Posted Friday, August 31, 2007
Sioux Falls' innovative Lowell Elementary Math, Science and Technology School is taking a fresh approach to K-5 instruction.
According to KELO, each lesson is fused with principles that relate back to math and science. The early results? More engaged learners.
Classes follow the same curriculum as other schools in the district, but math, science and technology is integrated into English, even Art.
Principal Judith Spitzli says, "They are actively engaged. That's what we want to do."
First year Lowell Principal Judith Spitzli says the hands-on and problem solving approach is working, and kids are able to tap into subjects they enjoy.
Second-grader Morgan Palmer says, "We make parachutes, we learn about air."
Air was the lesson of the day in Morgan Palmer's second-grade class.
Spitzli says, "We have 90 minutes everyday whether you're in kindergarten or fifth grade. Ninety minutes every day that's devoted to math and science."
Getting snoopy about peanuts
Posted Friday, August 31, 2007
With a few South Dakota schools taking a stance on peanut-related allergies, Open Forum decided to dip into the issue a bit further.
It's hard to ignore the severe consequences of peanut allergies, known in its most severe form as anaphylaxis. In some cases, minimal exposure - or even smelling peanuts - can cause a shock-like reaction that can prove fatal.
Thankfully, peanut allergies are rare. According to the Baltimore Sun, about one percent of children and 2 million Americans - adults and children included - have to live with peanut allergies. The article goes on to say that food allergies cause roughly 125 deaths a year, the majority of which are blamed on peanuts.
As awareness builds on the issue, peanut-bans are starting to become more prevalent. And not just in in schools.
Some Airlines, the historic peanut-passer-outers, are starting to get rid of in-flight snacks. Companies like US Airways, American, United, Northwest, JetBlue and Spirit have all pulled peanuts.
For schools, as a body accountable to the public, the issue is different.
The National PTA has looked at the issue, offering alternatives to complete peanut bans. They suggest creating peanut-free zones in the lunch rooms. Students with allergies sit at separate tables in specific locations, and the tables are cleaned with separate rags and cleaners. The PTA also suggests training for staff on how to handle peanut allergies. Schools should, the PTA suggests, develop student emergency plans for those who are allergic to peanuts.
Some would label that approach - particularly seating students at special lunch tables - as singling-out students. Others would contend that the school is accommodating to students with special needs.
To date, most concerns have been focused on the elementary level, where there may be more of a concern that students don't know exactly what to look for on product labels or may not have the awareness level to understand all the various ways we interact with peanut-related products.
As Open Forum investigates the issue, we're glad that these decisions can be left to local schools, parents and communities. There's plenty of issues to consider, the most urgent of which would be communicating with parents and having an accurate assessment of the number of students with peanut allergies.
If a school has a particularly high number of students with peanut allergies, it may be in the best interest to avoid peanuts in school all together. Some districts may just have to make accommodations.
We're confident that the schools that have addressed peanut allergies have done so in the spirit of student safety and that the solution was the best fit for the district.
Running out of options
Posted Tuesday, August 28, 2007
KELO took some time to visit with Lennox Superintendent Pat Jones last night. The newly anointed Superintendent, and former Rapid City Central principal, talked at length about the funding challenges they face in Lennox.
Superintendent Pat Jones says sharing teachers between buildings has allowed the district to keep those elective classes in place at the middle school this year. But at Lennox high school, the change could reduce the number of classes students can take. There’s not much Open Forum can add to what Superintendent Jones had to say. Our school districts are ready for a solution to our funding challenges.
“The amount of class offerings tends to taper off because there just aren't as many teachers to offer as many sections of classes,” Jones said. … and… Jones says the district has tried to minimize the number of changes students and parents will notice this year because of the funding crunch, but they're running out of options.
“It's because we're so creative and can do so well with very little. But that doesn't mean that's how we should do it. Its how we've had to do it and that gets tougher and tougher every year,” Jones said.
Enrollment in Lennox is up 13 students this year. But Jones says it’s going to take increases in both enrollment and funding for the district to grow.
The debate over standards
Posted Monday, August 27, 2007
In case you missed it last Friday, the Argus Leader shed a bit of light onto the burgeoning debate over national testing standards.
As the nation continues to discuss reauthorizing No Child Left Behind, people are starting to challenge the relative difficulty of state tests. The harshest critics say states are not making the tests difficult enough (for the lowdown on the differences between national and state tests, see the Center for Public Education article).
Several weeks back, Time Magazine explored the gap between state and national test scores by publishing an interactive map that compares how students perform on national and state tests. The graphic makes it fairly easy to see – students score better on state tests than they do on national tests.
But that’s no secret. And Education Secretary Melmer’s commentary in a separate Argus Leader article goes a long why to explaining, in part, why students score higher on state tests.
"We knew it would be a problem when they released the NAEP scores," [Melmer] said. "We knew it was coming and were sort of dreading what the reaction would be. We knew it was going to be a disparity there."
But the results shouldn't be all that surprising, he said, considering that South Dakota's own educators set testing standards and then teach children from their own communities.
"South Dakota teachers know the standards well," Melmer said. "As a result, our tests are probably easier. They're teaching the standards, all designed to be hand-in-glove. Kids should do well. They're taught those concepts in the classroom." No Child Left Behind mandates progress, but the state test is not made easy to beat the system, Melmer said.
Open Forum doesn’t question the concept of standards-based reform or holding school systems accountable for results. But, we’d be remiss if we didn’t stand up against the concept of a national standard.
South Dakota’s public schools are accomplishing great things – even in the face of serious funding challenges. But, there’s still work to do to bring all students up to state standards. There are wide achievement gaps and indicators that progress is slowing down.
Before the federal government hands down another mandate, South Dakota has to tend to our own public education system and assess whether we are providing the resources necessary to improve.
Schools open, shortages loom
Posted Monday, August 27, 2007
ASBSD Assistant Executive Director Hank Kosters – our resident historian and sage – recently talked with the Aberdeen American News about staffing shortages in South Dakota. From the American News:
South Dakota as a whole has sufficient numbers of elementary teachers, except for special education, Kosters said. Staffing middle schools and high schools is the challenge, especially for math, science, music and foreign language slots. Finding special education teachers for middle and high schools is even tougher than finding them for grade schools, he said.
Adding to the challenge, fewer people pursue teaching as a career, at least in South Dakota.
“The pool of teachers is shrinking out there,” he said. “And those who do go into the profession are attracted by higher salaries out of state.”
Open Form, the savvy surfers that we are, come across net sentiments that question whether shortages in South Dakota are real. Typically, it’s anecdotal arguments – something about someone not being able to find a teaching position somewhere in South Dakota.
But Kosters cuts to the point. We have high-need areas – math, science, special education, foreign language, music. Those shortages are very real in South Dakota.
Start time means debate over start time
Posted Monday, August 20, 2007
After spending the summer learning, planning and preparing, most South Dakota school districts welcome students into the classroom this week.
There are new students learning from new teachers who are using new skills to teach new ideas. At a time of the year when our schools are focused on everything that is new, others are still focused on the same old debates.
That’s the case in the Argus Leader this morning, where the state’s largest paper provides a forum to debate the appropriateness of a state-controlled school start date.
ASBSD is a part of the discussion, just like we were when voters rejected the idea in 2006. Our position hasn’t changed, and we don’t expect voters have changed their mind, either. ASBSD believes citizens and communities, and the local officials elected to represent them, are in the best position to make decisions that directly impact their lives and their livelihoods.
The school calendar is one of those decisions. And each school board, left to their own devices, arrives at the best fit for the community. There’s always room to branch out toward the issues involved, but the underlying principle will never change – we don’t need laws that make decisions that South Dakotans are perfectly capable of making.
A pat on the back
Posted Wednesday, August 15, 2007
Open Forum dishes out kudos to the South Dakota education community for showcasing, once again, how your work ethic and commitment prepare our next generation for the future.
Word is in from ACT, and the average score in South Dakota was 21.9, up from a year ago and ranking South Dakota 18th in the United States.
There's more good news. About 76 percent of students took the ACT in South Dakota, ranking our state 12th in the nation.
Before we get into disaggregated scores, achievement gaps and the need to improve college readiness, just take a minute, find someone around you and tell them... "Good job."
Back from the future
Posted Monday, August 13, 2007
We're back in the office and, dare I say, already scheduled to start evaluating the 2007 ASBSD and SASD Convention and planning for next year.
How about it, everyone? What did you like? What can we do better? Do a little commenting, and let's get started on next year!
Here today, gone tomorrow
Posted Tuesday, August 7, 2007
Last year, 1,150 teachers in high-poverty schools took home stipends ranging between $3,000 and $10,000 when students passed the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
This year, less than half will qualify for the merit-based bonus.
Why? According to the Texas Department of Education, via the Dallas Morning News, scoring benchmarks were raised this year and students in 675 school campuses didn't meet state-established standards.
Open Forum isn't going to denounce merit pay. The jury is still out on performance-based pay and its application to public schools. There's no convincing argument to say merit pay will work, just like there's no real evidence to say it won't.
What interests us is the complexities of developing any kind performance-incentive pay plan.
Plans like Denver's Pro-Comp were developed with spirit of collaboration. The school board and administration worked alongside the staff to structure a system that had buy-in from both sides. Even though the program is voluntary, more staff members are opting for the plan that has at least some sort of performance metric.
It took them years in Denver. It was so tough, in fact, that they almost scrapped the plan before it came to fruition.
Teachers in Texas originally opposed the bonus plan on the grounds that it was tied exclusively to improvement of student test scores. Perhaps they could see it coming - a time when increasing standards takes money out of their pockets.
Open Forum is all for setting high standards and helping students achieve them. But something seems amiss with Texas' here-today-gone-tomorrow merit pay plan.
Shift happens. Again.
Posted Friday, August 3, 2007
If "Shift Happens" doesn't mean anything to you, then click your way over to YouTube. Immediately.
Open Forum first caught wind of this "shift" at the National School Boards Association Annual Conference last April. Our jaws dropped.
The powefully motivating collage of staggering statistics puts the mission of public schools in context. Simply put, the success of this nation will depend on the public education system's ability to evolve and meet the needs of tomorrow's students.
The new version adds some additional information, including one of Open Forum's favorite quotes.
"We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them." - Albert Einstein.
The neighbors are at it again
Posted Thursday, August 2, 2007
Our Dakota brethren to the North, after having just added $91 million in additional state funding to support K-12 schools, are now working on a plan to adequately fund education.
Let me say that again. They've just added $91 million, and NOW they're working on adequacy.
According to the Fargo Forum, they've brought in school finance expert Allan R. Odden of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
There's no word on the additional investment the state will make, but they're fleshing out the a plan that hinges on putting high-quality teachers in the classroom and devoting additional resources into professional development.
The commission, appointed in January 2006 by Gov. John Hoeven, created the equity formula that caused nine school districts to drop their lawsuit against the state this spring.
Over the next year, it will work on an adequacy plan for the 2009 Legislature to consider.
“We feel as we go to try to recommend new policy on adequacy that we need to get the help of a national expert and we need their experience,” said Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple, commission chairman.
... and ....
Odden told the commission that the proven key elements of school improvement are: recruit and support high-quality teachers; high-quality instruction; classroom resources such as books and professional development; and extra help for struggling kids.
With fewer students and more school districts, North Dakota isn't letting hardball politics and age-old talking points stall action. They recognize the challenge school districts face, and they are moving forward.
But hey, at least North Dakota will save $1,500 per student when students along the North Dakota-South Dakota border attend school in South Dakota.
Maine is in
Posted Thursday, August 2, 2007
Maine is the latest state to launch a 21st Century Skills Initiative, joining South Dakota and four other states to promote a skill set that education and business leaders say will be essential in the 21st Century.
South Dakota launched our own 21st Century Skills Initiative in June. Gov. Rounds joined Education Secretary Dr. Rick Melmer and representatives of the Partnership for 21st Century Skills to announce the initiative and the creation of a new P21 advisory council. Read the Bulletin's coverage of South Dakota's announcement here, and ASBSD's support of the new initiative here.
Incidentally, on hand for Maine's announcement was Kathy Hurley, a member of the Partnership's Board of Directors, who also helped launch South Dakota's effort. You can hear more from Kathy during the ASBSD and SASD Annual Joint Convention. She's slated to give the closing keynote, and she'll talk about the Partnership and what to expect as the initiative unfolds in South Dakota.
Maine and South Dakota are alike in many ways. Rural states. Relatively low student population. The state's WIRED initiative recently put laptops in the hands of students.
Rumor has it that some top education officials are spending some time in Maine. Let's hope discussions center around things like 21st Century Skills and laptop initiatives, and not on massive reorganization efforts like the one Maine Gov. Baldacci recently put into place. In 2005, Maine's education system was organized into more than 300 school districtsIn The new law mandates school consolidation into 80 school districts, with an "ideal size' of 2,500 students.
Posted Thursday, August 2, 2007
Open Forum is on the job again.
We've been away for a couple months, and it's been tough on us. We've missed spending a few minutes each day sharing education news and offering up our opinion on the issues of the day.
But the downtime has been worth it. We used our time away to get the online version of the Bulletin up and running. So, not only are we pleased to be back - but we get to welcome a new member to ASBSD's family of electronic communications.
Take a minute to visit the online Bulletin, and we'll see you back here every day for a small dose of education news.