Sunday, August 01, 2010

Schools leaving ever more children behind

Fewer top rating schools, more under review

About half of Delaware's schools failed to make adequate progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act, a dramatic increase from a year prior.

The number of top-rated schools dropped as federal standards for test scores in math and reading increased from the year before. The state's school accountability ratings also showed that 20 percent fewer schools received a "superior" ranking from the state Department of Education.

"We have to take big, giant steps toward radically improving our education system quickly enough to have this generation of students ready to compete for the next generation of jobs and opportunity," state Secretary of Education Lillian Lowery said in a statement.

Delaware officials determine school accountability ratings based on three components: annual progress toward federal goals in student reading and math performances; more rigorous state requirements that also consider science and social-studies performances; and the school's accountability history.

The school ratings, released late Friday afternoon, included ratings and AYP status for 192 of the state's 210 schools. This year, 66 schools were ranked "superior," 17 were "commendable" and 46 were on "academic review." Another 63 were considered to be "under improvement" for failing to make adequate progress for two consecutive years. Last year, 83 schools ranked "superior," 34 were "commendable" and 28 were on "academic review." Another 50 were considered "under improvement."

The designations -- "superior," "commendable," "academic progress" and "academic watch" -- tell parents how well their children's schools are progressing toward federal goals.

Schools considered "under improvement" receive sanctions, such as being required to offer free tutoring to struggling students or to restructure by hiring a new principal or changing curriculum.

The ranking came on the same day Gov. Jack Markell signed a new law that ties teacher ratings to new performance standards. The law -- which is mentioned in the state's winning $119 million Race to the Top plan -- requires that teachers must show two years of student growth within three years before the teacher may receive tenure. Tenure provides the highest rating, which provides for special job protections and will make the teacher eligible for bonus pay programs under Race to the Top.

"We are all aligned -- our state's parents, teachers, administrators and employers -- on the need to work together to strengthen our schools," Markell said in a statement. "From earlier in the year, when we won Race to the Top and implemented tough new regulations, to today's new law linking student achievement to new teacher evaluations, we've got to work together to ensure the best tomorrow for our kids."

The state is currently engaging teachers in a conversation to help shape the exact definition of student growth. Markell and Lowery promised Friday that the measurement would be rigorous and fair. The new teacher accountability law will begin in the 2011-2012 school year. The state is working out how test scores will be used to determine teacher effectiveness and has enlisted teachers to help decide what will work best.

Not all believe that standardized test scores are the best way to rate teachers. Teachers unions in several states have fought efforts to tie teacher pay and performance rankings to standardized test scores.

Bob Hamper, professor and interim director of the University of Delaware's school of education, said he believes Delaware's efforts to connect test scores and teacher evaluations is misguided.

"Universities devote painstaking attention to a wide range of evidence of effectiveness, and our public schools should do the same," Hamper said in an e-mail. "To yoke tenure to one indicator is unwise, just as it is unwise to grant tenure after only three years."

Teacher accountability is one part of the state's Race to the Top application.

Delaware's plan also includes restructuring 10 schools with low academic achievement rates. Until now, those schools' improvement plans have included mainly changes in curriculum, but no big staff changes.

State officials have not released the names of the first few buildings that will enter the turnaround program yet. Those schools will be named in late August. Some school districts have already begun replacing principals at low-achieving schools that are likely to face interventions.


360,000 troublemakers suspended from British schools last year

The sheer number of such suspensions shows what a futile disciplinary measure it is

More than 360,000 children were suspended from school last year amid Government warnings that classroom behaviour remains a “significant problem”. Pupils were temporarily barred from lessons 86,000 times for attacking teachers and classmates, while 3,440 suspensions were meted out for sexual misconduct.

Official figures show that large numbers of very young children were also excluded from state schools in England. Some 4,000 pupils aged just five or under were suspended in 2008/9, with a further 70 expelled altogether.

But data from the Department for Education showed an overall drop in the number of children kicked out of lessons compared with a year earlier.

The disclosure will fuel claims that schools are reducing the number of suspensions following the introduction of rules by Labour requiring them to educate pupils excluded for more than a week.

Ofsted has already warned that many secondary schools are giving children “managed moves” to other comprehensives to get around the policy.

The Coalition has pledged to crackdown on bad behaviour by introducing new powers to allow teachers to retain “control of the classroom”.

Nick Gibb, the Schools Minister, said: “Despite the fall in exclusions, poor behaviour remains a significant problem in our schools. “Tackling poor behaviour and raising academic standards are key priorities for the Coalition Government,

“We trust teachers and that's why we have already announced a series of measures to put head teachers and teachers back in control of the classroom – including ending the rule requiring schools to give 24 hours written notice for detentions and increased search powers. “We will introduce further measures to strengthen teacher authority and support schools in maintaining good behaviour.”

According to figures, children were suspended 363,280 times last year – representing almost 4.9 per cent of the school population. In primary schools, 39,510 children were suspended. The average length of a suspension was two-and-a-half days and boys were three times more likely than girls to be punished. In all, 6,550 pupils were also permanently expelled from schools in England, compared with 8,130 a year earlier.

Physical assaults on fellow pupils were named as the main reason for fixed-period exclusions. Children were suspended 69,090 times for attacking peers, while a further 17,200 suspensions were made for assaulting staff. Pupils were barred on 93,000 occasions for threatening pupils and staff, while 3,440 suspensions were made for sexual misconduct, 8,580 for drug and alcohol use and 3,930 for racism.


Australia: Arrogant education bureaucrats upsetting parents in Victoria

PARENTS are losing patience with the failure of some principals and education bureaucrats to resolve festering disputes with schools.

Parents Victoria executive officer Gail McHardy said poor communication from some principals was traumatising mums and dads. "Schools are very quick to slap a trespass order on someone rather than actually deal with the problem, and that's not helpful," she said.

Ms McHardy said that though dispute resolution had vastly improved in the past few years, an independent commissioner was needed to resolve lingering complaints.

"It could be just a personality clash, but then that festers and gets bigger than Ben Hur. And it didn't need be," she said. "Often it's the result of the initial situation not being managed correctly and schools not getting appropriate support, like more welfare officers."

Cases reported to the Herald Sun include that of a Bendigo student who almost died in a car crash and was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. He was expelled for truancy and, despite intervention by the department, the school will not take him back.

Another mother complained to the ombudsman that an outer western suburbs school, and the department, had failed to properly address bullying of her daughter.

Victorian Association of State Secondary Principals president Brian Burgess said intervention orders against parents were a last resort. "In the main, complaints are handled well. But in a small number of cases we need to make sure that the communication is better and the response timely," he said.

Opposition spokesman Martin Dixon said parents' legitimate complaints were being smothered. Education Minister Bronwyn Pike said parents were given new advice last year on lodging complaints.


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