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Published in Print: May 26, 1999, as Report Roundup

Report Roundup

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Urban Schools' Poverty, Size
Delay Use of Technology
: A report on the use of technology in urban schools has found that large size, poverty, limited resources, and old equipment hamper the schools' entry into the information age.

The Education Writers Association, a national professional group based in Washington, sent reporters to visit schools in Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, and Milwaukee. Their case studies make up the report's main sections.

The reporters found that each district had "lighthouse schools," where technology was fully integrated into the curriculum. In some of those cases, the most sophisticated approaches to technology and learning were in use.

But the size of the districts and of individual schools made it difficult to get enough people involved, to fit the technology into the overall school reform plan, and to provide technical support, among other problems. In addition, the districts' large number of older buildings made technology upgrades costly.

The report includes an analysis of three of the districts' technology plans by experts at the North Central Regional Education Laboratory, a federally financed group that helps states and districts in the Midwest on education reform.

For a copy of "Barriers and Breakthroughs: Technology in Urban Schools," send $10 to the Education Writers Association, 1331 H St. N.W., #307, Washington, DC 20005; (202) 637-9700; fax (202) 637-9707; e-mail ewa@crosslink.net.

Excerpts from the main sections of the report, including Web links, are available at the World Wide Web site of the magazine Catalyst: Voices of Chicago School Reform, at www.catalyst-chicago.org/05-99/059intro.htm.

--Andrew Trotter

At-Risk Children: More than 9 million American children are at serious risk because of family circumstances, says a report released last week by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.

The report points out several factors that can hinder a child's chances of success as an adult, including: growing up in a single-parent home, having parents with low educational attainment, living in poverty, having parents who are not in the workforce, being dependent on welfare, and lacking health insurance.

Children who grow up with four or more of those risk factors face far greater odds of failure than the average American child, according to Douglas W. Nelson, the president of the Baltimore-based foundation.

Twenty-six percent of students with four or more of the factors were high school dropouts in 1998, compared with only 1 percent of students with none of the risks, the report says. Of the 9 million at-risk children, 25 percent live in rural areas, 44 percent are in cities, and 31 percent are in suburbs.

For free copies of the 1999 "Kids Count Data Book," write the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Attn: Kids Count Data Book, 701 St. Paul St., Baltimore, MD 21202; or call (410) 223-2890. The report is available on the Web at www.aecf.org/kidscount/kc1999/.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

Student Achievement: Student achievement is up in the vast majority of schools initially funded by the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative, one of the recipients of aid from the philanthropist Walter H. Annenberg's $500 million gift to the nation's public schools, according to a new evaluation.

Of the 14 San Francisco-area schools in their third year of funding and expected to show achievement gains this year, 11 did so. An additional seven schools showed gains a year ahead of schedule, as measured by standardized achievement tests.

The collaborative released "Assessing Results: The Bay Area School Reform Collaborative, Year Three" last week. The evaluation was conducted by researchers at Stanford University's Center for Research on the Context of Teaching, which is conducting a multiyear evaluation of the project.

Merrill Vargo, the executive director of the collaborative, said that increased professional development for teachers, continuity in school leadership, and instruction for educators in using data to make decisions had helped improve learning. Teachers in the participating schools get three to five times the number of professional development days the state provides in other public schools, Ms. Vargo said.

A separate report released late last month on the progress across all the Annenberg Challenge sites, "Citizens Changing Their Schools: A Midterm Report of the Annenberg Challenge," reported additional student-achievement gains in other sites, such as New York City and Philadelphia. But it's difficult to make any comparisons--or say anything definitive--across sites because they all use different student-achievement tests and received funding at different times.

Barbara Cervone, the national coordinator for the challenge, credited the gains, in part, to the work of intermediary organizations, such as the Bay Area collaborative, that can bring "vision, focus, support, and pressure" to the process of change. "There's a way in which they are more free to move across boundaries than the organizations which represent the traditional system," she said.

Copies of "Assessing Results" are available free from the Bay Area School Reform Collaborative. Fax requests to (415) 241-2746.

For more information on "Citizens Changing Their Schools," write Barbara Cervone, Annenberg Challenge, c/o Annenberg Institute for School Reform, Brown University, Box 1985, Providence, RI 02912.

--Lynn Olson

Teenagers and Democracy: Is the next generation of Americans prepared to carry the mantle of democracy? That question is posed in a report by the U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics.

To get a handle on teenagers' civic attitudes and practices, federal researchers surveyed 4,200 students in grades 9-12 three years ago. The responses offer both encouraging and discouraging news. While fewer than half of the students surveyed read about national news in any given week, for example, most also said they feel they can write a government official or make a statement at a public meeting.

To read the report, "The Civic Development of 9th- Through 12th-Grade Students in the United States: 1996" on the Web, go to: nces.ed.gov/pubs99/1999131.pdf. (Requires Adobe's Acrobat Reader.)

Information on ordering copies is also available by writing the U.S. Department of Education, ED Pubs, PO Box 1398, Jessup, MD 20794-1398; by calling, toll-free, (877) 4ED-PUBS.

--Debra Viadero

Successful Schools: Portraits of six schools that are succeeding against great odds are sketched out in a publication by the Educational Research Service, a nonprofit research group based in Arlington, Va.

Researcher Gordon Cawelti sought out schools whose test scores show a steady upward trend even though they serve student populations that are over-whelmingly poor. The schools he chose are: Frederick Douglass Academy, a public "choice" school in New York City; Carl C. Waitz Elementary School, serving the migrant and farm-laborer communities of Mission, Texas; Exeter High School, a Canadian school using "total quality management" principles; Pittsburgh's James Madison Elementary School; Clay Elementary School in the Appalachian mountain town of Clay, W.Va.; and Dodge-Edison Elementary School, a Wichita, Kan., public school that is run by the for-profit Edison Project.

"The evidence from these schools makes it clear there is not one path to success," Mr. Cawelti writes. "Each school has its own story."

For copies of "Portraits of Six Benchmark Schools: Diverse Approaches to Improving Student Achievement," call or write ERS Member Services Information Center, 2000 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington, VA 22201-2908; (800) 791-9308; fax: (800) 791-9309. The price is $20 plus 10 percent for postage and handling.

--Debra Viadero

Young Learners: Young children are becoming more capable of understanding the basic concepts of science, mathematics, and technology, according to a report released by Project 2061, a long-term education initiative of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The report, a recently released compilation of 15 papers commissioned for the Forum on Early Childhood Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education, which was held by the National Science Foundation last year, says that more effective science, math, and technology education is needed at the prekindergarten level because such preparation could determine how well children learn those subjects later in life.

"Dialogue on Early Childhood Science, Mathematics, and Technology Education" is available for $12.95 from the AAAS Distribution Center, PO Box 521, Annapolis Junction, MD 20710; (800) 222-7809.

--Michelle Galley

High-Quality Care: Parents aren't finding high-quality child care because many don't know what to look for, says a report by the YMCA.

The guide, released this month, pinpoints exactly what should be included in a good child-care program. The key areas for parents to look at are:

  • Relationships among children, teachers, administrators, and parents;
  • An environment with spacious indoor and outdoor areas that meet the needs and spark the interests of children;
  • Activities that are planned and prepared by trained staff members and help children develop socially, physically, and intellectually;
  • Safety and health practices that prevent hazards in or around the area and ensure the facility complies with local and state health, fire, and safety codes;
  • An administration that hires and retains qualified and caring staff members, maintains an appropriate ratio of staff to children, builds collaboration with schools and community groups, and conducts regular evaluations of effectiveness, responsiveness, and quality.

"Quality Matters--The Path to Early Learning and Development" is available on the Web at www.ymca.net/childcare/quality/quality.htm.

--Karen L. Abercrombie

School Choice: The private-school-choice movement had a banner year in 1998, according to an analysis by the Heritage Foundation.

The Washington-based think tank is a proponent of educational choice measures such as charter schools, private school vouchers, and tax credits for parents who send their children to private schools.

"The school choice movement has a long road to climb before reaching acceptance nationwide, but developments in 1998 moved supporters over one of the most difficult ridges in the ascent toward full parental choice," its report says.

Among the developments cited are the Wisconsin Supreme Court's decision upholding the expanded Milwaukee voucher program, which includes children attending religious schools.

Also cited are the growth of privately subsidized voucher-style programs and the passage by both houses of Congress of a pilot voucher program for the District of Columbia. President Clinton vetoed that legislation.

The report mentions at least one other setback for choice proponents: Colorado voters' overwhelming rejection last November of a ballot initiative that would have provided tuition tax credits for private education.

Copies of "School Choice 1999: What's Happening in the States" are available for $10 from the Heritage Foundation, 214 Massachusetts Ave. N.E., Washington, DC 20002-4999 or at the group's Web site, www.heritage.org/schools.

--Mark Walsh

Drug-Abuse Prevention: School-based drug-abuse-prevention programs have improved in the past few years, according to "Making the Grade: A School Guide to School Drug Prevention Programs."

The guide, first published by the Washington-based Drug Strategies in 1996, evaluates the curriculum of school-based prevention programs.

A panel of experts looked at 50 programs used in schools nationwide and assigned each program a grade from A through F. The panel found that the content of many of the programs had improved over the past three years. In 1996, 35 percent of the programs received grades of A or B; this year, 52 percent earned such grades.

"The program content has improved because it reflects research about what works," said Rosalind Brannigan, the vice president of Drug Strategies, a nonprofit research group. This year, nine programs earned an A.

Copies of "Making the Grade" are available for $14.95 each by calling (202) 289-9070.

--Adrienne D. Coles

Vol. 18, Issue 37, Page 10

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