January 11th, 2013
06:12 PM ET

Last New York school left closed by Superstorm Sandy re-opens

By Rose Arce, CNN

(CNN) - The very last New York school closed because of damage from Superstorm Sandy re-opened Friday, marking the end of a period that displaced 73,000 students.

The 1,100 students of Scholars' Academy walked into the building wearing blue T-shirts that said “Scholars' Strong” on the front and “Rockaway Resilient” on the back. The Rockaway Peninsula school is surrounded by water from the ocean and bay and located near a sewage treatment plant. Water from all three met on October 29 as the storm engulfed the school's first floor, leaving it unusable.

Many  students suffered significant damage to their homes and continue to live in temporary housing. Even the school's principal, Brian O’Connell, lives in a hotel provided by FEMA.

“The way you get through this is to look at the positives of it,” O'Connell said. “You can say, 'Isn’t this an adventure to look at the opportunity to be with my family in one room spending time together…we gained a deeper closeness.'

“Through commitment to collaboration, hard work, organization and communication, our school community rallied to quell the ripples of Hurricane Sandy’s aftermath for our students."

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Filed under: At Home • Hurricane Sandy
January 11th, 2013
10:20 AM ET

California sheriff: Youth who shot classmate felt he'd been bullied

By Michael Martinez, CNN

(CNN) - A 16-year-old student who blasted a California high school classroom with a shotgun Thursday was targeting two classmates because he felt he'd been bullied, the local sheriff said Thursday night.

One student was hit and was in critical but stable condition Thursday night, and the shooter was in custody after a teacher and the school's campus supervisor talked him into putting his shotgun down.

Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood said he did not know whether bullying had actually occurred between the Taft Union High School students.

"But certainly he (the shooter) believed that the two people he had targeted had bullied him," Youngblood said at an evening news conference in Taft, about 30 miles from Bakersfield.

The young shooter was still being interrogated Thursday evening, Youngblood said, adding that the youth will be charged as a juvenile with attempted murder. It will be up to prosecutors to decide whether he should be charged as an adult, the sheriff said.

The name of the student in custody was not released.

My View: Balancing fear, hope after a school shooting

Youngblood laid out a detailed scenario of the hours before the shooting, saying the student planned the assault the night before, and took a shotgun belonging to his brother.

The student did not show up for school on time Thursday, Youngblood said, instead appearing about half through the first period of classes. He was caught on school surveillance cameras, the sheriff said, using a side entrance instead of the school's main door and "appearing nervous" as he tried to conceal the shotgun when he entered the school.

The gunman fired directly at one student, who was hit, then as students rushed to flee, the gunman fired again, Youngblood said.

"Miraculously, (the second shot) didn't injure anyone."

My View: Above all, teachers are in it for the kids

Youngblood credited the teacher and the campus supervisor - a campus monitor on the school's staff - with bravely facing off with the young gunman. Youngblood identified the teacher as Ryan Heber and the campus supervisor as Kim Lee Fields.

"They stood there face-to-face (with the gunman) not knowing whether he's going to turn that shotgun on them," Youngblood said.

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Filed under: Bullying • Guns in school • Issues • School violence • Teachers
January 9th, 2013
02:48 PM ET

Guns, guards and posses: Schools try new security strategies

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - It's not the first time this has happened: Students return to school after a few weeks off, and a few things have changed. Maybe the gym floor got a shine, the new physics teacher arrived - or there's an adult with a gun.

As students across the country returned to school this week, some schools implemented new security policies or brought in new personnel. Some are temporary or pilot programs. Others are refreshes of existing plans and training.

In Utah and Texas, some educators trained in shooting or self-defense. Arizona's Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio put a "posse" of armed volunteers around school perimeters. The National Rifle Association said all schools should immediately have armed officers, later adding that schools should decide for themselves how to protect children.

It's all in reaction to the December 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, where 20 children and six staffers were killed.

“This is Columbine déjà vu,” said Kenneth Trump, a school security consultant who works with school districts across the country. For weeks he's been hearing from schools that want to review emergency plans, train staff or invest in technology they hope will increase security.

"I’m happy to see these conversations happening now," Trump said. "I’m frustrated you couldn’t pay someone to have those conversations the day before Sandy Hook."

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Filed under: Guns in school • School safety
What's Michelle Rhee's legacy in D.C. schools?
Michelle Rhee visited the Noyes Education Campus in Washington, D.C., in 2009.
January 8th, 2013
04:40 PM ET

What's Michelle Rhee's legacy in D.C. schools?

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - Michelle Rhee hasn't run the Washington, D.C., public schools since 2010, but her time in charge, and her every move in education since, still draw cheers from some and ire from others.

"Rhee is one of worst friends and best enemies of public education," user david esmay commented on an opinion piece by Rhee and former New York schools leader Joel Klein on CNN's Schools of Thought on Monday. Rhee and Klein wrote about a new report from StudentsFirst, the non-profit Rhee heads, which graded states' education policies.

"She's only a standout because she has the political backing to make her so. Her policies in Washington area schools are falling apart now that she and her drive to find funding are gone," William commented.

"I don't see how anyone can take this report or Ms. Rhee seriously," commenter Christine wrote about the StudentsFirst report.

"The Education of Michelle Rhee," a documentary airing Tuesday night on PBS, follows Rhee's time leading Washington, D.C., schools, and examines her legacy there. "Frontline" correspondent John Merrow followed Rhee on her trip to a school warehouses filled with hard-to-get supplies, to the firing of a  school principal and to rallies celebrating higher test scores, some of which are now in question.

Through it all, Rhee still speaks boldly about education and her ideas. Here are five quotes from the film that offer a taste of how Rhee ran the D.C. schools, and what she's done since.

“I am Michelle Rhee. I’m the new chancellor of the D.C. public schools ... and no, I have never run a school district before."

This is how Rhee introduced herself to teachers in Washington, D.C., in 2007. Rhee had spent a few years teaching in a rough Baltimore neighborhood and a decade in education reform, but was a "virtual unknown," when Mayor Adrian Fenty picked her to run the D.C. schools. Her style was direct and her objectives clear - make Washington's school's better, even if it meant changing laws, firing people, closing schools and making adults unhappy.

"We’re not running this school district through the democratic process."

Indeed, after some initial excitement, many adults were unhappy. Scenes show parents angry about school closures, district leaders angry that she defied their instructions, teachers angry about layoffs and firings. Teachers interviewed for the film said Rhee didn't consider that some kids live in extreme poverty or have fallen so far behind that they'd need more than one year to catch up.

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Our View: States' education laws aren't making the grade
Students in New York City public charter schools are doing well, Rhee and Klein write -- why don't all states allow the schools?
January 7th, 2013
04:00 AM ET

Our View: States' education laws aren't making the grade

By Michelle Rhee and Joel Klein, Special to CNN

Michelle RheeEditor's note: Michelle Rhee is the founder and CEO of StudentsFirst, a nonprofit organization that identifies as a “grassroots movement” to produce “meaningful results" for education on local and national levels. She previously served as chancellor of schools in Washington D.C.

Joel Klein is CEO of Amplify, the education division of News Corporation, and a StudentsFirst board member. He is the former chancellor of New York City schools.

Joel Klein(CNN) - It’s hard to watch Robert Griffin III play football and not think about education policy.

RG3, as fans call him, is a rookie who has been playing in the National Football League for all of 18 weeks, but led the Washington Redskins to twice as many victories as they had last year, their first winning season since 2007 and their first divisional championship in 13 years. Now imagine if the Redskins had a little less money to pay salaries next year and cut Griffin from the team, keeping instead a handful of bench-warmers. It sounds ridiculous, but that practice is exactly what happens in most school districts where policies require teachers to be laid off based on seniority, not talent.

Here’s another nonsensical example: There’s overwhelming evidence that quality public charter schools provide a viable education option, particularly for students from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds. In fact, test scores released in July 2012 showed New York City public charter schools outperforming traditional schools throughout the entire state, despite poverty rates 150% of that of the rest of the state and far greater numbers of minorities. Incredibly, eight states still do not allow public charter schools to exist. That means children assigned to low-performing schools in places such as Birmingham, Alabama, Louisville, Kentucky, and Omaha, Nebraska, are trapped without a choice or a way out.

These aren’t teacher problems, or student problems. These are policy problems. In far too many states, the laws and policies in place that govern education put up significant barriers to higher student achievement.

In fact, according to a first-of-its-kind report card that we published this week, nearly 90% of states earned less than a “C” grade on the subject of education policy. Ours is a new type of education report card that doesn’t look at teacher performance or students’ test scores, but instead focuses solely on the laws in place determining how our schools are allowed to operate. StudentsFirst will publish it annually, and this year no state earned higher than a B-minus.

That ought to shock parents, educators, and lawmakers alike. It indicates that no matter how hard our children study, and no matter how much passion teachers pour into their classrooms, the rules and regulations governing education are holding schools back.

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My View: What will you do with an English degree? Plenty
He's now Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. In grad school? He studied literature -- W. B. Yeats, to be exact.
January 4th, 2013
12:41 PM ET

My View: What will you do with an English degree? Plenty

Courtesy Michael BérubéBy Michael Bérubé, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Michael Bérubé is the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor and director of the Institute for the Arts and Humanities at Pennsylvania State University, and the 2012 president of the Modern Language Association.

(CNN) - Almost every college student who considers majoring in English - or French, or philosophy, or art history - inevitably hears the question: "What in the world are you going to do with that?" The question can come from worried parents, perplexed relatives, or derisive, incredulous peers, but it always implies that degrees in the humanities are “boutique” degrees, nice ornaments that serve no practical purpose in the real world. After all, who needs another 50-page honors project on the poetry of Charles Baudelaire?

Well, strange as it may sound, if you’re an employer who needs smart, creative workers, a 50-page honors project on a 19th century French poet might be just the thing you want to see from one of your job applicants. Not because you’re going to ask him or her to interpret any poetry on the job, but because you may be asking him or her, at some point, to deal with complex material that requires intense concentration - and to write a persuasive account of what it all means. And you may find that the humanities major with extensive college experience in dealing with complex material handles the challenge better - more comprehensively, more imaginatively - than the business or finance major who assumed that her degree was all she needed to earn a place in your company.

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Filed under: College • Humanities • Jobs • Voices
January 3rd, 2013
09:57 AM ET

Sandy Hook students return to class for first time since Newtown shooting

By Olivia Smith and David Ariosto, CNN

(CNN) - For the first time since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Christine Wilford plans do something remarkable on Thursday that once was routine: drop her child off at school.

The last time her 7-year-old son, Richie, was in class was on December 14, when a gunman smashed his way into his school in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 26 children and adults.

As shots rang out, Richie's teacher locked the door and huddled her students into the corner as the shooter roamed the hallways, wielding an AR-15 assault rifle and firing.

When it appeared safe, the children were then hurried away to a nearby fire station, where teary parents either reunited with their sons and daughters or learned that they had been killed.

Nearly a month later, Wilford said her son still has trouble sleeping and is often scared by loud noises.

Newtown chooses faith, charity, hope

But on Thursday, he will join hundreds of other Newtown students returning to class for the first time since the tragedy.

"We think it's good he's going back," Wilford said. "If I leave my child anywhere, I'm leaving a piece of my heart, so it's difficult to leave him."

But Richie apparently isn't afraid and says he's looking forward to seeing his friends, she said.

They won't be attending Sandy Hook Elementary, which police say remains part of an ongoing investigation into Adam Lanza, the gunman who also killed his mother before opening fire at the school.

Instead, Richie and his classmates are expected to travel to Chalk Hill Middle School in the nearby town of Monroe, where a green-and-white banner greeting the children hangs on a fence.

Read the full story

January 2nd, 2013
11:12 AM ET

In Syria, school opens to displaced children

In the midst of civil war, Syrians face political upheaval, starvation, bombings and violence -  nearly 40,000 people were killed in the civil war last year, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported Tuesday. But one thing hasn't changed: a generation of children hoping to learn, to feel a sense of normalcy.

At one school in Damascus, 1,600 children come in two shifts. Educators say any child is welcome, regardless of political affiliation. Some students are new to the school, displaced from other areas. This school isn't entirely safe either, though. Within a few weeks late last year, 35 students and two teachers from the area were killed.

"We keep the school open and help with their fears," head teacher Abdul Kader Amouri told ITN's Alex Thomson. "We can't do as much as before, but the key thing is to try and deal with their anxiety."

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