Ohio to Apply for Waiver From No Child Left Behind

I recently blogged regarding the announcement that half of the nation’s public schools failed to meet No Child Left Behind progress goals, which has added incentive for U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan and others to give waivers to states allowing them to change the standards for “adequate yearly progress” in schools. One such state which plans to apply for a waiver happens to be my own home state of Ohio.

Ohio public schools did better than the nation, with 60 percent meeting federal goals during the last school year, but half of its districts failed to meet these goals.

Under current NCLB policy, all public school students are to be proficient in math and reading by 2014. To guarantee that this occurs, the federal government required states to set “adequate yearly progress” goals. Each year or every few years, these goals must be raised. Due to this practice, most states now require approximately 90 percent or more of their students to pass the state tests.

Since Ohio and Kentucky recently adopted demanding math and reading curricula and are also developing new, college-preparatory tests for students, Duncan has argued that this high bar penalizes states like these.

How bad is the problem in Ohio? Well, in the Cincinnati area, 45 percent of its public schools failed federal annual academic progress goals. The largest district, Cincinnati Public, had 67 percent of its schools fail, and the second largest, Lakota, had 9 out of 20 of its schools fail. Winton Woods had all six schools fail.

So what is the common problem within these schools? Steve Denny, the executive director of accountability for Winton Woods, says it is the schools’ diversity; he says that the more diverse the school is, the harder it is to meet federal requirements. Which makes a lot of sense.

Here’s how it works: for a school to meet federal standards, each demographic student group, or subgroup, must pass the tests. Subgroups are based on several factors including ethnicity, poverty, disability, and limited-English-speaking level of students. Schools that don’t have many of these students have few federal progress goals to meet. But, according to Denny, it only takes a few students in a subgroup to fail for the school and district to fail as well.

Janet Walsh, the district spokesperson for Cincinnati Public, explained that in the 39 schools in the district which failed to meet federal goals, learning disabilities were a factor. She went on to explain that about 5 percent of the students in the district are unable to take the regular state tests due to severe disabilities. Yet, Ohio only allows these schools to give alternative tests to one percent of its students. This means that the other four percent fail the tests.

Jeanine Molock, director of accountability at the Ohio Department of Education said, “Ohio is in a better position than most states. Our story wasn’t as dramatic as most states were reporting.” She explained that part of the reason for this is the fact that Ohio allows its schools to meet federal standards four different ways, which exceeds the chances which other states have.

First, there is the traditional way: if the required numbers of students pass their state tests, as in other states, Ohio schools can meet federal goals. However, if an Ohio school fails that, it can still pass if one of the following goals is met:

• its two-year average for passing grades meets the federal standard,
• or enough students are on a trajectory to pass tests within two years,
• or the percent of students failing declines by 10 percent from the prior year.

But, Molock said that, in spite of this flexibility, Ohio will seek a waiver from federal progress restrictions by February. Those of us who are Ohio teachers will be watching to see if our state gets a waiver, and if so, what exactly that waiver means for our schools.

Rules to Limit How Teachers and Students Interact Online

Teachers throughout our nation are paying the price for a minority of teachers who have misused social media with their students, and that price has been the imposition of stricter guidelines that ban private conversations between teachers and students on cell phones and online social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Not surprisingly, these guidelines are being met with resistance by many teachers who use this type of technology as teaching tools or to engage with their students.

Missouri’s new law, which imposed a ban on electronic communication between teachers and students, was declared unconstitutional by a judge after the state teachers union claimed it restricted teachers’ free speech. The law was revamped this fall, and the ban was dropped. However, school boards in the state were told to develop their own social media policies by March 1.

Missouri isn’t alone in trying to develop an appropriate policy. Even though school administrators acknowledge that most teachers use social media appropriately, school boards in California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, New Jersey, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia have updated or are revising their social media policies this fall because they feel that there are increasingly compelling reasons to limit teacher-student contact.

Charol Shakeshaft, chairwoman of the Department of Educational Leadership at Virginia Commonwealth University, has studied teacher sexual misconduct for 15 years. Based on her studies, she said of electronic communication, “My concern is that it makes it very easy for teachers to form intimate and boundary-crossing relationships with students. I am all for using this technology. Some school districts have tried to ban it entirely. I am against that. But I think there’s a middle ground that would allow teachers to take advantage of the electronic technology and keep kids safe.”

 The superintendent of schools in Statesboro, Georgia, Lewis Holloway, instituted a new policy in the fall which prohibits private electronic communications. Why? He learned that a Bulloch County, Georgia teacher was arrested this past summer, charged with aggravated child molestation and statutory rape of her 14-year-old male student. And reports of the incident indicated that Facebook and text messages had helped her cultivate the relationship.

Holloway, who has been a school administrator for 38 years, said, “It can start out innocent and get more and more in depth quickly. Our students are vulnerable through new means, and we’ve got to find new ways to protect them.”

But it isn’t only sexual misconduct that concerns school administrators; they fear that teachers may reveal too much information on sites like Facebook about their private lives. In Muskegon, Michigan, a new policy was adopted last month which states that public school employees can face disciplinary charges if they post pictures of themselves using alcohol or drugs on their social media sites.

Jon Felske, superintendent of Muskegon’s public schools, explained, “We wanted to have a policy that encourages interaction between our students and parents and teachers. That is how children learn today and interact. But we want to do it with the caveat: keep work work — and keep private your personal life.”

Richard J. Condon, special commissioner of investigation for New York City schools pointed to a steady increase in the number of complaints reported involving inappropriate communications on just Facebook alone in the last few years. Only eight complaints were lodged from September 2008 through October 2009, compared to 85 complaints from October 2010 through September 2011.

Yet, educators worry that an effective way of engaging students who use social media to communicate will be removed if policies regarding the proper use of technology become too restrictive.

Jennifer Pust is the head of the English department at Santa Monica High School, where a strict no fraternization policy governs teachers’ online and offline relationships with their students. She said, “I think the reason why I use social media is the same reason everyone else uses it: it works. I am glad that it is not more restrictive. I understand we need to keep kids safe. I think that we would do more good keeping kids safe by teaching them how to use these tools and navigate this online world rather than locking it down and pretending that it is not in our realm.”

A teacher of English for 10 years at Grosse Point High School in Michigan, Nicholas Provenzano, expressed his frustration that “all of us using social media in a positive way with kids have to take 15 steps back whenever there is an incident.” But, he believes that the benefits outweigh the problems, and he communicates regularly with his students, mostly through Twitter, where he responds to their questions regarding his assignments. He admitted that on some occasions he has exchanged private messages with students regarding an assignment or school-related task.

He enumerated several advantages to using social media with his students. He is able to model best practices on social media use and has been able to engage some students through Twitter who do not raise their hand in class. Additionally, he said that using social media networks allowed him to collaborate on projects in other parts of the country.

Yet, in spite of the positive aspects of social media use in and out of the classroom by teachers, some teachers still favor a sharper barrier. For example, in Dayton, Ohio, the school board imposed a social media policy this fall which limits teachers to public exchanges only on school-run networks, and David A. Romick, president of their teachers union, welcomed the rules, saying, “I see it as protecting teachers. For a relationship to start with friending or texting seems to be heading down the wrong path professionally.”

Survey Shows Teachers See Curriculum Narrowing

Education Week reported on a national survey commissioned by Common Core, a Washington-based research and advocacy group which has voiced concern for some time over the impact of No Child Left Behind on our schools’ curriculum. The results of the survey, which were released on December 8, are not all that surprising, but it is interesting, nonetheless, to hear what other teachers are feeling across the nation.

Not surprisingly, most of the random sampling of educators who were surveyed said they felt that the high-stakes testing in math and English/language arts is pushing out other important subjects from classroom instruction. In fact, about two-thirds of the 1,001 public school teachers who were surveyed specifically indicated that such subjects as art, social studies, and science are getting less instructional time than math and English/language arts.

Ninety-three percent of those surveyed said the crowding out of other subjects is due, to a large extent on the state tests. In fact, 60 percent felt that in recent years their school has devoted more time to teaching test-taking skills. And 77 percent of them felt that the extra time devoted to English and math affects all students, not just struggling students.

Lynn Munson, president and executive director of Common Core stated in a press release, “During the past decade, our public schools have focused—almost exclusively—on reading and math instruction” in an effort to make “adequate yearly progress” under No Child Left Behind. She noted that even though the federal law “clearly identifies our ‘core curriculum’ as reading, math, science, social studies, and even the arts,” many of these subjects have been “abandoned.” She concluded, “As a result, we are denying our students the complete education they deserve and the law demands.”

Interestingly however, 46 percent felt that the additional time given to English and math have improved students’ “skill and knowledge” in one or both subjects. Thirty-two percent disagreed with that statement and 22 percent were unsure.

In the survey, teachers were asked to identify which subjects they felt were specifically getting less attention. The following indicates the percent of teachers surveyed who felt the following subjects were getting less time:

• Art: 51 percent say it gets less time.
• Music: 48 percent
• Foreign languages: 40 percent
• Social studies: 36 percent
• Physical education: 33 percent
• Science: 27 percent

Other random but interesting facts include the response by 24 percent who felt that science was getting more instructional time, which is far more than any other subject besides English and math. And, oddly, 10 percent of educators surveyed thought math was taking a hit and 12 percent said English/language arts were getting less time. Go figure.

I strongly suggest that you follow this link to see the whole survey. There are some rather interesting responses regarding what the typical elementary school student, middle school student, and high school student will have done before moving on from that level of their education. I think you will find the responses very interesting.

NCLB Report:Half of All U.S. Schools Fail Federal Standard

No Child Left Behind

Okay, so the news came out regarding how public schools measure up using the No Child Left Behind standards and, as expected, it isn’t pretty! In a recent report from the Associated Press, nearly half of America’s public schools failed to meet federal achievement standards this year. This marks the largest failure rate since NCLB took effect ten years ago, according to this report which was released Thursday.

The Center on Education Policy report revealed that over 43,000 schools (48 percent) did not make “average yearly progress” this year, with the lowest failure range of 11 percent in Wisconsin to the highest failure rate of 89 percent in Florida.

Earlier this year, Education Secretary Arne Duncan predicted that 82 percent of our nation’s schools would not pass muster, so maybe we should be relieved that the statistics are actually lower than his prediction. Regardless, it all reinforces the simple fact that the 2014 goal that requires states to have every student performing at grade level in math and reading is impossible to achieve. (Of course, educators have been trying to say this since the passage of NCLB, but what do we know?)

In his statement Wednesday, Duncan said, “Whether it’s 50 percent, 80 percent or 100 percent of schools being incorrectly labeled as failing, one thing is clear: No Child Left Behind is broken. That’s why we’re moving forward with giving states flexibility from the law in exchange for reforms that protect children and drive student success.”

The report also revealed huge variations in state’s scores which can be explained by a variety of factors. Some of these include the fact that some state’s tests are more difficult, and some states have higher numbers of low-income and immigrant children. Additionally, NCLB mandates that states must raise the passage rate each year, and some states put off the largest increase until this year in hopes of avoiding sanctions.

Jack Jennings, president of the Washington D.C-based Center on Education Policy said that the law, which should have been rewritten four years ago, is “too crude a measure” to give a clear picture of what is happening in schools. However, due to the bipartisan atmosphere in Congress, lawmakers seem unable to agree on how to fix it.

He told The Associated Press, “No Child Left Behind is defective. It needs to be changed. If Congress can’t do it, then the administration is right to move ahead with waivers.”

Recently, President Obama and Arne Duncan have agreed to allow states to file for waivers allowing them to use a variety of additional factors to determine whether they are successful and also to choose how their schools will be punished if they don’t show improvement. Some of these other factors include using college-entrance exam scores and adding the performance of students on their Advanced Placement tests.

With at least 39 states and Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico planning to file waivers, Republicans in Congress are accusing Duncan and the president of using waivers to push a “backdoor education agenda” that will let schools off the hook at the end of the day.

Owen Rust, a Yahoo contributor, published a commentary after this news was released which reemphasizes the dangers of allowing the House education committee to rewrite NCLB.

Rust reported that, according to the biographies of the members of this important committee, none have worked as certified teachers in a K-12 classroom. Glen Thompson, Representative from the fifth district of Pennsylvania, has a background in education but worked in health care. Lou Barletta, Representative from Pennsylvania’s 11th district, majored in elementary education before he left school to try out for a Major League baseball team. And Virginia Foxx, Congresswoman from North Carolina’s fifth district, was a full-time educator, but she taught at the college level, which is very different from teaching in K-12 public school systems.

Apparently, several members of the committee also served on their local school boards early in their political careers. That seems to be the sum total of this committee’s educational experience, leaving many to question, as teachers have from the start, just how qualified these politicians are to be formulating educational policies.

While I have no doubt that this committee is comprised of some very intelligent, caring, and successful legislators, the lack of educational background, training, or experience is troublesome, to say the least.

Would you ask educators to devise business policy? Of course not! So how is it that a group of people with no education background have the expertise to dictate what happens in our classrooms and in our schools? Doesn’t anyone else see the absurdity of this situation?

Georgia schools Superintendent John Barge said, “A lot of educators saw the weaknesses in No Child Left Behind even when it was rolled out – that this day and time would come. It’s kind of a train wreck that we all see happening.”

Before we just continue the train wreck, shouldn’t this committee work with real educators to formulate an education policy that is reasonable and doable? Let’s get rid of No Child Left Behind and replace it with a policy that is best for students (and that does not mean judging their proficiency from a standardized test) and best for our public schools.

Imagine Schools That Teach Tolerance

I’m going to ask you to do something that may be very difficult for you, but I think it may be the only way to get some adults out there to open their eyes to a very real dilemma our schools and our young people face daily. So, please trust me and sincerely do what I am asking you to do.

I want you to imagine, for just this space of time, that your child has either admitted to you that they are gay, lesbian, or questioning their sexuality or that you suspect that they are, even though they may not have directly confessed this to you. Forget for now the other emotions that would probably overwhelm you at this news, and focus on the fear; the fear of what such a revelation and its life style will mean to your child due to the intolerance and hatred they will surely face because of who they are. Let that fear settle in for just a moment.

Now imagine sending them to school…

Imagine sending them to a school in Minnesota’s Anoka Hennepin School District, where teachers have been silenced by the district’s Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, or their “neutrality policy” which states that”Anoka Hennepin staff shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation.” Think about the message this policy sends to your child; what they are feeling is so bad that it cannot even be acknowledged, let alone discussed, at school or even privately with their teachers.

And imagine the message it sends to the other students in the district. Connect the dots, just as many of these students will, that, since even the mention of LGBT students is off-limits at school, students like your child should also be off-limits. Feel the intolerance and hatred growing in these students whose minds have been closed off to the possibility that students like your child have not chosen this path but were born as they are. Imagine sending your child into that hostile environment everyday; an environment that should be safe and supportive of all students in attendance. Feel the fear that parents like you must feel every single day as you send your child off to that misguided intolerance and hatred.

Now, let me paint a different picture for you. Imagine sending your gay, lesbian, or sexually questioning child to a school which openly acknowledges the differences in all of us and treats such differences with candor and respectful tolerance. Imagine an environment that does not make your child feel that they are off-limits; rather it draws them in to a community of diversity and celebrates those things that make us all so unique. Imagine your child hearing the simple message that being born gay, lesbian, or transgender was no more their choice than the color of their eyes or the shape of their nose.

Dr. Steve Perry, CNN Education Contributor and founder and principal of the Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut, stated it so succinctly in a recent interview with Dr. Drew when he said, “When we begin to make children feel like there’s something wrong with them, as if they can be deprogrammed for what it is that they’re feeling, then what we make them feel is that they are somehow marginalized. But we also make the other group feel emboldened, and then we pit the two groups against one another. What we have to do as a school is teach that there needs to be a safe space. And as long as your expression of who you are doesn’t impede upon my expression of who I am, then we have ourselves an amazing academic experience.”

Imagine that your child has admitted to you that they are gay, lesbian, or questioning their sexuality, or that you suspect that they are. Feel the fear, and ask yourself honestly, which kind of school would you want to send your child to? Which kind of school is going to treat your child with the respect and tolerance that they deserve? And which kind of school will teach your child and all children to celebrate the diversity they will surely encounter throughout their lives?

If your answer is what I suspect it is, don’t we owe it to all of our children-straight, gay, lesbian, or undecided-to create the kind of schools that Dr. Perry speaks of?

Perry went on to say, “Our job as educators is to tell children that the world is big and beautiful, and that they can embrace diversity and not choose a side, simply because they’re learning about it.”

Imagine that kind of school…

Dad Punches Son After Team Loses Game

There are no words to describe the horrific behavior of a father towards his son at a weekend youth basketball tournament game in Lakeville, Minnesota. And his behavior leaves you wondering what happens to this poor, unfortunate boy in the privacy of his home based upon what this father is willing to do to him in public.

Apparently this past Saturday after Eagan lost their tournament game, 52-year old Steven Wilson walked down a hallway at Lakeville South High, grabbed his eighth-grade son and began punching him in the face, while parents and children watched in horror.

Parents who were close by at the time had to physically intervene before the father would stop beating his son. When the local police arrived at the school, they arrested Wilson, who spent the night in jail before posting $10,000 to get out with no conditions to his release.

Wilson is charged with fifth-degree domestic assault, and a Lakeville prosecutor told FOX 9 News that any time there is a domestic assault charge a no-contact order is typically part of the release agreement. However, at this time, no such order has shown up in Wilson’s file.

Witnesses to this unbelievable event were deeply disturbed by what they saw, and Lakeville Police Chief Tom Vomhoff said that in his 30 years on the force he had never seen anything like it.

Vomhoff told KARE-11, “This assault is an example of particularly disturbing adult behavior on so many levels. Parents attending youth sports events have such a great opportunity to be a positive role model for kids, and that is clearly not what happened here.”

“Occasionally, everyone sees that parent at the sporting events who’s a little too belligerent, verbally abusive a little bit—but for the police to be called to an event related to it is very unusual,” he said.

Parents who attended the game said that they thought Wilson should be banned from future games. “It breaks your heart,” onlooker Tara Falteysek told Fox 9. “I can’t imagine how that young boy feels, that dad would do that to him — and in front of friends.”

Mark Kempton, Lakeville’s eighth-grade coach, said that he hadn’t witnessed the beating but he had heard about it from shocked parents. He also saw Wilson’s son after he was attacked by his father, and said, “I was shaken. It was pretty ugly. I felt terrible for him. It was obvious he took a couple of shots.”

Kempton, who has been a coach for roughly 12 years, added, “Certainly it was disturbing because we’re there for the kids. If this kind of thing happens publicly, you kind of wonder what happens privately.”

And Ken LaChance, President of the Eagen Athletic Association, released this statement on Tuesday:
“If the allegations are true, there is no excuse for the type of behavior displayed by this individual. All participants and families agree to comply to a Code of Conduct prior to the start of their sport season. Clearly, if true, this incident falls well outside of those boundaries and EAA internal disciplinary action will be taken against this individual. EAA is committed to providing a safe and positive environment for our participants and their families.”

In the meantime, this “father” faces a $3,000 fine and up to 90 days in jail and is expected to appear in court next month. It is very likely that he will be found guilty of the charges he faces since he was surrounded by so many witnesses when he decided to beat his son for not leading his team to victory in an oh-so-important-eighth-grade tournament. It is frightening to consider what he would be capable of if his poor son was ever in a truly important athletic competition.

This man needs some serious psychological help; his behavior is clearly unpredictable and violent, and his son seems to be an easy target for his rage. Hopefully the courts will demand some intensive therapy before letting this man have any access to his son any time soon.

The only good news is that the boy did not require medical help, but one has to wonder what this has done to him emotionally and the humiliation he must feel over being treated so horrifically by his father in such a public forum. I hope that there is a mother involved in this boy’s life and that she is getting him the emotional support he needs, as well as protecting him from his father.

Two Great Prep Rally Videos for Your Enjoyment

Two recent high school sports reports on Prep Rally were so darn entertaining that I had to share them with you tonight. I think you will enjoy these if you haven’t seen them yet.

The first report is just awesome! This highlight clip of the Class 2A state title game in Oklahoma shows an amazing moment in the game between Jones High and Hennessey. In the third quarter of the game, Tyler Seabolt caught a 33-yard touchdown pass from the team’s quarterback, Michael Lowe, to tie the game at 7-7.

But that doesn’t tell the whole story. As you can see from the clip, Seabolt immediately took a hit after catching the ball, and then took another hit, slipping out of both potential tackles. Still not safe, he was mobbed yet again, yet somehow miraculously emerged from the whole mess with a touchdown.

Unfortunately, in spite of Seabolt’s miraculous effort, the touchdown was the only score in the game from the Longhorns, making it the final game of the season for this team. Hennessey took the state title for the second time with a 21-7 victory over Jones.

But Prep Rally gives the glory to Seabolt, saying, “Still, the game’s best play definitely belonged to Seabolt, even if he had no business making his way into the end zone in the first place.”

The second story I want to share with you is just a hoot! This one comes to us from Massachusetts, where Prep Rally paid tribute to the “most creative prep hoops fan section in the nation” from Lawrence Central Catholic High.

Before the start of every basketball game, an unnamed student strolls up to the middle of the student section dressed like Moses in his biblical white robe, carrying a broom. “Moses” gets the “Red Sea” fan club (and yes, they are all dressed in red shirts)  waving their hands, as if they are waves in the sea. Then, he slams the broom down and demands that the “Red Sea” parts.

With amazing precision and grace, the “Red Sea” parts perfectly down the middle as the students fall over on their opposite sides, and Moses charges up the now-parted stands victoriously. As if this were not enough, when he arrives at the top of the stands, he turns around and gets the fans cheering “Let’s go, Central!” The crowd erupts with the chant! You’ve got to watch the video, and see this for yourself!

Prep Rally asks the question: “Is the Red Sea really the greatest high school fan group in America?” Well, I don’t know if they are the best, but I feel strongly that these kids definitely know how to fire up the team and have a great time in the process. And I love the fact that it is all taking place in a Catholic high school.

You guys rock, and if I had to vote right now for the greatest fan group, you would have my vote. Thank you for making me smile tonight, and I hope it brought a smile to the rest of you, as well.

Best Practices for Educators on Facebook

I recently spotted a Mashable article which focuses on the five best ways for teachers to use Facebook. With advice from Reynol Junco, a teacher who published a study recently showing that certain kinds of Facebook features used actually correlate with higher GPAs, it seemed to be information worth sharing with teachers out there who are in a quandary over how, or even whether, to use Facebook with their students. And in the wake of Missouri’s law which banned relationships between teachers and students on Facebook and other social media (a law which was eventually repealed) it seemed like a pertinent topic for some further edification.

Junco explained the benefits of Facebook, saying, “Students are already very familiar with the platform and spend a lot of time on the site. Because of this, there is usually a good amount of activity [in class related Facebook discussions] because students receive notifications of new group posts in a timely fashion (something that doesn’t happen with Learning Management Systems).”

So, here is a brief summary of the top five tips from Junco and other teachers to help you use Facebook effectively in your classroom:

Use Facebook With a Focus:

Junco recommends using Facebook in a way that makes sense to students. “Instead of telling your students, ‘Hey, we are going to use Facebook for this course,’ it’s important to frame Facebook use in a way that will make sense. For instance, you could say ‘we are going to use a Facebook group in order to interact with each other, discuss course topics, and share links of interest.”

He recommends that teachers make certain that class participation on the social network is taken seriously. In fact, his research suggests that making these interactions mandatory and a part of their grade, makes the social media efforts utilized in the classroom most effective.

Friend Students Cautiously:

Linda Fogg Phillips, a Facebook expert, Derek Baird, an educational media consultant, and BJ Fogg, a behavior psychologist, recommend that teachers use Groups and Pages to communicate with their students.

* Groups: It is not necessary for members of groups to be friends. Every person in the group receives a message when any member posts a comment to the group. It is recommended that teachers use closed groups; in these groups the content of the group is private. However, unless you choose the “secret” option, the list of group members will be public.

* Pages: Pages on Facebook are transparent, open, and secure. Because they are public, anybody can like the page, allowing them to get updates in their news feeds from the administrator. Pages are ideal for compiling important current events and additional resources students may need. Conversation and content can be added by students by using the comments and notes features.

Use a Facebook Group:

Junco’s research suggested that the following Facebook group activities seem to be best incorporated into learning more effectively:
* Continuing class discussions
* Giving students who might be intimidated in a class setting a low-stress way to ask questions
* Providing students academic and personal support
* Helping students connect with each other and organize study groups

Use a Facebook Page:

Since these pages are open to the public and their content can be subscribed to by anybody, they tend to be more interactive resources than sites for private discussion.

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag, who utilizes a program at the University of Miami to expose students to ocean field research, uses Facebook Pages as a tool for staying in touch with updates in research and increasing the number of students he is able to reach. He uses Facebook to post newly published articles about ocean science, videos and photos of weekly shark trips, and research findings.

“We expose over 1,000 kids each year to ocean research,” he says. “But we want to work with more students. You can’t bring that many with you, but we can bring the ocean to them.”

Consider Other Alternatives:

Using Facebook with young children is a little dicey, as children 12 years old and younger are not allowed to have Facebook accounts and many districts block computer access to social network sites. For these teachers, Edmodo, Collaborize Classroom, Edublogs, and Kidblog are all free options that might fit what you are looking for.

The key to the use of any Facebook or other social networking sites in the classroom is finding a site that is both appropriate for student use and effective for classroom instruction. So choose wisely if you plan to incorporate these sites into your teaching strategy.

Palm Beach County Creates New Truancy Court

A new truancy court has been established in Palm Beach County which won’t just target the children who are missing too much school; it will go after the parents who may end up serving jail time if they don’t take the necessary steps to make sure their children are in school where they belong.

The truancy court is a pilot program created by Palm Beach Circuit Court Judge Kathleen Kroll in conjunction with the School District, the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, and Boys Town South Florida; a nonprofit organization which provides family support services. Kroll, who works in the juvenile division, became interested in devising a better truancy system after observing that teen criminals who ended up in her courtroom usually had a habit of missing school.

She explained, “By the time kids were 16 or 17, we couldn’t do much for them anymore.” For that reason, the truancy court focuses on children below the fourth grade because, according to Kroll, habits can still be changed at that age, and it’s commonly due to the parents that their children are not attending school as they should. She cites drug addition, medical issues, or mental health problems as the most likely reasons that parents are not getting their kids to school.

Just how big a problem is truancy in this area? Well, in the 2009-2010 school year, the county’s schools reported that 6.6 percent of its 198,351 students committed truancy. In the same year, in Broward County, 12.6 percent of 287,935 students committed truancy. And these records only included students with at least 21 unexcused absences, which means the percentage of students missing at least 15 days is probably higher.

Currently 11 elementary schools with known truancy issues are part of this pilot program, although it may expand to other schools in the next school year if it is successful.

This is how it works: Over a three month period, if a child has 5 unexcused absences, the School District sends a letter home to the parents. After 10 unexcused absences, the parents get a second letter and a call from a “truancy liason.” After 15 unexcused absences, social workers with Boys Town work with both the parents and the children to figure out what is going on. Finally, if no progress is made after these interventions, the case goes to Judge Kroll.

The program director for Boys Town South Florida, Seth Bernstein explained, “Maybe a parent is significantly depressed and can’t get their child ready for school. Or a parent goes to wake their child up in the morning and can’t coax them out of bed.” The Children’s Services Council is funding the social services provided for situations like these from Boys Town.

So what happens if the program’s social services have intervened but are unable to make a difference and the truancies continue? At this point, a letter from Judge Kroll is sent home warning the parents that they will be summoned to appear in court. They have hearings within three months of this notice, where Kroll may order the parents to get into a rehab program or get therapy of some kind. It is only at this point that parents would be referred to prosecutors for criminal charges if they fail to comply with the court’s orders.

So far, the pilot program which began in November has not filed any criminal cases, but the agency has provided parenting classes and child behavior support to about 10 families.

Council spokeswoman Marlene Passell, emphasized the need to focus the program on the youngest students whose behavior patterns are just developing. “If they’re not forced to go to school, they won’t value it later,” she said.

I congratulate Judge Kroll, the School District, the Children’s Services Council of Palm Beach County, and Boys Town South Florida for what seems to be a well-devised program, with plenty of opportunities for parents to get the support they need to change their lives and their children’s lives as well.

It is unfortunate that the headlines only focus on the worst-case scenario, instead of focusing on the potentially powerful impact this pilot program might have on the communities in Palm Beach County. I am anxious to see what kind of results this program has, and am hopeful that the truancy rate in this county will drop significantly as a result.

Offensive Racial Chant Leads to Suspension of Entire Team

Shamed: The chant has been a multi-year tradition for the girls varsity team at Kenmore East High School in Buffalo, New York

Well, clearly racism is not dead, and all you have to do is go visit the Kenmore East High School girls’ varsity basketball team, just outside of Buffalo, New York, to be reminded of that sad fact. You see, it has been a tradition, going back for several years, for the teammates to hold hands in the locker room right before a game, say a prayer together (oh, how nice) and then yell, “One, two, three, n#@@&*!” rhymes with Tigger (oh, how disgusting)!

Offended: Tyra Batts, 15, reported that her white teammates were using the n-word during a pregame cheer. They continued even after she asked them not to

Tyra Batts, a sophomore on the team and the team’s only African-American player this year, was shocked and disgusted as well when she heard the team’s chant right before their game against Sweet Home High School on Friday, December 2. She told BuffaloNews.com in a home interview, that she argued with them about their use of the racial word, saying, “You’re not allowed to say that word because I don’t like that word.”

But according to Tyra, she was told that the team was not racist. “It’s just a word, not a label.” (Really, girls? People have been beaten up for saying that word to the wrong person. Oh, wait! I’m getting ahead of myself.) Because she felt outnumbered, she let it go at that time. But Tyra also told BuffaloNews.com that it was pretty routine for the girls to make racial comments and jokes during practice, including ones about slavery, shackles, and “picking cotton.”

Tyra said that during a later practice scrimmage game, she and another teammate were getting rather heated with each other over some physical roughness on the court. She admits that in the heat of the moment she “said something dumb” at which point, one of her teammates called her “a black piece of sh*@!”

So, after weeks of inappropriate racial comments and the offensive comment from her teammate, Tyra admits that she got madder and madder over the weekend, and on Monday, when she saw the girl in school, she threw her into a locker, punching and choking her. She admits, “It was a buildup of anger and frustration at being singled out of the whole team.”

Tyra was suspended for five days for initiating a fight, and when her parents became angry that the school hadn’t done enough to find out why the fight had taken place to begin with, they called a local radio station and shared the whole story with the community.

Investigation: School superintendent Mark Mondanaro suspended each girl from one game and from two days of school. Their Saturday game was also cancelled

Kenmore-Town of Tonawanda Superintendent Mark P. Mondanaro launched an investigation and released a statement, saying: “This type of insensitivity to one of our students is wrong, unacceptable, unfortunate, and will never, ever be tolerated.”

On Friday, Mondanaro announced the following disciplinary measures against the team for violating both the school’s conduct code and the extracurricular athletic code:

* All Kenmore East High School varsity girls’ basketball team practices have been suspended through the rest of this week.
* Saturday’s scheduled game against Olean has been postponed.
* The related team field trip to St. Bonaventure University has been canceled.
* The student athletes will all serve a one-game suspension by the end of the season, at games to be determined at a later date. It’s not expected that the girls would all be suspended for the same game, which would result in a forfeited game.
* Mondanaro is voluntarily rescinding last year’s Niagara Frontier League Sportsmanship Award for the entire school.
* Students who engaged in the chant will receive a two-day, out-of-school suspension.
* The student athletes will be required to participate in cultural sensitivity training, which is being arranged through an outside agency.

Additionally, Mondanaro personally apologized to Tyra and to her parents, and Kenmore East Principal Patrick Heyden apologized as well.

That is all well and good, but aren’t you left wondering how this type of behavior could have been going on for years without any faculty member, coach, administrator, or parent knowing about it?

Tyra said that her coach, Kristy Bondgren, did hear comments other players made about Tyra being black, although the girls apparently waited until all adults were out of the locker room before launching into their lovely chant. Isn’t that simple fact further evidence that these girls knew exactly what they were doing and that it was wrong? Otherwise, why wait for the coaches to leave before beginning the chant?

And if Bondgren was aware that racially-charged comments were being thrown around at practice, why didn’t she address this issue the first time she heard it? This whole incident might have been avoided if she had dealt with these comments immediately, rather than apparently turning a deaf ear to her team.

The whole thing has me wondering how such a tradition got started, and what made these girls ever think this was acceptable, much less related in any way to pumping each other up for a victory? Did the use of this word really mean nothing to them, or, based on other comments they purportedly had been making, is it indicative of their racial views?

Hard to say, but since the nasty story went public, students report that there has been a lot of racial tension, and the female varsity basketball players have been harassed and ostracized.  Only two teammates have apologized to Tyra, who is now considering playing at the junior varsity level for one more year. She worries that it would be awkward for her to play with the team now, and she also expressed concern about her teammates playing other teams with black players.

“It just wouldn’t be safe,” she said. “There would be a lot of conflict going on.”

Gee, ya think?