Franklin (MA) School Committee Blog

The pieces below represent the views of the individual authors, not the committee as a whole.

Archive for the ‘Articles of interest’ Category

AP Participation Continues to Rise

Posted by Sean Donahue on June 28, 2012

A recent Boston Globe article discussing AP testing rates for the class of 2010 (percentage of students who took at least one AP test) at area high schools — and listing Franklin at 26% — led to a few concerned e-mails. While the data is correct for the class of 2010, participation in AP classes has risen considerably since then.

For the class of 2012, 42% (175 of 419) of students participated in at least one AP course — a 61% increase over two years. In November, increases for the class of 2011 led to Franklin being one of 367 school districts in the U.S. and Canada named to the AP District Honor Roll for achieving “increases in access to AP® courses for a broader number of students and also maintained or improved the rate at which their AP students earned scores of 3 or higher on an AP Exam.”

Franklin has taken further steps to increase access and will be offering AP Latin, and AP Biology and AP United States History I to sophomores at the high school next year. There are currently 697 total enrollments in Advanced Placement courses for the 2012-13 school year, compared to 593 in 2011-12.

Franklin now offers 21 different Advanced Placement courses, significantly higher than many of the top performing schools discussed in the Globe. Offering a wide variety of AP courses and increasing participation remains a priority.

While participation is important, so are results. Despite enrollment increases in AP courses, Franklin has maintained an 80% passing rate (students achieving a 3 or better) as of 2011 (2012 data is not yet available).

Additionally, college matriculation rate for the class of 2012 exceeds 96%, an all-time high for Franklin High School.

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Mass students highest in nation on ACT assessments

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on August 17, 2011

Massachusetts students from the 2011 graduating class outscored students nationwide on the ACT assessment of college readiness.

Massachusetts 2011 graduates scored an average composite score of 24.2 out of a possible 36, up from last year’s average of 24.0 and higher than the national average of 21.1. Statewide, 14,975 Massachusetts students (22 percent) from the 2011 graduating class took the ACT during high school, and 43 percent of those students met all four ACT College Readiness Benchmark scores, compared to 25 percent nationwide. On the four subject area tests, Massachusetts 2011 graduates had the highest percent of students in the nation meeting the ACT benchmark in Reading (74%), Math (73%), and Science (47%), and tied for the highest in English (86%) with Connecticut.

“These results are yet another confirmation that our students are leading the nation in academic achievement,” said Governor Deval Patrick. “We continue to aggressively pursue reform efforts to close achievement gaps in our schools, and will work to ensure that every high school graduate has the skills they need to be successful in both college and career.”

The ACT provides an annual predictive indicator of the college and career readiness of ACT-tested high school graduates. While historically more high school students in Massachusetts have taken the SAT, participation rates on the ACT continue to rise over time, increasing from 15 percent of graduates in 2007 to 21 percent in 2010, to 22 percent this year.

For more information on ACT, click here.

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Borders will help you support the schools!

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on December 3, 2010

For every purchase you make at Borders from Dec 4-5, you will receive a $15 DonorsChoose.org gift card to make a donation to a classroom.

And if you buy the book Waiting for Superman, you’ll get another $15 card.

The schools could clearly use the funds, so consider this offer in your weekend activities.  Click the link below for more information.

This Week’s Hot Picks at Borders!.

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Massachusetts education chief supports national standards

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on July 17, 2010

The state’s commissioner of elementary and secondary education recommended yesterday that Massachusetts replace its highly regarded academic standards for English and math with a uniform set of national standards that could lead to major changes in standardized testing. For the complete story from the Boston Globe, click here.

The recommendation by Mitchell Chester sparked a mix of praise and condemnation around Beacon Hill and on the campaign trail, following months of speculation across the state and nation over whether Massachusetts would join other states in adopting standards that outline what material should be taught in kindergarten through 12th grade.

If the state board adopts the plan, school districts would phase in the new standards by the end of the 2011-12 school year. The changes would most likely result in adjustments to classroom lessons, not the wholesale overhaul that took place in the 1990s when the state standards replaced a patchwork of academic programs developed by individual districts.

We wrote about the national standards last month when the DESE was looking for public comments.  You can view that post by clicking here.

I have never been a fan of the standardization of America, and I look with a more curious eye when considering the prospect of further standardization of education.  Particularly in light of this week’s Newsweek cover story on creativity, we should look much more carefully into whether we should be heading in this direction.  Where experts on one hand are saying there is a crisis in creativity, we have others urging curriculum standards which stifle creativity.  In that context, we should tread cautiously.

You can read the full Newsweek report by clicking here.

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Central Falls’ Superintendent Fires Teachers

Posted by Bill Glynn on February 24, 2010

You’ve probably heard that the Superintendent of schools for Central Falls, Rhode Island fired all of the high school teachers. The Providence Journal article can be found here: http://www.projo.com/education/content/central_falls_teachers.1_02-13-10_A8HEI7Q_v61.3a65218.html. As of this posting, there are 655 comments posted against that article and it’s worth scanning through some of them.

Teaching is one of those professions that can be associated with words such as passion, dedication, and caring. Consequently, it is disheartening to think that the Superintendent, the faculty, and the School Committee may never have sat down and had serious discussions about how to best address the school’s problems, which are multi-faceted, not easily solved, and, in some cases, beyond the ability of the school district to fix. However, the Superintendent was tasked with “fixing” the school. It is certainly within the Superintendent’s purview to create the get well plan, but prudence would suggest that working together with the teachers, at a minimum, would be fundamental to any potential solution.

Equally disconcerting is the union’s rejection of the Superintendent’s plan, not based upon the plan’s potential effectiveness, but based upon selfish and misplaced priorities. It’s impossible to determine from this article exactly how the union came to its position and whether or not that position actually reflects the view of the faculty at large. However, the union’s position is troubling. When demands to negotiate take priority over the overwhelming need to work together, that’s a problem. When more time is spent searching the fine print of a contract or seeking a legal opinion than researching best practices for motivating and connecting with students, that’s a problem. When education is waning and students are suffering and the voice of the teacher goes unsolicited or is organizationally silenced, that’s a problem.

There is a lot more to this story to be sure and the comments about the students’ and parents’ lack of caring can’t be ignored as being one potential root cause of the problem. Nevertheless, it is abundantly clear that this school and these students are in trouble. Students must always be the primary focus of the education system and their needs must always take precedence when making decisions, even when powerful forces with misguided priorities stand in the way. This is an extreme situation and any resolution will require that all parties work together. Unfortunately, not all parties have been focused on the well being of the students and now the teachers will join the students as collateral damage. In the dictionary, collaboration precedes collective bargaining and that priority needs to be reflected in practice. An organization that loses sight of its primary responsibility to represent its members and instead adopts a set of priorities inextricably linked to its own desires is an organization of dubious purpose.

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Education blogs worth viewing

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on January 16, 2010

Washington Post reporter and education blogger Jay Matthews and his blogging Post colleague Valerie Strauss highlighted their picks for best education blogs for 2010. They sought a mix of the serious and the sublime, and disqualified the legendary education blogs they already display in the margins of their own blogs. Mathews blog can be found by clicking here. Strauss’s blog can be found by clicking here.

Here is the list for 2010, along with descriptions provided by Matthews and Strauss. You can view the blogs themselves by clicking on the hyper-linked titles:

A Passion for Teaching and Opinions : By a northern California teacher and coach, one of the best written and most interesting of teacher blogs. Good with an expletive, like my favorite coaches, he often makes me laugh.–Jay.

Assorted Stuff: The blogger is a Fairfax County (Virginia) schools tech guy who kicks me around frequently, thus getting extra points–Jay.

Charter Insights: Fun to read, very droll, focuses mostly on Colorado but has some national insights.–Jay

Free Tech 4 Teachers: I am not qualified to judge ed tech blogs, but we need to have some. Many readers mentioned these guys, and they seem smart and vivid.–Jay

Educated Reporter: Author and former Washington Post reporter Linda Perlstein is public editor for the Education Writers Association. Her writing is aimed at helping journalists improve coverage of schools and children but is accessible to non-journalists as well.–Valerie

Education Policy Blog: Smart educators, including local classroom star Ken Bernstein, a.k.a. teacherken. They debate everything from school lunches to standards. –Jay

Education Week–Bridging Differences: Diane Ravitch and Deborah Meier may be the most knowledgeable and articulate education experts in the country.–Jay

Eduoptimists : A professor of education and a director of education policy take in-depth looks at “the power of sociey, schools, colleges and educators to empower individuals, further learning, and reduce inequities … and have a little fun along the way.” — Valerie

GFBrandenburg’s Blog: This blogger loathes the D.C. schools chancellor, so his work is instructive for Rhee fans like me. He is terrific with statistics and a dogged reporter.

Inside School Research with Debra Viadero: Veteran education reporter Debra Viadero of Education Week knows how to dig into research on schools and learning and tell us whether it makes sense or not. Her posts are informative and lively.–Valerie

My Bellringers: Here are the tart observations of a Texas teacher and author. She has been flogging her book lately, but what’s wrong with that? –Jay

National Journal : A well-rounded blog that presents a wide of voice on all aspects of education policy.– Valerie

New America Foundation blogs: Early Ed Watch, Higher Ed Watch, Ed Money Watch all offer informative and original reporting and analysis on their respective subjects.–Valerie

Public School Insights: Sponsored by a consortium of districts, the Learning First Alliance, this site has a very smart and interesting blogger who ranges wide over the country.–Jay

Schoolgate: Journalist Sarah Ebner helps readers understand what she calls “the maze” of Britain’s education system. –Valerie

Stories From School: National Certified teachers tell stories about how policy decisions impact learning and teaching. — Valerie

The Quick and the Ed: The blog of the independent think tank Education Sector offers unorthodox analysis on the latest in education policy and research on a range of education subjects.– Valerie

The Line: Smart, funny comments by a 7th grade teacher, Dina Strasser, who writes very well. — Jay

The Teachers Desk: By teacher Jacqueline McTaggert, this is a place where teachers share ideas and opinions–and parents can stop by too. McTaggert has some fun features, including “Dunce Cap,” where she dishonors somebody every month for doing something dumb, and “Gold Star,” where she gives praise where praise is due.– Valerie

This Week in Education: Journalist and former Senate education staffer Alexander Russo writes about everything happening in education news and politics. Always something new to learn.–Valerie

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Digital Generation Project is helpful resource

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on December 30, 2009

Today’s kids are born digital — born into a media-rich, networked world of infinite possibilities. But their digital lifestyle is about more than just cool gadgets; it’s about engagement, self-directed learning, creativity, and empowerment.

The Digital Generation Project tells their stories so that educators and parents can understand how kids learn, communicate, and socialize in very different ways than any previous generation.

And the video to the right is one of the many offered on the site.  It is Henry Jenkins, USC media professor, talking about new media and implications for learning and teaching.  He describes the role of digital media in cultural transformation.

To see the video, click here or on the image to the right.

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What does it mean to be literate in the 21st century?

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on December 23, 2009

What does it mean to be literate in the 21st century? It is an important and relevant issue that invites dialogue from educators who work with youth. The world is changing and schools are required to make those changes necessary to help youth become fully competent, critical, and thoughtful citizens in the world they live in.

Here is a video from Heidi Clark and Anita Bramhoff, two Canadian teachers who made the film as part of some work at the University of British Columbia. It is an exploration of the definition of literacy: more specifically, of what it means to be a literate person in the 21st Century. The producers are reflective practitioners who have strong literacy backgrounds. As practicing teachers they have a vested interest in this subject. The producers realize that new media in a technological world is shaping the lives of youth and that as a result, redefining the literacy skills that will be necessary for youth to be able to function successfully in the world they are growing up in. The latter implies, by necessity, that the how, what and why of teaching literacy must also change.

Enjoy the video which lasts approximately eight minutes.

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Letter questions emotional statements about election

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on November 14, 2009

This interesting and insightful letter to the editor appeared in the November 13, 2009 edition of the Franklin Country Gazette. I have never met the author of the letter, but thought he captured the spirit of many of us who are involved in Franklin government. I have included it in this space — in full and unedited — because it conveys a powerful message and delivers words that must be heeded.

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Jenifer Fox: Obama is Right, Developing Talent is Key in Education

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on September 13, 2009

I thought this was an interesting post and comment on the President’s speech to students and thus have posted a link using ShareThis.

Jenifer Fox: Obama is Right, Developing Talent is Key in Education

Here’s an excerpt, but click on the link to read the entire post:

President Obama implored school children to take responsibility for their own educations. He said, “I want to start with the responsibility you have to yourself. Every single one of you has something you’re good at. Every single one of you has something to offer. And you have a responsibility to yourself to discover what that is. That’s the opportunity an education can provide.”

Mr. President is right. Once children know their own strengths and talents and understand how to put them to use, they can create their futures. Schools are very good at teaching children about their weaknesses and helping them see what they cannot do and what they do not know. We are far less skilled at teaching students to understand what they love to do. This should be the nation’s educational charge.

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A good name is a priceless possession

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on July 15, 2009

The increase in the use of anonymous rants and postings on newspaper and other blogs is concerning.  Often times, they express a view from folks who suggest that they have all the answers, but are unwilling to “step up to the plate” and do anything about it.

When reading the remarks of these critics who are weak and unwilling to sign their name, I am reminded of this quote from Teddy Roosevelt:

It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.

In today’s Milford Daily News, former state representative Marie Parente offered her view, which includes an analysis of efforts to identify anonymous posters.  You can view that piece by clicking on this link:

MARIE PARENTE: A good name is a priceless possession – Milford, MA – The Milford Daily News (Posted using ShareThis)

As she notes in the opening of her piece, “The past few months, several published comments on local newspaper articles by anonymous posters appear to have ‘crossed the line.’  One wonders whether they believe they are contributing to a forum, offering constructive criticism or simply intend to inflict pain, damage community standing and humiliate targeted victims.”

The Boston Globe ran a similar piece critical of these anonymous posts.  In it, the author notes that “these forums are insidiously contributing to the devaluation of journalism, blurring the truth, confusing the issues, and diminishing serious discourse beyond even talk radio’s worst examples.”  The author goes on urging newspapers to restore journalism’s integrity by removing these reader forums.  You can read the full Globe piece by clicking here.

Participating in government is no doubt important.  But the destructive use of anonymous rants can hardly qualify as participation.  It is easy to sit back behind a computer screen and hide behind electronic guts.  But in order to be a force worth reckoning, one must be in the arena. 

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Jobs of tomorrow report released

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on July 13, 2009

President Obama issued a new report this morning on the “jobs of tomorrow” — even as the jobs of today keep disappearing. In the report, titled “Preparing the Workers of Today for the Jobs of Tomorrow,” the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (CEA) present a projection of potential developments in the U.S. labor market over the next five to ten years and discusses the preparations necessary to develop the 21st century workforce. The report (read it here) discusses the skills and training that will likely be needed for the growing occupation categories, and the education and training system needed to prepare people for those jobs.

With regard to education in particular, the report notes the following:

Occupations requiring higher educational attainment are projected to grow much faster than those with lower education requirements, with the fastest growth among occupations that require an associate’s degree or a post-secondary vocational award. Key attributes of a well-trained workforce as well as elements of an effective education and training system are detailed below.

The elements of a more effective system identified in the report include:

  • a solid early childhood, elementary, and secondary system that ensures students have strong basic skills;
  • institutions and programs that have goals that are aligned and curricula that are cumulative;
  • close collaboration between training providers and employers to ensure that curricula are aligned with workforce needs;
  • flexible scheduling, appropriate curricula, and financial aid designed to meet the needs of students;
  • incentives for institutions and programs to continually improve and innovate; and
  • accountability for results.

The report concludes that the U.S. economy appears to be shifting towards jobs that require workers with greater analytical and interactive skills – skills that are typically acquired with some post-secondary education. Mindful of this, we must do what we can to maintain a solid foundation in our public school system.

The United States Bureau of Labor Statistics offered its analysis of tomorrow’s jobs and highlighted the importance of on-the-job training as follows:

For 12 of the 20 fastest growing occupations, an associate degree or higher is the most significant level of postsecondary education or training. On-the-job training is the most significant level of postsecondary education or training for another 6 of the 20 fastest growing occupations. In contrast, on-the-job training is the most significant level of postsecondary education or training for 12 of the 20 occupations with the largest numerical increases, while 6 of these 20 occupations have an associate degree or higher as the most significant level of postsecondary education or training.

This report underscores the importance of learning how to learn, an important element for a successful education.

You can read the full CEA report by clicking here.  You can view the Bureau of Labor Stsitistics report by clicking here.

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MCAS history exam scrapped by DOE board

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on February 24, 2009

The state Board of Education voted today to delay the start of the 10th-grade MCAS history exam by at least two years because of deep budget cuts and financial constraints.

In an 8-2 vote, the board acknowledged that during such tough fiscal times it could not introduce a new test that might cause school districts to spend tens of thousands of dollars to retrain teachers and revamp curriculum. The test had been scheduled to begin as a pilot program this spring and be administered to high school juniors next year, becoming a graduation requirement for the class of 2012.

Mitchell Chester, commissioner of the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, outlined his rationale for delaying the history MCAS in a letter which can be viewed by clicking here. In part, he wrote: “Even at current funding levels, we will have insufficient funds to maintain our current program and transition our pilot history and social science tests to a fully operational assessment program. While our history and social science tests are part of our state education reform program, unlike reading, mathematics, and science and technology/engineering tests, they are not required by the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. If the budget cuts currently projected are realized, there will be additional impacts to the MCAS program, beyond the impact to history and social science assessments.”

To view the Boston Globe report, click here. For the Milford Daily News report, click here.

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Parents can sue for sex discrimination on schools under two laws

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on January 21, 2009

The Supreme Court has ruled unanimously that people who complain of sex discrimination in schools can sue under both a 1972 federal law and a broader post-Civil War provision. The decision was a victory for the parents of a Massachusetts schoolgirl, who said she was subjected to repeated harassment by a third-grade boy on their school bus. The case was the subject of an earlier blog post which can be viewed by clicking here.

It is quite common for students or parents claiming sex bias at school to make claims under both the Constitution (Section 1983) and Title IX, to maximize their chances for winning some remedy and perhaps, with the constitutional claim, a broader remedy. Section 1983 allows any citizen to sue any state or local official who deprives that citizen of rights under the Constitution or federal law. But the Supreme Court has ruled that the government isn’t liable for private discrimination by one person against another, even if the person discriminating is subject to government regulation and control, and even if the government is aware of, and indifferent to, that discrimination. Title IX protects students from being “subjected to discrimination” in schools regardless of the source of discrimination, even if the discriminator is a student — provided that the school district is on notice of the discrimination and is “deliberately indifferent” to it.

Lower federal courts had ruled that the parents, Lisa and Robert Fitzgerald, could not sue the Barnstable School Committee under the older law because Title IX, barring sex discrimination at schools that receive federal money, ruled out using the older provision.

Justice Samuel Alito said in his opinion for the court that Title IX does not bar suits under the older civil rights, which was designed to enforce the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause. The Court specifically concluded that Title IX was not meant to be an exclusive mechanism for addressing gender discrimination in schools, or a substitute for §1983 suits as a means of en-forcing constitutional rights. To view a copy of the full decision, click here.

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Elvis Costello interviews Bill Clinton

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on December 21, 2008

What does Elvis Costello interviewing Bill Clinton have to do with education, you ask? Seeing these two great minds come together for a conversation about music was an incredibly worthwhile 60 minutes of television (a one minute excerpt from the show is included above). It was especially noteworthy to hear Clinton express his displeasure with the fact that the No Child Left Behind Act has forced many school districts to reduce music and arts programs in order to comply with NCLB.   He advocated for the return and enhancement of music and arts in our schools.

The President went on to describe how important music and arts are to the education and development of children.  He talked of being able to read music, perform it, and see it as more than notes on a page.   He even observed that he probably would never have been President if he had not participated in school music programs.

The interview by Elvis Costello with Bill Clinton is part of the Spectacle series on the Sundance Channel which airs on Wednesday evenings at 9 pm.  SPECTACLE: ELVIS COSTELLO WITH… features everything from intimate one-on-one conversations with legendary performers and notable newcomers to thematic panel discussions.  Guest artists not only talk but perform — demonstrating the development and creation of their music and playing new, stripped-down or solo versions of some of their best and most loved songs.

The Clinton interview was an unprecedented and revealing chat about President Bill Clinton’s early career aspirations as a jazz saxophonist; the astonishing degree to which music shaped him as a man, a politician and a President; the challenges – and critical importance – of music education; the shared skills of musicians and politicians; with observations on Elvis (Presley), John Coltrane, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Nina Simone and N.W.A..

In choosing to interview Clinton for the series, the show’s creator Steve Warden observed that they talked about including Bill Clinton in the series almost from the beginning.  “Although the idea for Spectacle was to focus on great and interesting musicians, we wanted to mix it up a little with some exceptional personalities who had a connection to or involvement with music that would make sense to explore within the context of the series,” he said.  “The 42nd President met the test.”

The series is also available on demand on your cable TV service.

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School case tests claims for sex harassment

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on December 3, 2008

An interesting tweet this morning turned me on to a case involving the Barnstable School Committee which wound up at the United States Supreme Court earlier this week. In Fitzgerald, et al., v. Barnstable School Committee, the Supreme Court faces the question about whether Congress meant that law to wipe out constitutional claims by students or parents of sex bias in public school districts or state colleges when it enacted Title IX. The issue arises out of these facts:

Jacqueline Fitzgerald was in the kindergarten at Hyannis West Elementary School during the 2000-2001 school year. Her parents complained to school officials after Jacqueline told them that, every time she wore a skirt to school, an eight-year-old third grader, Briton Oleson, would force her to lift her skirt when they were on the bus, pull down her underpants, or spread her legs, while other students laughed at her. Briton denied the allegations. Other students, as well as the bus driver, were questioned by the school’s administration, but none of them could corroborate Jacqueline’s story. Both school officials and the police became involved in the investigation; they found Briton’s denials credible and concluded that there was insufficient evidence to either charge or punish him.

School officials offered various alternatives, such as putting Jacqueline on a different bus, or segregating younger students from older ones on the bus, but the Fitzgeralds rejected those proposals, saying they were a form of punishment of Jacqueline, not the boy who was harassing her. Instead, the Fitzgeralds asked that the boy be put on a different bus, or that an adult monitor ride the bus each day – proposals that school officials rejected. So, the Fitzgeralds began driving Jacqueline to school themselves. The boy, the parents complained, continued to harass Jacqueline in the hallway at school, so, ultimately, they sued under two federal statutes — Section 1983 and Title IX.

It is quite common for students or parents claiming sex bias at school to make claims under both the Constitution (Section 1983) and Title IX, to maximize their chances for winning some remedy and perhaps, with the constitutional claim, a broader remedy. Section 1983 allows any citizen to sue any state or local official who deprives that citizen of rights under the Constitution or federal law. But the Supreme Court has ruled that the government isn’t liable for private discrimination by one person against another, even if the person discriminating is subject to government regulation and control, and even if the government is aware of, and indifferent to, that discrimination. Title IX protects students from being “subjected to discrimination” in schools regardless of the source of discrimination, even if the discriminator is a student — provided that the school district is on notice of the discrimination and is “deliberately indifferent” to it. Thus, Title IX, unlike the Constitution, allows schools to be held liable for student-on-student harassment if school officials are deliberately indifferent to it. See Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, 526 U.S. 629 (1999).

The Fitzgeralds sought money damages and court orders to protect their daughter. A U.S. District Court judge refused to consider the constitutional claim, finding that Title IX provided the only remedy. The judge then ruled against the Fitzgeralds on their Title IX claim. The First Circuit Court affirmed on both points (click here to read the decision). On the Title IX claim, the Circuit Court ruled for the School Committee, finding that the parents had not shown that the response of the officials to their complaints amounted to “deliberate indifference.”

The appeal to the Supreme Court is focused on whether Title IX had displaced entirely their right to sue for constitutional violations. In their petition, the Fitzgeralds argued that the lower court ruling turned Title IX on its head and that the statute was intended to expand, not to contract, protections for victims of discrimination on the basis of sex. But if the oral arguments this week serve as any indication, a win for the Fitzgeralds may turn out to be an empty victory, judging from the justices’ questions on Tuesday at the Supreme Court reported the New York Times (12/3, A23, Liptak). While “several justices appeared ready to accept that Title IX…was not meant to limit the ability to sue under” the “broader federal civil rights law known as Section 1983,” they “seemed to think that allowing a claim under the earlier law would make no difference.” You can view a transcript of the oral argument by clicking here.

The facts are certainly egregious and emotionally charged, but it begs the question about what more the school district could have done under the circumstances. We’ll have to wait until the spring to get a decision from the court, but it would not be surprising to see the case simply sent back to the lower court for further proceedings without a decision on the merits of the claims.

For more details on the case, click here to view the SCOTUSwiki report.

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NY teachers challenge political activity rule

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on October 11, 2008

With only weeks to go before the Nov. 4 elections, the United Federation of Teachers filed a federal court lawsuit claiming that a New York City Department of Education policy banning educators from wearing campaign pins in schools violates their constitutional rights to free speech and political expression.

The UFT filed the complaint in U.S. District Court in Manhattan seeking a temporary restraining order against the policy, which city schools Chancellor Joel Klein urged principals to enforce in an Oct. 1 e-mail message to administrators in the city’s 1,500 public schools — even though it has not been followed for decades. You can read the text of the regulation by clicking here.

The plaintiffs are UFT President Randi Weingarten; Miriam DelMoor, a technology teacher at the George F. Bristow School, CS 134, in the Bronx; Anthony Thompson, a physical education and health teacher at the Wakefield School, PS 16, in the Bronx; Frank Soriente, a common branches teacher at PS 121 in Queens; and David Pecoraro, a social studies teacher at Beach Channel High School in Queens. The named defendants are the New York City Board of Education and Chancellor Klein.

Weingarten outlined the union’s case for reporters during a press conference before she and attorney Norman Siegel and attorneys from the law firm of Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP filed the papers at the Southern District courthouse at 500 Pearl Street. She noted that the union has operated in the same way with respect to political speech in schools over two decades, carefully balancing teachers’ responsibilities as professionals and as citizens.

The UFT sent an e-mail message to its chapter leaders on Sept. 23 regarding the wearing of political buttons during school hours, the hanging of posters and the distribution of other political materials along with regular union distributions. That e-mail message is virtually identical to that which was sent to chapter leaders in 2000 and 2004.

About two days later, the chancellor’s office contacted the UFT to say that the wearing of campaign buttons and the distribution of political materials is prohibited by Chancellor’s Regulation D-130, which requires all Department of Education staff to “maintain a posture of complete neutrality with respect to all candidates” while on duty or in contact with students. It also prohibits the use of school facilities and supplies, including school mailboxes and even bulletin boards designated for UFT use, to express support for any political candidate except “as an integral part of regularly published staff newspapers or newsletters.” That was followed by the chancellor’s October 1 Principals’ Weekly e-mail notice to administrators.

“The ban on members wearing lapel pins is bad enough,” Weingarten told reporters. “Now the Department of Education wants to restrict the communications between the UFT and its members through the regular channels utilized for such communications such as union bulletin boards and employee mailboxes, both of which are out of students’ view.

“The ‘what if’ scenarios the Chancellor has raised have not happened in two decades,” Weingarten continued. “Why would they create shibboleths now simply to deny educators freedom of expression?”

“It doesn’t matter whether you support Democratic Senator Barack Obama or Republican Senator John McCain,” Weingarten said. “As voters, we all should have the right to express our views. By suppressing political expression, the Department of Education is sending the wrong message to our students. We are just weeks away from a landmark presidential election that is being discussed in classrooms and at dinner tables across the nation. Students can only benefit from being exposed to and engaged in a dialogue about current events, civic responsibilities and the political process.”

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Sir Ken Robinson on creativity and education

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on September 16, 2008

Last year, you were urged to view a video at TED featuring Sir Ken Robinson (See post on Importance of Music in Education). In it, Sir Ken Robinson makes an entertaining (and profoundly moving) case for creating an education system that nurtures creativity, rather than undermining it. To view that video, click here.

Robinson is back. British reporter Riz Khan, a veteran of the BBC and CNN, speaks to Sir Ken who strongly believes the current state of education may begin holistically but progressively focuses “on the head, and then just to one side.”

The interview with Sir Ken is 20 minutes long and is presented in two parts on YouTube. In part one, Sir Ken starts out his conversation with the host by suggesting that our education systems (around the world) are outdated and mainly designed to meet the needs of industrialization. Sir Ken makes the case that music and the arts and creativity in general should be pursued more. In part two Sir Ken tells a couple of interesting stories and makes the point that talent is often buried quite deep within a student and it does not surface until the conditions are right. His new book The Element deals with exploring the conditions that help students find their own “element.”

The interview also includes some clips from Alvin Toffler, an American writer and futurist who shares Sir Ken’s philosophy on education. Toffler’s most recent book Revolutionary Wealth focuses on the economic revolution sweeping the globe and the impact it will have on everything from science and schools to property and politics, marketing and media.

The videos of the interview can be seen by clicking on the images below:

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More testing . . . just what the students need

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on August 13, 2008

If you detected sarcasm in the title, you’re right on. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water, the College Board is proposing yet another standardized test for students. The test, expected to be released in 2010, aims to identify talented students and get them into college-prep classes early.

But many critics say students already face too many tests and too much stress. A full report on the new test from the Los Angeles Times can be viewed by clicking here.

While we are on the topic of tests, I urge you to check out this article from Edutopia, a publication of the George Lucas Educational Foundation. You can view it by clicking here. The article looks at performance assessments which go beyond traditional tests and serve as an important teaching tool. There is a companion video which can be viewed by clicking here.

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SnagFilms privides free access to independent films

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on July 27, 2008

A new website which hosts independent films was featured in today’s paper.  At SnagFilms.com, you can watch full-length documentary films for free, but they also make it easy for you to take the films with you and put them anywhere on the web.  When you embed a widget on your web site, you open a virtual movie theater and become a “Filmanthropist.”  With a library of 225 documentaries, you are bound to find films that resonate with your interests.  There is a widget for EVERY film, so any film you like can be snagged.

Washington Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis has successfully produced two documentary films in recent years.  Snagfilms is his latest a Web company which will distribute such films online for free, creating an outlet for moviemakers who have difficulty getting their films shown in cinemas.  SnagFilms aims to generate revenue through advertising, which will be split evenly between Leonsis’s company and the filmmakers.  To view the Washington post article on the site and company, click here.

To get you started, below you will see that I have snagged a film called Paperclips for you to watch. It’s 82 minutes and it details how the students at Whitwell Middle School in rural Tennessee met Holocaust survivors from around the world and how the experience transformed them and their community.  Struggling to grasp the concept of six-million Holocaust victims, the students decide to collect six-million paper clips to better understand the extent of this crime against humanity.  It’s a great story of the transformative nature of education.

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Young people still have great expectations

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on July 16, 2008

Despite the importance of young adults, there has been little work that investigates their views and priorities. A wide-ranging survey of 801 people released by MassINC, a nonpartisan public policy think tank, fills that gap. The report, entitled Great Expectations, offers a window into the thinking of a key pool of citizens whose success will largely determine the state’s economic future. The survey paints a comprehensive and fascinating picture of their views, both on their personal lives and on public policy issues. Through their words, clear messages to policymakers and other civic leaders emerge about steps that they can take to make the state more appealing.

This survey reveals that, overall, young adults strongly believe in the American Dream. They see a bright future for themselves and also for future generations. Only 4 percent think that their incomes will go down over the next five years, and only 7 percent of parents think that their children will be worse off than they are financially.

Their optimism about their own lives, however, does not carry over to their views about government. Instead, the majority of young adults lack confidence in government’s effectiveness. In fact, only 4 percent are very confident that state and local government can improve the policy area that they believe should be government’s highest priority. We uncover the connection between their views on taxes and their confidence in government. Of those adults who have a lot or some confidence in state government, 52 percent think that taxes are either about right or too low. Conversely, among those who have either not too much or no confidence in government, only 21 percent believe that taxes are about right or too low.

In sharp contrast to their views about the public sector, young adults are overwhelmingly positive about their jobs and current employers. A substantial majority of the employed reports being satisfied with their jobs. In addition, the importance of working for a socially responsible employer is a clear priority, perhaps in the same way in which job stability might have defined earlier generations. Nearly three-quarters of young adults believe that it is very important to work for an employer who is respectful of ethical values, people, communities, and the environment. Remarkably, nearly 90 percent think that their current employers meet that test.

Finances are the biggest problem facing young adults and their families, with 30 percent saying that personal finances, paying bills, not having enough money, and making ends meet is their biggest problem. Another 20 percent call the high cost of living and housing their biggest problem. Most young adults say they have experienced financial strain in the past five years with 32 percent admitting to taking on more debt than they can handle. Four in 10 (41%) young adults report that they have $10,000 or more in total debt, including all debt from credit cards, loans, and medical bills but not including a mortgage.

The survey identifies three specific subgroups of young adults: those who moved to Massachusetts as adults (Imports); those who grew up in Massachusetts (Homegrowns); and those who grew up in Massachusetts and lived outside the state as adults for at least a year and returned (Boomerangs). There are key demographic differences between these subgroups. For instance, 60 percent of Imports have a college degree compared with 32 percent of Homegrowns. Jobs, education and skills are more of a concern for Homegrowns. Among Imports who are concentrated in Greater Boston, housing and cost of living are key issues.

To view the Boston Globe report on this research, click here. For a copy of the complete report, click here.

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Once upon a school

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on March 22, 2008

There are a lot of good people out there doing great things for public education. Author Dave Eggers is one such person. He asks people to personally, creatively engage with local public schools. In this video, Eggers talks, with spellbinding eagerness, about how his 826 Valencia tutoring center inspired others around the world to open their own volunteer-driven, wildly creative writing labs.

And at the 2008 TED conference in February, he made a wish:

I wish that you—you personally and every creative individual and organization you know—will find a way to directly engage with a public school in your area, and that you’ll then tell the story of how you got involved, so that within a year we have 1,000 examples of innovative public-private partnerships.

But you don’t need to go that far, he reminds us — it’s as simple as asking a teacher “How can I help?” And when you have figured out how to help, he asks that you share your own volunteering stories at his new website, Once Upon a School.

Dave Eggers’ first book, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius, was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Since then he’s written two more novels and launched an independent publishing house, which publishes books, a quarterly literary journal (McSweeney’s), a DVD-based review of short films (Wholpin), a monthly magazine (The Believer) and the Voice of Witness project.

Meanwhile, Eggers has established himself as a philanthropist and teacher-at-large. In 1998 he launched 826 Valencia, a San Francisco-based writing and tutoring lab for young people, which has since opened six more chapters across the United States. He has extended his advocacy of students by supporting their educators, instituting a monthly grant for exceptional Bay Area teachers.

Time magazine had this to say about Eggers: “Many writers, having written a first best-seller, might see it as a nice way to start a career. He started a movement instead.”

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Creative thinking in the classroom

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on February 23, 2008

It’s music to my ears. House Bill 393, an act to establish a commission to create the Creative Challenge Index, was favorably released by the Massachusetts Legislature’s Joint Education Committee in January. Rep. Dan Bosley, Chairman of the House Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies, and lead sponsor of the bill, said “The Creative Challenge Index will establish incentives for schools to foster creative skills through arts education and other creative educational opportunities.”

According to a coalition of researchers, 81 percent of corporate leaders in America say that “creativity is an essential skill for the 21st-century workforce.” In addition to creativity, these business leaders look for such skills as collaboration, problem solving, critical thinking, and oral communication. As the authors of the bill described:

We have proposed a bill that creates a new measure of accountability for schools in Massachusetts. With the Creative Challenge Index, a commission – comprising legislators, and business and community leaders working with the Department of Education and education leaders – would establish an index to measure how many opportunities schools provide for students to engage in the practice of creative work – taking a project from inspiration to revision to fruition. Through the index, schools can be rewarded for creative opportunities.

Schools that provide opportunities for creative work in the arts, music, drama, and dance would rise in the Index. So would schools that engage students in a broad range of creative activities, such as science fair projects, debate club, fashion design, filmmaking, or architecture.

Anita Walker, executive director of the Massachusetts Cultural Council, said, “We are excited to see this innovative piece of legislation move forward. Once in place, the Creative Challenge Index will help put Massachusetts in a leadership position in developing creative minds for the creative economy.”

Dan Hunter, executive director of that Massachusetts Advocates for the Arts, Sciences and Humanities, added, “Creativity and innovation must be a Massachusetts priority-in our schools, in our businesses and in our communities.”

The Boston Globe published a piece on the bill which can be viewed by clicking here.

This notion of pushing the arts in public schools derives from the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In Chapter V, Section II, entitled, the Encouragement of Literature, etc., it reads:

Wisdom, and knowledge, as well as virtue, diffused generally among the body of the people, being necessary for the preservation of their rights and liberties; and as these depend on spreading the opportunities and advantages of education in the various parts of the country, and among the different orders of the people, it shall be the duty of legislatures and magistrates, in all future periods of this commonwealth, to cherish the interests of literature and the sciences, and all seminaries of them; especially the university at Cambridge, public schools and grammar schools in the towns; to encourage private societies and public institutions, rewards and immunities, for the promotion of agriculture, arts, sciences, commerce, trades, manufactures, and a natural history of the country; to countenance and inculcate the principles of humanity and general benevolence, public and private charity, industry and frugality, honesty and punctuality in their dealings; sincerity, good humor, and all social affections, and generous sentiments among the people.

This piece is a refreshing change from the litany of legislation which encourages “teaching to tests” at the expense of the arts.

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Thoughts on education in America

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on February 16, 2008

Here is some good food for thought as we enter into budget discussions on February 26 and begin to set priorities for the Franklin Public Schools.

This week’s issue of TIME magazine features a cover story on “How to Make Better Teachers.”  It begins with the premise that American public schools are struggling to attract and retain high-quality teachers.  It then reviews options for paying teachers for performance.

 Also, included in the issue is a Voter’s Guide to Education.  Most education policy, as well as roughly 91% of the funding, comes from the state and local level. But as No Child Left Behind showed, a change in federal policy can still have a big impact. The article highlights four K-12 issues in which the next President could make a difference:

No Child Left Behind
The sweeping legislation championed by President Bush, which makes federal funding dependent on mandatory annual tests, is up for reauthorization. Who would raise their hand in support?

Vouchers
All the candidates favor some form of school choice — Democrats prefer “public-school choice” — but not all advocate vouchers, which help parents pay for private schools

Merit Pay
Performance-based pay aims to reward outstanding teachers and give incentives for improvement. How it should be determined and distributed is a big sticking point

Longer School Day or Year
Children may enjoy a long summer holiday — a relic of America’s agrarian past — but many experts say that more time in class would bring American students closer to their peers abroad

Among the text, the TIME article suggests viewing the documentary Two Million Minutes which compares how American students measure up to those in India and China.  The movie recognizes that regardless of nationality, as soon as a student completes the 8th grade, the clock starts ticking.  From that very moment the child has approximately?

  • Two Million Minutes until high school graduation…
  • Two Million Minutes to build their intellectual foundation…
  • Two Million Minutes to prepare for college and ultimately career…
  • Two Million Minutes to go from a teenager to an adult?

How a student spends their Two Million Minutes — in class, at home studying, playing sports, working, sleeping, socializing or just goofing off — will affect their economic prospects for the rest of their lives.

This film takes a deeper look at how the three superpowers of the 21st Century — China, India and the United States — are preparing their students for the future.  Jay Matthews, an education writer for the Washington Post, shared his views on the film here.

You can view the trailer to the film by clicking on the image below:

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Education secretariat approved by House and Senate

Posted by Jeffrey Roy on February 8, 2008

The Senate voted to approve Gov. Deval Patrick’s plan to create an Executive Office of Education, one day after the House did the same. Supporters of the education plan say it will give the governor more control over education agencies, better coordinate education efforts, and put a single education secretary in charge of the education spectrum, from early education through higher education.

The bill would end the practice of having commissioners of the three education agencies – Early Education and Care, Higher Education and K-12 Education – serve on boards of their counterparts, instead allowing the secretary to serve as an overarching liaison between them. It would also increase the membership of the Board of Education from nine to 11 members. To view the full text of the legislation, click here. To view video of the Governor’s announcement regarding the legislation, click here.

Keeping to his vision to offer a world-class education for all children in Massachusetts, Governor Patrick filed the legislation on January 10, 2008 to reorganize the state’s education system by creating a cabinet-level secretary of education. “There is no greater gateway to opportunity and success than a first-rate education. This reorganization, along with the work of the Readiness Project will guide us through the next phase of education reform to ensure all of our children are ready to compete in the global economy,” said Governor Patrick. “A cabinet-level secretary of education will help us move forward.”

“This is a bold move by a bold leader who recognizes that continuous improvement in education is critical if we are going to compete in the global economy,” said Dana Mohler-Faria, the Governor’s Special Advisor on Education and President of Bridgewater State College.

“This proposal is the result of months of cooperative work between Governor Patrick and legislative leaders and I am pleased with the results. I am hopeful that the creation of an education Secretary will help better coordinate our efforts to promote greater educational achievement in the Commonwealth and encourage more cohesion and increased accountability in the system,” said Speaker of the House Salvatore DiMasi. “This proposal strikes an appropriate balance between maintaining stability in our schools and positioning ourselves to meet the immediate challenges before us. I look forward to working with the Governor to pass this reorganization.”

Critics say it’s a power grab that will unnecessarily add administrative costs.

Senate Minority Leader Richard Tisei said the bill would “turn back the clock” and begin “stacking the board of education with special interests.”

Republican senators repeatedly cited the governor’s appointment of prominent MCAS critic Ruth Kaplan to the board – Tisei called it a “slap in the face” – as evidence the governor is seeking to undermine current education standards.

The plan will cost about $1.5 million to implement, largely accounting for new personnel costs. Although the reorganization is officially scheduled to take effect on March 10, it was unclear when the office would be up and running.

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