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Courtroom Drama, Stinky’s (Bitter)sweet Success, and Dancing the Weight Away

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, April 1-7.

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The ongoing NCLB tug of war between the states and the federal government is headed for court. Connecticut plans to sue the U.S. Department of Education, charging that the mandate illegally and unconstitutionally requires states to spend more money than the feds provide. “It’s bad education policy, but it’s also blatantly illegal,” said Richard Blumenthal, the state’s attorney general. In recent years, more than half the nation’s states have asked for more funding or for exemptions from parts of NCLB, but this marks the first legal challenge. Blumenthal predicted that more states will join the suit.

As is often the case, the precursor to the legal battle was an escalating battle of words between U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings and Betty Sternberg, her Connecticut counterpart, who had sought an exemption from annual testing. After faxing back a rejection letter, Spellings followed up with an editorial—and a very public rebuke—in the Hartford Courant. Many students, she wrote, “would welcome the chance to be tested only every other year, but the adults in charge of their education surely know better.” Among those who weren’t amused was Jodi Rell, the state’s Republican governor, who said that Spellings had “disparaged the knowledge and judgment of Connecticut educators.”

A Spokane, Washington, teacher’s judgment was called into question after a 16-year-old student found a way to bypass the district’s Internet content filter. When computer teacher Wes Marburger learned that Conrad Sykes had set up a Web site allowing access to unauthorized material, Marburger didn’t report it. Instead, he asked Sykes to give classroom presentations about his site, which the sophomore called “Bad Dog” and claimed would help students access research material arbitrarily blocked by the filter. Marburger was removed from teaching computer classes and Sykes, who called the project “a lot of fun,” was suspended for two days. In its month of existence, Spokane students used the site to bypass the content filter more than 3,000 times—a lot of research, if Sykes is to be believed.

Carl Hayden Community High School in Phoenix is understandably more proud of its students’ technical prowess. After all, it isn’t every day that four illegal immigrants beat the best and the brightest from MIT in an underwater robotics competition. But that’s exactly what Cristian Arcega, Lorenzo Santillan, Luis Aranda, and Oscar Vazquez managed to do with an $800 robot named Stinky in this past year’s Marine Advanced Technology Education Center’s Remotely Operated Vehicle Competition, sponsored in part by NASA. “Us illiterate people from the desert?” Lorenzo wondered as his team won three awards, including the grand prize.

Unfortunately, the story doesn’t have a happy ending. Oscar and Luis have since graduated and are working menial jobs, while Cristian and Lorenzo, both juniors and ineligible for financial assistance because of their undocumented status, have little hope of going to college. A scholarship fund has been set up to bring awareness to their plight, along with those of other bright immigrants who find themselves unable to pursue higher ed.

In Hawaii, a state legislator is trying to bring attention to a similarly intractable situation—student obesity—in a way few teachers would be willing to stomach. Representative Rida Cabanilla wants Aloha State educators to weigh in twice a year as part of state efforts to create an obesity database. “You cannot keep a kid to a certain standard that you yourself [are] not willing to keep,” he explained of the weight-tracking measure, which is working its way through committee.

West Virginia educators have thus far been spared a trip to the scales, but their health insurance plan may soon send them to their kids’ PlayStations. The state’s public insurance agency, which covers 215,000 teachers and other workers, is testing the cardiovascular benefits of the popular Dance Dance Revolution game, which requires players to mimic the moves displayed onscreen on a Twister-like pad. The agency has also placed the game in 20 schools, where it’s getting reluctant kids off of the bleachers. “Kids who don’t like other things bloom on this,” says PE teacher Robrietta Lambert. For his part, 11-year-old K.D. Jones has lost 20 pounds by playing the game, and he hopes to bring down his weight to 125 in time to play football by summer’s end. “I feel a lot better,” he says.

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