Congress receives school nutrition report
Posted Thursday, April 26, 2007
Proposed nutritional standards would place more stringent restrictions on the types of foods available in schools, CNN.com reports.
In a report filed with Congress this week, the Institute of Medicine suggested a two-tiered set of nutritional standards that are designed to enourage healtheir eating and to limit food choices in schools.
Congress asked the group to compile the guidelines to help combat the rising rates of child obesity.
The report drew mixed reactions. Some heralded the guidenlines as a common sense approach that many schools are already implementing. Other groups, however, feel the suggestions are too restrictive and worry the program may lead to a federal "no child with a fat behind" program.
Foods listed as Tier 1 would be allowed at all grade levels during the school day and during after-school activities.
These foods would have to provide at least one serving of fruits, vegetables, whole grains or nonfat or low-fat dairy, would be limited to 200 calories for snacks and would have limits for fat, sugar and salt.
Examples of Tier 1 snacks were whole fruit, raisins, carrot sticks, whole-grain low-sugar cereals, some multigrain tortilla chips, some granola bars and nonfat yogurt with no more than 30 grams of added sugars. Entrees could include such items as fruit salad with yogurt or a turkey sandwich. Beverages would be limited to plain water, skim or 1 percent milk, soy beverages and 100 percent fruit or vegetable juice.
The IOM recommended that, because of their calorie content, juices be limited to 4-ounce servings for elementary and middle-school students and 8-ounce portions for high school students.
Tier 2 foods would be available only to high school students and only after school hours.
These foods would also be limited in calories, salt, sugar and fat and the drinks could have just have five or fewer calories per portion and no caffeine; they are not vitamin- or mineral-fortified, but may be carbonated and may contain flavoring or a sugar substitute.
Examples include single servings of baked potato chips, low-sodium whole wheat crackers, graham crackers, pretzels, caffeine-free diet soda and seltzer water.
Sports drinks would be available to students engaged in an hour or more of vigorous athletic activity, at the discretion of coaches.
The committee said fortified water should not be available in either tier.
Congress authorizes math, science funding
Posted Thursday, April 26, 2007
The Senate voted Wednesday to authorize an additional $16 billion for math and science programs in the name of keeping America competitive, CNN.com reports.
The funds are divided between federal programs, with some going to help foster young student's appreciation and skill for the sciences. A portion of the Senate's authorization will go to train teachers in the math and sciences.
A day earlier, the House of Representatives authorized $600 million to math and science competitiveness, some of which would go to create $10,000 stipends to college students if they commit to K-12 teaching careers.
Students, parents feel safe
Posted Wednesday, April 18, 2007
A day after the unspeakable tragedy in Blacksburg, VA, the Rapid City School District was put in a position to test their lockdown procedures. The district's commitment to a plan left the community praising the school district and law enforcement for their preparedness.
From the Rapid City Journal:
Cathy Jumper had barely said goodbye after dropping off her daughter Katrina, 16, at Central High School on Tuesday when she realized something was wrong.
"Police cars were coming from all directions," Jumper said. "They swarmed all over the place."
Jumper instantly pulled across North Street, parking at the Howard Johnson Express Inn and Suites. From there she watched law enforcement officers take positions around the high school and block streets.
As she watched Tuesday's drama unfold, Jumper began to understand that principal Pat Jones had been protectively calling students into the high school as she had driven away.
As they arrived, officers immediately went to the doors. Others began spreading out across the parking lot, going up and down the rows of cars looking in each one, Jumper said.
"I was very impressed," Jumper said. "They were fast, very fast."
Jumper would spend the next three hours in the parking lot, keeping family and friends updated and trying repeatedly to call and send text messages to Katrina. It was more than two hours before she received a text message from Katrina and eventually spoke briefly with her.
During those anxious hours, Jumper's respect for Rapid City's response to the report of a gunman at the school of 2,000 students continued to grow.
At last year's ASBSD/SASD Convention, a school resource officer from Sioux Falls stressed the importance of having lockdown procedures in place. One of his most memorable points: We practice fire drills all the time even though no one has died from a school fire in 25 years; but some schools are reluctant to develop lock down procedures even though incidents of school violence are on the rise.
Kudos to the Rapid City School District for their planning and swift response, and for making students, parents and staff feel like the district is a safe learning environment.
New study critiques abstinence education
Posted Tuesday, April 17, 2007
A new study released this week questions the effectiveness of sexual abstinence programs, reports CNN.com.
Conducted for Congress by Mathematica Policy Research, the study concluded that "students who took part in sexual abstinence programs were just as likely to have sex as those who did not."
The federal government currently spends $176 million annually on abstinence education programs.
Critics of the government's role in providing sex education curriculum will likely use the study as evidence that initiatives should be halted. Bush Administration officials, however, were quick to point out the study's limitations.
Officials said one lesson they learned from the study is that the abstinence message should be reinforced in subsequent years to truly affect behavior.
"This report confirms that these interventions are not like vaccines. You can't expect one dose in middle school, or a small dose, to be protective all throughout the youth's high school career," said Harry Wilson, the commissioner of the Family and Youth Services Bureau at the Administration for Children and Families.
The Bush Administration's reaction is similar to their response to other studies critical of the President's education policy.
Last year, after a series of studies questioned the effectiveness of voucher and charter school programs, members of the Bush Administration also suggested that "sweeping" conclusions shouldn't be drawn from the research.
The point is well taken - it's best to make public policy decisions with longitudinal data in hand.
However, it should be noted that the U.S. Department of Education is quick to use relatively new student assessment data to back up the success of No Child Left Behind.
Texas moving to end-of-coure exams
Posted Friday, April 13, 2007
The Texas Legislature this week moved one stop closer toward exit exams for high school students, reports the Dallas Morning News.
In order to earn a diploma, students must earn a cumulative score of 840 in four content areas - English, math, science and social studies. The new system calls for the development of 12 tests - three in each content area - that are given throughout a student's high school years.
The plan originally called for an overhaul of all state assessments, including those given to students in grades three through eight. Lawmakers removed changes to the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills, or TAKS, after school officials worried that too many changes were being adopted at once.
According to Dallas Morning News:
The new end-of-course tests, which are also under consideration in the House, would be phased in with ninth-graders entering high school in the fall of 2009. Scores on the tests would count 15 percent toward each student's final grade.
Currently, No Child Left Behind only mandates tests at the elementary level. Most states, including South Dakota, extended testing to the secondary level.
As part of the NCLB reauthorization, however, Education Secretary Margaret Spellings has expressed intent to add initiatives to improve high schools.
School finance system will go to trial
Posted Wednesday, April 11, 2007
A Pierre circuit court judge decided Tuesday that the state will be checked for their support of the constitution courts will not order the Legislature to appropriate additional funds for K-12 education.
In a decision that where both the plaintiffs and the state are claiming victory, Judge Lori Wilbur determined that a lawsuit challenging the adequacy of South Dakota's school finance system will go to court.
The Associated Press, via the Rapid City Journal, reports that that state and the lawyers representing parents are happy with the judges decision.
States adopting tests with shared standards
Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2007
A group of nine states are developing a common test to gauge progress on Alegebra II standards, CNN.com reports. The pilot program is a first attempt at having a broad standard on which to apply progress in core subject areas.
A push for national standards has surfaced ever since the No Child Left Behind Act was originally passed. The variety in state assessments, and their relative lack of rigor compared to national assessments, is the driving force behind a move to more uniform, national standards.
From the CNN story:
Viewed as a pilot, it is a big deal and I hope an important precedent," said Chester Finn, a former assistant education secretary who runs the Fordham Foundation think tank in Washington. "You'd have to be joking to claim that Algebra II in Columbus, Ohio means something different from Algebra II in Columbia, Mo."
"These youngsters aren't going to stay in our respective states for the most part," [Arkansas Commissioner of Education Ken] James said. "They're going to need portable skills, and we should be able to agree on what those portable skills are going to be."
Coming soon to gyms: DUI trials
Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2007
A program in California aims to curb teenage drinking and driving by moving DUI trials into high school gymnasiums, CNN.com reports.
In exchange for a lighter sentence, offenders agree to have their cases heard before high school students. The goal is to send a stronger message about the consequences of drinking and driving.
From the CNN report:
Gabriela Dominguez, a 17-year-old senior, said Flores' case served as a good warning. "Just seeing him up there, I thought, 'I don't want to be that person,"' she said. "I wasn't thinking about drinking and driving anyway, but this made me really not want to do it."
Gurjot Pawar, 17, said the appearance conveyed a simple message: "DUI is not cool."
School finance system gets first day in court
Posted Tuesday, April 10, 2007
A Pierre circuit judget will hear a first round on arguments in South Dakota's school finance case.
The Associated Press laid out the arguments being made by each side.
The plaintiffs, including the South Dakota Coalition of Schools and several parents of children in the public school system, are asking the judge to make a preliminary judgements regarding a student's right to a quality education. According to the AP:
The school districts and the South Dakota Coalition of Schools have asked the judge to rule that the South Dakota Constitution establishes education as a fundamental right and guarantees all children a free, adequate and quality education.
The judge also is being asked to rule that the constitutional standard for an adequate and quality education is that it prepares students to meet state academic standards and achievement requirements; function as voters, jury members and participants in a democratic society; find meaningful employment and compete effectively in the economy; and qualify for higher education.
The State, on the otherhand, is asking the judge to declare that the South Dakota Coalition of Schools can not legally challenge the constitution. Representatives from the Attorney General's office are also asking that the case be dismissed. From the AP story:
The state contends the funding system is constitutional and that the suit should be dismissed because it seeks to have the court violate the separation of powers between the judicial and legislative branches of government. Courts can't decide political questions dealing with education policy, they contend.
"The Court has no power to force the Legislature to appropriate money or pass a new school funding scheme," state lawyers said in written arguments.
The state wants to remove the South Dakota Coalition of Schools as a plaintiff. The coalition is limited to the legal authority granted to school districts, which have no power to sue the state, challenge the constitutionality of state law or make a claim against the state treasury, lawyers said.
Open Forum will have updates later today.
Vandy to study merit pay
Posted Wednesday, April 4, 2007
NSBA's Board Buzz, by way of Ed Week, reports that researchers at Vanderbilt University will be using $10 million in federal grant money to study the effectiveness of merit pay programs.
According to Ed Week:
The center’s researchers hope to shed light on whether teachers behave differently when the prospect of bonuses is dangled before them, whether student achievement improves as a result, and whether the existence of such programs will ultimately attract a different mix of teachers into the field.
While some local union groups support the concept - saying that it will help settle the debate - it's hard not to be a skeptic of the effort.
Merit pay concepts are largely based on private sector models, where it has a long history of success. Will a research study change their minds? Who knows.
Should the research conclude that merit pay isn't the right fit for public education, will it stop performance pay supporters from shooting holes in the research and spawning off their own endeavor from some random "think tank"?
And will it come too late? It's a five year study. Will advocates of merit pay put their views on hold until Vanderbilt can generate the data?
California school gives laptops away
Posted Tuesday, April 3, 2007
A school district in Pasendena, CA, is using a new laptop initiative to retain students in the district.
The program offers similar learning benefits to the Classroom Connections pilot started in South Dakota, with a couple of twists.
According to the Pasadena Star-News:
But Hacienda's program is unique - Verizon will install DSL in homes at no cost.
Additionally, parents will own the laptop when the student completes the eighth grade if they remain in district. Students will get a new computer in ninth grade and can keep it once they graduate from high school.
Parents and students must attend an orientation and parents will sign a contract acknowledging responsibility for the computer.
Student free speech violated by flyer ban
Posted Tuesday, April 3, 2007
CNN.com reports that a federal judge in New York has ruled that a public school district's decision to stop a student from handing our religious-oriented fliers violated the student's right to free speech.
According to the family's 2004 lawsuit, Nicole Bloodgood tried three times to get permission for Michaela to pass out the homemade fliers to other students at Nate Perry Elementary School. The flier, about the size of a greeting card, started out: "Hi! My name is Michaela and I would like to tell you about my life and how Jesus Christ gave me a new one."
Bloodgood's requests to school officials said that her daughter, now a sixth-grader, would hand them out only during "non-instructional time," such as on the bus, before school, lunch, recess and after school.
The lawsuit noted that Michaela had received literature from other students at school, including materials for a YMCA basketball camp, a Syracuse Children's Theater promotion and Camp Fire USA's summer camps.
The legal action was brought on behalf of the student and her mother by Liberty Counsel, a Florida-based conservative legal group.
In their objection to the literature, district officials cited that parents and other students may misunderstand the message as an endorsement of a religious statement in school.
The federal judge ruled:
"The court cannot say the danger that children would misperceive the endorsement of religion is any greater than the danger that they would perceive a hostility toward religion as a result of the district's denial."
It's another example of a lose-lose situation for public schools in today's litigation-heavy environment. If the district allowed the materials to be distributed, there likely would have been another well-funded, national organization that would take the district to court.
It's about priorities
Posted Monday, April 2, 2007
In the aftermath of less-than-sufficient support for schools this past session, the Argus Leader editorial board raises the question of whether the state's priorities are misplaced.
From the Argus:
Growth of state government - of spending and positions - isn't really the issue. Neither is funding. We've proven we have the money to spend.
...and...Neither the governor nor legislators have been willing to put limits on state government growth. That's obvious.
But neither have they been willing to take the limits off schools - or even give schools a reasonable amount of growth.
By state law, the education funding formula is limited in growth to 3 percent, or the rate of inflation - whichever is less. As a result, according to the Associated School Board of South Dakota, education funding has grown at about 2.8 percent from 1998 through this year, while state government has grown at about 4.9 percent a year.
The editorial is the second half of a two-part series that highlights the growth in state goverment compared to the lack of growth in school district budgets. Their conclusion, which has been echoed by those in the education community, that the state's purse priority is shifting away from schools.