More LA schools convert to charters as funds dip

El Camino Real High School has won six national academic quiz championships, boasts test scores that rank it as one of California’s top secondary schools, and offers two dozen college-level courses ranging from macroeconomics to human geography. Activities include a model United Nations and mock trials. The school is a source of immense pride for the beleaguered Los Angeles Unified School District, but like other successful schools before it, El Camino is about to break off from the district to get more funding and flexibility in how it spends its dollars as a charter school, the Associated Press reports.

“This is a huge loss for us,” said LAUSD school board member Nury Martinez at a recent meeting. “This feels like a divorce.”

With budget woes showing no signs of letting up, El Camino and other traditional neighborhood schools like it are converting to public charter schools, bleeding scarce dollars from cash-strapped districts and siphoning students. It’s a troubling pattern for school districts–every student enrolled in a charter means a funding loss, and defections of their own schools and principals are a blow to district esteem…

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Blogs wane as the young drift to sites like Twitter

Like any aspiring filmmaker, Michael McDonald, a high school senior, used a blog to show off his videos. But discouraged by how few people bothered to visit, he instead started posting his clips on Facebook, where his friends were sure to see and comment on his editing skills, reports the New York Times.

 “I don’t use my blog anymore,” said Mr. McDonald, who lives in San Francisco. “All the people I’m trying to reach are on Facebook.”

Blogs were once the outlet of choice for people who wanted to express themselves online. But with the rise of sites like Facebook and Twitter, they are losing their allure for many people–particularly the younger generation. The Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center found that from 2006 to 2009, blogging among children ages 12 to 17 fell by half; now 14 percent of children those ages who use the Internet have blogs. Among 18-to-33-year-olds, the project said in a report last year, blogging dropped two percentage points in 2010 from two years earlier…

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A University of Virginia student has a bright idea: ‘Flash seminars’

Flash mobs assemble in public spaces to dance, protest or do battle with lightsabers. And at the University of Virginia, thanks to Laura Nelson, they gather to learn. Once or twice a week, students at the state’s flagship public university collect in some idle classroom or lounge for a “flash seminar,” an ad hoc performance of pedagogy, reports the Washington Post. The time and place, professor and students are always different. But the goal never varies: “to find learning outside the classroom,” said Nelson, 22, a senior from Westwood, Mass., who is majoring in political and social thought. “To find other people who really value being a student.”

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Racial flaps dog ‘Bama despite progress

Months after the University of Alabama dedicated a plaza and clock tower to its earliest black students, the school has been swamped with unwelcome attention over the past two weeks because of racial slurs used on campus, the Associated Press reports. First, a white student was disciplined for yelling epithets at a black student early this month. Days after that incident, insulting messages about several racial and ethnic groups were written on campus sidewalks in chalk. The flaps fit a pattern that’s dogged the state’s flagship school since it was integrated: Missteps along the path to greater diversity and inclusion often make more of an impression than positive strides do…

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Mexico state congress asks ban of video game

A shoot-em-up video game set in the border town of Ciudad Juarez has angered local officials who are busy fighting all-too-real violence, reports the Washington Post. Chihuahua state legislators said Sunday they have asked federal authorities to ban a the game, “Call of Juarez: The Cartel,” which is based on drug cartel shootouts in Ciudad Juarez. About 6,000 people died in drug-related violence in Ciudad Juarez in 2009 and 2010, making the city, located across from El Paso, Texas, one of the deadliest in the world…

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ED to unions, districts: Can’t we all just get along?

Raising student achievement won’t be possible without school district labor and management teams working together, Sec. Duncan said.

Despite frequent reports of labor-management strife in the nation’s schools, there are many school systems in which teachers and district leaders are working together to improve public education—and some of the best examples of this type of collaboration were on display during a first-of-its-kind national conference in Denver Feb. 15-16.

Organized by the federal Education Department (ED), the event—called “Advancing Student Achievement Through Labor-Management Collaboration”—brought together teams of superintendents, school board presidents, and union presidents from 150 school systems around the country to explore how all sides can successfully navigate what are often quite contentious, politically charged issues surrounding school reform … and ultimately act in the best interest of students.

In opening remarks, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said raising student achievement won’t be possible without school district labor and management teams working together.

“I know it takes courage and conviction to publicly commit to working together with groups that are sometimes portrayed as adversaries, rather than as allies,” Duncan said.

He added: “School boards, administrators, and teacher leaders face different challenges—from setting policy and approving budgets to hiring staff, negotiating agreements, and ensuring due process. Yet all stand or fall together on the quality of student learning.”

For more on school labor-management relations:

How to raise student achievement through better labor-management collaboration

Wisconsin protests grow as teachers balk at proposed legislation

Editorial: Public school employees under attack

For more on school reform:

Expert: Federal school reform plan is wrong

School Reform Center at eSN Online

The conference was held at a particularly apt time, as a growing wave of anti-labor sentiment has fueled tension between teachers’ unions and other education stakeholders.

State legislatures in Wisconsin, Indiana, and Tennessee are among those considering new bills that would eliminate or severely curtail teachers’ collective bargaining rights in negotiating contracts. Wyoming lawmakers are entertaining a measure to end teacher tenure, which would allow the immediate suspension or firing of teachers for any reason not expressly prohibited by law. And New Jersey is one of many cash-strapped states looking to cut public employees’ pensions to help balance their budgets.

Despite the potential for new conflicts these developments have created, “President Obama and I are convinced that labor and management can collaborate to solve many of our nation’s enduring educational challenges,” Duncan said. “And we believe that progress more often follows tough-minded collaboration than tough-minded confrontation.”

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How to raise student achievement through better labor-management collaboration

Labor-management collaboration in California's ABC Unified School District has led to gains in student achievement.

Laura Rico, union president for southern California’s ABC Unified School District and national vice president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said the idea of collaboration between labor and management was “very risky—even political suicide” when union leaders began working more closely with district leaders in the late 1990s. But the partnership has paid off in a big way, she said—demonstrating that when both sides come together in the interest of students, better achievement can follow.

For ABC Unified, the timing was right to take such a risk. In 1993, the district’s teachers went on strike over cuts to their pay and benefits. The strike lasted eight days, and it taught Rico and her colleagues that “it’s better to be in a labor-management partnership than it is to be out on the street,” she said—better for the students and for everyone involved.

The hiring of a new superintendent in 1999, coupled with the election of three new board members that same year, opened the door for greater collaboration between teachers and district leaders.

For more on school labor-management relations:

ED to unions, districts: Can’t we all just get along?

Wisconsin protests grow as teachers balk at proposed legislation

Editorial: Public school employees under attack

For more on school reform:

Expert: Federal school reform plan is wrong

School Reform Center at eSN Online

Around that time, Rico received information from the AFT promoting a weeklong seminar at Harvard University on better labor-management relations in public schools. She attended the seminar along with other district leaders, and they learned how to listen and talk to each other. When they returned to the district, the new superintendent, Ron Barnes, was receptive to the idea. He and Rico began meeting once a week to discuss new problems or challenges that might have arisen during the week—a practice that continues with the current superintendent, Gary Smuts.

The district also created a set of guiding principles that formed the basis of its new labor-management partnership. These are:

• All students can succeed; we will not accept any excuses and will work together to promote student achievement.

• All necessary support will be made available to schools to make sure every child succeeds—and we will work together to make sure that happens.

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Wisconsin protests grow as teachers balk at proposed legislation

Protesters have gathered at Wisconsin's Capitol for days to oppose the governor's proposed labor changes.

Republicans who swept into power in state capitols this year with promises to cut spending and bolster the business climate now are beginning to usher in a new era of labor relations that could result in the largest reduction of power in decades for public employee unions.

But as massive public protests and legislative boycotts in Wisconsin have shown, the Republican charge can be fraught with risk and unpredictable turns as politicians try to transform campaign ideas into action.

The question GOP governors and lawmakers are now facing is exactly how far they can go without encountering a backlash. Do they merely extract more money from school teachers, prison guards, and office workers to help ease their states’ budget problems? Or do they go at the very core of union power by abolishing the workers’ right to bargain collectively? Do they try to impose changes by steamrolling the opposition, or by coming to the bargaining table?

“The consequences will be rolling forth for many, many years,” said James Gregory, director of Center for Labor Studies at the University of Washington. “The battle lines have been drawn and will be replicated around the country. This is going to be very tough for unions and public sector employees.”

For more on school labor-management relations:

ED to unions, districts: Can’t we all just get along?

How to raise student achievement through better labor-management collaboration

Editorial: Public school employees under attack

For more on school reform:

Expert: Federal school reform plan is wrong

School Reform Center at eSN Online

In Wisconsin, new Republican Gov. Scott Walker is going for it all—the elimination of collective bargaining rights for public employees, plus sharp increases in their health care and pension payments. His plan advanced quickly to the Republican-led Senate, despite several days of protests that drew tens of thousands of demonstrators to the Capitol. Then Senate Democrats suddenly fled the state Feb. 17, bringing the legislative process to a halt.

Education at stake

As union supporters moved inside for a sixth straight day of protests at the Wisconsin Capitol, Gov. Scott Walker reiterated Feb. 20 that he wouldn’t compromise on the issue that had mobilized them, a bill that would eliminate most of public employees’ collective bargaining rights.

The party’s stand against balancing the state’s budget by cutting the pay, benefits, and collective bargaining rights of public workers—including educators—is the boldest action yet by Democrats to push back against last fall’s GOP wave.

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Expert: Federal school reform plan is wrong

Some experts suggest that the nation's approach to school reform is headed down the wrong path.

The president is wrong. Arne Duncan is wrong. The media are wrong. Many state administrators are wrong: This was the message on the current state of school reform in a Feb. 18 keynote session at the American Association of School Administrators‘ National Conference on Education.

You wouldn’t expect to hear these inflammatory statements boldly pronounced by a woman who looks more suited to serving lemonade to grandchildren than inspiring hundreds of attendees at 8 a.m. amid the mountainous backdrop of Colorado.

With her elegantly cropped gray hair, string of pearls, and deep blue eyes on a petite face lined with years of experiences, Diane Ravitch, research professor of education at New York University and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, had a few choice words on how current tough tactics supported by federal policy to encourage school reform are harming education rather than supporting it.

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Bridging informal and formal learning in the digital education age

Digital tools have expanded learning opportunities for teachers and students.

Learning has always extended beyond the classroom. Children and young adults learn as they encounter information, people, places, and things in their lives, both in school and out of school. The growing availability and use of digital media have significantly increased students’ learning outside the confines of a classroom.

The increased presence of digital media has, as a result, dramatically widened the gap between informal (out-of-school) and formal (in-school) learning. The Consortium for School Networking’s (CoSN) 10th Annual International Symposium, themed Ubiquitous Digital Education: Bridging Informal and Formal Learning, will address this issue and challenges and opportunities educators face when trying to seamlessly integrate the two. The Symposium will take place on Monday, March 14, 2011, in New Orleans, a day before the official kickoff of CoSN’s 2011 Conference.

“Digital media have created enormous opportunities and positive challenges for educators. Taking full advantage of the ever-evolving nature of digital media resources is a constant challenge for educators. While adapting these tools to the formal classroom setting is becoming much more commonplace, educators are also still confronted with finding new and innovative ways to seamlessly weave together students’ informal and formal learning,” said James Bosco, co-chair of CoSN’s International Advisory Council.

“During this year’s Symposium, our panel of thought leaders from around the globe will expand our thinking about the changes in policy and practice that are needed to fully integrate children’s learning experiences both in and out of the classroom in an age of rapidly advancing technologies.”

“Bridging formal and informal learning is not just an issue facing educators in one part of the world or another. It is international in scope, and we are very excited to join across the Atlantic with CoSN to start a global conversation on this topic,” said Symposium presenter Stephen Breslin, CEO of the United Kingdom’s Futurelab. “New creative ideas around how to bring together learning inside and outside of schools are constantly being generated, and it is our hope to advance the dialogue during the daylong session.”

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