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Peer Review

After a spirited two-and-a-half hour debate, the representative assembly of the National Education Association voted in July to allow its members to evaluate one another's job performance, a practice known as peer review and something the union has long opposed. The move by the 9,000 delegates at this year's NEA convention in Atlanta does not mandate peer review; it simply clears the way for interested locals to pursue such programs. It also allows the 2.3-million-member union to provide information about successful models, which often provide assistance and career counseling to teachers found to be ineffective. The resolution drew opposition from the California, New Jersey, and Wisconsin delegations, which argued that peer review would pit members against members and undermine the union's role of protecting teachers. NEA president Bob Chase said the change was a response to "anti-public school sentiment" and the wishes of many members. Currently, the number of teachers' unions engaged in peer review is small. Most are affiliated with the 940,000-member American Federation of Teachers, which has been open to the practice for years.

A Day Of Their Own

Seattle teachers would spend one day a week planning, training, and talking with parents under a proposal floated recently by district superintendent John Stanford. Under the plan, teachers would be in class four days a week; on the fifth day, teams of specialists would take over for art, music, physical education, and field trips. Teachers would use that day for their own learning, parent conferences, and school improvement. Stanford said the schedule change is needed to "massively retrain" teachers and "change the culture of public education." Chris Case, a spokeswoman for the district, said that the idea caught even school board members by surprise but that initial public reaction has been favorable.

A Gentler District?

In what has become a rite of spring in San Francisco, school officials announced in June that they had targeted two more struggling schools for reconstitution, a process that replaces most teachers with new hires committed to a common vision of improvement. The schoolwide shake-ups, which have garnered San Francisco national attention, are required under the district's court-ordered desegregation plan. [See "Do Or Die," March.] But this time, superintendent Waldemar Rojas has added a twist that has partially blunted teachers' anger at the radical restructuring. As in earlier years, all staff members at the reconstituted schools—Mission High and Golden Gate Elementary—will have to reapply for their jobs. But now, instead of requiring most to find work elsewhere, Rojas has pledged to " keep an open mind" about allowing them to remain at the schools. Moreover, the district is giving the existing staffs a role in crafting the schools' blueprints for reform. The more collaborative approach is an outgrowth of ongoing talks between the district and the teachers' union aimed at charting a new direction for the restructuring program.

Push Technology

Teachers who rely on the Internet for professional news and classroom ideas but dislike surfing World Wide Web sites may soon get a boost from an on-line service scheduled to begin this fall. The service—called Educast—will offer information from newspapers including Education Week and USA Today, the U.S. Department of Education, and other groups and publications, such as Teacher Magazine. It will be published by Davidson & Associates of Torrance, California. Educast is an example of what is known as "push" technology. Most Web browsers and search engines are "pull" technologies, in that users must visit Web sites and actively download—or pull—selected information into their computer. Push services perform those tasks for users—and often when they aren't even at the computer. Users must register for the service, install special software, and select their interest areas. The software activates the computers' connections to the Internet at designated times and downloads requested information—as well as topic-related advertising, which foots the publisher's bill. The service is free to the subscriber. Educators can download the trial version of Educast by going to http://www.educast.com.

I Spy

Parents in Ridgefield, Connecticut, are keeping an eye on their youngsters with the help of the Internet. The Children's Corner, a local day-care center, is testing a program called "I See You," which uses well-placed cameras to take pictures of children who attend the center and lets parents view them on the Internet throughout the day. The pictures are updated every 30 seconds, and parents can access them free of charge with an Internet address, password, and user name. The idea behind the program is to allow family members to feel they're in touch with their children, says Bob Bohn, director of marketing for the Simplex Knowledge Co. of White Plains, New York, which is working with IBM to put the program in day-care centers nationwide. Nan Howkins, owner of Children's Corner, says the service has gotten a positive response. "Parents say they never realized how much we do with their children," she says. The day-care center pays $50 a week for one camera and $4 each for five additional cameras. It also pays for Internet access.

Out With The D's

Teachers at North Carroll High School in Hampstead, Maryland, have come up with a novel solution to poor work that earns a passing grade: Eliminate the D's and force students to earn at least a C—or fail. As simple as it sounds, the high school's no-D's policy is one of the nation's first, experts say. Gregory Eckles, director of secondary schools for the Carroll County district, says North Carroll's new grade scale is part of a push to raise academic standards. With a waiver from the school board, the 1, 300-student school began removing D's from courses, provided all the course instructors agreed. Teachers of some lower-level classes have kept the traditional grading system. Math teacher James Boesler says that about 70 percent of the students who previously received D's are working up to C's and that about 30 percent are failing.

Parks Academy?

Civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks and her husband have applied to the Detroit district to open a charter school. The school, to be called the Raymond and Rosa Parks Academy for Self-Development, would serve 250 students in grades 6-12. The proposal is under review. Parks' refusal to sit in the back of a Montgomery, Alabama, bus in 1955 helped ignite the civil rights movement.

Unplugged

Alaska teacher Mike Connors has been disconnected from his school's e-mail system for being a little too plugged into politics. It started when Connors, who teaches at Hanshew Middle School in Anchorage, used the school's e-mail to write Republican state Senator Lyda Green. In his message, he urged Green to "stop acting like a spoiled child" over a recent political setback. But the special education teacher discovered that e-mail can bite back. A savvy aide to Green sent a copy of his letter to district administrators, tipping them to a breach of district cyberspace rules. It turns out Anchorage teachers are banned from using the district's e-mail system for political activism or to send harassing letters. Administrators ruled that Connors had done both. Connors, who apologized to school officials, did not know what his punishment would be until he logged onto his e-mail and received the message: "User name unknown." He will get e-mail privileges back this fall.

The Damage Done

The Chicago school district has been ordered to pay more than $1.7 million to compensate a white teacher who said she endured years of racial harassment at her school. The trouble began in February 1991, when a group of students wrongly accused Carrie Smith, an English teacher at the city's Collins High School, of making racist remarks. The next day, a black teacher physically attacked Smith. According to William Raleigh, Smith's lawyer, school officials failed to address her concerns, despite further harassment by her colleagues. A federal jury did, though, awarding her $1. 7 million in compensatory damages. A U.S. District Court judge followed up with an additional $25,799 for lost pay.

Dirty Dancing

Students in Dade County, Florida, may soon think twice before bumping and grinding their way through school dances or football games. After hearing complaints that organized dance routines at the district's athletic events and band competitions had turned increasingly provocative, school board members agreed to support a new code of conduct that would prohibit "dirty dancing" at all school events. The board must vote on the code again before the ban becomes official. If it passes, students doing sexy dance moves could face suspension. Teachers who allow such dancing could also be punished—and possibly even lose their jobs.

Principled Ruling

A federal appeals court has ruled that an Idaho school district violated a principal's religious rights by demoting him after he announced plans to remove his children from public schools to teach them at home. The court upheld a jury's $300,000 damages award to Frank Peterson, the former principal of Paul Elementary School in the Minidoka County district. Peterson had been a principal for 15 years when he told his superiors in early 1992 that he and his wife planned to pull their eight school-age children from public schools. The Petersons, who are Mormons, said they wanted to include God in all their children's lessons. District officials feared that public school parents would lose confidence in the principal if he homeschooled his own children and that homeschooling would interfere with his duties. The superintendent reassigned Peterson to an elementary teaching job. Peterson and his wife sued the district and administrators in federal court, charging that the demotion violated, among other things, their First Amendment right to free exercise of religion.

Vol. 09, Issue 01, Pages 10-12, 17

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