Mother accused of changing child’s grades in district computer

Police say Catherine Venusto, a former employee of the Northwestern Lehigh School District in New Tripoli, Pa., hacked into the school’s computer system to change her children’s grades, the Morning Call reports. According to the paper, court records show Venusto’s daughter went from a failing grade to having a “medical exception,” and her son’s grade of 98 rose to 99. The Associated Press reports Venusto admitted to changing the grades, though she maintained her actions were simply “unethical” — not illegal…

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Readers: Six resources every teacher should have

“Every classroom in America must have a comprehensive daily communication system made available to parents,” said one reader.

Every carpenter has his tool belt, and every journalist has her AP style guide—but what are the resources that a teacher in the 21st century should have?

We recently turned to our readers for help with this question, asking: “If you could recommend just one teaching resource to your colleagues, what would it be and why?”

Although we assumed many of the suggestions would focus on technology tools and mobile devices of some kind, we received a wide range of ideas. While our readers are certainly tech-savvy, their responses seem to suggest they believe good teaching is about much more than gadgets or websites; it’s about using your own experiences, resources from other peers—and even the great outdoors.

Do you agree with these suggestions? Or, do you have ideas of your own you’d like to share? Be sure to leave your thoughts in the comments section of the story.

(Some responses edited for brevity.)

1. A tablet

“I would recommend an iPad. I purchased one earlier this spring and am amazed at how much I use it. I can use Dropbox to check files, keep track of student meetings, quickly look up pictures and information when my GED students need more info, keep in touch with students by eMail, look up lesson plans and strategies for teaching concepts to my math students, demonstrate something I looked up on my iPad using the [document camera] … I could go on. I initially purchased it just because I wanted one. I never dreamed how very useful it is in a learning environment!” —Rina Hallock

2. Tools for student understanding

“The single resource that I would recommend is some form of Understanding by Design. Although somewhat daunting to tackle on your own, the level of competence in teaching gained when you truly know how to teach for ‘understanding’ is well worth the climb. If you are able to quickly grasp the ‘Why’ of the learning, the What, When, Who, Where, and even the How are infinitely easier to teach. Now that’s only half of the story. Children taught with ‘understanding’ as their goal come to master far more than the lesson at hand. They learn patterns of thinking, they connect things learned much more readily, they ‘know’ rather than just to recall or remember. Yes, they will test better as well, but that is just a collateral benefit! They learn, truly learn!” —Dr. W. Tom Pearce, Ky. District ISS, Ft. Campbell, Kentucky

“Think of your job as helping kids to learn rather than as ‘how to teach’ them.” —M.B. (Barry) Wansbrough, Bracebridge, Ontario

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The rat race of childhood: Why we need to balance students’ lives

In Aspen, Colorado each year, intellectual leaders from around the world meet for the Aspen Ideas Festival, presented by the Aspen Institute and the Atlantic. This year’s most Googled names attended the Festival’s most recent installment, held June 27-July 3, to present on the “big ideas” currently shaking up American society, from science and technology to the arts, education and culture, Vicki Abeles, a parent of three and the director of the documentary, “Race to Nowhere,” which challenges common assumptions about how children are best educated. Among them was Anne-Marie Slaughter, Princeton professor and former State Department official, whose recent piece in the Atlantic on the daunting systemic challenges and compromises faced by the working mother has dominated headlines and stoked fiery cultural conversation since its publication in the magazine’s July/August issue. Appearing at the festival in conversation with Katie Couric, Slaughter reiterated one of her article’s most salient reflections on work-life balance — or the lack thereof — in modern America: “Given the responses to my article, [it’s clear] there are many, many people — and many, many men — feeling like we have gone way too far,” she noted. “We’re working 24 hours on 24 hours, and we don’t have the time to be human beings in the round.”

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Taxing sales to fund Ohio schools?

As Ohio considers new ways to pay for public schools, legislative analysts said Wednesday one option is to replace local property tax revenue with an increase in the state sales tax, but they cautioned that it might be a risky move, the Associated Press reports. To raise the more than $9.9 billion that’s needed, policymakers would need to more than double the sales tax rate — from 5.5 cents on the dollar to 13.2 cents. It’s one of many ideas being kicked around by an Ohio House subcommittee laying the groundwork for a new state funding formula for schools. Jean Botomogno, principal economist for the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, said in a memo that such a steep increase could affect how much the tax brings in because people don’t like to spend as much when the tax rate on their purchases is high. Wednesday’s hearing on school tax policy was the second held in the Republican-led House as Gov. John Kasich works on a new strategy for doling out education dollars. Ohio’s current formula has been repeatedly declared unconstitutional for relying too heavily on property tax revenues that tend to be higher in wealthier districts…

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New online safety curriculum helps schools document CIPA compliance

An animated alien, Sammy Smart, guides students through a new online digital safety program.

As of July 2012, schools receiving federal e-Rate funding must have updated internet safety policies that show how they will educate minors about appropriate online behavior. Now, a new animated online curriculum is available to help schools fulfill this requirement and document their compliance.

The Federal Communications Commission last August amended the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to include the digital safety education provisions of the Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act. Under the new rules, federal auditors may ask e-Rate applicants to produce evidence that they have educated their staff and students about internet safety. The e-Rate provides discounts of up to 90 percent of the cost of telecommunications service and internet access to eligible schools and libraries.

AUP Online, an instructional program created by California startup Lersun Development, helps schools document the digital safety education of their students, which could be helpful in the case of an e-Rate audit.

Students use individual logins to access courses on Lersun’s website. After completing the required lessons, they electronically sign the district’s internet Acceptable Use Policy (AUP). Lersun then compiles time- and date-stamped documentation of student participation so that districts can easily demonstrate CIPA compliance.

“Every year the AUP document must be signed, and every year [there must be] instruction. Schools need to have a way to document their policy [for] when the audit comes,” said Lersun’s founder, Mary Ann Sund, a former deputy superintendent of schools in Arcadia, Calif.

Lersun charges an annual fee of 50 cents per participating student, as well as a one-time setup fee of $500 to $1,000 for a school or district. Once schools account for the printing and materials costs of other online safety programs available online, AUP Online is “cheaper than free,” Sund said.

During the development of AUP Online, she said, Lersun staff focused on “sticking to the basics so that teachers would not see it as intrusive” on class time.

Because the lessons are self-guided and hosted on a Lersun website, the course requires no teacher training and little support from schools’ technology staff—teachers can take students to the computer lab during class, or simply assign the course as homework.

There are five versions of the program, of varying duration and complexity depending on grade level. The elementary-level version hit the market this past January, and the more robust middle school course will be available for this fall. A third version geared toward high school students will launch in spring 2013.

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Students’ online photos of California tests delay release of scores

In the worst-case scenario, these schools could lose scores on the state’s Academic Performance Index, California’s rating system for schools.

Student photos of state standardized tests posted on social networks have caused a two-week delay in the release of scores and could result in more serious ramifications for nearly 150 California schools.

In a letter sent to all state school districts this week, the Department of Education announced the postponement of the 2012 test results until Aug. 31.

“It is imperative that when districts, teachers, parents and students receive their test results, we all can be assured that the integrity of the system remains intact,” Deb Sigman, deputy superintendent of public instruction, said in the letter.

Most of the posted images were of such things as “closed test booklets or blank answer documents,” said Paul Hefner, a spokesman for the Education Department.

Still, students posted 36 different test items online, prompting an analysis by the state and the Educational Testing Service, based in Princeton, N.J. So far, experts have concluded that test scores were unaffected at the state or district level, Hefner said. Individual schools’ scores remain under review.

A potential problem looms for campuses where students took the photos, most likely with their cellphones. In the worst-case scenario, these schools could lose scores on the state’s Academic Performance Index, California’s rating system for schools. That embarrassment also could expose a school to the loss of grants or to sanctions — because being stripped of a score means a school hasn’t met performance targets.

The state identified one middle school and 11 high schools where one or more students posted test items. Officials said they would decide the fate of such schools.

But Long Beach Unified officials said they only learned Wednesday, from a reporter, that one of their schools, Millikan High, is on the state’s list.

Ditto in L.A. Unified. North Hollywood High Principal Randy Delling, who didn’t know his school was on the list, added that he isn’t surprised the issue has arisen.

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Watch: High school dropout potential determined in middle school

A report by PBS’s Frontline examines the work of Johns Hopkins researcher Dr. Robert Balfanz, who suggests there is a key period in middle school that determines whether a student will eventually drop out, the Huffington Post reports. Balfanz’s team analyzed data from high poverty schools, where at least 40 percent of students qualify for government-subsidized lunch. They identified a series of indicators that can predict how likely a student is to drop out of high school if nothing is done to intervene. According to Balfanz’s research, if a sixth grader in a high poverty school attends school less than 80 percent of the time, fails math or English, or receives an unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course, there is a 75 percent chance he or she will drop out of high school. Frontline profiled one school that has adopted Balfanz’s system. Every week at Middle School 244 in the Bronx, statistics concerning absences, behavior and grades are collected and reviewed by a team of counselors and teachers. Students most in need are flagged, and their assigned counselor organizations an intervention…

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Colbert skewers Texas GOP on ‘critical thinking’

I thought I’d heard enough about the Texas Republican Party’s platform that rejects the teaching of critical thinking skills until I heard Stephen Colbert’s take on it, says Valerie Strauss, columnist for the Washington Post. I wrote about this recently here, quoting from the platform:

Knowledge-Based Education–We oppose the teaching of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS) (values clarification), critical thinking skills and similar programs that are simply a relabeling of Outcome-Based Education (OBE) (mastery learning) which focus on behavior modification and have the purpose of challenging the student’s fixed beliefs and undermining parental authority.

After this was ridiculed, Texas GOP Communications Director Chris Elam told TPM.com that it was a mistake and that opposition to “critical thinking” wasn’t supposed to be part of the platform. Since a party convention approved the platform, it can’t just be dropped, he said. Sure thing. Colbert returned to “The Colbert Report” from vacation this week and couldn’t resist taking a hilarious shot at this as part of a piece that is described on the show’s website like this: “The minds of young people are being poisoned by knowledge, but thankfully Texas is the Large Hadron Collider of denying science.”

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Conference previews healthier school lunch meals

With new federal Department of Agriculture nutrition standards for school meals slated to take effect this month, thousands of school chefs, food service workers and nutrition experts gathered in Denver for the annual School Nutrition Association conference this week, the New York Times reports. The rule changes are part of an initiative put forth in January by first lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack to make school lunches more nutritional. The guidelines establish calorie and sodium limits for meals, require schools to offer a wider selection of fruits and vegetables and mandate that all milk be 1 percent or nonfat. Requirements for the use of whole grains are also being phased in. As a result, more schools have moved to cooking meals from scratch, thereby making use of more fresh local fruits and vegetables as opposed to processed foods…

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Chicago school board, teachers reject report

A fact finder’s recommendation to give Chicago teachers a double-digit raise was rejected Wednesday by both the city’s teachers union and the governing board of the Chicago public school system, paving the way for a teacher strike, the Associated Press reports. The 6-0 vote by the school board came about an hour after the union vote. The union cited classroom quality issues in its vote, while school board officials cited the district’s financial difficulties.

“Quite simply, the board does not have the resources to accept the fact finder’s recommendation,” Chicago Board of Education President David Vitale said.

But he was optimistic that both sides could reach a deal. Vitale noted that the district and the union have used collective bargaining for 25 years without a strike, and said “it is a record I believe we both want to extend.”

Both sides now have 30 days to reach a deal before teachers could strike. District leaders and teachers gave different figures for the recommended raise, but it’s somewhere between 14 and 19 percent…

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