enterprise, to launch endeavors such as Mega Millions.

With the lottery and its integrity under a shadow, some players are leery.

"I'm not going to play the game," said Mark Carlson, emerging from a busy lottery sales outlet near the Capitol.

Other players just want to keep buying pieces of dreams at a $1 a throw, despite odds of one in 175 million.
As a classroom teacher in California, I can affirm that whenever funding is reduced, those cuts directly affect children in the classroom in the form of teacher layoffs, larger class sizes, and the elimination of educational programs such as art and music. (Even though we have about the same number of students, our junior high lost both its art and shop teachers this year due to layoffs; our librarian, school nurse, and home economics positions were eliminated some years ago.)

In my 14 years of service, I've never yet to see a single one of California's hordes of district, county, or state EduCrats actually lose his or her paycheck due to a reduction in funding. Oh, I'll grant that sometimes they'll shift around the "Organization Chart" a bit and announce some changes in job titles and responsibilities, but none are actually put on the streets or back in the classroom.

To the contrary, the number of EduCrats gets bigger each and every year, at least that's what we've observed down in California's "Imperial" Valley while the number of students served remains about the same.

Sadly, at least in California, it's the kids and their teachers who are always made to shoulder the burden of funding cuts, never the EduCrats who earn receive the high salaries, often with plush offices and secretarial staff.
See our latest posts right here.

Christmas Day 2005

Since I was a very young KidWonk, one of my favorite all-time cartoons has been A Charlie Brown Christmas. I've always been particularly moved by this scene: (from the script, with stage directions)


CHARLIE BROWN: I guess I really don't know what Christmas is all about.
SHOUTS: Isn't there anybody who knows what Christmas is all about?

LINUS: Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.


LINUS: Lights please.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord.

And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
LIGHTS COME BACK UP AS LINUS WALKS BACK - Linus then says, "That's what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown."

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah from the Wonk family.
See our latest posts right here.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

South Florida Shut Down

There is now one less fly-by-night high school diploma mill selling fake diplomas to academically less-than-gifted athletes in South Florida:
University High School, a correspondence school in Miami being investigated for giving fast, high grades to qualify high school athletes for college scholarships, is going out of business Dec. 31, its founder, Stanley J. Simmons, said yesterday.

"It's a disaster," Simmons, 75, said in a telephone interview from his Miami home. "I'm finishing up everything, and I'm going back into retirement."

The National Collegiate Athletic Association yesterday named 17 people to a panel to study correspondence high schools and other nontraditional routes to college athletic eligibility and scholarships. The move is a response to questions about the legitimacy of the academic credentials of some high school athletes.

University High School offered degrees for $399 to high school athletes having grade problems, as well as to the older dropouts and the immigrants who were its main clients.

The school had no classes or instructors and operated virtually without supervision. Florida state law prohibits oversight of private schools.

The Miami-Dade state attorney's office was awaiting returns from subpoenas in its investigation of the school over possible fraud, the spokesman Ed Griffith said. It would not know if a crime was committed until it gathered more information, he added.

Elite athletes in Dade County said they received study guides with open-book tests and got quick A's and B's. The N.C.A.A. and college admissions offices accepted those grades.

Twenty-eight high school athletes sent University High School transcripts to the N.C.A.A. eligibility clearinghouse in the past few years, according to a University of Tennessee report. The New York Times identified 14 who had signed with 11 Division I football programs: Auburn, Central Florida, Colorado State, Florida, Florida State, Florida International, Rutgers, South Carolina State, South Florida, Tennessee and Temple.
We had covered a similar story about a similar South Florida "school" called American Academy earlier this month, but this is the first instance that I've heard of one of these diploma mills actually slithering out of town closing shop.

About time.
See our latest posts right here.

From Our EduCracy Run Amok Files

This has to be the single worst instance of EduCracy run amok that I've ever encountered.

Sadly, when one enters the Realm Of Public Education, one is often forced to leave common sense at the border.

Another Of Santa's Little Helpers

I've said it before and I'll say it again: I've always believed in Santa Claus and I guess I always will.

That's why
this latest story about a first grade substitute teacher (this time in Pennsylvania) telling her students that there is no Santa Claus disappointed me:
Theresa Farrisi stood in for Schaeffer’s regular music teacher one day last week. One of her assignments was to read Clement C. Moore’s famous poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” to a first-grade class at Lickdale Elementary School.

“The poem has great literary value, but it goes against my conscience to teach something which I know to be false to children, who are impressionable,” said Farrisi, 43, of Myerstown. “It’s a story. I taught it as a story. There’s no real person called Santa Claus living at the North Pole.”

Farrisi doesn’t believe in Santa Claus, and she doesn’t think anyone else should, either. She made her feelings clear to the classroom full of 6- and 7-year-olds, some of whom went home crying.
If the lesson plan assigned by the regular teacher was this disagreeable to the substitute, perhaps she should have asked an administrator to read the poem to the class or even declined the assignment.

This incident is
very similar to one that occurred a few days ago to another substitute first grade teacher, that time down in Texas.

In spite of these two doubters, my belief in the jolly old elf remains unshaken.
See our latest posts right here.

Friday, December 23, 2005

"Show-Me State" Education: Of Thistles And Kilts

School administrators take note: See what happens when a minor dress code concern at a Missouri high school gets way out of hand?

Heh. Of course it didn't help matters when the school's principal said that the young man wearing the kilt to the school dance looked like a "clown."

And now the Whole Thing has become an international incident.

Dissect This!

I remember when I was a young StudentWonk the mixture of dread and excitement that we experienced when we dissected worms and frogs in our junior high school science class.

But I would imagine that the interest level was particularly high when about 70 fourth grade students were able to dissect
something a little more unusual:
Their parents may have dissected fetal pigs and frogs, but today's science students get to explore the anatomies of sharks.

That was the case recently at Countryside Elementary School in Byron Center when about 70 fourth-graders, under the direction of retired science teacher Marsha Tester, studied 20-inch dogfish sharks during a special science project.

"I was scared at first," fourth-grader Michelle Catalano said of handling the dead sharks.

"But it's not really scary. It's just really cool."

Michelle said she discovered the sharks have small spikes on the backs of their fins "to protect them from other animals."

Tester, who taught elementary-age students at Kentwood Schools before she retired five years ago, said she frequently heads special science classes throughout the Kentwood school district and sometimes at schools in neighboring districts.

While she said she does not always use sharks in her dissecting classes, Tester said the medium-sized dogfish shark is the right size of specimen for elementary-age students to study.
I just wonder if fourth grade might have been a little young for this, but the kids seemed to have enjoyed the experience.
See our latest posts right here.

Obstructing Progress In The Aloha State

Even though public charter schools are doing well in Hawaii, a state commission is reluctant to allow more charter schools to be created:
A task force that examined changes to the state's charter schools will not recommend lifting a cap on new startups, a disappointment for Gov. Linda Lingle, who wants the state Legislature to expand the experimental schools and give parents more choices in public education.

State lawmakers created the task force last session after a critical state audit found the charter school law was vague and led to a lack of oversight of the state's 27 charter schools. Charter school enrollment has surged over the past few years, and test scores show students often are doing as well or better than students in traditional public schools, but several of the schools have had management and operational difficulties.

The task force held public meetings statewide and heard strong support for raising the cap from the charter school community. Nine members of the 16-member task force wanted to encourage more new startups, but the task force had decided it would take at least 12 votes to approve a formal recommendation.

"There was a lot of sentiment in the charter school community based on waiting lists and based on the number of parents who want to send their children there," said Jim Shon, the executive director of the state's charter school office, who led the task force. "There is a lot of pressure out there."

There has been some support for lifting the cap from outside the Lingle administration and the charter school community. In October, the Hawai'i State Parent Teacher Student Association, which represents parents, endorsed the idea at its annual legislative meeting. This week, the state's Economic Momentum Commission recommended a pilot program that would allow public schools on military bases to adopt the standard curriculum used at U.S. Department of Defense schools worldwide. The commission suggested the schools could convert to charter schools and that the cap should be raised.
I find it intriguing that despite this groundswell of parent support for charter schools, lawmakers continue to delay or even oppose the types of systemic changes that are necessary in order to satisfy all that pent-up parental demand for additional public school choice.

I wonder what percentage of Hawaii's lawmakers choose to send their own offspring to private schools in order to obtain a great education? Since I believe that the percentage is relatively high, I think that I understand why there may be no sense of urgency in addressing the parents' wishes.

All children should have access to an excellent public school education regardless of family income. An excellent education delayed is an excellent education denied.

Public charter schools ought to play a significant role in progressive educational reform.
See our latest posts right here.

Happy Festivus!

December 23rd is the "traditional" celebration of Festivus. So don't forget to gather 'round those Festivus poles, eat lots of comfort food for dinner, and air those grievances!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

N.E.A. Dues At "Work"

Like almost all public school teachers in California, I'm forced to financially support the National Education Association and the California Teacher's Association.

Neither of which allow the rank-and-file to elect their own leadership or have any say in determining the amount that each teacher must pay in the form of dues and other fees.

Not surprisingly, perhaps, is the fact that much of the money that is forcibly withheld deducted from our paychecks goes to support a legion of highly-paid cronies staff members such as this speechwriter who'll earn between $60,504 and $111,613 per year plus benefits and relocation allowance.

I wonder who you have to know in order to get a ticket to ride this gravy train...

Mortarboard Tip:
See our latest posts right here.

Voting For Uniformity In Arizona

Student uniforms seem to be gaining momentum in one fairly large Arizona school district:
Uniforms are spreading in Mesa Public Schools.

Lowell Elementary, 920 E. Broadway Road, is set to become the district's fifth elementary school with a uniform dress code for students beginning with the 2006-07 school year.

The district requires a lengthy process for school communities that want uniforms, and Lowell is practically finished with it.

For many schools, the major hurdle is getting a groundswell of parent support. That stumbling block tripped up Lowell's efforts before. Staff members sent nearly 775 surveys to Lowell parents in October, and 724 were returned, said Lowell principal, Sandi Kuhn. Almost 600 parents, 83 percent of those voting, supported the measure.

Mesa Public Schools requires that 80 percent of parents approve a move to uniforms. Twice before, Lowell parents tried unsuccessfully to bring uniformity to student dress at the school. Last year, about 75 percent of the parents supported the idea, Kuhn said.

"We got more surveys back this time, and there's more of a like mind among parents," Kuhn said. "They want uniforms for their children."

So far, all uniform propositions have originated with parents, said Mesa's associate superintendent, Mike Cowan. "If this is something the community wants, we want this to come from the community and not from the district," Cowan said. Principals on campuses with dress codes cite an improved study environment that accompanies uniforms, although there's little evidence that uniforms enhance test scores. Administrators also say uniforms make it easier to distinguish legitimate students from interlopers on campus.

Kuhn said many parents noted the pressure to pay for fashionable non-uniform school clothes when stating a preference for adopting uniforms at Lowell.

Jason Busse acknowledges the security advantages of uniforms but the parent of a Lowell kindergarten student has seen their other side, especially when getting his stepdaughter, Kara, ready for school.

"We had to fight her every morning to get the uniform on her," Busse said of Kara, who started the school year in uniform at Longfellow before transferring to Lowell. "She likes it better without the uniform, because she doesn't have to wear the closed-toed shoes. She likes flip-flops."

If Mesa School Board members approve Lowell's uniform proposal at the Jan. 10 meeting, the daily battles will begin again for the Busses next fall.

The proposed dress code would include khaki pants, shorts or jumpers, and blue or red tops, Kuhn said. Lowell's student council approved the colors at a meeting last month, but the credit for bringing uniforms to Lowell rests with the parents, Kuhn said.

"The only reason we talked about uniforms was because the parents brought it to the (School Improvement Advisory Council)," she said. "We've done it a couple of times over the last couple of years, and it's been brought by the parents every single time."
Students have been wearing uniforms at our junior high in California's "Imperial" Valley for some 7 years. Among the many positive benefits that we've found with uniforms was an immediate and permanent reduction in on-campus gang activity as well as an overall improvement in student behavior.

In the case of our 11 campus elementary district, the superintendent, Dr. Evil and most school principals (including ours) were dead-set against the idea of school uniforms. What happened was a large group of parents went around the district's administrative apparatus and applied pressure directly to the board, which finally agreed to allow parents to vote for or against uniforms during parent conference week.

To the surprise of nearly everyone, (including the governing board) the parents voted 94% in favor. The board quickly adopted student uniforms with "opt-out" provisions as required by state law.

Those who were opposed to the uniforms were mostly well-to-do, a few of which went ahead and "opted-out" their children from wearing uniforms.
See our latest posts right here.