Education News Roundup: June 26, 2015

summerEducation News Roundup

Today’s Top Picks:


A Salt Lake City school hires goats to help with the landscaping work.  (DH)

Utah Valley University has designed a summer program to help middle school students  prepared for college  STEM courses.  (DH)

A single mom in New Jersey congratulates her high school graduate with a billboard.  (HuffPost)

Check out this video on a school janitor and the school’s valedictorian, his daughter.  (Video USAToday)









U.S. high school graduation rates are up, but there’s still progress to be made

Utah school hires crew of landscaping goats to clear weeds

What UVU is doing about STEM education and career prep

Local teens play police in active shooter drill as part of academy experience

One thing kids can teach us about reaching our goals






Texas governor picks home-schooler to lead state Board of Education

A high school where teens behave like adults?

Children With Severe Illnesses Deserve a Real Education

The Best Ways a Teacher Can Demonstrate Leadership in the Classroom?







U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan Announces a Set of Rights to Help Parents Seek High-Quality Education for Their Children

Lost and Founds Overflow at the End of the School Year

End final exams in Montgomery County?

Single Mom Buys Billboard To Congratulate Her Son On High School Graduation

Teens lack information on dangers of e-cigs and marijuana

Kansas Court Rules Against Parts of State School Funding Law

School’s janitor, valedictorian share an unlikely bond

HISD board president backs changing Confederate-related names of 6 schools






U.S. high school graduation rates are up, but there’s still progress to be made

This spring saw some rare good news on the U.S. education scene when the federal government announced high school graduation rates jumped to 81 percent in 2012, up from 73 percent in 2006.

“America’s students have achieved another record-setting milestone,” U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in a statement. “Our high school graduation rate is now at an all-time high,” tweeted President Barack Obama.

High school graduation is vital marker, experts agree. Research has repeatedly found graduation has sweeping implications for lifetime earnings, health, addictions, criminal behavior and dependency on government support. A significant upturn in graduation rates would have huge social implications.

But are these touted gains real?

A real shift

One indication graduation gains are real, said Richard Murnane, an education economist at Harvard, is the eighth-grade scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress tests, which he says have substantially improved since 1995, especially for African-Americans and Latinos.

Those eighth-grade test scores have long been one of the best predictors of high school graduation, so improvement there says something: “The NAEP scores do tell us that something real is happening,” Murnane said.

Murnane authored a 2013 journal article unpacking graduation rate trends, finding the improvements are real but that there is not enough data to say what factors are to thank.

“The evidence on high school reforms that are effective in increasing graduation rates for economically disadvantaged students is much too thin to provide anything like a set of blueprints for improving secondary school education,” he wrote. (DNews)





Utah school hires crew of landscaping goats to clear weeds


SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A Salt Lake City elementary school is trying out a new landscaping technique: Weed-eating goats.


Officials say the goats will arrive Friday to clear the hillside behind Washington Elementary School, which is a tricky area to maintain because it’s too steep for turf grass.


The 100 animals will stay through the weekend and eat nearly all the vegetation from the weed-choked hillside so grounds crews can replant the area with native plants.


School officials say that without the goats, the district would have to send nearly all its grounds staff to the area for a week to manually trim the undergrowth.


Authorities also looked into other options, but settled on the goats because they won’t require the use of any chemicals, and the $2,000 price is tag is a bargain. (DH) (KSL)




What UVU is doing about STEM education and career prep


Awesome. Friends. Homework. Fun. Educational. Field trips. Inspiring. Amazing. Those are just a few words middle-school students use to describe Utah Valley University’s seven-week summer PREP 2015 program designed to help prepare seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-graders for successful science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) college education and careers.

There is a need regionally and nationally for qualified employees to fill open STEM positions. Many students reject STEM careers because they are afraid of math courses. UVU PREP builds confidence in students by preparing them early.

Now in its third year, the UVU PREP program is “the most effective and efficient STEM program in the state,” said Robert Valentine, the UVU PREP outreach coordinator. “This year we’ve had our students dissecting cow hearts at the University of Utah, touring the research facility at Hill Air Force Base, and visiting museums at BYU and in downtown Salt Lake City.”

In addition to these weekly field trips, the program includes logic-based mathematics and engineering classes; daily career awareness speaker presentations; contact with University students who serve as tutors, program mentors, and role models; research and study classes; and other special events. UVU PREP also connects students with professional, scientific and engineering leaders who can inspire them to become part of a new generation of innovators in Utah’s growing high-tech economy.

“The hands-on part is my favorite part,” said Valerie, an 8th-grade student from the Alpine School District. “During the regular school year, we sit in classrooms and listen, but here what we learn we also get to practice to see how things actually work.”

The program is demanding, but the students are motivated, Valentine said. “These are students who are choosing to give up seven weeks of their summer vacation to attend classes, take field trips and immerse themselves in difficult curriculum. But the benefits we’re seeing are fabulous.”

Valentine noted that this year’s program includes 224 students — 22 students ninth-graders who are returning for their third year, 52 eighth-graders who are attending their second year, and more than 150 seventh-graders who are just starting the three-year program. (DH)





Local teens play police in active shooter drill as part of academy experience


SANDY, Utah — A police training drill was underway at Eastmont Middle School in Sandy Thursday, and participants were acting out a scenario in which a an armed man opened fire.

A lot of teenagers were participating in the drill, but they’re not pretending to be victims: They’re playing the role of police.

FOX 13 News covers emergency training drills from time to time, but this one was especially intense because it involved 47 kids between the ages of 14 and 20. The juveniles are part of the Explorer Academy, which is run jointly by the Salt Lake City and Sandy police departments. The youth are learning during a 7-day mini police academy.

“They’re going to do a scenario where it’s an active school shooting,” explained Det. Veronica Montoya of the Salt Lake City Police Department. “…They’re going to come in, in either a building clearing team or a rescue team, and they’re going to find the person who is in here harming people.”

These live action exercises are the culmination of a week’s worth of training for young people like 17-year-old Jacob Benson.

“I’ve always wanted to go into law enforcement ever since I was little,” the Brighton High School student said.

Benson was among those giving up a week of their summer to gain what he hopes will be a foothold in his future.

“If they do want to be police officers it gives them an idea of what is expected of them,” Montoya said of the experience. (Fox13)





One thing kids can teach us about reaching our goals


When one woman was saddled with $26,000 of debt, she went back to the basics to get rid of it. She started coloring.

Amy Jones found herself with debt on five credit cards that she had been avoiding for a long time, so she decided to use a Sharpie and some pens to find the motivation to pay it off, she explained in a Quartz article.

Jones said she doodled a series of swirls that created a unique design, but she couldn’t fill in each swirl with a color until she had paid off $100 of her debt.

In the end, she filled in 264 swirls and became debt free.

“Coloring in those swirls month after month helped me feel like I was doing something,” she wrote. “It helped me see that I was making progress toward my goal of zeroing out my credit cards. I joke that it’s the most expensive piece of art I own, because of how much money it represents to me.”

Jones has turned her strategy for charting progress by coloring into a business, where she sells ready-to-color pictures. She suggests using these to chart goals, like weight loss, fitness or meditation, and countdowns, like pregnancy and weddings.

To see what her original drawing looks like and some other creative progress maps, check out the gallery below: (DNews)










Texas governor picks home-schooler to lead state Board of Education. Washington Post commentary by Valerie Strauss


When it comes to education, Texas is the state that keeps on giving — and not in a good way.

In 2010, there was tumult over proposed changes to social studies standards by religious conservatives on the State Board of Education, including one that referred to the United States’s slave trade as the “Atlantic triangular trade.” In 2014, the board majority approved new social studies textbooks, some of which were criticized as being inaccurate and biased. And now, Gov. Greg Abbott,  has sparked controversy — even among fellow Republicans — with his appointment of a new chair of the Texas Board of Education, which is charged with setting policy and standards for the state’s public schools.

Abbott tapped Donna Bahorich, a Republican from Houston who has been on the board for two years and who home-schooled her three sons before sending them to private schools. They never went to Texas public schools.

Bahorich, a former communications director for Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick who will succeed outgoing chair Barbara Cargil, was quoted by Texas Public Radio as saying that “my research and my work and my desire and interests have all been in education.” But her appointment is drawing criticism not just from Abbott critics but also from some of Bahorich’s Republican colleagues. Texas Public Radio quoted Thomas Ratliff, a Republican member of the state Board of Education, as saying:

“Public school isn’t for everybody, but when 94-percent of our students in Texas attend public schools, I think it ought to be a baseline requirement that the chair of the State Board of Education have at least some experience in that realm, as a parent, teacher, something.” (WP)





A high school where teens behave like adults? Hechinger Report commentary by JoEllen Lynch How competency-based learning empowers more students toward success


High schools are graduating more students than ever before. Eighty-one percent of students received diplomas in 2012-2013, the highest percent of graduates in recent history.

Still, many poor, minority and disabled students continue to fall behind: Only 62 percent of students with disabilities, 61 percent of students with limited English proficiency, 76 percent of Hispanic students, and 68 percent of African American students graduated in the same year.

The highly publicized 81 percent graduation rate belies the reality that many high schools still lack the capability to support all students in reaching college and career.

All adolescents need supportive learning ecosystems that will help them develop the skills and knowledge to reach graduation.

The completion of college-ready standards at a mastery level is a minimum for advancing to college and career; success in adulthood also depends on young people’s resilience, self-awareness, and agency.

Most high schools do not do enough to develop these competencies. If learning environments are designed with adolescent development in mind, they can more effectively scaffold student progress toward healthy adulthood, college, and career.

Everything we know about adolescent development tells us high schools must embed opportunities for them to develop resilience and agency.

The tenets of positive youth development theory — that youth need caring relationships, high expectations, choice, voice, engagement, and a consistent adult presence — compel us to develop schools where students can actively drive their own learning.

Adolescents must be at the center of an instructional model that leverages relationships with adults and peers to maximize student engagement and effort. (Hechinger Report)




Children With Severe Illnesses Deserve a Real Education. Education Week commentary by Meghaan Ferreira

May and June make up their own special season, one ruled not by changing tides and lengthening daylight hours, but rather by school calendars: It’s prom season. Prom, the focus of so many coming-of-age movies for young adults—from “Pretty in Pink” to “Carrie”—is a rite of passage in our society. But for some teenagers, whose lives consist of hospital rooms and doctor visits, a prom experience is as intangible as Cinderella’s ball. Last year’s hit movie “The Fault in Our Stars,” based on John Green’s best-selling young-adult novel about a star-crossed teenage couple, barely … (EdWeek)







The Best Ways a Teacher Can Demonstrate Leadership in the Classroom? Huffington Post commentary by C.M Rubin

Effective leadership in the classroom, according to Theo Wubbels (@thwubbels), one of the world’s most respected experts in the area of teacher training and teacher-student relationships, “depends on healthy and productive interpersonal relationships between teachers and students. In such relationships, students feel close to their teacher and they trust and value him or her. From the perspective of teachers’ behaviors, this implies that teachers show a good mix of agency and communion in the classroom.” Naturally, this “mix” will vary from situation to situation. However, Leadership, Theo believes, “depends on the teacher’s capacity to adapt.” Teachers must be able to show “all kinds of behavior when the situation asks for it.” He concludes, “a good teacher is not a boss or friend although he or she can be bossy or friendly, when needed.”

What do our Top 12 Global Teacher bloggers think about leadership? We asked them to share their answers to this question: What are the best ways a teacher can demonstrate leadership in the classroom?

Karen Lirenman from Canada (@KLirenman) states, “Educators of 2015 no longer can use the excuse that they didn’t know when there are so many places to help them be in the know.” She encourages a global collective leadership model for teachers. This is achieved by sharing teaching practices and curricula with other teachers through social media, noting, “If I didn’t share the only place I’d have impact is with my students.” Read More. (HuffPost)








U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan Announces a Set of Rights to Help Parents Seek High-Quality Education for Their Children


U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan today released a set of rights that outlines what families should be able to expect for their children’s education.

“I want to describe educational rights that I firmly believe must belong to every family in America — and I hope you’ll demand that your leaders in elected or appointed offices deliver on them,” Duncan said during a speech to the 2015 National Parent Teacher Association Convention and Expo in Charlotte, North Carolina. “They come together as a set of rights that students must have at three pivotal stages of their life, to prepare them for success in college and careers and as engaged, productive citizens.”

To help prepare every student for success in life, families have the right to:

Free, quality preschool;

High, challenging standards and engaging teaching and leadership in a safe, supportive, well-resourced school; and An affordable, quality college degree.

The announcement complements work by the Education Department to reach out to parents—from the Dual Capacity-Building Framework for Family-School Partnerships, to tools that can help families and students select the best colleges for their needs, to support of Parent Training and Information Centers and Resource Centers. (Ed.Gov)





Lost and Founds Overflow at the End of the School Year

A tall seventh grader named Azalea Kelley stood in a Harlem classroom last week, surrounded by an explosion of fabric, footwear and the occasional piece of sports equipment, spilling from a clutch of plastic bins. As part of an after-school program, she and a dozen other students were ankle deep in the school’s lost and found, sorting it so that the spoils could be donated to a local church and a family shelter.

As a boy tried on a single black hockey glove he picked from the pile, Azalea lifted a pair of black stretch pants in front of her. “Oh, these are nice!” she said. “But how can anyone lose something like this? It’s a pair of pants!”

As surely as the sun will rise in the east and time will march only forward, children will lose things. Many things. And by each June, as teachers and students prepare for summer, the detritus of the school year can reach impressive heights.

“I am amazed,” said Karen Ditolla, principal of Mark Twain Intermediate School for the gifted and talented in Coney Island. “Pretty much anything and everything, they leave behind.” (NYTimes)





End final exams in Montgomery County?


With mixed reaction in focus groups to ideas for scrapping or changing final exams in Montgomery County, district officials put the question out for broader public comment this week.

The school system’s rethinking about the end-of-semester assessments comes amid concerns about over-testing and lost instructional time. It also follows a history of steep exam failure rates — exceeding 60 percent in some cases — among high school students taking key math courses.

Four options for change have been outlined, including one — Option D — that would end traditional exams in high school-level courses and replace them with shorter marking-period assessments that could include unit tests, projects and portfolios.

Other options affecting high school-level courses (which are sometimes taken by middle schoolers) include:

Eliminating final exams in high-school level courses, with variations including only ending second-semester exams or only scrapping exams in courses that include state assessments (Option B). (WP) (EdWeek)





Single Mom Buys Billboard To Congratulate Her Son On High School Graduation


This mom is proud of her son, and she’s definitely not afraid to show it.

Aljelani Igwe, an 18-year-old from Camden, New Jersey, recently graduated from Leap Academy Charter School, 6ABC reported. His mother, Ovella O’Neal, was ecstatic over his achievement, so she decided to buy a billboard showing her pride for her son as a graduation present.

“A mother can’t raise a man but I raised a gentleman,” the billboard, which cost $725 and also features a picture of Igwe, reads. “We have the total package.”

Needless to say, the billboard stunned the 18-year-old.

“When he turned around he said ‘Oh my God. How did you get that up there?’” O’Neal told CBS Philly. “He was totally surprised.”

The single mom of six says her happiness is in part from the fact that Igwe has been able to succeed despite his surroundings. According to CQ Press’ 2013 Crime Rate Rankings, Camden has the highest crime rate in the United States. It also has a low graduation rate, with two in five high school seniors failing to graduate in 2014, according to South Jersey Times.

O’Neal created strict rules in her household like prohibiting Igwe from having a girlfriend. She also limited his cell phone use, in order to keep him from getting distracted, CBS Philly reported. Her guidelines seemed to have worked and she says her son stayed on the right track. (HuffPost)





Teens lack information on dangers of e-cigs and marijuana


(Reuters Health) – Teens get the message that cigarettes are harmful, but they get mixed messaging or none at all about the risks of marijuana or e-cigarettes, according to a small new study in California.

“Perhaps if we are so good about communicating risks of cigarettes but we don’t communicate about e-cigarettes, it sends a message that they are safe,” said lead author Maria L. Roditis of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco.

“That’s not a message we want people to have,” Roditis told Reuters Health.

She and her coauthor Bonnie Halpern-Felsher of Stanford University gathered nine teenage girls and 15 teen boys from a school district in Northern California with high rates of substance use. During six group meetings lasting up to 75 minutes, Roditis led discussions about what good or bad things might happen from using cigarettes, e-cigarettes or marijuana. The participants were also asked where and from whom they had learned about the products.

The teens also filled out questionnaires about their use of cigarettes, e-cigarettes and marijuana as well as how easy it was to access these products.

In general, the teens were aware of the dangers of cigarettes, and had seen public health campaigns against smoking on TV. But they were less sure about the risks of marijuana and e-cigarettes, and seemed to feel they were less dangerous and carried more benefits, like the stress relief and high from smoking pot or the “classy” appearance of e-cigarettes, as reported in the Journal of Adolescent Health. (Reuters)






Kansas Court Rules Against Parts of State School Funding Law


TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A district court panel in Kansas declared Friday that key parts of a new state law for funding public schools violate the state constitution.

The three-judge panel in Shawnee County District Court ruled that the law fails to distribute more than $4 billion a year so that all children receive a suitable education. The state is expected to appeal the ruling to the Kansas Supreme Court.

The new law scrapped an older per-pupil distribution formula in favor of predictable grants to the state’s 286 school districts based on the funds they received before the law changed.

The law was challenged by the Dodge City, Hutchinson, Wichita and Kansas City, Kansas, school districts. They argued that it distributed state funds in ways that harmed programs for poor and minority students.

The four districts sued the state in 2010, and legislators boosted aid to poor school districts last year to meet a Kansas Supreme Court mandate in the case. But the high court returned the case to the lower-court panel to review additional legal issues – including the validity of the new funding law.

Kansas distributes more than $4 billion a year in aid to school districts, but the four suing the state contend it’s not adequate. The same lower-court panel declared in December that the state must increase its annual aid by at least $548 million, but the state has appealed to the Supreme Court. (AP)






School’s janitor, valedictorian share an unlikely bond

The Ethiopian janitor who never stopped pursuing an education has an unlikely bond with the valedictorian at the school where he works. (Video USAToday)






HISD board president backs changing Confederate-related names of 6 schools


Amid a growing move to shed symbols of the old, slave-owning South, the Houston school board president said Thursday that she supports renaming six campuses named after Confederate loyalists.

Rhonda Skillern-Jones said she plans to discuss the issue with her fellow trustees at an upcoming meeting. Superintendent Terry Grier added that he is “strongly considering” recommending that the board change the names.

The nation’s seventh-largest school district would join a mounting list of agencies and businesses taking steps to shun reminders of the Confederacy following the June 17 shooting deaths of nine black church worshippers by an alleged white supremacist in Charleston, S.C.

State Sen. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, sent a letter to the Houston Independent School District Wednesday urging the renaming of six campuses named after Confederate army officers or others tied to the Confederacy: Dowling, Jackson and Johnston middle schools and Davis, Lee and Reagan high schools.

“Remembering our past is important, especially if you want to avoid making the same mistakes,” Ellis wrote. “But we can teach our students about the evils of the past without endorsing the actions of those who fought to uphold them. When we honor hate at our schools, we teach hate to our children.” (Houston Chronicle)






USOE Calendar



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May 7-8:

Utah State Board of Education meeting

250 E 500 South, Salt Lake City



May 14

Utah State Charter School Board meeting

250 E 500 South, Salt Lake City



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