New guide reveals how to improve after-school programs

The Forum for Youth Investment, a nonprofit action group, has released a new guide to help cities and communities strengthen and sustain quality in after-school programs.

Commissioned by The Wallace Foundation, the guide is based on decades of social science research on child development, teaching and learning, and organizational management, as well as the forum’s experience working with more than 70 after-school efforts around the country. It draws heavily on efforts in six communities to build systems to improve the quality of after-school programming: Atlanta, Ga.; Austin, Texas; Chicago, Ill.; New York, N.Y.; Palm Beach County, Fla.; and Hampden County, Mass. Each city’s effort is profiled in a case study.

The new guide, called “Building Citywide Systems for Quality: A Guide and Case Studies for Afterschool Leaders,” explains an emerging practice known as a quality improvement system (QIS), an intentional effort to raise the quality of after-school programming in an ongoing, organized fashion. The approach is based on what management gurus call “continuous improvement”: the idea that organizations should regularly take stock of themselves against a standard; develop plans to improve based on what they learned; carry out those plans; and begin the cycle over again so that the quality of their work is always improving.…Read More

How to realize ed tech’s game-changing potential

The move toward digital education comes with a number of important considerations.

During a recent webinar, the nation’s director of educational technology highlighted how technology can support more effective instruction—and a North Carolina superintendent revealed how his district has successfully made the shift to a digital teaching and learning environment.

With support from the U.S. Department of Education (ED) and modeled by local school districts across the country, school district leaders can identify goals that will help them make this shift themselves, while at the same time boosting student access, learning, and engagement.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in February that U.S. schools should transition to digital learning in the next five years, and in 2010 ED released its latest National Education Technology Plan (NETP), spearheaded by Karen Cator, director of ED’s Office of Educational Technology.…Read More

Miami-Dade Superintendent on public schools, immigration, and the FCAT

It’s hard to imagine more than a handful of jobs more difficult than that of Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools, the Huffington Post reports. The nation’s 4th-largest school system faces challenges far beyond the usual budget woes and teacher merit pay squabbles: students from 160 countries speak 56 different languages, the district is tasked with providing quality education for all in a city with jaw-dropping income disparity, there are 53,000 employees to manage, and Dade County’s history of managing anything effectively is, well, let’s just say it’s checkered. But Alberto Carvalho, who had worked his way through university after immigrating from Portugal, leapt at the chance in 2008 after the plagued district’s previous leader was ousted amid much controversy and financial drama. And though MDCPS still faces their fare share of battles — crumbling facilities, for one — the results have been impressive: 13 failing ‘F’ schools have been reduced to none, math and reading scores show MDCPS students rank above their peers in other large, urban districts, and the county just celebrated its highest graduation rate of all time

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School lunches get a 21st-century makeover

School cafeterias are using cutting-edge market research to help get kids to eat healthy.

“Woohoo! It’s tater tot day!” might be a phrase of the past, thanks to new updates in federal guidelines regulating school lunch programs—the first in 15 years.

With new limits on calories, sodium, and saturated fats, as well as increases in minimums for fruits and vegetables, schools are revisiting their nutrition management. Thankfully, there are software programs, apps, and websites available to help schools, parents, and students make the transition successfully.

The updated federal guidelines were devised by the Agriculture Department and spurred by celebrity campaigns such as Jamie Oliver’s “Food Revolution” to rethink school lunch components and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” to fight childhood obesity. They aim to improve the National School Lunch program by combating obesity, nutrition deficits, and hunger.…Read More

Until we get rid of funding inequities, real education reform can’t happen

The sad reality is that the quality of our public schools has always been subject to the tax dollars that can be raised in the neighborhood they serve.

Learning Leadership column, Sept. 2012 edition of eSchool NewsEvery year at this time, I look forward to the release of the Phi Delta Kappa/ Gallup Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools. Given the apparent dissatisfaction that many Americans have toward public education, the poll results might shed some light on why—and what we as public educators might be able to do about it.

I am immediately drawn to the section that asks the public to grade the public schools. Over the last 20 years, the results have been very consistent on two levels. First, and very much to my liking, the percentage of respondents who have a child in school and give their school a grade of A or B continues to grow. This past year, the number was at 77 percent, significantly higher than it was 20 years ago when the number was 64 percent. What does that tell us? Our public schools are being pounded as being of low quality and dysfunctional and not as good as they used to be. Yet, for those who are direct consumers of what the schools have to offer, parents with children in the school, satisfaction with the public schools is at an all-time high.

Second, when the public at large is asked to grade the school in their community, whether they have children in attendance or not, the results are also consistent in that there has been a continuous increase in satisfaction over the past 20 years. Currently, 48 percent of the public gives the school in their community a grade of A or B. That’s certainly not as impressive as the 77-percent approval rating by parents, but 20 years ago the percentage was 40 percent and it has been increasing steadily over the years.…Read More

Anatomy of a school construction project

Glen Allen High School, Henrico County’s newest school building, opened in September 2010.

(Editor’s note: This article marks the debut of a new section in eSchool News, called Building Excellence, that will provide news and information to help school and district leaders as they plan, design, construct, and equip leading-edge facilities.)

Before a ribbon is sliced by comically oversized scissors, before a brick is laid or an architect is chosen, before voters approve funding for a sparkling new school building, there is only a plan.

The doors to a new school are thrown open by students, parents, and teachers many years after economic and population growth call for more classrooms in a city, town, or county. Researchers and planners use a district’s public relations apparatus to start talks with residents, myriad public forums are held, committees are formed, reports are issued, school boundaries are rearranged, architectural firms are interviewed, and finally, sometimes after five years, construction begins.…Read More

New online community shares ed-tech best practices

Project RED, an ed-tech research and advocacy group that has been studying how technology can help re-engineer the education system, has created a new online community for school technology decision makers that includes access to its research findings.

With funding from HP, Intel, the Pearson Foundation, and SMART Technologies, Project RED a few years ago launched a national research study of 2,000 schools, examining each school’s technology program. The group’s findings suggested that—when implemented effectively—technology can provide a significant return on investment (ROI) and help raise achievement. Project RED also defined what it meant by “effective” implementation: in other words, what the research suggested was the best way for using technology to get the maximum ROI in schools.

Now, Project RED has developed a methodology for effective ed-tech implementation, based on its findings. Tom Greaves, chairman of the Greaves Group and one of the creators of Project RED, said the methodology is available through the group’s new professional learning community that offers tools, resources, and opportunities for school and district leaders to collaborate.…Read More