December 17th, 2012
04:30 AM ET

What really makes schools safer?

By Jamie Gumbrecht, CNN

(CNN) - Sandy Hook Elementary School probably did everything right. Its staff and teachers worked every day to create a climate that valued kindness and posted the plan for all to see. They had lockdown drills that trained everyone to stay low and quiet in the event of an emergency. A security system introduced this year required visitors to ring a bell, sign-in and perhaps produce a photo ID. After 9:30 a.m., the doors were locked.

And now it's the home of the one of the worst school shootings in U.S. history. Twenty children dead and eight adults, including the shooter.

Those who know the world of school security are already predicting what comes next: A strong reaction - maybe an overreaction - by parents, schools and legislators who want to take action. Politicians will be elected on platforms of school safety. Vendors will turn up with technology and plans to sell. Schools will rewrite their crisis plans and run extra drills.

It happened after the shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, in 1999, and again after the 2007 massacre at Virginia Tech.

And within a few months or years, it'll be back to cutting security budgets and fighting for time to train staff and teachers.

"The vast majority have a crisis plan on paper. It's much more common that we find those plans are collecting dust on the shelf and they're not a part of the culture or the practice," said Kenneth Trump, a school security consultant. "I don't believe we need to throw out the book of best practices on school safety. I think we do need to focus our resources, times and conversation back on the fundamentals."

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To help kids with tragedy, slow down, listen
A woman hugs her daughter on the steps of Trinity Church December 16, 2012 in Newtown, Connecticut.
December 16th, 2012
02:33 PM ET

To help kids with tragedy, slow down, listen

By Michael Y. Simon, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Michael Y. Simon is a psychotherapist, school counselor and founder of Practical Help for Parents, a support organization for parents, educators and mental health professionals. Simon is also the author of "The Approximate Parent: Discovering the Strategies That Work with Your Teenager," published by Fine Optics Press in 2012.

(CNN) - I don't have the answers.

Under the weight of mystery, loss and grief, most of us long for healing and look for answers. After hearing of the mass killing in Newtown, Connecticut, I asked a friend, the principal of an elementary school, how the children and parents there were doing.

"There was a different feeling and a much longer line than usual to pick up the kids," he said "Hugs held longer, smiles broader, more patience all around; these parents were mindful of the privilege of picking up their children today."

Not including the tragic killings at Sandy Hook, the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence lists over 170 school shootings in the United States since 1997, prompting many to describe the tragic shooting as part of an epidemic of gun violence in America.

How do we make sense of these incidents and their antecedents and envision a better future? I don't know, and neither do many of the so-called experts, but that hasn't stopped them and the mass media from weighing in very quickly.

Read Simon's full column
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December 14th, 2012
03:39 PM ET

Support crucial for kids after trauma

Follow news about Friday's mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, on CNN's live This Just In blog.

By Elizabeth Landau, CNN

(CNN) - School shootings such as the one at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, may have long-lasting consequences, but with proper support, many children are able to move on, experts say.

Children need to be with their families as quickly as possible after exposure to such horrific events, said Steven Marans, director of the National Center for Children Exposed to Violence/Childhood Violent Trauma Center at Yale University's Child Study Center.

Marans and colleagues are making themselves available to Connecticut officials, including the governor's office and state police.

The good news is that most kids do bounce back from a single incident of trauma, said James Garbarino, professor of psychology at Loyola University Chicago and author of "Lost Boys: Why Our Sons Turn Violent and How We Can Save Them." If children can get back into their normal routines and get proper support, he said, they will do well.

Long-term issues are more likely for children who were very close to someone who died in a shooting, who witnessed the event or who were in close physical proximity to it, Garbarino said.

In addition, "Kids who are having difficult lives before the event are the ones most likely to have issues," Garbarino said.

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My View: The lesson in Newark
November 28th, 2012
04:20 AM ET

My View: The lesson in Newark

by Sydney Morris and Evan Stone, Special to CNN

Evan Stone

Evan Stone

Sydney Morris

Sydney Morris

Editor’s note: Sydney Morris and Evan Stone are co-founders and co-CEOs of Educators 4 Excellence (E4E), a teacher-led organization that seeks to ensure that teachers’ voices are meaningfully included in the policy decisions that affect their classrooms and careers.

School and union leaders in the nation’s largest school districts who are waging epic battles over teacher evaluation, compensation and the future of the teaching profession could learn a lesson from their colleagues in Newark, New Jersey. That’s where the city’s 3,300 teachers  recently ratified a groundbreaking new contract that provides them unprecedented support and compensation.

The issues on the table in this negotiation were similar to those being debated in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and elsewhere: How should teachers be evaluated? Who should evaluate them? How should the district use the evaluations to hire and promote educators and dismiss those who underperform? How should teachers be paid and how much?

But instead of the paralysis that has marked those other negotiations, Newark leaders were able to rationally discuss these points without the bluster and polarization we’ve seen elsewhere. They found a way to blend their demands in a way that will truly elevate the teaching profession. The two sides agreed to:

A comprehensive evaluation system based on multiple measures including student growth, observations and peer reviews. Teachers will receive one of four rankings from highly effective to ineffective. Superintendent Cami Anderson was vocal about the need for more effective evaluation, while NTU President Joe Del Grosso won peer reviews as a way to give the voices of teachers more weight in their colleagues’ ratings.
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Maryland non-profit offers disadvantaged kids opportunities
Students from Higher Learning, Inc. take a yoga class in Westminster, Maryland.
November 26th, 2012
04:34 AM ET

Maryland non-profit offers disadvantaged kids opportunities

by Deena Zaru, CNN

(CNN) Some kids spend after-school hours and weekends at music classes and football practice. For these kids, summer is the time for space camp and swimming lessons. But those whose families struggle to pay the bills and can’t afford extras often miss out on these educational experiences. And as their classmates progress, some find themselves getting further behind.

According to sociologist Roxanna Harlow, there is a direct link between poverty and a child’s level of educational achievement. And in Carroll County, MD, where over 90 percent of the population is white, kids of color face a unique set of challenges.

“I feel strongly that good education should be accessible to everybody, especially these extras that can really make the difference,” said Harlow. “We don’t turn anyone away based on money.”

Dr. Harlow founded Higher Learning Inc. (HLI), a non-profit organization that “provides active educational enrichment for underserved youth” because she was moved by the contrast between the affluent college students she taught and the young people she encountered on the street corners of Baltimore and her native Chicago, who had few opportunities to succeed.

The program offers Saturday sessions during the school year as well as two summer sessions.

“I decided to start a program that targeted students of color who are lower income and behind the most in terms of educational achievement” said Harlow, “and I chose to focus on academic experiences that they would not get in school.”
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My View: Latino voting power can create better education reform
Residents vote on election day in Sun Valley's Latino district, Los Angeles County, on November 6, 2012 in California.
November 20th, 2012
04:06 AM ET

My View: Latino voting power can create better education reform

Courtesy Sandra SteinbrecherBy Ray Salazar, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note: Ray Salazar is a National Board Certified English teacher in the Chicago Public Schools. He writes about education and Latino issues on the White Rhino Blog. Follow him on Twitter @whiterhinoray.

(CNN) - Finally, Republicans and Democrats know that they need more than mariachis playing behind them to win the Latino vote. By now, almost everyone heard about the Latino influence this presidential election.

The signs were everywhere. Maybe this is the 2012 cosmic event predicted by the Mayan calendar. Now, President Obama must recognize Latino views as he moves forward with economic recovery and immigration policy and farther with education reform.

None of the parties should have been surprised by the Latino vote.  On October 7, CNN’s “Latino in America: Courting the Latino Vote” reported that more than 60,000 Latinos turn 18 each month across the country, and we care about more than immigration. When Latinos were given a choice between what’s more important, immigration or the economy, 74% chose the economy.

Obama’s modified DREAM Act did, though, help secure 71% of the Latino vote. Romney’s unclear view of immigration reform contributed to only 27% of his Latino vote. 

More notably, the Latino vote for Obama exceeded the national Latino average in some battleground states: 87% in Colorado, 80% in Nevada and 82% in Ohio.

These votes indicate that the conversations need to change. For too long, education reform remained a black and white issue, racially and politically. Our educational system as is does not work, especially not for Latinos. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the Latino dropout rate is almost double that of African-Americans and about three times higher than that of whites.
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All eyes on Georgia, Washington as voters consider charter school initiatives
November 6th, 2012
04:10 AM ET

All eyes on Georgia, Washington as voters consider charter school initiatives

By Donna Krache, CNN

(CNN) On Tuesday, voters in two states – Washington and Georgia – will be weighing in on charter schools.

Charter schools are independent public schools that have flexibility in certain aspects of education like curriculum and length of the school day. In return for this flexibility, they are held accountable for student performance.

The research is mixed on whether students in charters perform better than their traditional public school counterparts. Some cite the CREDO study from Stanford University, which found that “17% of charter schools provide superior education opportunities for their students.” According to this study, about half the charters did not fare any better or worse than their traditional school counterparts, and about 37% of the charters fared worse.

Others cite research like that found in the “Informing the Debate” study from the Boston Foundation,  which “found large positive effects for Charter Schools at both the middle and high school levels.”

Currently, 41 states and the District of Columbia have charter schools.

The topic of charter schools, including how they are established and who gets to attend them, stirs up a lot of emotion among parents, educators and policymakers.  Because it’s relatively new territory, shaping legislation on charters has become a public tug-of-war. The states of Washington and Georgia have charter school initiatives on their ballots.

Washington’s Initiative 1240

Washington has put ballot measures on charters in front of voters three times before, each one rejected – most recently in 2004, when the measure failed by 16 percentage points.  There are no charter schools in Washington.

The latest attempt is Initiative 1240, which would allow for the establishment of eight charter schools in the state per year – 40 over five years. At the end of that period, the charter system would be up for review. The state-approved charter schools would be free and open to all students and be independently operated.
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My View: Education is missing in this election, and perhaps that’s a good thing
Governor Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama discuss their views on the issues at the final presidential debate on October 22, 2012 at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Florida.
November 5th, 2012
04:06 AM ET

My View: Education is missing in this election, and perhaps that’s a good thing

Courtesy ASCDBy Gene Carter, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: Gene Carter is CEO and executive director of ASCD, an international education leadership association with 150,000 members—superintendents, principals, teachers, professors, and advocates — in more than 145 countries. A veteran educator with experience as a teacher, administrator, superintendent and university professor, Carter took over the helm of ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) in 1992.

As the 2012 presidential campaign builds to what appears to be an incredibly close finish, I am struck by the absence of education in the candidates’ ongoing dialogue. Job creation, health care, tax policy, and even Big Bird have been campaign issues, but to date, education policy has only lurked in the background.

Why is this? The results of the 2012 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes Toward the Public Schools are instructive.   According to the survey, 77% of respondents assigned the nation’s schools either a C grade or lower; yet the poll says we have confidence in public school teachers.  Respondents believe that closing the achievement gap and improving urban schools is important, but they would rather balance the federal budget than improve education.

The U.S. voters’ paradoxical views on education make it a difficult issue for presidential candidates to address, and that may be a good thing. Education’s lack of prominence on the campaign trail might preserve it from becoming a wedge issue that further divides us.
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My View: Who says there is no solution to bullying?
October 26th, 2012
04:20 AM ET

My View: Who says there is no solution to bullying?

Courtesy Becki Cohn-VargasBy Becki Cohn-Vargas, Special to CNN

Editor’s Note:  Becki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D., has spent more than 35 years as a teacher, principal, curriculum director and superintendent. Currently, she is the director of Not In Our School, part of the national nonprofit Not In Our Town.  She is building a network of educators taking action to stop bullying and create safe, accepting and inclusive schools.

All of us have experienced cruel behavior, either as a participant, victim or witness. The Not In Our School “Break Bullying”public service announcement, donated by the MAKE ad agency, appears to bring back those bad memories. The announcement depicts adults in a professional environment re-enacting the personal middle school bullying experience of the director, Mike Nelson. His point: If we would not stand for this at work, why do we stand for it happening to kids in schools? The purpose of the PSA is to make us want to do something - to intervene, unlike the co-workers who watch their colleague pushed to the floor.

Not In Our School focuses on solutions.  It provides positive films and resources to networks of schools, so when MAKE first presented the video, we weren’t sure we could use it. But then we saw what happened when people viewed it. They started talking about how it looked when adults felt the kind of pain children experience every day. We launched the PSA for Bullying Prevention Month as a wake-up call. Our goal was to reach as many people as possible (55,000 to date) and spark conversation about taking bullying seriously. Then, we would talk about ways to successfully combat bullying in our schools.

When the CNN Schools of Thought blog postedBreak Bullying,” it received more than 500 comments from viewers. Some were heartening; many were not. Well-meaning comments posed possible solutions to bullying: Some were practical and others were outright scary. One man proudly admitted to paying $50 to a man he found on the street to beat up the bully, who ended up “in a hospital for a month.” One person even stated that bullying is a necessary rite of passage based on animal instinct, echoing others who felt that no matter what we do, bullying will never change.
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October 23rd, 2012
06:02 PM ET

Mother charged with assault, claims boys bullied her daughter

By Rande Iaboni, CNN

(CNN) - Toms River, New Jersey police charged a mother with simple assault, criminal trespassing, and terroristic threats after an altercation with two boys on a public school bus. Rebecca Sardoni, 28, claims the boys had bullied her daughter, according to reports from the Toms River Regional School District.

Toms River Police Chief Michael Mastronardy told CNN today that Sardoni boarded the bus Friday morning and, according to witnesses, confronted two boys sitting in the back and slapped them both.

Sardoni claims she was protecting her 9-year-old daughter from school bullies and that three kids in her daughter's class have been harassing her daughter, even assaulting the student sexually.

Director of Communications for the Toms River Regional School District, Tammi Millar confirmed to CNN that Sardoni did report a bullying incident to the principal of East Dover Elementary School on Thursday afternoon. The incident would have been investigated that next day, "but she stepped on to that bus Friday morning" and took matters into her hands, Millar said.
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