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Dancing With Myself, Testing Failure, and Giving Your All

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, April 6-12.

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Maryland lawmakers gave the stiff arm—some might say the finger—to Republican Governor Robert Ehrlich’s NCLB-inspired attempt to take away control of four troubled Baltimore high schools and seven middle schools from the city’s district. It would have been the first state seizure of schools as provided for under the federal law. In the final hours of the legislative session, state senators voted to override a vetoed bill that will now prevent the state from intervening in the city’s school management for a year. That duration is far from arbitrary for Democrats, who control both house chambers, and who hope that by 2007, a fellow party member—perhaps gubernatorial candidate and Baltimore Mayor Martin O’Malley—will take over in Annapolis. "I've never seen people celebrate so much over complete dysfunction," Ehrlich said after the vote.

Speaking of unusual celebrations, it’s hard to find a date to a school dance if you’re the only student in your class. That’s why parents of about 175 Chicago-area homeschoolers recently organized just such an event in a suburban hotel ballroom. And dancing did occur among the pupils—many of whom study at home for religious reasons—though not in the same way as it sometimes does at conventional schools’ events. "It's not as slutty," remarked Gracie Martin, 16, who has attended public school dances before. Such chaste minglings, sans bump and grind, may actually be trending upward, according to National Home Education Research Institute head Brian Ray. "Clearly, because there is an increase in the number of home-schoolers ... we're probably going to see more of them."

Fears about the widely popular Internet socializing site MySpace have also been on the rise lately—and not just among parents concerned about pedophilic lurkers. Police in Coon Rapids, Minnesota, say some middle school students there apparently posted a page under the name of one of their teachers and filled it with porn and hateful references toward people of specific religious heritages and sexual orientations. Police declined to give details about the investigation, which is still underway. More than 50 million users access the free site, on which anyone can post a profile under any real or imagined name. "[T]hat’s a very scary thought for anybody who works with children—for anybody, actually," said principal Michelle Langenfeld.

Also under the heading of things not being as they seem, new research suggests that the skills tests most public school teachers have to pass to get a job aren’t reliable indicators of whether they’ll become successful teachers. Two studies presented at the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association showed practically no correlation between principals' evaluations of teachers’ classroom performance and their scores on pre-employment exams. In our age of accountability, such tests have become nearly universal—48 states use them, costing teachers, schools, and states $50 million to $100 million annually. Marc Claude-Charles Colitti, a researcher at Michigan State University who examined data going back to 1960 for one of the studies, said, "How smart a teacher is doesn't necessarily tell us that they're a good teacher."

Smart or not, most teachers have a soft spot for the plights of their charges. But one educator in New Lenox, Illinois, is taking that sympathy to a whole new level. Teacher Patricia Donohue is scheduled to donate one of her kidneys to a student next month. Brandon Shafer, a 4th grader, needs a new one, and Donohue volunteered after finding out the 10-year-old’s mother wasn't a close enough match. You can’t get much more giving than that.

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