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NEA Foundation Focuses Giving On Closing Gap

The National Education Association Foundation announced a new grant program last week that takes the philanthropy in a new direction: toward closing the achievement gap between minority and low-income students and their more affluent peers.

In what could wind up being the largest grant the foundation has given, a partnership between the Hamilton County, Tenn., school district and the Tennessee Education Association, an NEA affiliate, was awarded the first such grant worth up to $2.5 million.

The foundation, the philanthropic arm of the NEA, has an endowment of $41 million.

The district, which includes Chattanooga, plans to use the money to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers, increase the rate at which students go to college, decrease the need for remediation in higher education, and foster family- and community-member involvement with the schools.

Initially, the 40,000-student district will receive $500,000, according to a press release. Over the course of five years, the school system could receive another $2 million, depending on how well it meets its own goals. In addition, the grant requires that the district close its achievement gap by 2009.

"All of us are committed to working with the larger community to close the achievement gap for our students, and believe that teachers’ working together with businesses, families, and civic leaders is the best way to raise the bar for our young, future leaders," said Jesse Register, the Hamilton County superintendent.

Other finalists for the grant were the public school districts and union affiliates in Des Moines, Iowa; Indianapolis; and Richmond, Va. Though future plans are not firm, the NEA Foundation hopes to continue with the program.

World History in Review

The most popular world history textbooks "provide unreliable, often scanty information and provide poorly constructed activities," asserts a recent review of the tomes by the American Textbook Council.

The evaluation of the 6th through 12th grade texts laments that at a time when world history is the fastest-growing area in social studies education, the books widely used in classrooms are inadequate to guide instruction.

The New York City-based organization promotes textbooks that reflect a rigorous study of history through strong narratives on significant people and events. In other reviews of texts, including several on American history, the council has criticized the trend toward using more visual presentations and a bent toward multiculturalism that have dominated texts of the last decade. Publishers have defended the books, saying they reflect the extensive and complex requirements outlined in many states’ textbook guidelines.

As part of the world history review, the council released a preliminary report last year that criticized much of the books’ coverage of Islam. ("Review of Islam in Texts Causes Furor," Feb. 19, 2003.)

The full review draws similar conclusions. While several of the textbooks include strong content in some areas, the review says that, on the whole, they tend to be overburdened by trivial information and are overly critical of Western powers. In addition, the books ignore or gloss over negative trends and events in non-Western nations, it maintains, and they abandon the narrative format common in textbooks of a generation ago, making for choppy, disconnected writing.

The critique examines seven textbooks that dominate the market in several states, including California, Florida, Indiana, North Carolina, and New York.

"What should be central topics and themes," the report contends, "are compressed to make room for new topical material, some of it ideologically loaded."

The review, by Gilbert T. Sewall, the council’s president, was supported by the Smith Richardson Foundation, the Bodman Foundation, and the Maytag Family Foundation.

Models in the Middle

For More Info
Online tours of the original schools of excellence and more information on the state-level program are available at Schools to Watch.

New York state and Ohio have been added to the National Forum to Accelerate Middle Grades Reform’s program of recognizing outstanding middle schools. The states will join seven others— California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia—in identifying "Schools to Watch," which began as a national program in 1999. In that inaugural year, four schools were identified as models of excellence. ("Standing Out," Oct. 4, 2000.)

The state-level program was established last year to expand the Schools to Watch initiative and provide more models.

To be selected, schools must promote rigorous academics while continuing to address students’ developmental needs and provide equal educational opportunities to all students.

Classroom Management

Fed up with hearing foul language from a student in her classroom, a high school reading teacher in Phoenix has won a restraining order against the boy.

Elizabeth Anne Moore, who teaches a class for struggling readers at Trevor G. Browne High School, part of the 23,500- student Phoenix Union High School District, recently took her request before Lex Anderson, a justice of the peace in Peoria, Ariz.

Mr. Anderson signed an order that prohibits the 15-year-old sophomore from having any contact with Ms. Moore, either on or off school grounds.

The youth also served a five-day suspension from school and was transferred out of Ms. Moore’s class.

District officials, however, don’t expect Ms. Moore’s actions to inspire other teachers to go such lengths to remove unruly students.

"I think we saw a hue and a cry that somehow the school had let down teachers universally," said Craig Pletenik, a spokesman for the district. "But there are laws that allow for teachers to immediately get someone out of class. I believe our schools are better equipped to deal with these types of problems than they were 30 years ago."

The disciplinary measures against the student were taken before Ms. Moore ever went to court, Mr. Pletenik added. The student was also asked to sign a "behavioral contract" before returning to school.

Ms. Moore is teaching high school for the first time this year after working at the elementary level.

Teachers’ Walk

Stroll through the heart of Hollywood if you want to walk on stars. But, starting in September, if it’s teachers you’d like to honor, a sidewalk in the San Fernando Valley’s Canoga Park makes educators the stars—with hearts, no less.

The brainchild of a real estate agent and civic booster in the San Fernando Valley, the "Walk of Hearts" is scheduled to open Sept. 3 on Sherman Avenue. It will feature brass plaques incised with the name of a "star" local teacher and embossed with a heart. Each plaque will feature the saying "A teacher’s passion comes from the heart."

"It’s a permanent way to say ‘thank you’ to educators," said Joe Andrews, the founder, who co-owns real estate offices in the nearby communities of Chatsworth and Northridge. "They don’t get the recognition they deserve, when we’re always giving accolades and kudos to athletes and movie stars," he said.

Mr. Andrews said the charm of main street in Canoga Park led him to that spot for his version of Hollywood’s Walk of Stars.

The first 10 honorees were selected last month and include Clara Rooksby, who founded what is now Canoga Park High School in the early part of the last century, and the famed University of California, Los Angeles, basketball coach and teacher John Wooden, who lives in the area. Others are a middle school English teacher who started a peer-counseling program and an auto-mechanics instructor nominated by a student who became an automotive journalist.

The educators were selected by a 10-member committee of educators and business people from essays written by colleagues, students, and community members. The teachers must have worked in San Fernando Valley schools. But Mr. Andrews is considering extending the reach of the program, which is sponsored by the Canoga Park/Woodland Hills Chamber of Commerce.

More information on this project is available at www.walkofhearts.com.

Museum Links

The intense focus on raising math and reading achievement in the nation’s public schools has led to cuts in arts and social studies programs in many places. Now, teachers in California will have help in strengthening those subjects by linking the curriculum with a renowned museum collection.

A $210,000 donation from Mouli Cohen, a San Francisco Bay- area philanthropist and biotechnology entrepreneur, will pay for a series of curriculum guides for grades 1 to 12 produced by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

The guides, which will be available for free online, will feature lessons related to collections at the newly renovated de Young Museum, San Francisco’s oldest. Known for its educational programs, the museum has collections of American paintings, arts and crafts, and objects from Africa, Oceania, and the Americas, and a collection of Western and non-Western textiles.

"The breadth and depth of the de Young Museum’s collections make it a valuable tool in the study of art and diverse world cultures," said Sheila Pressley, the acting director of education for the Fine Arts Museums. "By coordinating our various collections with curriculum guidelines, the museum assumes an imperative role of effectively supporting the public school system at a time when it needs our support the most."

The guides, "Get Smart With Art at the de Young," are expected to be available in October 2005, when the museum will reopen in a new building.

More information on the project is available at www.thinker.org.

—Michelle Galley, Linda Jacobson, Bess Keller, & Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 23, Issue 39, Page 11

Published in Print: June 9, 2004, as Teaching & Learning
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One of the partners in a grant program of the National Education Association Foundation was incorrectly reported. It is the Hamilton County Education Association, not the NEA's Tennessee affiliate.

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