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Monday, 16 December 2013

Teach for America Diaries

Teach for America Diaries

Whats it like to be a novice teacher in one of Americas neediest schools? Find out firsthand by reading the diaries of three Teach For America teachers starting their careers this year in Philadelphia, Houston, and the Mississippi Delta. Teach For America recruits recent college graduates of all academic majors to make a two-year commitment to teach in urban and rural public schools.
This year, Education World's teacher diarists are
  • Will Hobart, a special education inclusion teacher at Mayer Sulzberger Middle School in West Philadelphia, Pennsylvania;
  • Shani Jackson, a math teacher at Fonville Middle School in Houston, Texas; and
  • Babak Mostaghimi a fifth grade science and social studies teacher at Shelby Middle School in Shelby, Mississippi.
Click the links below to learn more about our diarists and to access their diaries.

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Native American Schools Ponder, Assail Dropout Rates

With the high school dropout rate for Native Americans among the highest in the country, reservation and public school officials are searching for new ways to keep teens in school. This article is a part of a continuing Education World series, Lessons from Our Nation's Schools. Included: Programs designed to reduce the high school dropout rate among Native Americans.
For many administrators of Native American grammar schools, the biggest challenge is preparing students to leave them.
Native Americans long have had one of the highest high school dropout rates of any ethnic group in the nation. Reducing that figure is a priority for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) Office of Indian Education Programs and individual BIA schools such as those in Maine: Beatrice Rafferty School, on the Passamaquoddy reservation in Perry, and Indian Island School, on the Penobscot reservation. Although those schools serve students only through grade eight, dropout prevention has become part of their mission.
"My biggest problem is getting them from eighth grade into a [secondary] school," said Linda McLeod, the Indian Island principal.

The challenge of curbing the Native American dropout rate is nationwide, although progress has been made. According to figures from the BIA Office of Indian Education Programs, the national dropout rate for Native American youngsters decreased from 17 percent in 1992-1993 to 10 percent in 1999-2000. Those figures, though, include only students who attend BIA secondary schools, not public schools, according to Gaye Liea King, special assistant to the director of the Office of Indian Education Programs. Among the reasons for the decrease in the dropout rate are more improved record-keeping, prompted by the BIA's stress on greater accountability, King told Education World.
Few of the K-8 BIA schools are able to keep track of students once they leave to determine if they graduate from high school, added King. Both Maine schools, though, follow their alumni, and their high school dropout rates are higher than the national average. Indian Island's alumni dropout rate has averaged about 25 percent over the past few years, while Beatrice Rafferty's alumni dropout rate is about 60 percent.
All BIA schools receive money for dropout prevention programs, according to Lana Shaughnessy, a spokeswoman for the BIA education department. "One of the goals of this office is a 90 percent daily attendance rate or better," Shaughnessy told Education World. The BIA also conducted a survey of middle school students in 1997 to determine which at-risk behaviors among students could contribute to them dropping out of school. Results of a second survey, done this year, still were being compiled.
The 1997 study, which surveyed 6,990 sixth- through eighth-graders out of a total BIA middle school population of 8,932, showed that by age 11, 36 percent of students had smoked a cigarette, 26 percent had their first alcoholic drink, 18 percent had smoked marijuana, and 5 percent had had sexual intercourse.
National studies also have cited the clash of Native American and Anglo cultures as a factor affecting native students' adjustment to public high schools. Some students from Beatrice Rafferty School told Education World that students at public schools made fun of them when they demonstrated native dances at the public school.
In addition, reservation schools often are small, and native students can feel intimidated when they move on to large public high schools. Native youngsters also learn better through a hands-on approach to learning rather than by direct instruction, according to some research.
McLeod, Indian Island's principal, said that although she thinks there may be some cultural clashes and bias at the area high schools, the main problem is that her school's graduates feel overwhelmed when they leave the 114-student Indian Island School for a larger high school. Students receive a lot of individual attention at Indian Island, where many of the classes have fewer than 10 students.
In 2000-2001, Indian Island School had eight eighth-graders; half planned to attend Orono High School, in Orono, which has an enrollment of 300 to 400 students, and half planned to go to Old Town High School, in Old Town, which has about 800 students.
"They go to Old Town, and they are lost," McLeod said. "They [the Indian Island graduates] know four kids in this pool of 200 kids, going in different directions, and they get lost very easily. And unless they are really self-assured and feel good about themselves, it's very easy for them to give up."
Students generally do well in their freshman year, but the largest number drop out in their sophomore and junior years, McLeod said. If they fall behind in their work as sophomores, they find it difficult to catch up, especially because they are accustomed to one-on-one attention, she said. Often those students miss too many classes to get course credit and drop out.

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Treasuring Kids and Their Educations on Ocracoke Island, North Carolina

As the smallest K-12 public school in North Carolina, Ocracoke School strives to provide diverse learning opportunities in a place that can be reached only by ferry or plane. The small number of students and their isolation on their island home on the Outer Banks foster a close relationship between the school and community. Included: Principal George Ortman talks about how Ocracoke School achieves its success.
A student-created mural in the school's commons area reflects the island's swashbuckling past.
(Education World photo)
Far from the mainland and "mainstream" ideas, the landscape on Oracoke Island on North Carolina's Outer Banks is picturesque, and the residents practical. With access only by ferry or plane, the 14-mile-long Ocracoke Island is remote by almost any standard, and yet those who are tasked with educating its youth say its one school and fewer than 100 students lack for nothing. "The geography of the area first drew me to Ocracoke," George Ortman, principal of the K-12 Ocracoke School, told Education World. "I decided to start a new chapter in my life in North Carolina near the coast. As an avid fisherman, the draw was a natural one. Having lived on a peninsula for almost 30 years, an island had its appeal -- sound on one side, and ocean on the other."
The island's beauty only was outdone by the friendliness of the residents. "They impressed me as honest and hardworking people," Ortman recalled. "They have an intense interest in the education and welfare of their children and demonstrate this through their involvement in all facets of their children's education."
A Powerful Partnership

In such a challenging setting, what makes Ocracoke School work? George Ortman believes its island location has produced a strong and effective partnership between the school and community.
"The reason we have been so successful with our students is because of the cooperation between and among our teachers and our parents and community," said Ortman. "All are connected, one to the other. Students help students, parents know each other's children, and do not hesitate to correct any inappropriate behavior of their own as well as their neighbors' children. The children know that if they are rewarded for their accomplishments at school, they receive additional praise at home. On the other hand, if our children misbehave at school and receive a consequence here at school, they receive a consequence at home that is usually more severe. Parents work hand-in-hand with the school."
As the smallest school in the state with only 93 students, no one slips between the cracks at Ocracoke. Teachers become very involved with each student and his or her needs. "You get to know the children, where they live, their parents, their grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins and even their dogs and cats," Ortman said. "It doesn't get much more personal than that."
The attention is paying off. All of Orackoke's students in grades 3-12 passed the state tests in 2003-2004, with only three of the students requiring a second try. The teachers are attuned to the students' educational needs, and the parents are very much involved in their children's education. The majority of the students strive to perform at the high benchmark established by both teachers and parents. As in other areas, some graduates choose to remain in the area or return after further education, while others move on.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Saving a Community's Heart: The Small Rural School

At the center of many small, rural communities is the school -- and as states look for ways to save money, more small districts are being consolidated. The Rural School and Community Trust, though, argues that rural students benefit from small, local schools. Included: Resources for rural school districts opposing consolidation.
Among the latest challenges to small, rural schools in the U.S. are attempts to consolidate them into large, regional districts. Some states feel that having fewer, larger districts will be more efficient and save money. But the Rural School and Community Trust, under its president, Rachel Tompkins, is helping communities hang on to their schools. The Rural Trust, a non-profit organization that supports rural schools and communities, provides communities with research showing that especially in low-income areas, small community schools can be critical to student success. The Rural Trust arms readers with the Consolidation Fight-Back Toolkit, a list of studies to convince states of rural schools' importance.
Tompkins has been with the Rural Trust since its founding in 1995. She spoke with Education World about the Rural Trust's commitment to preserving small rural schools.
Education World: What sparked the Rural School and Community Trust's interest in the school district consolidation issue?
Rachel Tompkins: Rural people in many states told us their concerns [after school districts were consolidated] about long bus rides for their children -- now sometimes as long as two hours each way -- and the loss of an essential community institution, the local school. A mounting body of research confirms the connection between small schools and student learning, particularly for children from poor communities.
EW: Why are more states looking at the issue of district consolidation?
Tompkins: Policy makers have the mistaken view that consolidation is the only way to save money and improve curriculum. This is not so and there's substantial research and practice to demonstrate that.
EW: Why are small schools so important in rural communities?
Tompkins: Schools often are the largest employer in rural communities and the major customers for local businesses. They are essential to a sustainable local economy. School facilities often are the location in town for music, sports, and all sorts of public events. Also, school principals, superintendents, and teachers are community leaders in many organizations, churches, town and county government. When schools close in rural communities, the economy and community infrastructure often suffer fatal blows.
EW: What kind of support is needed from state and federal governments for small rural schools to remain viable?
Tompkins: State and federal policies should provide resources at levels that enable hard-to-staff schools to recruit teachers. That means not basing pay on the cost of living, but on the cost of recruiting and retaining teachers. Federal policy also should continue and expand the e-rate program to enable schools to make maximum use of distance learning. In addition, state policies should encourage appropriate use of distance learning, should allow for flexibility in the ways schools structure curriculum offerings, and should encourage district collaboration in the use of teachers.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Calendar Exposes School Financing Problems

When bake sales and walk-a-thons aren't enough to save critical school programs, what's a community to do? Members of the Long Tom Grange in Junction City, Oregon, found a solution: they "took it all off" and (discreetly) posed for a calendar that drew media attention -- and orders -- from around the world. Thrilled with the project's success, the grange men hope the calendar also will expose the naked truth about school financing. Included: A description of the calendar fundraising project.

Bake sales long have been a mainstay of school fundraising efforts, but one Oregon community decided to market a different sort of "bun." Tired of watching budget cuts result in increased class size and shrinking programs in Junction City School District 69, 12 members of the local Long Tom Grange decided to bare it all for their schools.
The product of their civic mindedness is the Men of the Long Tom Grange Calendar. Advertised as a "shameless fundraising project for the public schools of Junction City, Oregon," the calendar features the grangers, all married and ages 45 to 70, posed mostly-- but discreetly -- naked.
Suddenly, Junction City is home to a year's worth of celebrities -- but the calendar men aren't complaining.

"We're up in that age category where we're not that concerned about appearances," explained Larry Engels, a contractor also known as Mr. April. "We're not going to win blue ribbons in any category. Plus, we're all hams. At least, I am. We'll soak up any fame that comes our way."
Fame is indeed raining down on the calendar crew. Coverage from national media including CNN and The Today Show spurred so much Internet traffic that the calendar Web site almost imploded. The group also negotiated with other talk show hosts, including Jay Leno, Sharon Osbourne, and Wayne Brady about possible appearances. And did someone say "movie?" It's not out of the question.
Not only that, but at $17 each, calendar sales are booming; and it looks like the photos of the grangers will be decorating homes in all 50 states and a few foreign countries.
Public response "is beyond our wildest expectations," said Robin Pfeiffer (Mr. March), a retired teacher and a vineyard owner. "We thought we might get more flak, but because it is for education, we haven't. The reception and support throughout the community and nation has been unanimous. We are flabbergasted and overwhelmed."
While enjoying the "exposure," the calendar men also know they are raising awareness of a serious issue. "About 50 percent of this is to highlight the plight of education," Pfeiffer said. "We're not trying to just raise money, but also to call attention to the situation so that they [state, federal governments] do something to fund education. People just can't go around dropping their drawers for the schools. We need help from the legislature and the voters."
The idea for a calendar was proposed while grange members were brainstorming a fundraising project to help the local schools. Such programs as art and music were eliminated or sharply reduced because of budget cuts, and 20 of the districts 111 teachers were laid off before school started, according to Jim Bradshaw (aka Mr. August), a country club manager and member of the Junction City board of education.
"The fact is, the s

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Reporters' Notebook: Native Americans Struggle, Build Pride

For the second installment in the Education World series Lessons from Our Nation's Schools, editors Diane Weaver Dunne and Ellen R. Delisio traveled to rural Maine to visit two Native American reservation schools. They learned about Native American culture, learning styles, and the people who teach and learn at these schools. Included: Descriptions of how the relationship between Native Americans and the U.S. government evolved from enmity to separation.

Last spring, Education World editors Diane Weaver Dunne and Ellen R. Delisio visited two Native American reservation schools in northern Maine: Indian Island School on the Penobscot reservation north of Bangor and Beatrice Rafferty School on the Passamaquoddy reservation in Perry. Learn more about their visit in our five-part series. The five articles are detailed below. Click on any headline for a complete report.
Teachers on Mission to Save Heritage

Native American students have responded eagerly to the introduction of native studies to the curriculums at Indian Island and Beatrice Rafferty schools. Tribal leaders are hopeful that the resurgence of native studies will help this generation recapture its now struggling culture.
Reservation Schools Preserve Cultures, Boost Academics
Infused with state and federal money but facing more requirements and students with challenges, staff at two Native American schools talked with Education World about meeting their two missions: passing on Native American culture and boosting academics.
Native American Schools Ponder, Assail Dropout Rates
With the high school dropout rate for Native Americans among the highest in the country, reservation and school officials are searching for new ways to keep teens in school. News editor Ellen Delisio explores programs designed to reduce the dropout rate of Native Americans.
Principal Primes Kids to Succeed
A Texas transplant, principal Donald W. Salm told Education World he is impressed with the caring staff and community members of Beatrice Rafferty School. Salm talks with Education World editor Ellen R. Delisio about life on the reservation and his goals for the school's students.
Indian Island Principal Reflects On Native Schools' Goals, Challenges
Education World news editor Diane Weaver Dunne talks with Linda McLeod, principal of Indian Island School. McLeod reflects on the challenges reservation educators must overcome, and how those challenges are often similar to those at other rural public schools.

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Rural Children, Real Challenges

School Issues Center

"You can't build a house without a hammer and saw, and you can't expect an adult to build a successful life if the tools of learning and health weren't instilled in childhood," says Joan Benso of Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children. Her organization's recent report about the state's nearly 500,000 rural children suggests that many are dealing with challenges as difficult as those of kids in urban areas. Included: Highlights from a report that surprised even its creators!

"The conventional view of a child in poverty is a child of color, sitting on the stoop of a rundown row house. With the facts presented in this report, the picture now includes a child in a rural setting, facing the same obstacles to learning, health, and general well-being that the urban child in poverty faces."
-- Joan Benso
Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children
Lawmakers and citizens often think that urban children need the most attention when it comes to issues of health and education. But in Pennsylvania, officials of the Pennsylvania Partnerships for Children (PPC) hope to change that perception. They recently released a report, Miles to Go: The Well-Being of Pennsylvania's Rural Children, which found that life for rural children can be every bit as challenging as for urban children. "We began this effort with a goal of myth-busting -- showing Pennsylvania lawmakers and citizens that there are children in need where people would least expect," said Joan Benso of PPC.

Although the report was designed to surprise lawmakers and the public, it also startled its creators. "Frankly, we encountered a few surprises ourselves," Benso told Education World. "The biggest surprise was the finding that the rate of rural childhood poverty actually exceeds [that of] urban childhood poverty -- that was a shocker."

Miles to Go: The Findings

The following are among the findings published in Miles to Go:
* More rural children (18 percent) than urban children (15.5 percent) live in poverty.
* A single parent heads 24 percent of all rural families.
* One in 12 rural children is born to a mother under 20.
* One rural child in six is born to a mother who has less than a high school education.
* Though fewer rural high school students drop out of school than the state average, only 18 percent of these dropouts plan to get a GED.
* One rural infant in five is born to a mother who used tobacco during pregnancy.
* There is one primary care doctor for every 358 rural children.
* There is one pediatrician for every 3,636 rural children.
* There is one dentist for every 584 rural children.


Dr. P. Duff Rearick, superintendent of the ">Greencastle-Antrim School District in south-central Pennsylvania, would not be shocked by this finding from PPC. His district would benefit fiscally if its citizens could be persuaded to sign up for public assistance. They often refuse to declare their poverty status, and Rearick believes the main causes are pride and a distrust of government that is prevalent in the rural district.
"In this rural community, people value education -- to a point," explained Rearick. "They value a high school diploma but not education after high school. Only 11 percent of our residents have college degrees, and in 1995 we sent only 39 percent of our kids on to education after high school. With a lot of work we have raised that number to 67 percent in six years.
"A major hurdle for a rural district is overcoming the inertia present in a community," Rearick continued. "'Life here is good, I do not mind being poor, indeed I like the values, and my kids are going to do the same thing -- this is a frequent direct and subtle message sent to children."
A unique benefit of the school's rural location, Rearick reports, is that the active church life of the residents promotes strong families. When a student faces a problem or a parent conference is held, both parents typically attend. "We are the life for our kids and community," explained Rearick. "The social fabric for kids and parents circles around the school and church. Rural schools are a throwback in this respect. On Friday night, we are literally the only game in town. There is a strong sense of community."