Monthly Archives: March 2011


Parents: Boy found hanging on bathroom hook had problems with kids in past

by Renee Murphy

Posted on March 25, 2011 at 6:15 PM

Updated Saturday, Mar 26 at 12:34 AM

Police interview boy found injured in restroom at Frayser Elementary
Boy found hanging from hook at school could be out of hospital soon
Father wants answers after son found hanging on school bathroom hook
JCPS, LMPD investigating after boy found hanging from hook in bathroom
Investigations continue after boy found hanging on bathroom hook; JCPS says “not ruling anything out”

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) – An 8-year-old boy found hanging by his collar on a bathroom stall’s hook at Frayser Middle School is finally able to talk again.

The child has been sedated for the past two days, but on Friday, he was able to communicate.

His parents spoke exclusively with WHAS11’s Renee Murphy and they say they do not think this was an accident. The second-grader, Mohamed Hussein, is still in the hospital at Kosair, but his condition is improving.

He is now able to say a few words, but he has not been able to say the words his family wants to hear. They still do not know what happened earlier this week in the bathroom at Frayser Elementary School in Louisville.

The student was found hanging from a hook by his shirt collar, and how he got there is a mystery to school officials.

The boy’s parents are originally from Somalia. WHAS11 spoke to Mohamed’s mother, who just got in town from South Dakota, and also his father. They shared their concern through translators from the Somali Bantu community.

Mohamed’s parents say the boy had no prior medical problems, but say he did have some problems with kids earlier this school year.

School leaders say Mohamed went into the bathroom on Wednesday, and when he did not come out, they found him unresponsive hanging from a hook in a handicapped stall.

Louisville Metro Police are investigating the matter and say the bathroom stall’s hook was 3 feet off the ground.

Police say they are not ruling anything out, but cannot give any other details.

Members of the Somali Bantu community are scared and frustrated, when they spoke with WHAS11, they say they are planning to pull their kids out of Frayser Elementary on Monday.

The school says the teacher at the school followed all the proper procedures and at this time the investigation is in the hands of Louisville Metro Police. Police have interviewed some of the students that were in the bathroom and hope to talk to Mohamed soon.

Mohamed’s family says there is no way he could have hurt himself. WHAS11 asked them specifics about the young boys injuries and they tell us they just don’t know.—-118680874.html

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Posted by on March 31, 2011 in Education News


Our Children Can’t Learn Under Deplorable School Conditions

Did New Jersey Governor Christie know about this school’s condition? Why didn’t this school get funding to make repairs? This school should not have a roof that leaks, holes in the walls and other deplorable conditons since Governor Christie stated every child deserves a quality education which should mean the conditon of the school should not be substandard.

Trenton High School students testify of deplorable conditions, lament lack of funding

By Trentonian Staff

TRENTON — Trenton High kids get a bad rap for poor behavior and grades. But yesterday when a mob of them showed up at a public hearing with state officials and school inspectors and the local school board, there wasn’t any noisy protest or disruption, said school board member Algernon Ward.

About 60 students showed up in the TCHS community room to protest, all right — by respectfully testifying, he said. About what TCHS is really like. In case the senators hadn’t heard.

“I told them of some of the conditions here, how some of the floors are warped, how there are dangerous pieces of metal hanging off of the ceiling in the gym,” said Luis Santiago, president of the Student Council. “How the roof is falling apart and leaking inside the school when it rains.

“It was also mentioned that they closed down the auditorium because of the asbestos. Right now, our auditorium is closed; it has been closed for almost two weeks. The first time they came in and tested, there was nothing; the second time they came in here, they made them shut it down.”

Another senior, Peter Aspinal, said, “We can’t even drink out of the water fountain because that’s lead that comes out of the pipes. Brown stuff comes out. And the bathroom floors are like all caved in because of the water. Half of these bathrooms are locked. We can’t even use the bathroom.

“How would they like one of their kids to come to this school, with these conditions?”

One of the adult officials testified that $24 million is needed just to make the “emergent repairs,” said Luis Santiago. “I commented that these are unsafe conditions for the children that come here, and (asked them) to help us to make this school a better place, because we are full-time students here, and we come here a lot.”

But he said another official testified that because of Trenton High’s low scoring across the state, “other schools come before us, have a higher priority.”

Sophomore Illora Burks Peters put it this way in an interview with The Trentonian afterward: “They treat Trenton High like it’s a bad school, when it’s not the kids that’s in it anymore, it’s just that they don’t care about it.”

Luis Santiago listened as all who testified and said the health and safety of the students is highly conducive to learning and should be the main priority.

“One thing they said was that we’re not totally broke,” he said. “We’re in a deficit , but we still have money … things having to do with our health and safety have to come in priority.”

After the hearing, the school’s new principal, Marc Maurice, said he brought to the senators’ attention the unsanitary and unsafe conditions in the school used by nearly 1,800 students and 200 staffers, and the fact that the auditorium is restricted.

“What’s next? We are waiting to hear from them,” Mr. Maurice said. “But the intense — the aura in the room, and the spirit in which we met, was very very positive. Our students were very candid. So was the board president …”

Some city politicians remain outraged. Juan Martinez, former county liason to the city Board of Education, pulled no punches in discussing budget-cutting Gov. Chris Christie and the thought of him possibly offering a mere $24 million for renovations at TCHS, when $150 million was being considered last year for a new TCHS.

“We should march on the governor,” Martinez vowed, “and demand a new school, and demand equity. But Trenton ain’t going to get nuthin.’ What are we going to get, a new roof? There’s only so much dollars they’re going to give. They’re giving new floors?

“That school is falling down! It’s falling apart, and it’s going to fall on somebody’s head. That school should be condemned. It’s dangerous — it’s a dangerous environment.”

Martinez said Christie has already shown he doesn’t care about city kids, by sending school construction money elsewhere.

Nothing will change, he said, “until we march on the state and really put this governor on check, and get CNN to come down here, because he wants to run for President of the United States, and he says he can beat Obama. But we need to tell the story nationally about what’s happening here in New Jersey, especially in Trenton, and how our kids are being treated.”

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Posted by on March 31, 2011 in Education News


The Young Lady

Young ladies don’t have to follow celebrites, or people they know personally who exhibit bad behaviors. They can learn what is the right thing to do.

Author – Shamela McClain

Nationwide (March 29, 2011) — The Elis Clain Group is offering a printable version of the text, The Young Lady; A Book of Foundational Teachings for Diamonds Still in the Rough [McClain, Shamela; ECG; 2010; $17.00], free of charge to non-profit organizations who would like to duplicate and present the material to at-risk girls.

Along with the handbook, a start-up kit will be provided with instructions on how to register for handbook updates, and on how to present the material while maintaining content integrity, and content continuity.

The Young Lady’s Afterschool Program (TYLAP), an etiquette course developed using the handbook as its curriculum, is currently being implemented in two San Diego, California public schools.

All non-profits, who would like to review and possibly present the material to the at-risk girls they serve, are encouraged to visit the website or send an email to for more information.

The Elis Clain Group, which is a network created for ordinary people who give back, is extending an invitation to all service-oriented individuals who offer a service, to post a link on the ECG website.

Shamela McClain

List of black scholarships can be found here…

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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Education News


Assault On Teachers Is An Assault On Education

Elkins Elementary teacher Kate Sannicks-Lerner said she has faced violence throughout her career. Most recently, she was kicked, slapped, and cursed out by a first-grader. (Ron Tarver / Staff Photographer) Violence Targets Teachers, Staff
In the last school year, 690 teachers were assaulted; in the last five years, 4,000 were.
By Susan Snyder, Kristen A. Graham, John Sullivan, and Dylan Purcell


Veteran Philadelphia school teacher Lou Austin endured 40 minutes of terror as the 15-year-old ninth grader jabbed his index finger into Austin’s temple and threatened to kill him while swinging a pair of scissors menacingly.

Austin didn’t even know the youth, who ransacked his classroom – flipping desks and attempting to set fire to books – at Lincoln High School in Mayfair on Valentine’s Day. He’d merely asked him to step away from his classroom door and go to his own class when the youth exploded.

Austin’s experience illustrates the dangers and frustration that teachers in Philadelphia public schools face daily. During the 2009-10 school year, 690 teachers were assaulted. Over five years, from 2005-06 to 2009-10, more than 4,000 teacher assaults were reported, a yearlong Inquirer investigation has found.

And that doesn’t include incidents of threats, disruption, and utter disrespect.

“All I could do was to stand there with my hands behind my back, accept the abuse, and hope this did not infuriate him even more,” said Austin, a Philadelphia teacher for 15 years who graduated from Lincoln in 1984.

His story also illustrates how teachers must cope with violent, disturbed students with little backup from the district.

The assaults can turn decidedly dangerous.

Violence against school staff in Philadelphia gained national attention in 2007 when Germantown High School teacher Frank Burd was attacked by a special-education student with a history of disruptive behavior and emotional problems.

The ninth grader was cutting class and roaming the halls when another student pushed Burd, knocking him into the special-ed student. The teen reacted by punching Burd – a man he didn’t even know – three times in the face. Burd fell and broke his neck. He never returned to teaching.

The case prompted a district crackdown on violence against teachers, including the establishment of a teacher-safety hotline and more stringent penalties for offenders. City police promised to respond to all calls of assaults at schools and to make arrests if the victim approved.

But four years later, teachers continue to be used as punching bags by wayward students, much to the chagrin of their union.

Jerry Jordan, president of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, met with School Superintendent Arlene C. Ackerman in November after two teachers in one week suffered concussions when they were assaulted by students.

“It’s been a very challenging first semester,” Jordan said later. “We’ve been getting reports from our members about the kinds of assaults that are taking place in schools and the lack of follow-though on discipline.

“There has to be follow-through to be sure teachers are able to teach and kids are able to learn.”

His meeting with Ackerman led to a joint memo on Nov. 8 to the School District staff, reminding them to take a hard line on bullying and assaults.

“Some students have decided to be a disruptive force in our schools,” the memo said, adding that the School District “will not tolerate this behavior and is reemphasizing its zero-tolerance policy in two major areas: Acts of student violence against adults and bullying.”

The memo said that an assault on staff would result in a 10-day suspension, transfer to an alternative school, and possible formal expulsion and criminal charges.

But, The Inquirer found, that’s clearly not an iron-clad rule, especially in cases involving special-education students.

Special-ed students
Under state and federal law, school officials must take a student’s disability into consideration when deciding on punishment and consequences. In most cases, they must look at the appropriateness of the student’s special-education program and whether the behavior was a manifestation of his or her disability, which can include learning, emotional or physical problems.

If the school was not giving the student adequate help, then a change in the child’s program or education services may be the right consequence, according to special-education experts.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that a student can’t be disciplined.

Most special-education students can be suspended for as many as 15 school days each academic year – and longer if the district gets a parent’s permission or takes it to a hearing. Students also can be transferred to disciplinary schools in some cases.

But the regulations are not easily interpreted.

“Special-education law is complex and confusing, and that’s why many people mistakenly believe that schools are unable or prohibited from dealing with behavior problems involving kids with disabilities,” said Len Rieser, executive director of the Education Law Center, a nonprofit in Philadelphia. “In fact, schools have options, but school personnel are not always clear on what they are.”

An Inquirer investigation in the aftermath of the attack on Burd found that special-education students were responsible for an inordinate number of assaults on teachers and other school staff.

In 2007, special-education students accounted for just 14 percent of the city’s school enrollment, yet committed 43 percent of the 7,547 assaults on staff during the previous five-year period. The numbers haven’t changed much. From September through February of this school year, 1,628 assaults have been reported in the district, and about 39 percent included at least one special-education student as an offender, School District spokeswoman Shana Kemp said. About 14 percent of the student body is in special education, excluding gifted students.

The 2007 investigation also found that the district routinely failed to provide services to special-education students, and therefore felt it could not follow through with discipline if the students assaulted a staff member.

In the case of the Lincoln student, Kemp said a suspension would not have been appropriate.

And she said that even though the youth faces a criminal charge, he could end up back at Lincoln – his neighborhood school – because of his status as a special-needs student. The district would make a decision along with other behavioral and mental health agencies after his case was adjudicated, she said.

“The young man had emotional disturbances. We can’t refuse a student entry into a school based upon that situation,” she said.

Austin learned that the teen had been allowed to enroll at Lincoln in January without teachers’ knowing his history. He was perplexed.

Kemp said the district – by law – can’t release medical details about the student to staff.

In the Lincoln incident, the teen initially was charged with aggravated assault, criminal mischief, possessing an instrument of crime, terroristic threats, simple assault, and recklessly endangering another person.

On Feb. 25, he made an admission to simple assault and terroristic threats charges, both misdemeanors. Disposition of his case is pending.

A right to defend
Under the teachers’ contract approved in January 2010, teachers were granted the authority to use force to defend themselves.

The contract says a teacher “may use reasonable force to protect himself/herself or others from attack or injury or to quell a disturbance which threatens physical injury to a teacher or others.”

Reasonable force is defined as the same level of “physical control” a parent could legally use to deal with a child.

Teachers gave union leaders a standing ovation when they announced the provision before the contract vote.

But even with this new provision, teachers remain cautious because of past experience.

Barry Strube, a physical education teacher at Olney High School East, spent two months in a disciplinary room – dubbed the “rubber room” or “teacher’s jail” – while his case was being decided after an incident in January 2010.

It started when a student in his health class refused to sit down. Strube said he put his hand on the student’s shoulder and the boy “burst up,” threatened to kill him, cursed him out, and tried to hit him, he said.

“I grabbed him by his book bag, spun him away from me, and took him across the hall to the discipline room,” said Strube, who has taught at the school for 16 years.

The student complained to the administration that Strube had hit him. The student later admitted he had lied, Strube said.

Ellwood teacher Glynnis Gradwell

“There is no real answer”
Glynnis Gradwell
Strube was allowed to return to teaching, but said he was suspended for three days, and told he should have somehow called for help. The school also tried to take away his football coaching position, but the union filed a grievance and won, he said.

“It’s absolutely ridiculous that they’re accusing me of doing anything,” Strube said. “I don’t know what else I could have done. I was doing what I thought was a good thing – getting him out of the room as quickly as possible.”

Kemp, the district spokeswoman, said Strube “was provided due process” but declined to elaborate, saying it was a personnel matter.

Jordan, the PFT president, says too often teachers are blamed when violence occurs.

“Incidents are reported and, instead of following up, teachers are questioned as to what is it they did in order to cause the behavior to occur, which is really the wrong approach,” Jordan said.

Page: 1 of 3 View All1 | 2 | 3 Next» VIOLENCE IN PHILADELPHIA SCHOOLSClick here to read the entire Inquirer series on school violence and see opinion pieces and editorials

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Posted by on March 30, 2011 in Education News


Illegal Detainment Of Student By Newark Police

seems to be common place in the city of Newark

Image:Nyier Abdou/The Star-LedgerKhalia Fitchette, 17, of Newark (center), speaks during a press conference at the American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey offices in Newark.

Student’s lawyer says illegal detainment of teen follows ‘pervasive pattern and practice’ by Newark police

Like most teenagers with access to a cell phone, Khaliah Fitchette says she videotapes everything.

So when the 17-year-old honor student saw Newark police rush to the aid of a man who collapsed on a bus last March, Fitchette produced her phone and pressed record.

Fitchette’s decision to snap a few minutes of footage caused her to spend time in handcuffs, according to a federal lawsuit filed Monday, accusing police of illegally detaining the teen.

“This is part of a fairly pervasive pattern and practice by the Newark Police Department to retaliate against individuals’ assertion of their first amendment rights,” said Seton Hall University Law Professor Baher Azmy, who is working with the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and the Seton Hall Center for Social Justice to represent Fitchette.

Fitchette, now 17, was dragged from the bus and handcuffed by Officers Noemi Maloon and Lloyd Thomas when she refused to stop filming them as they attended to an unconscious man on the bus, according to the suit.

Speaking to reporters in a hushed tone Monday afternoon, Fitchette said she still can’t understand why the officers tried to arrest her.

“I take pictures of everything,” said Fitchette, a University High School senior who was recently accepted to Cornell University. “I didn’t realize it was that big of a deal.”

The officers threatened to charge her with obstruction of justice, according to the suit, but juveniles cannot be charged with that crime under state law. The suit contends Fitchette did not interfere with the officers’ investigation, and had a right to film them.

“As a public servant you don’t have an expectation of privacy in public,” said Deborah Jacobs, executive director of the state ACLU.

Newark Police Director Garry McCarthy and “Sergeant DeFabio,” the officer in charge of the juvenile center at the time, are also named in the suit.

“DeFabio,” whose first name is unknown, allegedly “suggested that Officer Maloon take Khaliah to adult prisoner processing and charge her with obstruction of justice,” according to the suit.

“Everyone in that room knew she was a juvenile,” said Azmy.

Fitchette said the nearly three-hour ordeal came to an end when one of the officers suggested it “had gone too far” and returned the teen to her mother, Kameelah Phillips.


• ACLU lawsuit accuses 2 Newark police officers of illegally detaining, threatening honors student

• ACLU alleges Newark police misconduct allegations more widespread than previously reported

• ACLU accuses Newark police of false arrests, excessive force

• George Berkin: ACLU and Newark police

• N.J. ACLU details $1M in Newark police lawsuit settlements with residents

City officials declined to comment. The officers’ statuses with the department were not immediately known.

City personnel records show no one with the name DeFabio employed by Newark police last year, but one police employee with a similar name who has since left the department. It could not be confirmed Monday whether the former employee was the same person named in the lawsuit.

Criminal charges were not filed against Fitchette, and Jacobs said the family did not file an Internal Affairs complaint against the officers.

Jacobs said Fitchette’s case is “another example of egregious misconduct” by Newark police. Last year, the ACLU filed a 96-page petition calling for federal oversight of the 1,098-member department.

Monday’s lawsuit marked the third time since 2008 that city police were accused of impeding someone’s right to photograph or videotape them.

A newspaper editor sued the department in 2008 after one of his photographers was arrested while taking pictures of a dead body in the East Ward. A month later, CBS captured footage of a special police officer choking a cameraman who was filming a protest.

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Posted by on March 29, 2011 in Education News


Has Zero Tolerance In Schools Gone Too Far?

Ben Chambers is in the Suspended Animation
Written by John Fleming on Mar 29, 2011 .

The bad news: recent research indicates that schools suspend far more kids than they need to, and youth – especially youth of color, though not always — suffer unfairly for it.

The good news? Sure, zero-tolerance school discipline policies need revision. But there’s another solution to the problem: changing school culture by implementing mediation and “restorative justice” techniques in schools.

First, the background. “Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis,” by Daniel J. Losen and Russell J. Skiba, published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, makes for fascinating and depressing reading. After reviewing more than 30 years of data from nearly 10,000 middle schools nationwide, it concludes that suspension is over-used as a disciplinary tool, and that youth of color — black males especially — are suspended far out of proportion to their numbers.

The authors looked specifically at types of suspensions where school staff could exercise discretion — incidents of fighting, disruptive behavior and so on. They analyzed how many youth were suspended and broke down differences by race/ethnicity, and gender.

What they learned was appalling: suspension rates have nearly doubled for students of all races/ethnicities since 1973; African American, Latino, and American Indian youth were suspended at higher rates than white youth; 6 percent of all black students were suspended in 1973, compared with 15 percent in 2006; and a breathtaking 28.3 percent of black males were suspended in 2006, compared with 10 percent of white males.

When researchers looked at the 18 largest urban school districts, they found that most “had several schools that suspended more than 50 percent of a given racial/gender group.” They even found schools that suspended more than half of their white and Hispanic female students.

Seriously. 50 percent.

Worse, the authors point out that the federal data they used only counts students who’ve been suspended at least once — it doesn’t actually count the number of suspensions. So their conclusions probably underestimate the frequency of suspensions, and the impact on these students’ classroom time (which is linked to their likelihood of dropping out and, of course, their chances of ending up in the juvenile justice system).

You might be shrugging your shoulders and saying, “Well, if it makes the school safer and helps other students learn better …” Here’s what the authors have to say about that:

[D]espite nearly two decades of implementation of zero tolerance disciplinary policies and their application to mundane and non-violent misbehavior, there is no evidence that frequent reliance on removing misbehaving students improves school safety or student behavior.

In fact, frequent use of suspension and expulsion as disciplinary tools doesn’t seem to help other students do better:

[E]merging data indicate that schools with higher rates of school suspension and expulsion have poorer outcomes on standardized achievement tests, regardless of the economic level or demographics of their students. It is difficult to argue that disciplinary removals result in improvements to the school learning climate when schools with higher suspension and expulsion rates average lower test scores than do schools with lower suspension and expulsion rates.

Since research suggests that instructional time is strongly related to achievement outcomes, a policy shift is necessary:

It is critical to note that schools with very high suspension rates (e.g., suspending one-third or more of the student body at least once) are not receiving the kind of public attention or regular exposure that schools with low test scores receive.

The disparate impact on youth of color, and black youth in particular, makes this a civil rights issue, the authors say. Here’s why:

Research on student behavior, race, and discipline has found no evidence that African-American over-representation in school suspension is due to higher rates of misbehavior (McCarthy and Hoge, 1987; McFadden et al., 1992; Shaw & Braden, 1990; Wu et al., 1982). Skiba et al. (2002) reviewed racial and gender disparities in school punishments in an urban setting, and found that white students were referred to the office significantly more frequently for offenses that appear more capable of objective documentation (e.g., smoking, vandalism, leaving without permission and obscene language). African-American students, however, were referred more often for disrespect, excessive noise, threat, and loitering — behaviors that would seem to require more subjective judgment on the part of the referring agent. In short, there is no evidence that racial disparities in school discipline can be explained through higher rates of disruption among African-American students.

What can be done?

One solution: mediation. And here’s evidence from two Connecticut schools that mediation lowers suspension and expulsion rates.

For stronger evidence, check out this international report, “”Improving School Climate: Findings from Schools Implementing Restorative Justice,” showing that restorative justice and mediation in the schools has a significant positive impact on student behavior. (Restorative justice focuses on repairing the harm done to the victim, and is usually accomplished in a cooperative process with all relevant stakeholders.)

When these techniques were implemented in 10 schools in the U.S. and Canada, large drops occurred in suspensions and “behavioral incidents.” Results varied by school, but reviewing the data and the comments from school teachers and administrators is inspiring.

Given the data uncovered by the Southern Poverty Law Center, it’s obvious that school administrators are reaching for the suspension hammer too often. In most cases, it’s safe to assume that they probably didn’t feel that they had another option.

Now, they do. It’s time to start using them.

The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.
Benjamin Chambers is a New Media Editor at Prichard Communications and a freelance writer. He edits the Reclaiming Futures web site and oversees its social media channels on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, and YouTube. In addition, he writes news summaries and blog posts on alcohol, drug, and tobacco issues for Join Together at Boston University. You can find out more about him at and reach him at

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Posted by on March 29, 2011 in Education News


Save Our Children From The New Jim Crow

More Black Men In Prison Today Than Were Enslaved In 1850

Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness.

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Posted by on March 29, 2011 in Education News


End Child Hunger

Children can’t learn if they are not eating the right foods, or if they’re not eating at all.

Over 17 million kids are at risk of hunger in America.

Hunger is a reality in America, one that more children face every day. Food is their chance for a better tomorrow and a strong foundation for the future.

•Research indicates that even mild under-nutrition experienced by young children during critical periods of growth impacts their behavior, school performance, and cognitive development.
20.5 million children depend on free or reduced price school meals.

•Children who are hungry may not perform well academically.

•Children who are hungry may experience slower growth and inhibited brain development.

•Children who are hungry may suffer from more stomach aches, headaches, colds, ear infections, and fatigue.

•During the school year, about 20.5 million children depend on free or reduced-price school meals to help keep them from going hungry.
DonateWhether you have a dollar to give or food to spare, we can all try to make sure no child ever goes to bed hungry.

To learn more and how you can help stamp out hunger in America, please visit the link below. Copy and paste it into your address bar.

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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Education News


Why Are Students So Smart In Finland?

What Makes Finnish Kids So Smart?
Finland’s teens score extraordinarily high on an international test. American educators are trying to figure out why.


Helsinki, Finland

High-school students here rarely get more than a half-hour of homework a night. They have no school uniforms, no honor societies, no valedictorians, no tardy bells and no classes for the gifted. There is little standardized testing, few parents agonize over college and kids don’t start school until age 7.

Yet by one international measure, Finnish teenagers are among the smartest in the world. They earned some of the top scores by 15-year-old students who were tested in 57 countries. American teens finished among the world’s C students even as U.S. educators piled on more homework, standards and rules. Finnish youth, like their U.S. counterparts, also waste hours online. They dye their hair, love sarcasm and listen to rap and heavy metal. But by ninth grade they’re way ahead in math, science and reading — on track to keeping Finns among the world’s most productive workers.

The Finns won attention with their performances in triennial tests sponsored by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group funded by 30 countries that monitors social and economic trends. In the most recent test, which focused on science, Finland’s students placed first in science and near the top in math and reading, according to results released late last year. An unofficial tally of Finland’s combined scores puts it in first place overall, says Andreas Schleicher, who directs the OECD’s test, known as the Programme for International Student Assessment, or PISA. The U.S. placed in the middle of the pack in math and science; its reading scores were tossed because of a glitch. About 400,000 students around the world answered multiple-choice questions and essays on the test that measured critical thinking and the application of knowledge. A typical subject: Discuss the artistic value of graffiti.

The academic prowess of Finland’s students has lured educators from more than 50 countries in recent years to learn the country’s secret, including an official from the U.S. Department of Education. What they find is simple but not easy: well-trained teachers and responsible children. Early on, kids do a lot without adults hovering. And teachers create lessons to fit their students. “We don’t have oil or other riches. Knowledge is the thing Finnish people have,” says Hannele Frantsi, a school principal.

Visitors and teacher trainees can peek at how it’s done from a viewing balcony perched over a classroom at the Norssi School in Jyväskylä, a city in central Finland. What they see is a relaxed, back-to-basics approach. The school, which is a model campus, has no sports teams, marching bands or prom.

Trailing 15-year-old Fanny Salo at Norssi gives a glimpse of the no-frills curriculum. Fanny is a bubbly ninth-grader who loves “Gossip Girl” books, the TV show “Desperate Housewives” and digging through the clothing racks at H&M stores with her friends.

Fanny earns straight A’s, and with no gifted classes she sometimes doodles in her journal while waiting for others to catch up. She often helps lagging classmates. “It’s fun to have time to relax a little in the middle of class,” Fanny says. Finnish educators believe they get better overall results by concentrating on weaker students rather than by pushing gifted students ahead of everyone else. The idea is that bright students can help average ones without harming their own progress.

At lunch, Fanny and her friends leave campus to buy salmiakki, a salty licorice. They return for physics, where class starts when everyone quiets down. Teachers and students address each other by first names. About the only classroom rules are no cellphones, no iPods and no hats.

Fanny’s more rebellious classmates dye their blond hair black or sport pink dreadlocks. Others wear tank tops and stilettos to look tough in the chilly climate. Tanning lotions are popular in one clique. Teens sift by style, including “fruittari,” or preppies; “hoppari,” or hip-hop, or the confounding “fruittari-hoppari,” which fuses both. Ask an obvious question and you may hear “KVG,” short for “Check it on Google, you idiot.” Heavy-metal fans listen to Nightwish, a Finnish band, and teens socialize online at

The Norssi School is run like a teaching hospital, with about 800 teacher trainees each year. Graduate students work with kids while instructors evaluate from the sidelines. Teachers must hold master’s degrees, and the profession is highly competitive: More than 40 people may apply for a single job. Their salaries are similar to those of U.S. teachers, but they generally have more freedom.

Finnish teachers pick books and customize lessons as they shape students to national standards. “In most countries, education feels like a car factory. In Finland, the teachers are the entrepreneurs,” says Mr. Schleicher, of the Paris-based OECD, which began the international student test in 2000.

One explanation for the Finns’ success is their love of reading. Parents of newborns receive a government-paid gift pack that includes a picture book. Some libraries are attached to shopping malls, and a book bus travels to more remote neighborhoods like a Good Humor truck.

Finland shares its language with no other country, and even the most popular English-language books are translated here long after they are first published. Many children struggled to read the last Harry Potter book in English because they feared they would hear about the ending before it arrived in Finnish. Movies and TV shows have Finnish subtitles instead of dubbing. One college student says she became a fast reader as a child because she was hooked on the 1990s show “Beverly Hills, 90210.”

In November, a U.S. delegation visited, hoping to learn how Scandinavian educators used technology. Officials from the Education Department, the National Education Association and the American Association of School Librarians saw Finnish teachers with chalkboards instead of whiteboards, and lessons shown on overhead projectors instead of PowerPoint. Keith Krueger was less impressed by the technology than by the good teaching he saw. “You kind of wonder how could our country get to that?” says Mr. Krueger, CEO of the Consortium for School Networking, an association of school technology officers that organized the trip.

Finnish high-school senior Elina Lamponen saw the differences firsthand. She spent a year at Colon High School in Colon, Mich., where strict rules didn’t translate into tougher lessons or dedicated students, Ms. Lamponen says. She would ask students whether they did their homework. They would reply: ” ‘Nah. So what’d you do last night?'” she recalls. History tests were often multiple choice. The rare essay question, she says, allowed very little space in which to write. In-class projects were largely “glue this to the poster for an hour,” she says. Her Finnish high school forced Ms. Lamponen, a spiky-haired 19-year-old, to repeat the year when she returned.

Lloyd Kirby, superintendent of Colon Community Schools in southern Michigan, says foreign students are told to ask for extra work if they find classes too easy. He says he is trying to make his schools more rigorous by asking parents to demand more from their children.

Despite the apparent simplicity of Finnish education, it would be tough to replicate in the U.S. With a largely homogeneous population, teachers have few students who don’t speak Finnish. In the U.S., about 8% of students are learning English, according to the Education Department. There are fewer disparities in education and income levels among Finns. Finland separates students for the last three years of high school based on grades; 53% go to high school and the rest enter vocational school. (All 15-year-old students took the PISA test.) Finland has a high-school dropout rate of about 4% — or 10% at vocational schools — compared with roughly 25% in the U.S., according to their respective education departments.

Another difference is financial. Each school year, the U.S. spends an average of $8,700 per student, while the Finns spend $7,500. Finland’s high-tax government provides roughly equal per-pupil funding, unlike the disparities between Beverly Hills public schools, for example, and schools in poorer districts. The gap between Finland’s best- and worst-performing schools was the smallest of any country in the PISA testing. The U.S. ranks about average.

Finnish students have little angstata — or teen angst — about getting into the best university, and no worries about paying for it. College is free. There is competition for college based on academic specialties — medical school, for instance. But even the best universities don’t have the elite status of a Harvard.

Taking away the competition of getting into the “right schools” allows Finnish children to enjoy a less-pressured childhood. While many U.S. parents worry about enrolling their toddlers in academically oriented preschools, the Finns don’t begin school until age 7, a year later than most U.S. first-graders.

Once school starts, the Finns are more self-reliant. While some U.S. parents fuss over accompanying their children to and from school, and arrange every play date and outing, young Finns do much more on their own. At the Ymmersta School in a nearby Helsinki suburb, some first-grade students trudge to school through a stand of evergreens in near darkness. At lunch, they pick out their own meals, which all schools give free, and carry the trays to lunch tables. There is no Internet filter in the school library. They can walk in their socks during class, but at home even the very young are expected to lace up their own skates or put on their own skis.

The Finns enjoy one of the highest standards of living in the world, but they, too, worry about falling behind in the shifting global economy. They rely on electronics and telecommunications companies, such as Finnish cellphone giant Nokia, along with forest-products and mining industries for jobs. Some educators say Finland needs to fast-track its brightest students the way the U.S. does, with gifted programs aimed at producing more go-getters. Parents also are getting pushier about special attention for their children, says Tapio Erma, principal of the suburban Olari School. “We are more and more aware of American-style parents,” he says.

Mr. Erma’s school is a showcase campus. Last summer, at a conference in Peru, he spoke about adopting Finnish teaching methods. During a recent afternoon in one of his school’s advanced math courses, a high-school boy fell asleep at his desk. The teacher didn’t disturb him, instead calling on others. While napping in class isn’t condoned, Mr. Erma says, “We just have to accept the fact that they’re kids and they’re learning how to live.”

Write to Ellen Gamerman at

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W1

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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Education News


Research Charter Schools Before You Enroll Your Child In One

Latest charter school review: Look before you leap

4:09 pm March 24, 2010, by Maureen Downey

In a new report from the Center for Public Education, charter schools get a big picture review. The findings reflect the mixed results of other charter studies and suggest caution before any state, including Georgia, assumes that more charter schools equal more achievement.

The report concludes that it’s imperative that more research take place as charter schools are expected to surge in numbers with the emphasis on them by the Obama White House. The report states:

Charters are largely misunderstood – only 41 percent of voters even know that charter schools are in fact public schools. The incomplete research base behind charters means that many states may be heading into a reform strategy without a clear understanding of how charter schools work best, or how they interact with and affect traditional public schools. Charter schools need more research, oversight, and true evaluation to fulfill their purpose of being laboratories that traditional public schools can learn from.

Key findings of the report:

-Reliable charter school research is still in its infancy. One recent analysis rejected 70 out of the 210 studies it found. Many studies are descriptive snapshots of a school or district’s achievement, rather than examining achievement across states or comparing charter school achievement to traditional public schools.

-Of the reliable research, studies generally showed that charter school students did better in elementary school reading and middle school math, but worse in high school. The recent Center for Research on Education Outcomes study found that, overall, some (17%) charter schools do better than traditional public schools, but the majority do the same (46%) or worse (37%).

-Local education agencies (school boards) are the most common authorizers of charter schools.

-States with “multiple authorizers” — i.e., various pathways for authorizing charter schools — had the weakest student achievement data for charter students when compared to students at traditional public schools.

-Charter schools remain primarily an urban strategy. The National Charter School Research Project reports that 89 percent of U.S. school districts “have no charter schools within their boundaries, perhaps in large measure because so many school districts are so very small.”

-For profit education management organizations (EMOs) run about 16 percent of all charter schools. (Non-profit EMOs run about 13%.)

-Virtual charters are a small but growing segment of the market. However, very little research is available about the impact of these schools, and what is available indicates “mixed outcomes.”

-Charter schools generally are not drawing the best students away from local traditional public schools, and the racial composition of charters is similar to that of the traditional public schools the students previously attended.

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Posted by on March 28, 2011 in Education News