Breakfast comes to the classroom
September 7th, 2012
03:24 AM ET

Breakfast comes to the classroom

by John Martin, CNN

(CNN) - Less than half of the children in America who are eligible for a free or reduced breakfast take advantage of the USDA-provided meal. A program called "Breakfast in the Classroom" is trying to get more lower-income students to eat breakfast. The program, managed by a group of organizations known collectively as the Partners for Breakfast in the Classroom, brings food to the students in class after the morning bell. That way, students don't come to school early just to eat, and they aren't rushing to get to class, skipping breakfast on the way. The program was launched in five school districts around the country and expanding to include ten more this school year.

Research suggests that there are educational benefits to eating breakfast at school, even over students who eat the meal at home. These include better attendance, behavior and higher standardized test scores.

Knox County Schools in Tennessee, which opened its doors to students on August 14, is a newcomer to the in-classroom meal program .

Jon Dickl, the director of school nutrition for Knox County, told CNN that there are several advantages to eating breakfast in class. "The students are in their seats ready to learn as soon as the bell rings," Dickl said. "It reduces tardiness and discipline issues and provides an opportunity for teachers to develop relationships," he continued.
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Filed under: Kids' health • Nutrition • Practice
August 24th, 2012
02:25 PM ET

Florida's last one-room schoolhouse endures

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN)–Rebekah Lester will be Duette Elementary school's new teacher this school year. With only one teacher, Duette is the last school of its kind in Florida.

"You could call it a one-room schoolhouse but essentially the students are in one room with one teacher," Lester told CNN affiliate WTSP. The elementary school serves 18 students from kindergarten through sixth grade.

The building, which was built in 1930 by volunteers, has five rooms, but only one classroom. But the school is equipped with technology – each student has his or her own laptop – and the students will be prepared for Florida's standardized tests, says Lester.

For several years, prinicipal and former teacher Donna King went without a salary as she managed to keep the school open. Now she says she hopes to focus on fundraising for the school, which reimburses the district for Lester's salary.

Before King recruited Lester, parents were worried that the school might have to close when King announced her retirement from teaching last year.

Lester is no stranger to Duette, either. Her oldest child is a Duette alumnus who went on to be a high school honor student and her youngest is enrolling at the school this year.

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Filed under: Elementary school • Practice • video
August 21st, 2012
02:56 PM ET

Emory University employees released false school ranking data

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN) - For about a decade, Emory University employees released false data that was used to determine college rankings, Emory President James Wagner disclosed last week.

The university employees responsible for releasing the data no longer work for the Atlanta university. Here's how the data was fudged, according to the university's website: Instead of reporting only the scores of enrolled students, it included data from students who were admitted, but decided to attend college elsewhere. The university also didn't include data from the bottom 10% of its students.

For the past two years, Emory has ranked 20th on U.S. News and World Report's Best Colleges guide. That intentional omission of SAT and ACT scores, GPAs and class rankings might have made Emory's student body look better on paper, but it didn't have much of an impact on the magazine's rankings.

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Overheard on CNN: Debate between Ravitch, Rhee – Teacher: 'Just let me teach.'
August 16th, 2012
04:00 AM ET

Overheard on CNN: Debate between Ravitch, Rhee – Teacher: 'Just let me teach.'

Editors note: A recent Schools of Thought reader made this comment: "Equal air time for Ravitch – all this can and should be debated fairly – the blog space is welcome but insufficient." Diane Ravitch is scheduled to appear on CNN Newsroom Weekend with Randi Kaye this Saturday, August 18.

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN) – Education historian and professor Diane Ravitch took issue with a recent CNN appearance by former D.C. Schools chancellor Michele Rhee. Rhee and Ravitch both believe that quality teaching can make a difference in the classroom. But the two have fundamental differences in their beliefs about the quality of America's education system and its teachers.

Rhee told CNN, "The problem is that people don't understand where we stand right now in international rankings on academics. We are behind countries like Hungary and Luxembourg."  On Schools of Thought, Ravitch responded, "[Rhee] is obviously unaware that our nation has never had high scores on those tests. When the first international test was given in 1964, our students ranked 11th out of 12 nations. Yet our nation went on to become the most powerful economy in the world."

Rhee's organization, StudentsFirst, says on its website that "an effective teacher produces three times more learning than an ineffective teacher," but Rhee's critics, including Ravitch, say the group ignores the influence of poverty in America. Ravitch says that, "Family poverty is the most reliable predictor of low test scores," and that America has a much higher poverty rate than other countries.

Ravitch's response to Rhee was well-received by teachers, among others.

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Filed under: Diane Ravitch • Michelle Rhee • Overheard on CNN • Voices
August 7th, 2012
02:41 PM ET

N.J. Gov. Christie signs bipartisan reform of nation’s oldest teacher tenure law

by John Martin, CNN

(CNN) - New Jersey updated its teacher tenure law on Monday. New Jersey's law was the nation's oldest statewide tenure law, enacted in 1909.

The new law, signed by Gov. Chris Christie, means that New Jersey will be able to remove ineffective teachers, even ones who have earned tenure. The law still provides for tenure, but after four years of teaching instead of the current three.

Tenure laws generally provide teachers with due process rights before dismissal, but many critics of the practice say that it makes it unnecessarily difficult to fire bad teachers.
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Filed under: Issues • Legal issues • Policy • teacher unions • Teachers
August 2nd, 2012
06:04 AM ET

Indiana school devastated by tornado reopens

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN) – When principal Troy Albert saw the destruction of Henryville Junior-Senior High School last March, he thought it would be two years before the building would be ready for his students.

But when they start school on August 7, his students will be returning to a newly renovated building – just five months after an EF-4 tornado tore through town and ripped through the school.

Read about the tornado that devastated Henryville: One day there was a town; the next day it was gone

A month after the tornado, students returned to classes, but not in their damaged school. Instead, they finished the 2011-2012 school year in a makeshift facility in an industrial building ten miles away.

Teachers were allowed to come back into the building for planning on August 2, five months to the day from the tornado’s devastation.

The school district has scheduled a community open house for Sunday.

School principal Troy Albert said, “It's just going to be a really emotional setting, I think. I think people will be glad at what they see."

In the video above, you’ll see some of the damage to the school, and the efforts to rebuild.

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Overheard on CNN.com: "Wish my job was limited to 296 minutes per day!"
July 31st, 2012
06:00 AM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: "Wish my job was limited to 296 minutes per day!"

by John Martin, CNN

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

(CNN) - Chicago's mayor and the city's teachers union have come up with a plan for a longer school day for students: hire additional teachers, but don't extend the school day for most teachers. We asked our readers how this might impact students. The forum shifted from the impact on students to a lively debate over how hard teachers work compared to other professions.

Some readers questioned whether longer school days would benefit students, with some offering opinions on how a longer day could be structured:

Felix: This is only the 1st step....IMO the trend should be towards what the countries that have surpassed the US have done – longer Days...less Summer vacation if any at all (Some school systems don't have a summer break anymore...just weeks of hiatus during the summer), Less television, more after school sports/activities and more teachers.

Cindy: As a teacher, the days are long enough, what we need is a longer school year. More contact days. Students lose ground over the summer breaks (which 200 yrs ago were so they could work on farms...I don't think we need that farm help now.) Longer school years will allow more remediation time that is needed with some students or more time for deeper teaching of intense subjects.
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In Chicago, longer school day for students, but not for teachers
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel (L) listens to Chicago Public Schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard while participating in a forum about education in big cities
July 27th, 2012
06:00 AM ET

In Chicago, longer school day for students, but not for teachers

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN) – Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is pushing for a longer school day. The city’s teachers are insisting that their work days not be extended.

The agreement reached this week is something you might not see every day: both sides in the dispute are getting what they want.

Under the new proposal, elementary school children will have a 7-hour day this upcoming school year, while high school students will see their day increase to 7 ½ hours. Those figures represent a 20% increase in the school day for students.

But there will be little to no impact on the amount of time teachers spend in the classroom each school day. Instead, Chicago Public Schools will hire additional teachers to fill in the gaps.

With those hires, elementary school teachers will maintain a maximum of 296 minutes of instructional time per day. High school teachers will work about 15 minutes longer per school day than they did last year.

The school board president says the increased hiring could cost the district between $40 and $50 million per year, but neither the board nor the mayor’s office has yet to determine where the additional funds will come from. All of this is part of ongoing negotiations between city leaders and teachers unions to avoid a teachers strike.


Do you think a longer school day would benefit students? Tell us in the comments below.

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More states and D.C. receive NCLB waivers; Vermont, Alabama, Nebraska reject them
July 24th, 2012
06:06 AM ET

More states and D.C. receive NCLB waivers; Vermont, Alabama, Nebraska reject them

By John Martin, CNN

(CNN) – The White House announced on Thursday that it would grant seven additional waivers from restrictive provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law. Arizona, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oregon, South Carolina, and Washington, D.C. will receive the newest flexibility waivers, according to a U.S. Department of Education press release. To date, 32 states and D.C. have received waivers.

The NCLB law, also known as the Elementary and Secondary School Act (ESEA), has many sections, and through these waivers, federal officials are allowing states to set their own standards for parts of the law. The waivers aren’t an automatic reprieve from all aspects of NCLB.

In order to receive these ESEA flexibility waivers, states provided evidence that they would initiate education reform efforts approved by the Obama administration, including linking student test scores to teacher evaluations.

Many supporters of the 2002 law say that the intent of NCLB is to improve education for all students, including poor and minority students, but critics contend that the law has created a “teach to the test” culture in too many classrooms.

Read more about NCLB and NCLB waivers

States are asking for waivers because they consider NCLB’s goals unattainable or even unrealistic. The law mandates that all students be proficient in reading by the end of third grade by 2014, and that all students will graduate from high school. States are far from accomplishing these goals; almost half of America’s schools are failing to meet these NCLB mandates.
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July 16th, 2012
04:00 PM ET

Overheard on CNN.com: Readers debate linking teacher pay to student performance

Editor's note: This post is part of the Overheard on CNN.com series, a regular feature that examines interesting comments and thought-provoking conversations posted by the community.

(CNN) - A new law in Ohio links teacher pay to student performance on standardized tests. Traditionally, teachers are assessed through direct observation, and student outcomes in the classroom don't usually affect their pay. Ohio public school districts will now give each teacher a grade, and half of that grade will be based on students’ test scores. These grades, and thus the exam results, could lead to salary decisions, promotions and terminations.

Pay for performance isn’t new, but it certainly is controversial. Judging from readers’ responses to our story, there aren’t just two sides to this issue, but many.

Even commenters who identified themselves as educators have a variety of opinions:
(Note: Some comments have been edited for space or clarity.)

Thor Mentor
In the ISD where I work as a teacher in an inner city school (in a state where they say everything is bigger), similar policy will be implemented starting this 2012-2013. It's a year ahead than in Ohio. There are many variables which account for students' achievement aside from teachers – parents, administrators, politicians, and students themselves, to name a few. I do my job well and work hard but I am not a miracle worker. Let all the stakeholders be accountable for the sake of fairness.

Teach12
I am a teacher and I agree with this new law! I am a teacher in one of the lowest states in the US. I teach at the lowest school in the state and every year I have scores that are some of the highest in the school, district, and the state. Great teachers should be compensated for their hard work. There is no excuse for such a high percent of minimal performing students. I don't care how awful my students' parents are. It's my job to work with what I have and ensure they learn too. Education and a few others is the only job where employees are not paid based on performance. Some of us work extra hard and should be paid accordingly. Those who don't or can't should find something else to do.
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