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High Schoolers Do Harvard, Paige Goes Prime Time, and Full-Time Subs in Indiana

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Teacher Magazine's take on education news from around the Web, August 23-Sept. 3.

How many high school sophomores get to start their first essay of the school year with the words “During summer vacation, I attended Harvard”? Exactly 30, it turns out. That’s how many Boston-area Catholic and public school kids attended the first-ever Crimson Summer Academy, a monthlong course that helps prepare low- income kids for top colleges. Chosen from a pool of 107 applicants recommended by their schools, the kids woke up at 6 a.m. each day, then worked with teachers and mentors on writing, public speaking, math, science, and the humanities. They were also given a $200-a-week stipend, seeing as they couldn’t hold jobs during that time. Harvard undergrads will serve as mentors for the academy’s first class throughout the school year, and two more summer sessions will follow for the group, even as new batches of sophomores join the program. Students who complete the course will receive a $3,000 scholarship. “We want these students to have what upper-middle-class kids have,” explains the program’s director.

Two Illinois teachers rounded out their summer by crashing the Republican National Convention in New York City. Andrew Conneen and Daniel Larsen, who host a political radio show at Adlai E. Stevenson High in Lincolnshire, are political junkies who’ve tried to get their students hooked on the electoral process. They took their classes to the Iowa caucuses last winter, then traveled on their own to the Democratic National Convention in Boston in July. Now back at school, the duo plan to write op-ed pieces and share their experiences with other teachers and classes. Students "want to be invited into the process," Conneen says, "and we try to give them every opportunity."

Last Tuesday night, on the convention floor, U.S. Secretary of Education Rod Paige was given a prime time opportunity to address RNC delegates and TV viewers. Unsurprisingly, he touted both NCLB and the man that convention-floor placards identified simply as "W"—for his vision of "students challenged by high standards, [and] teachers armed with proper resources." The latter part of that vision is evidently a reality in Washington, D.C. Federal records show that more than 75 percent of the 4,600 education department employees received roughly $5.7 million in bonuses in 2003. The top prize went to Theresa Shaw, COO for the student-aid office, whose annual salary of $144,000 was sweetened with an extra $71,250. To be fair, the decades-old "incentive" program spans all federal agencies. But department spokeswoman Susan Aspey’s rationale doesn’t quite jibe with the trying economic times faced by many school districts. Describing Shaw as "worth more than her weight in gold," she later added, "The bottom line is that some [agency employees] could be making a lot more money in the private sector."

Just earning a steady paycheck is enough for permanent substitutes in Indiana. Schools throughout the state are, in essence, hiring backup staffs—subs who show up every day and work wherever in the building they’re needed. This eliminates the administrative burden of making wake-up calls and allows subs to get to know the students and full-time staff—and vice-versa. It also enables schools to make long-term plans— for teachers going on leave or doing inservice. Plus, the subs make $75 a day, a bit more than the usual rate, and receive benefits as well. The best part, according to one classroom teacher: "A permanent sub allows you to give them a lesson plan, and they’ll actually teach it."

Something you can’t teach is common sense, especially when a zero-tolerance policy gets in the way. In Gwinnett County, Georgia, recently, a high school administrator ejected Terrell Jones from class for wearing a T-shirt that read "Hempstead, NY 516." Hempstead—get it? As in marijuana? Yes, it is a stretch, but the student wasn’t allowed back into class till he talked ever-vigilant administrators into searching the Internet, where they discovered that Hempstead, the Long Island town from which the Jones family had recently moved, actually exists. And the numbers "516"? The town’s area code. No word yet about whether the Jones family plans to move back to Long Island.

—Rich Shea

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