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Monday, March 31, 2008

Ways to Measure Schools Without High-Stakes Testing
By Jay Mathews
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 31, 2008; 10:19 AM

Who is going to be our next education president? I know, but I'm not telling. Most of The Washington Post's political reporters these days are young, strong and potentially dangerous. They have warned me about previous attempts to tread on their turf. So I am going to confine myself to helpful advice for our future chief executive, without revealing that person's name.

I have gotten some astute assistance in this effort from Sharon L. Nichols, an educational psychologist who is an assistant professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio, and David C. Berliner, Regents' Professor of education at Arizona State University. Their 2007 book "Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America's Schools" is the latest selection to our Better Late Than Never Book Club, this column's way of spotlighting good work that I really should have read when it appeared months, sometimes years, before.

Nichols and Berliner attack from all sides the state testing that we use to assess schools under the No Child Left Behind law. Their analysis is clear, their arguments strong. What particularly impressed me was their willingness to suggest viable alternatives to testing as a way for us voters, parents and taxpayers to know which of our schools are doing well and which are not, a service to which some critics of testing seem to think we are not entitled.

Here are their four major suggestions, in the order they gave them, with their own titles. It is important to read the book to get the analysis in depth, but this should whet your appetite. The authors do not see these approaches as separate from each other, but as part of a network of assessments that would be both deeper and more helpful than the typical high-stakes state tests given at the end of a school year:

1. Formative assessments: Assessment for learning, not assessment of learning. Formative assessments are the many tools that teachers use to keep track of how their students are doing---start-of-class quizzes, discussion, projects, homework, chapter tests. They are different from summative assessments, such as final exams or state tests. Nichols and Berliner quote British scientist Paul Black's apt definitions: "When the chef tastes the soup it is formative assessment; when the customer tastes the soup it is a summative assessment." Some of us customers still want to see state test results, but Nichols and Berliner cite data suggesting that formative assessments, in skilled hands, are more likely to get the achievement gains we desire, since in the back-and-forth of examining the results of each small formative assessment, a great deal of learning occurs.

2. An inspectorate. Nichols and Berliner admire the school inspection systems used in Australia, England, Holland, Germany, Sweden and a few other countries. They describe very detailed and sophisticated visits, interviewing both teachers and students and others involved in the education process, to see if standards are being maintained and progress made. If this system worked, it would have real benefits. But it is terribly expensive---in Britain, they can only afford to do each school every six years---and it reawakens in me bad memories of the reports issued by regional school accreditation committees that operate in many parts of this country. Rarely have I seen prose more tortured or less comprehensible. Often such visits involve buddy-buddy relationships that teeter on the edge of conflicts of interest. So it is a promising idea, but I would have to see it executed better than I have seen in the past.

3. End-of-course examinations. Here, I think they are on to something. They propose that high-stakes state tests be junked in favor of local tests written by teachers and tied closely to actual courses. They cite as models the Standards of Learning tests in Virginia, which I have been watching closely for a decade. There are high school SOL tests for algebra, biology, American history and several other subjects. The tests and questions were designed by Virginia teachers, and are embraced by many critics of No Child Left Behind. Nichols and Berliner do not like the fact that the Virginia tests are high-stakes--a student has to pass six of them to graduate from high school. But you get the idea. I am a little surprised that they did not mention Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate as models for this approach, since they have the additional merit of a testing standard that cannot be corrupted, and is based on a result that everyone considers useful to the students themselves---being able to master introductory college material. Another advantage of this approach is that it is less expensive (and well as more comprehensible to outsiders) than their other suggestions. Less money spent on assessments could mean more money to pay teachers.

4. Performance tests, including project and portfolio defenses, before judges. The authors celebrate here my favorite example of this alternative to high-stakes testing, the Central Park East Secondary School created by a group of teachers led by the legendary Deborah Meier. High schoolers at CPESS were treated like graduate students, working on major papers and other projects, and being judged by committees of experts. This is a wonderful alternative to state testing, if the teachers and administrators are as good as Meier and company. But it can be expensive and leaves us voters and taxpayers somewhat out in the cold. We don't have time to sit in on all those oral exams.

All four of these ideas have potential. I think the best choice for critics of high-stakes tests is to show us what they've got. Create independent schools like CPESS--charters or pilots or privates, whatever---and try out some of these alternative assessments. If they work, they will be noticed by many, including the next president.

Friday, March 28, 2008

S.C. Teachers to Get Retreat Center
By The Associated Press

A developer will donate $10 million and roughly 450 acres to help create a waterfront, resort-like center where South Carolina teachers can rejuvenate, officials with Clemson University and the state Education Department announced Thursday.

The first-of-its-kind South Carolina retreat will serve as a reward for teachers who are too often overworked, under-appreciated and increasingly asked to do more with little pay, state schools Superintendent Jim Rex said.

"We are getting close to having a demoralized and compromised teaching force," Rex said. "If we want our state to thrive, we must pay closer attention to classroom teachers."

The Teacher Renewal Center will be located in Pickens County near the Jocassee Gorges, a 43,500-acre public park that borders the North Carolina line. Plans call for a hotel, restaurant and conference complex on the banks of the Keowee River between lakes Keowee and Hartwell.

Developer Jim Anthony said he and his company, The Cliffs Communities, gave the land and money as a way to say thank you to teachers.

The South Carolina retreat is similar to a state-funded program in North Carolina, which has two retreats for teachers, one in the mountains and the other on a barrier island. But South Carolina's program would be the first to provide activities for both teachers and their students, officials said.

Groups of kindergarten- through 12th-grade teachers will come to the center for weeklong retreats that include group training and opportunities for outdoor activities like hiking, canoeing and whitewater rafting. Students will explore the outdoors and conduct hands-on science experiments overseen by Clemson's Youth Learning Institute, which already operates camps and is based nearby, said Jorge Calzadilla, the institute's executive director.

The center will likely hold about 50 teachers and operate year-round, allowing about 2,500 teachers to participate yearly. Teachers will be asked to set goals before making the trip that could include losing weight and walking regularly, Rex said.

"We want teachers to start taking better care of themselves," he said.
The selection process is still being worked out, but poor, rural districts that have a tough time attracting and retaining teachers may get priority, Rex said.

The teacher center will be built on the largest tract of roughly 350 acres. Smaller tracts are connected by hiking and biking trails and include waterfalls and mountain lookout points, Cliffs Communities spokeswoman Jamie Prince said.

The students will camp near the falls, and instructors could include Clemson education majors, said Pam Bryant, a youth institute director.

Anthony, whose private, mountain and lakeside golf communities include The Cliffs at Keowee, declined to say how much the land is worth. Showing teachers respect and appreciation is key to keeping them in the classroom, he said, praising his first-grade teacher as the reason for his success.

In South Carolina, more than 6,500 teachers or about 13 percent left their districts at the end of last school year, according to the state Center for Education Recruitment, Retention and Advancement. Nationwide, about 20 percent of new teachers find a new career within the first three years, according to the National Education Association.

Special education teacher Ann Marie Taylor, the state's current teacher of the year, said she loves helping children but sometimes comes home from work crying.

"Sometimes I'd come home and there was not much left for my husband and son," said Taylor, of Pine Tree Hill Elementary in Camden. "Today has reminded me that what we do does make a difference."

Details on the programs, the buildings' design, and an exact construction timetable are still in the works. The first group of 21 teachers will arrive this summer to help develop the curriculum, and the center should open full-time by summer 2010, officials said.

Rex said no state money will be needed for now, though the Legislature may be asked to help at some point. The $10 million cash gift will build the facilities, and the partners plan to secure more money through donations, grants, and possibly golf tournament fundraisers. Operation costs are unknown.

RSS for total newbies.

I'm going to be gone for a couple of days, in Williamsburg for the inauguration, but I'm leaving a homework assignment for you in my absence. Since I introduced my General Assembly RSS feeds, people have said over and over again "this is probably totally cool…but I don't know how to use it." Read and learn.
(Note that if you're reading this in an RSS reader, congratulations, you get an automatic A. If you're reading this in a web browser, then keep going, Sparky.)
RSS is an acronym for "really simple syndication." It's a stupid name, and there is movement afoot to substitute a better term, like "site feed," or "syndication." The technology is a few years old, but it's really taken off in the past few years.
The idea behind syndication is pretty straightforward. It's a pain to check a whole bunch of websites to see which has updated. If you want to keep up with Blue in VA, Virginia Political Line, and Shaun Kenney every day, it's no good to have to check back periodically and scroll down the page until you can figure out where you left off. Syndication brings those blog entries to you, notifying you whenever there's something new to read on one of those websites.
Syndication doesn't just tell you when a site has been updated, but actually provides you with the new material. There are blogs that I read daily but that I haven't actually visited in my web browser for months — their latest blog entires come to me.
This technology was popularized by blogs, but syndication is in wide use by many websites. Every major media outlet — and most minor ones — have a feed for their site.
Why Use Site Syndication?
If you only read a few blogs or news sites every day, you shouldn't bother with site feeds. It's a waste of time. But if you find yourself refreshing this site obsessively — you know who you are — or find it hard to keep up with all of the blogs and news outlets that you want to keep up with, you're a candidate for site subscription.
Also, there are more and more great uses for syndication. You can track UPS packages with syndication — no more obsessive reloading to find out when your package will get there. You can check your GMail account with syndication, which is great if it's not your primary account, and so don't check it often enough. And, of course, you can follow the status of bills in the General Assembly. There are more innovative applications for syndication every day.
Syndication Software
You need a special piece of software in order to subscribe to these feeds. Yes, having an e-mail client and a web browser open all the time already seems like a little much but, trust me, it's worth it. This program is known as a "news reader," an "aggregator," or a "feed reader."
This software works like a combination between an e-mail client and a web browser. You have an inbox, like an e-mail program, but instead of e-mail, you receive little web pages. Not full web pages, though — the emphasis is on the content. Anybody reading this blog entry in their subscription software doesn't see the goofy orange logo, an orange footer, or a sidebar. They only see the words and the illustrations that accompany this post. It's delightfully simple.
There are dozens of programs out there that perform this service. Some cost money, some are free. Some you install on your computer, some you run in a web browser. Here's a few words on some popular feed readers. (Click any screenshot to embiggen.)
Google Reader Google Reader: This is a new offering from Google, available to anybody with a GMail account. It's a web-based reader, requiring no software install, and is quick to get set up with. I'm not a big fan of it, and it hasn't become particularly popular. It's not bad, it's just not very good. But if you have a GMail account, there's no reason not to play with it.
BloglinesBloglines: The most popular web-based feed reader, and for good cause. It's pretty straightforward, has some nice features, and has a pretty quick signup process. I've noticed that many Windows users skip installing software, and just use Bloglines.
FeedDemonFeedDemon: This is a Windows-based program that certainly seems to be popular. It must be installed on your computer, rather than used via a website. (Since I use a Mac, I've never tried it.) It was recently bought by NewsGator, a sketchy spyware company, so I'm a little wary of it. You can download it for free, but the proper version costs $30.
SharpReaderSharpReader: Another Windows-based program, though this one is free — making a donation to developer Luke Hutteman would be a classy move, though. It's closely resembles an e-mail program, which could be helpful to folks easily freaked out by new technology. It looks like installing may require some kind of a Windows update or something, which might be tricky for some people. If I had to use Windows, I'd use SharpReader.
NetNewsWireNetNewsWire: Among Mac users, this is certainly the most popular feed reader. It looks a lot like an e-mail client, it's feature-rich, and it definitely does the trick. A 30-day demo is available for download, with the proper version running $25. Also, a "lite" version is available for free, though it's missing some nice features found in the full version.
NewsFireNewsFire: This is what I use on my Mac. It's fast, feature-rich, flexible, and priced at €16 ($19.50). It's very Apple-y — the creator has gone to great pains to create an feed reader as Apple would. (Apple actually did create one — it's fundamental to their Safari web browser, but it's not particularly good.)
Though I wouldn't start using this just for RSS, if you're using the Thunderbird e-mail reader, that has a fine news reader built into it.
Using Your News Reader
Once you've gotten set up with a reader, you need only add a few sites. Adding a new site is usually as easy as entering the site's URL. In Bloglines, for instance, this blog can be added by (after getting set up with Bloglines) clicking on "Add," in the upper left-hand corner. In the "Blog or Feed URL," enter "". (Confusingly, Bloglines then lists all of the different site feeds for my blog, using technical terms like "RSS" and "Atom." You can pick any one of the options and it'll work.) Then hit the "Subscribe" button at the bottom, and then "Waldo Jaquith" will appear in the left-hand pane, and my recent blog entries in the right-hand pane.
If anything, it's even easier with installed software (as opposed to web-based.) If you've installed something like NewsFire or FeedDemon, you can just click on a syndication link on a website. Feed Icon On the front page of this blog, there's an orange square on the top of the right-hand column on the front page, with a little white icon within it that looks like a representation of waves emanating from a single point. If you click on that, FeedDemon (or whatever) will pop up and ask if you want to add the feed for Waldo Jaquith. Approve it and, that's it, you're subscribed.
Ditto for my Virginia General Assembly Bills feed. Every one of those grey boxes on the right-hand side has an feed orange icon within it. If you click on the one that says "Amundson," your feed reader will subscribe to a listing of the current status of all of Del. Kris Amundon's bills (or, if you're using a web-based feed reader, you can right-click on the link, choose "Copy Link," and paste it into your feed reader as a new subscription).
As you use websites, you'll start looking for that little icon, or for similar little icons with confusing acronyms like "RSS," "RDF," or "XML." That's a sign that you can subscribe to the site, using the methods that we've outlined. Once you get most of your daily reads added to your feed reader, you'll find that you can really reduce the amount of time that it takes for you to keep up with things. Once you get started with a reader, don't be surprised if you reduce your website reading time by 75%. Alternately, you may find that you can take in a great deal more information in your allotted time. And, best of all, you can keep up with cool new applications for site feeds, like Virginia General Assembly Bills feed.
Welcome to syndication!

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School board
March 28, 2008
Q & A: Will Richardson, author, speaker, blogger
Will Richardson is certainly among the top thinkers, authors, and speakers about blogging in any context, but likely heads the lists of experts on blogging in the K-12 classroom. His book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms offers plenty of insight for any blogger. [Check out some video of Will speaking here.]

Richardson left teaching/administrating two years ago and is now speaking, writing, consulting, and blogging full time. Most recently, he co-founded Powerful Learning Practice with Sheryl Nussbaum Beach, "through which we offer long-term, job-embedded professional development for teachers and administrators to help them understand and use Web 2.0 tools in their own learning practice," Richardson said.

What is the brief history of your blog? Also: Why do you blog? I started blogging about seven years ago and quickly began to focus my writing on how these technologies change teaching and learning. According to, the leading blog ranking service on the Web, mine is the number one educational technology related blog in the world, which is pretty amazing considering its very humble beginnings as the ramblings of a classroom teacher trying to make sense of these changes. I blog because it's a great way for me to learn, not just by reflecting on what I read and what I experience but by interacting with readers from around the world.

What has blogging taught you? How has it connected you to anybody or anything? Blogging is the foundation of my network which is the foundation of my learning these days. It has connected me to thousands of other people from around the world who are passionate about these ideas as well. It's taught me a great deal about the power of publishing and the importance of being able to connect to people and ideas anytime and anywhere I have a connection.

Should public officials blog? If so, what should be their goals in doing so? Can you provide some tips for them to accomplish those goals as they blog? I think public officials should blog because it's a way of keeping the citizenry more informed (at least those who choose to take advantage of it.) Both the Obama and Clinton campaigns have plans to implement blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies into their administrations should they win. In general, the goal should be to simply be more transparent about how things are decided, to invite participation and feedback, and to archive the process of government. I think it requires honesty and consistency to be a successful blogger, and an understanding of how we all can learn more widely and more deeply by connecting to others in these ways.

Should those in K-12 leadership blog? School board members, school district superintendents? Ideally, yes, for many of the same reasons above, but most of all to model for students the potentials of learning in a networked world. Students are using these tools widely, but right now, they have few if any role models for their use. We shouldn't be surprised that many of them struggle. We are all changed by these potentials, and the more we can understand them for ourselves the more we can contextualize them for our students.

How do people overcome whatever fear they may have, to start a blog and jump out there? I think they have to identify their own passions and then learn how to connect to others who share those passions as well. These tools are all about learning, and I think that if you can begin to use them in the context of whatever drives them, it's easier to take those first participatory steps. But the bottom line for me, at least, is that as educators, we have a responsibility to take part and to make these tools a part of our own practice.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

March 26 Rock Hill Schools Information

Compiled by Elaine Baker, District Office
<The Mayberry Crooners at Saluda Trail, under the direction of Sheriff Saundra Booker and Deputy Sheriff Tracy Wiles, will perform at the annual meeting of Family Trust Federal Credit Union on April 8 and at Glencairn Gardens on April 22 during the Come-See-Me Festival. On March 27, the talented group will sing songs by The Spinners during their annual "Rock and Read" performances at the school and dedicate them in loving memory of Saluda Trail teacher, Eric Robinson.

<Ebiport's fifth-grade classes are raising money for their upcoming trip to Charleston. They will have a yard sale from 8:00 a.m.-noon on Sat., March 29, in the cafeteria, and everyone is invited to come and shop.

<Lori Finnerty (Exceptional Student Ed.), Lydia Maloney (Rosewood), and Kristin Kaney (York Road) will participate in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer in October. To raise money, they're holding an online auction until mid-April, the proceeds of which will go directly to the Avon Foundation.  and

 <Belleview will host its annual Spring Arts Night at 7:00 Thursday, April 3. The evening will feature music and dance performances by first and fourth-grade students directed by Michelle Crissinger, dance teacher, and Julia McCallum, music teacher. Student artwork, organized by Gerri Hillis, art teacher, will also be on display.

<Jenna' Wilson, the early childhood education teacher at the Applied Technology Center, is one proud teacher.
Her second-year students placed first in the Service Division in the state FCCLA Leadership Conference in Columbia March 13-15. They will compete in national competition in Orlando in July.

<South Pointe will offer a little boys' football camp this summer, as well as a basketball camp for children ages 7-14. .

<Michael Gossett, varsity boys' basketball coach at Northwestern, is touting the laurels of former student, Sean Barnette, who is completing his senior year at Wingate University. Sean will be among 20 student athletes playing in the NABC/NCAA Div. II All-Star game on Mar. 28. Sean will conclude his career as the all-time leading scorer in the history of the SAC with 2,324 points.

<Hats off to third-graders at Rosewood. They just completed a unit of study titled "Dangers in the World Around Us," where they learned about natural and unnatural disasters and how people cope and deal with such circumstances. A representative from the Red Cross showed a video about disaster safety and told how the Red Cross prepares, responds, and helps disaster victims. Ultimately, the students collected "Dollars and Dimes for Disasters" from the Rosewood family to present to the Red Cross.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

RSS Information

A couple of short video clips explaining RSS feeds.

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A Do-It-Yourself SAT Class, With No Whining, or Parents, Allowed

March 26, 2008
On Education
At 5:57 p.m., three minutes ahead of schedule, William Scott bent his lanky frame into the single chair at the front of Room 109. He clasped a set of grammar exercises, and he wore a sweatshirt with the M.I.T. logo. It was “Nerd Day” at Miami Springs High School, but he had chosen the attire with ambition in mind rather than irony.

William began to pass out the grammar exercises to the six classmates before him. The hallway outside the door stretched nearly silent and deserted, just the thin hiss of a janitor sweeping tile. In a school of 2,365 students, William and his comrades might have been the only ones left in the place; surely they were the only ones volunteering for 90 more minutes of class.

They had been gathering this way since early January, three nights a week, with the specter of June 7 on the horizon. June 7 is the day they will take the SAT, and they had made a pact to study for it together, to teach one another, to do it for themselves.

When William, a 16-year-old junior, began recruiting kids for the SAT class out of honors courses and the math club, he drafted a pledge for every participant to sign. “Dropping out is NOT an option,” the statement began. “Eternal shame on all quitters!!” The last item on the list specified: “No complainers, whiners, or excuse makers allowed. We have a job to do, so let’s just do it.”

William and his crew had their collective eyes on three prizes: a score of 700 on each part of the test, a scholarship to a major university and a white-collar career. The goals were both admirable and audacious in a blue-collar suburb and in a high school of modest aspirations.

Miami Springs provides its students some SAT preparation in math and English classes, and offers Advanced Placement courses to top students like William. But as a school struggling with chronic overcrowding and strained resources where half the students qualify for subsidized lunches, 94 percent are nonwhite and dozens every year are newly arrived Cuban refugees the major academic emphasis has been preparing everyone for Florida’s required basic skills tests. The school itself is rated “C” by the state.

Once every few years, a Miami Springs graduate has reached Harvard or the University of Chicago. More commonly, the immediate future holds community college or a four-year university within driving distance of home. So when Maria Medina, the assistant principal, first learned of William’s class, she had two reactions: relief that the school itself didn’t have to pay for it, and “a feeling beyond pride” about the students.

On a recent Monday night, in a borrowed social studies classroom adorned with a suit of armor and several cardboard models of the Parthenon, the work resolutely proceeded. As William led the lesson, periodically nibbling on his nails, Milagros Rodriguez, Ivette Vallejo, LaDonna Evans, Andrew Gonzalez, Roylan Marquez and Jessica Fadel drilled through page after photocopied page of deliberately flawed sentences.

Each student took a turn unmasking the misplaced modifier, the noun-verb disagreement or the lack of parallel structure. The group had an extended sidebar about the difference between “sit” and “set.” And when Jessica mistook “lay” for “lie” in correcting a particular sentence, the rest of the room groaned, giving everyone a moment of levity.

Some nights, as William and the rest made their way through the grammar and syntax, the reading comprehension and essay practice, the algebra and geometry, they wondered why the material looked so unfamiliar. Did Miami Springs not teach it? Had they themselves forgotten it?

“Have you ever heard of Ernest Hemingway?” Jessica asked on this particular night. “I had this alum from back in the day ask me, and I didn’t know.”

Andrew answered, “Read ‘The Old Man and the Sea.’ ”
Then it was back to examples and practice. Jessica started passing out the night’s vocabulary quiz, two pages of “reprisals,” “cloistered,” “unfettered” and “askance.”

THE whole adventure began when William’s grandmother got Alzheimer’s several years ago, and his father, Steven, gave up his law practice to care for her at home. Craving something to engage his intellect, he helped his eldest child, Laura, study for the SAT. They pulled together a curriculum from newspaper clippings, online grammar tests, used dictionaries and sample test books that he bought for a buck apiece at thrift stores. Lauren earned admission to Wellesley.

William came next. As a sophomore, he took the Preliminary SAT exam and scored at the 67th percentile, which already put him near the top of his Miami Springs classmates. Still, his father insisted on supplying some homemade tutoring before William took the test again. He went up to the 94th percentile.

It was then, late last fall, when William began thinking about sharing his father’s method with other students. “Being a semi-rebellious teen,” Steven Scott recalled, “he wanted to do it himself. And every time I try to intervene, he stares daggers at me. I’m becoming more irrelevant by the day.”

William has always been his own person, playing French horn and water polo, watching the Discovery Channel instead of MTV, using words like “pariah” and “tessellate” in class discussions. Fortunately, he also had the feathery eyelashes that made him the heartthrob for the girls’ water polo team.

“I’m not snooty-smart,” William said of himself. “But I don’t hide it, either.”
He did not seek out straight-A students for the SAT class. His curriculum was built on redundancy and repetition, nothing gimmicky, all of it aimed at building both skills and confidence. “The commitment was that you should be in the class every day we have it,” William said. “It’s not some two-week thing where you can cram.”

Even a few parents found themselves shocked by the intensity.
“My dad constantly asks me, every day, is this worth it?” Jessica Fadel said. “And I tell him, of course. Why else would I put up with this? We have to pitch in. We have to depend on ourselves. We have to figure out how to make the lessons stick. In a way, we learn responsibility in this class.”

E-mail: sgfreedman

Blog Comment

The information below comes from an education blog.  I don't necessarily agree with the comments. While we can all use improvement, it needs to be said that public education  is doing more things today, and doing them better today, than ever before.  One of the biggest problems today is we've taken accountability away from the student and placed it squarely on the teacher/administrator. Never-the-less, read the comments and form your own conclusion.
Traditional School Structure Needs Improvement and Innovation
Today, Ted Kolderie, a senior associate at the Center for Policy Studies, commented about the increased need for innovation in education. He says that, "To meet its goals, this country must next undertake a serious effort to develop new forms of school and schooling. It is time to redirect k-12 policy toward innovation." I happen to agree.

America's schools are not keeping pace with the demands of today's world. Our schools are failing to prepare all students for college, for careers, and for life. And they are failing to prepare our nation to compete in today's high-tech global economy. As I've mentioned previously, we need to move beyond the traditional schooling method that was instituted over a hundred years ago to a system that will do more to increase and inspire children's learning potential.

We've seen great examples of moving beyond the traditional schooling format demonstrated in the KIPP Program and Achievement First schools. The additional learning time that is factored into these programs has helped students better prepare for high school and college. Further, charter schools around the country have been able to offer longer days, Saturday classes, and mandatory summer programs for remediation and acceleration.

We've seen three other important benefits from these programs. First, they have the ability to create their own schedules giving them a distinct advantage over public schools who must deal with the traditional system. Second, because charter schools are built from the ground up they can incorporate longer schedules into their inception. Finally, the lessons learned by charter schools on how to use additional time, how to fund it, and how to incorporate additional teacher and student support into an expanded schedule will be very instructive to traditional schools. In fact, the use of time may be the first area in which charters have a significant impact on the operation of district-based public schools.

Remember, if we increase more time and support for learning, if we have effective teachers in every classroom and if we have higher education standards, I believe we'll be able to solve our education crisis.

Tax Freedom Day Will Arrive on April 23 in 2008

Tax Freedom Day Will Arrive on April 23 in 2008

Tax Freedom Day, the day on which Americans have earned enough money to pay all their federal, state and local taxes for the year, will fall on April 23 this year, according to the Tax Foundation's annual calculation using the latest government data on income and taxes.
Tax Freedom Day is calculated by dividing the official government tally of all taxes collected in each year by the official government tally of all income earned in each year. Governments—federal, state and local—took 29.6% of income in 1970, 30.4% of income in 1980, 33.6% in 2000, and so on. This percentage is the nation's total tax burden. We then use the historical trend and the most recent economic data to make a projection of what the tax burden will be in the current year and we convert that burden into a date—a percentage of the year—on which Americans will have earned enough income to pay their total tax bill for the year.
This year's Tax Freedom Day falls three days earlier than in 2007. Fiscal stimulus rebates and a projection of slow growth in 2008 are the principal reasons for the earlier celebration. However, if the large projected deficit for 2008 were counted as a tax in the current year, Tax Freedom Day would fall on May 3.
Tax Freedom Day, 1980-2008
(Click chart to enlarge.)
"Government continues to dominate the American taxpayer's budget," said Tax Foundation president Scott Hodge. "Americans will still spend more on taxes in 2008 than they will spend on food, clothing and housing combined."
In 2008, Americans will work 74 days to afford their federal taxes and 39 more days to pay state and local taxes. Meanwhile, buying food requires 35 days of work, clothing 13 days, and housing 60 days. Other major categories are health and medical care (50 days), transportation (29 days), and recreation (21 days).
Days Americans Work to Pay Taxes Compared to Other Expenses, 2008
(Click chart to enlarge.)
The new study, Tax Foundation Special Report No. 160, "America Celebrates Tax Freedom Day," by Tax Foundation senior economist Gerald Prante and Tax Foundation president Scott Hodge, also compares tax payments to other major consumer expenditures, traces the course of America's tax burden since 1900, examines the composition of today's tax burden by type of tax, and calculates a Tax Freedom Day for each state.

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Technology Counts Open House – Full Access

Dear Educator:
Get another Spring Break at!  Technology Counts 2008: STEM: The Push to Improve Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics is now online.  Access to this special annual report and ALL content is totally free through April 7. 
With the ever-increasing focus on STEM across the country, you will want to know …
how your state stacks up.  See the detailed state reports, as well as the interactive map showing every state's grades.
how future teachers are learning to incorporate technology across subjects, and where real success is being made.
what new requirements states are putting in place to close the technology gap.
While you are reviewing Technology Counts 2008, you may want to check the 2007 report.   Technology Counts 2007: A Digital Decade looks back over a decade of tremendous change and upheaval in educational technology, and what it means for the future of education.  Check it out now at You may also want to see the regular, extensive coverage of educational technology solutions on

While everything is free and open on, be sure to look at some of the other regular features you don't normally see:
·         The latest education news from the Associated Press, and the best from newspapers around the U.S. and the world
·         Over 25 years of archives on the educational topics that matter most to you
·         Special annual reports, Quality Counts, Technology Counts and Diplomas Count, for the benchmarks you have come to rely on.
If you like what you see on, get even more out of this open house by adding a 4-week subscription to Education Week in print.  This trial offer of 4 weeks of online and print access is only available for a limited time at
Tell your colleagues about the Open House from March 26 through April 7, so they can get the most out of it as well! See you there.
Best regards,
Virginia B. Edwards
Editor and Publisher

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Expert Panel Lays Out the Path to Algebra--and Why It Matters


Jeffrey Mervis

The voyage spanned 2 years, 12 public meetings, and 14,000 e-mails. But Larry Faulkner, a chemist and former president of the University of Texas, Austin, has successfully steered the National Mathematics Advisory Panel through some of the roughest waters in U.S. education. The result, out last week, is a 120-page report on the importance of preparing students for algebra, normally taught in the eighth and ninth grades, and its role as a gateway course for later success in high school, college, and the workplace (Science, 7 December 2007, p. 1534).
The report ( urges educators to keep it simple: Define a few key topics and teach them until students master them. Along the way, it says, students should memorize basic arithmetic facts and spend more time on fractions and their meaning. How teachers achieve those goals is up to them, Faulkner says, advice that allowed the panel to avoid taking sides in a debilitating, 2-decade-long debate about the appropriate balance between drilling students on the material and making sure they understand what they are doing.
The 19-member panel was supposed to rely on sound science in its advice to U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings, but only a relative handful of the 16,000 studies it examined turned out to be useful. The vast majority, says Faulkner, were of insufficient quality, too narrow in scope, or lacked conclusive findings. The literature is especially thin on how to train teachers and how good teachers help students learn.
Spellings has promised to hold a national summit this year on implementing the panel's 45 recommendations. But the primacy of local control over education could make the federal government more of a cheerleader than a participant.
Faulkner, whose day job is president of the Houston Endowment, a Texas philanthropy, spoke with Science on 13 March, the day the report was released.
Figure 1
Q: The report notes that U.S. elementary students do okay on international math tests and that the falloff begins at the end of middle school and accelerates into high school. So why focus on K-8 math?
L.F.: You can also argue that the falloff reflects the inability of students to handle algebra. If you look at success rates in algebra or proficiency in algebraic concepts, there's ample evidence that students are not succeeding, and our charge is to increase the likelihood that they will succeed.
Figure 2
Q: Why do so many students have trouble with fractions?
L.F.: Fractions have been downplayed. There's been a tendency in recent decades to regard fractions to be operationally less important than numbers because you can express everything in decimals or in spreadsheets. But it's important to have an instinctual sense of what a third of a pie is, or what 20% of something is, to understand the ratio of numbers involved and what happens as you manipulate it.
Q: How could schools lose sight of that?
L.F.: Well, they did.
Q: Was the panel disappointed by the overall quality of the existing research?
L.F.: I think quality is an issue, but that's not all there is. Some of what we examined was topically irrelevant, or the studies were not very generalizable. Some high-quality studies were so narrowly defined that they don't tell you much about what goes on in the classroom.
It may have to do with what the researchers could do with the money available. So we want to be careful about throwing rocks at people. … We go to great lengths to point out that we think the nation requires a balanced program that includes what I would call smaller scale, pilot-oriented research as well as larger scale investigations that are more analogous to clinical trials in medicine. We found a serious lack of studies with adequate scale and design for us to reach conclusions about their applicability for implementation.
Q: Should the government be spending more money on this research?
L.F.: Education research covers a lot of territory, so we don't really know. … When I briefed the science adviser, Jack Marburger, yesterday, I said maybe his office should be thinking about it. He just nodded. We think this is an item that deserves the attention of the federal government. It probably means bigger grants. If you want to get the value, you probably need to pay for it.
Q: Were you surprised by the dearth of good data on professional development programs?
L.F.: There's tremendous variation in inservice programs. And the evidence is that many are not very effective. … I think districts should be very careful. Large amounts of money are being spent in this area, and serious questions should be raised.
Q: What's the panel's view on calculators?
L.F.: We feel strongly that they should not get in the way of acquiring automaticity [memorization of basic facts]. But the larger issue is the effectiveness of pedagogical software. At this stage, there's no evidence of substantial benefit or damage, but we wouldn't rule out products that could show a benefit. If a product could be demonstrated to be effective on a sizable scale under various conditions, the panel would be interested.
Q: What message should the next president take from this report?
L.F.: The most important thing is that success in math is not just about a school subject. It's about the real opportunities it creates for people and for the well-being and safety of society. It's important that we succeed to a better level than we do now.

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March 24 Board Meeting Results

At a meeting of the school board on the above date, the board . . .

u approved Richard W. Pickering, Sr., as the Accelerated Studies Coordinator at Sunset Park Elementary and Jason O. Mabry as an assistant principal at Saluda Trail Middle School. Both will start on July 1. The vote was 6-0 (Reid was absent);

u the board was recognized by Sherry East, a teacher at the Phoenix Academy, and Mary Keith, a teacher at Rawlinson Road Middle, on behalf of the York County Education Assn. Ms. East and Ms. Keith complimented the board on its connectedness with the Assn. and for its efforts to provide outstanding learning opportunities for students.

u recognized students Maggie Adkins, from Lesslie Elementary, and Austin Abel, from Saluda Trail Middle, on their selection as district winners of the 2008 Lt. Governor's writing contests.

u approved the consent agenda by a 6-0 vote...
4 minutes of the February 25 and March 10 meetings of the board;
4 personnel recommendations;
4 a request from the World Changers organization to use district facilities during their summer visit to Rock Hill.

u heard Supt. Moody make the following announcements:
4 The Renaissance Academy opened on Monday, March 17, at the Rock Hill Flexible Learning Center with 17 students and Jamie Quinn as director. The program offers excluded or expelled students with an opportunity to continue earning high school credit so they may return to school on a better track toward graduation.

4 The district's annual Teacher Recruitment Fair will be held on Saturday, March 29, at Saluda Trail Middle School, between the hours of 8:30 and 12:30.

4 The spring meeting of school improvement councils will be held from 7:00-8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 1, in the Cyber Cafe at the Rock Hill Flexible Learning Center.

4 Orientation for parents and fifth-grade students who will be in grade six next year will be held in all middle schools at 6:30 p.m. on April 1. Parents should look for a formal announcement from their child's school.

4 The last late start date this year will be held on Wednesday, April 2. All schools will open on a two-hour delay. Parents who need to drop off their children earlier than the regular start time need to notify their child's principal on or before March 31.

4 All schools and the district office will be closed for spring break, April 7-11.
4 The next work session of the school board will be held on Monday, April 14, at Old Pointe Elementary. The meeting will begin at 5:30 in the media center.

4 Members of the School Choice Committee will be holding their first meeting from 4:00-5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 22, in the Training Room in the District Office. The district will be asking for SIC volunteers to be on the committee at the April 1 meeting.

Their challenge is to review school choice policies and develop a policy for Rock Hill Schools. In addition, the committee will review school choice options on an annual basis.

The 15 members of the committee are:
¡ District Office administrators: Luanne Kokolis, Harriet Jaworowski, Sheila Huckabee, and Rich Melzer
¡ School Bus Transportation: Anthony White
¡ School Board: Jim Vining
¡ Principals: Stephen Ward, Linda Crute, Tammy White, Chris Beard, Brenda Campbell
¡ Business Community: Wayne Wingate and David Casey
¡ City of Rock Hill Planning Dept.: Frances Thomas
¡ York County Planning Dept.: Susan Britt
4 The district's Retirement Banquet will be held on Friday evening, May 30, beginning at
7:00. The location will be determined once we know the number of retirees. Board members are requested to put this date on their calendar.

u watched a presentation on the Ed Line software package ( being piloted at Northwestern High School. This package provides parents with access to their child's schedules, assignments, attendance, and grades via the school's website. It will be implemented at South Pointe and at Rock Hill High in the fall. Cost to the District is $2 per student.

u watched a demonstration on the Waypoint Visitor Management System ( that is now operational in all schools. Collaboration Coordinator Serena Williams stated that the system has several benefits, other than monitoring visitors, which include the calculation of volunteer hours in each school. Cost to the District is $1200 per school with a small yearly maintenance fee.

u received the results of the safe and drug-free survey which was given to 7th, 9th, and 11th grade students. On a voluntary basis, students responded to questions related to school safety and the use of alcohol, tobacco and drugs. An interesting statistic from the data was class size. The ninth grade class was 29% larger than the 7th grade class and 50% larger than the 11th grade class. Overall, our district's numbers were on par with national numbers.

u previewed the new design of the district's website. The purpose of the redesign is to provide access to needed information while establishing a standardization throughout the district. The launch of the new design will begin in a couple of weeks. Cyberwoven ( is the company doing the design work.

u heard an overview of opportunities for students during the summer for enrichment and remediation at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. Contact your school for more information;

u heard Board Chairman Bob Norwood review topics discussed at the board's work session on March 10. Items included a request from the World Changers Organization to use South Pointe facilities during their stay in the summer; a discussion on a school choice policy; and a discussion (and vote) on approving Sunset Park as the Center for Accelerated Studies and to change the calendar from year round to traditional.

u approved second reading of policies IJOB (Community Resource Persons/Speakers), IJOC (School Volunteers), and KGBA (Student Mentoring Program) - vote was 6-0.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

10 Signs of a Good Kindergarten Classroom

Here are 10 signs of a good kindergarten classroom, courtesy of the National
Association for the Education of Young Children:
1.. Children are playing and working with materials or other children.
They are not aimlessly wandering or forced to sit quietly for long periods
of time.
2.. Children have access to various activities throughout the day, such as
block building, pretend play, picture books, paints and other art materials,
and table toys such as legos, pegboards, and puzzles. Children are not all
doing the same things at the same time.
3.. Teachers work with individual children, small groups, and the whole
group at different times during the day. They do not spend time only with
the entire group.
4.. The classroom is decorated with children's original artwork, their own
writing with invented spelling, and dictated stories.
5.. Children learn numbers and the alphabet in the context of their
everyday experiences. Exploring the natural world of plants and animals,
cooking, taking attendance, and serving snack are all meaningful activities
to children.
6.. Children work on projects and have long periods of time (at least one
hour) to play and explore. Filling out worksheets should not be their
primary activity.
7.. Children have an opportunity to play outside every day that weather
permits. This play is never sacrificed for more instructional time.
8.. Teachers read books to children throughout the day, not just at group
story time.
9.. Curriculum is adapted for those who are ahead as well as those who
need additional help. Because children differ in experiences and background,
they do not learn the same things at the same time in the same way.
10.. Children and their parents look forward to school. Parents feel safe
sending their child to kindergarten. Children are happy; they are not crying
or regularly sick.

Individual kindergarten classrooms will vary, and curriculum will vary
according to the interests and backgrounds of the children. But all
developmentally appropriate kindergarten classrooms will have one thing in
common: the focus will be on the development of the child as a whole.

District Three Growth

A lot has been said about the rapid growth in student population of The Rock Hill Schools. Listed above is a chart of the actual percent growth since 2001 and the projected growth through 2018. The 2008 data is current as of March 3, 2008. Obviously, everything after that is a projection and will likely be higher as the Charlotte Metro area moves south along Interstate 77.

Friday, March 21, 2008

District Three Business Meeting on Monday, March 24
Meeting of the Board of Trustees

Monday, March 24, 2008

6:00 p.m. - District Office Board Room


I. Call to Order

Approval of Agenda

(Under consent agenda, all action items will be voted on after one motion
and second to approve them without discussion. If a board member wants any
action item discussed or voted on separately, the board

member, before the agenda is approved, must ask that the action item be
moved to the discussion item section.)

II. Executive Session - Personnel & Legal Matters

III. Citizen Participation

IV. Special Business

A. Recognition of Board of Trustees by York County Education Association

B. Recognition of District Winners of Lt. Governor's Writing Competition

V. Consent Action Agenda

A. Approval of Minutes

1. February 25, 2008, business meeting

2. March 10, 2008, work session

B. Approval of Personnel Recommendations

C. World Changers Request for Use of Facilities

VI. Communications - None

VII. Report of the Superintendent

A. Announcements

B. Edline Presentation by Northwestern High School

C. Waypoint Visitor Management System

D. Drug & Alcohol Survey Results - 7, 9, 11th Grades

E. District Website Redesign

F. Summer Programs

VIII. Review of Work Session

IX. Action Agenda - Approval of Policies IJOB, IJOC, & KGBA - 2nd Reading

X. Other Business

XI. Adjourn

*STRATEGIC DIRECTIONS: 1. Focus on Standards; 2. Staff Engagement; 3.
Teacher Collaboration; 4. Long-Term Facility Expansion; 5. Principal
Monitoring; 6. Late Start Professional Development; 7. Technology; 8.
Outreach; 9. Early Childhood; 10. Monitoring Achievement.

No tolerance for schools' "zero tolerance"
Posted 1 week 1 day ago by Ben An honor student gets busted for possession
of a controlled substance: candy. Another student is suspended for wearing a
gun to school. On his t-shirt. Zero-tolerance strikes again.
The role of the public school, in theory, is to educate children to be good
citizens: Reading, writing and calculating are fundamental skills for
self-government. In practice, many public schools are warehouses for
children run by bureaucrats operating arbitrary and capricious rules. "Zero
tolerance" policies are the reductio ad absurdum of government schooling:
one-size-fits-all discipline that punishes innocent mistakes as harshly as
any malicious breach of law and order.

Consider the circumstances of the aforementioned stories:

a.. "Michael Sheridan was stripped of his title as class vice president,
barred from attending an honors student dinner and suspended for a day after
buying a bag of Skittles from a classmate."
a.. "One day in December, Donald Miller III wore a gun to school. As you
might imagine, it got him in trouble. But the gun wasn't loaded; indeed, it
wasn't a real gun at all. It was the image of a gun, printed on the front
and back of a T-shirt - a shirt the Penn Manor freshman wore to honor his
uncle, a soldier in the U.S. Army fighting in Iraq... His parents, Donald
and Tina Miller of Holtwood, got angry and called a lawyer. And now a
lawsuit has been filed in federal court..."
Idiotic overreaction! Mostly indefensible, too. But that should go without

Mocking "zero tolerance" isn't new, I'm well aware. James Taranto runs a
regular feature in Best of the Web Today. There is a terrific website called
Zero Intelligence, which never seems to want for tales of "zero-tolerance"
excess (at least, when the site is updated regularly).

Still, every time I read one of these stories, I get angry. The school
officials in Lancaster saw that gun on the t-shirt and instantly thought
"Columbine." The administrators in New Haven, well trained in weeding out
dangerous drugs, knew just what to do when faced with banned carbohydrates.
They probably didn't have to think once, let alone twice.

You could argue (as I once tried with Taranto) that zero tolerance policies
are the fruits of conservative reaction to an explosion of drugs and
violence in schools in the 1980s and '90s. The answer (as Taranto rightly
offered) is so what? Boneheaded policies are boneheaded policies. Get rid of
'em, already!

So what is the answer to school administrators' penchant for overreaction?
Prudence would counsel moderation, but there has been neither prudence nor
much moderation within the education establishment for a long time. So in
the spirit of more than two decades of preposterous "zero tolerance" rules,
errant, stubborn, cowardly or downright stupid principals and their flunkies
should face suspension, termination, a choice of stocks, bastinado or the
lash, followed by banishment and/or exile.

What's that? Too excessive? Too cruel? Well, the alternative would be to
actually elect sensible people to local school boards and state office and
repeal the policies. But everyone knows that's impossible. So the bastinado
it is!

Thursday, March 20, 2008

States' Data Obscure How Few Finish High School

March 20, 2008
JACKSON, Miss. When it comes to high school graduation rates, Mississippi keeps two sets of books.
One team of statisticians working at the state education headquarters here recently calculated the official graduation rate at a respectable 87 percent, which Mississippi reported to Washington. But in another office piled with computer printouts, a second team of number crunchers came up with a different rate: a more sobering 63 percent.

The state schools superintendent, Hank Bounds, says the lower rate is more accurate and uses it in a campaign to combat a dropout crisis.

“We were losing about 13,000 dropouts a year, but publishing reports that said we had graduation rate percentages in the mid-80s,” Mr. Bounds said. “Mathematically, that just doesn’t work out.”

Like Mississippi, many states use an inflated graduation rate for federal reporting requirements under the No Child Left Behind law and a different one at home. As a result, researchers say, federal figures obscure a dropout epidemic so severe that only about 70 percent of the one million American students who start ninth grade each year graduate four years later.

California, for example, sends to Washington an official graduation rate of 83 percent but reports an estimated 67 percent on a state Web site. Delaware reported 84 percent to the federal government but publicized four lower rates at home.

The multiple rates have many causes. Some states have long obscured their real numbers to avoid embarrassment. Others have only recently developed data-tracking systems that allow them to follow dropouts accurately.

The No Child law is also at fault. The law set ambitious goals, enforced through sanctions, to make every student proficient in math and reading. But it established no national school completion goals.

“I liken N.C.L.B. to a mile race,” said Bob Wise, a former West Virginia governor who is president of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a group that seeks to improve schools. “Under N.C.L.B., students are tested rigorously every tenth of a mile. But nobody keeps track as to whether they cross the finish line.”

Furthermore, although the law requires schools to make only minimal annual improvements in their rates, reporting lower rates to Washington could nevertheless cause more high schools to be labeled failing a disincentive for accurate reporting. With Congressional efforts to rewrite the law stalled, Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings has begun using her executive powers to correct the weaknesses in it. Ms. Spellings’s efforts started Tuesday with a measure aimed at focusing resources on the nation’s worst schools. Graduation rates are also on her agenda.

In an interview, Ms. Spellings said she might require states to calculate their graduation rate according to one federal formula.

“I’m considering settling this once and for all,” she said, “by defining a single federal graduation rate and requesting states to report it that way. That would finally put this issue to rest.”

In 2001, the year the law was drafted, one of the first of a string of revisionist studies argued that the nation’s schools were losing more students than previously thought.

Jay P. Greene, a researcher at the Manhattan Institute, a conservative research organization, compared eighth-grade enrollments with the number of diplomas bestowed five years later to estimate that the nation’s graduation rate was 71 percent. Federal statistics had put the figure 15 points higher.

Still, Congress did not make dropouts a central focus of the law. And when states negotiated their plans to carry it out, the Bush administration allowed them to use dozens of different ways to report graduation rates.

As an example, New Mexico defined its rate as the percentage of enrolled 12th graders who received a diploma. That method grossly undercounts dropouts by ignoring all students who leave before the 12th grade.

The law also allowed states to establish their own goals for improving graduation rates. Many set them low. Nevada, for instance, pledged to get just 50 percent of its students to graduate on time. And since the law required no annual measures of progress, California proposed that even a one-tenth of 1 percent annual improvement in its graduation rate should suffice.

Daniel J. Losen, who has studied dropout reporting for the Civil Rights Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, said he once pointed out to a state official that, at that pace, it would take California 500 years to meet its graduation goal.

“In California, we’re patient,” Mr. Losen recalled the official saying.
Most troublesome to some experts was the way the No Child law’s mandate to bring students to proficiency on tests, coupled with its lack of a requirement that they graduate, created a perverse incentive to push students to drop out. If low-achieving students leave school early, a school’s performance can rise.

No study has documented that the law has produced such an effect nationwide. Experts say they believe many low-scoring students are prodded to leave school, often by school officials urging them to seek an equivalency certificate known as a General Educational Development diploma.

“They get them out so they don’t have them taking those tests,” said Wanda Holly-Stirewalt, director of a program in Jackson, Miss., that helps dropouts earn a G.E.D. “We’ve heard that a lot. It happens all over the system.”

After several research groups questioned graduation rates, the federal Department of Education in 2005 published an estimated rate for each state, to identify those that were reporting least accurately. The figures suggested that nine states had overstated their graduation rates by 10 to 22 percentage points.

Part of the discrepancy is because many states inflate their official rate by counting dropouts who later earn a G.E.D. as graduates or by removing them from calculations altogether.

The undercounting of dropouts can be striking.
In Mississippi, the official formula put the graduation rate for the state’s largest district, Jackson Public Schools, at 81 percent. Mr. Bounds, the state schools superintendent, said the true rate was 56 percent.

At Murrah High School, one of eight here, the official graduation rate is 99 percent, even though yearbooks show that half of Murrah’s freshmen disappear before becoming seniors. Even Murrah’s principal, Roy Brookshire, expressed surprise.

“I can’t explain how they figured that, truly I can’t,” Mr. Brookshire said.
Governors also stepped in, worried that schools were not preparing the work force their states need. In December 2005, all 50 agreed to standardize their graduation rate calculations, basing them on tracking individual students through high school.

Fifteen states have begun to use the formula, said Dane Linn, director of the education division at the National Governors Association. And it has produced some stunning revelations.

In North Carolina, the rate plummeted a year ago to 68 percent from 95 percent. The News & Observer in Raleigh likened the experience to the shock of hearing a doctor diagnose a terrible illness.

“But now doctors can start treatments that can lead to a cure,” the paper said in an editorial.
Mississippi is among the states that have become the most serious about confronting their dropout problem, Mr. Linn said.

The state has been building a record system capable of tracking student data from year to year, and in 2005 used it to estimate a graduation rate of 61 percent, 24 points below the official rate.

Mr. Bounds took office that fall and was initially consumed with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. But he eventually had time to pore over the data.

“It was time to boldly confront the facts,” he said.
Mr. Bounds has used the new figures to persuade the Mississippi Board of Education to require school districts to prepare dropout prevention plans. Last month he told 2,000 community leaders that the state’s dropout crisis was like “a Katrina hitting our schools every year.”

The state will eventually report the lower rate to Washington but has set no schedule, Mr. Bounds said. One problem, he said, is that when Mississippi sends revised rates for its more than 200 high schools, their success levels will appear to plummet and many schools could be exposed to sanctions.

“It’ll look like everybody has dropped, when actually everybody’s doing a better job,” Mr. Bounds said. “But we’re capturing the right score on the scoreboard.”

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