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Education News

The news from all over.

January 2009

The five states with the best public schools, tough budget decisions, and what kids are learning from Facebook.

Yes, We Can!
We live in interesting times. on January 20, Barack Obama becomes the first African-American U.S. President—a historical moment some thought we would never see in our lifetime.

We’re also witnessing a less welcome piece of history: the worst economy since the Great Depression.

But in crisis lies opportunity. In a weekly radio address last month, Obama announced the first details of his economic stimulus package, which he called the largest investment in public works since the 1950s. And it contains good news for the nation’s schools: A key piece of the package will be “the most sweeping effort to modernize and upgrade school buildings that this country has ever seen,” which will include infrastructure repairs, energy upgrades, and investment in new technology.

Although Obama gave no estimate of the cost, experts say it will easily reach the hundreds of billions. Such spending will require massive political support. A recent CNN poll gave the President-elect a nearly 80 percent approval rating. A hopeful sign, perhaps, that the famously fractured American electorate is rallying. Interesting times indeed.


Cutting back...

The recession did not become official until this December, but an AASA survey shows that by September, school superintendents across the nation had already responded to the economic pinch and were bracing for worse to come.
Sixty-seven percent of the 836 superintendents AASA polled lacked adequate funding. Most had enacted simple cost-saving measures, such as lowering thermostats, and were considering more painful cuts, including cutting back on staff and after-school programs. Just two percent reported a budget surplus.
More than 90 percent of respondents in underfunded districts reported an increase in unemployment and mortgage foreclosures in their local community, and 72 percent had seen a rise in homeless families.
While the benchmark findings cannot predict future trends, responses suggest that a prolonged recession will threaten not just gains in student achievement but even schools’ ability to provide essential services. Many districts are trying to get ahead of events by mobilizing community support now for the rough weather ahead.
Let There Be Play
A majority of Americans say, "Hands off recess"

Schools are putting the squeeze on recess, but according to the numbers, parents don’t want anyone playing around with this childhood institution.

A survey released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation shows that 70 percent of adults oppose curtailing recess, whether for budgetary, safety, or academic reasons. According to the foundation’s research, 36 percent of children do not meet doctors’ recommendation for physical activity, and nearly 90 percent of parents say that it’s the schools’ responsibility to see that they do. Preserving recess, which represents about half of kids’ opportunity for exercise during the school year, is key to achieving this aim.

But recess is about more than just physical health. A solid 85 percent of Americans believe that play itself is an important part of childhood. Nine out of 10 believe that recess helps children stay focused in the classroom and that it is an important part of their social development.

Two thirds also think that recess is a well-deserved a break for teachers.


Research Roundup

Nearly nine out of 10 gay students were harassed last year at school. The finding comes from a survey of more than 6,000 middle and high school students conducted by the Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Network . Twenty-two percent were physically assaulted, and one third missed a day of school in the past month because of feeling unsafe (compared to a 4.5 percent average for all students). Schools with support systems such as positive staff members, a safe school policy, or a Gay-Straight Alliance reported fewer incidents. While one third of respondents attend a school with a Gay-Straight Alliance, only one fifth have a comprehensive safe school policy.

68 percent of students admit to cheating in the past year
, according to a survey of nearly 30,000 high school students by the Josephson Institute, a nonprofit center that studies ethics. Ninety-three percent of respondents say they are satisfied with their ethics, and 77 percent believe they behave more ethically than their peers. Read more

81 percent of all e-mail is spam, according to the annual security report from MessageLabs . The good news for IT officers is that’s lower than last year’s figure of 85 percent. The bad news is that spammers have found a way to hijack reputable e-mail services. Another alarming trend is the distribution of malware over social networking sites. Just when schools were learning to make peace with Facebook, too.

15 percent of teacher absences are “personal days,”
says analysis from the Center for American Progress, making it the leading cause of teacher absence, after short- and medium-term personal illness (59 percent). While many solutions focus on changing teacher behavior through financial carrots and sticks, another route may be to make teachers’ schedules more flexible, as in other professions, to make taking a personal day less attractive.

Quick STATS: Teen Smoking in Decline
The latest numbers show that teen smoking declined last year.
This continues a decade-long decline that followed a spike in the mid-90’s.
1999- 64.9%
2002- 57.2%
2005- 50%
2008- 44.7%
Across the Nation

Rebooting School Finance
A scathing analysis of the way states and local school districts allocate money charges that public school finance is an outmoded and topsy-turvey system that places the convenience of adults over the educational needs of students. Funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the six-year study released by the Center on Reinventing Public Education urges a fundamental overhall. Among the recommendations: Fund according to student counts, with weight given to the neediest, and base accountability on student results rather than bureaucratic compliance. You can download Facing the Future.

After-School Programs Cut
Boys & Girls Clubs across South Carolina are scaling back after-school programs and even closing some altogether due to a dwindling supply of government funding and private donations. According to USA Today, after-school programs nationwide are in jeopardy, particulalry in rural areas. This comes at a time when parents especially need affordable childcare, and it will pressure cash-strapped schools to keep their existing progams running.

Books Before Football
East Side Union High School District superintendent Bob Nuñez has proposed eliminating all athletic programs at his 11 schools in order to balance the northern California district’s shakey ledger. “I didn’t do this for shock value,” Nuñez told The San Jose Mercury News. “I did it because I need to look at the academic programs we wouldn’t have if we keep sports.” The cut in sports will represent $2.1 million of a total $11.4 million in spending cuts the district must make. P.E. classes will not be eliminated.

It Pays to Check Your Work
About a quarter of E-rate funds committed to schools every year goes unused, according to a report from Funds for Learning, a consulting firm for E-rate applicants. That amounts to tens, and sometimes hundreds, of millions of dollars annually that are lost to poor scheduling, misestimated need or vendor pricing, and other technicalities.


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