04/1999 State Education Roundup

Published April 1, 1999

Florida * Illinois * Maryland * Montana
Nevada * Pennsylvania * South Carolina * Texas


Teacher Body Language Affects Student Learning

Children don’t take compliments from their teachers at face value, but weigh the content of verbal messages against the content of teachers’ equally important nonverbal messages, according to University of Florida Assistant Professor Vicky Zygouris-Coe. Students judge the way a teacher feels about them by considering the teacher’s body language, the order in which the teacher calls on them, and the intensity with which the teacher listens to them.

Jim Doud, chair of the University of Florida’s educational leadership department and a former president of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, agrees that children pay more attention to nonverbal clues than many people think.

“My observation of kids says that they find nonverbal clues more realistic than verbal clues,” he said. “The evidence is strong that when they believe that their teachers feel they can do something, they’re more likely to achieve.”

To keep the lines of teacher-student communication open, teachers should make an effort to know their students as well as possible, said Doud. In addition, teachers can help remove learning barriers by providing students with nonverbal feedback that is positive rather than negative. This includes making eye contact, listening when students speak, and communicating an understanding of the student’s strengths and weaknesses.
Science Daily
January 22, 1999


Charter School Not Informed about Test

It’s a good thing officials at Fort Bowman Academy Charter School in Cahokia read their local newspaper. After seeing an article about the Illinois State Assessment Test in the Cahokia-Dupo Journal, Fort Bowman officials asked the Cahokia School District if it applied to the charter school. It turned out that the school district had failed to inform Fort Bowman that its students were required to take the test, according to Charter Consultants President Phillip Paeltz.

The school district admitted its oversight and provided the test materials to Fort Bowman, but the charter school students had just one day to prepare for the test. By contrast, their counterparts in the Cahokia public schools had several weeks to prepare.

“Our view is that this is part of the pattern we’ve seen all year,” said Paeltz, noting that the district also had withheld funds for the charter school for up to two months. “Either they’re wonderfully inefficient or they’re purposefully not passing it on.”
Cahokia-Dupo Journal
February 24, 1999


Teacher Pay Puzzle

The Teachers Association of Baltimore County is reacting strongly to a Baltimore County plan to pay 100 teachers $3,500 annual bonuses to work in 23 low_performing schools. Teachers oppose the plan by a wide margin, according to an association poll of 700 district teachers, equally divided between teachers at the low_performing schools, comparable schools, and high_achieving schools.

“Teachers in all three groups consistently said money was far less important in deciding where to teach than factors such as smaller class size, strong discipline policies, adequate supplies, and supportive school administrators,” noted the Baltimore Sun in a March 1 story.

However, money is far more important to teachers in nearby Prince George’s County, where as many as 700 teachers a year leave for higher pay in other districts, according to Lewis Robinson, executive director of the Education Association there. To compete for top teachers, the Prince George’s Board of Education is boosting teacher salaries and cutting other costs and spending to pay for it, according to the March 1 Washington Post.

Noting that Prince George’s and Baltimore Counties are comparable in size, geography, per_pupil spending, and teacher salary, the Education Intelligence Agency’s Mike Antonucci asks: “Are we to believe that higher pay induces teachers to change cities (or states), but cannot induce them to change schools within their own district?”
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
March 1, 1999


Bill to Repeal Mandatory School Attendance

The Montana House Judiciary Committee is hearing a bill that would repeal the state’s mandatory school attendance law.

“In a free society, there is very little that ought to be compelled by anyone,” said Roger Koopman of the Montana Trustees of Freedom, speaking in support of the bill.
Education Intelligence Agency Communiqué
January 25, 1999


Public School Choice Debated

When GOP State Senator Maurice Washington held hearings in early March on his bill to make it easier for Nevada parents to choose which public school they wanted their child to attend, teachers, administrators and sports officials testified against the plan. Henry Etchemendy of the Nevada Association of School Districts argued school officials in most districts already granted transfers they deemed necessary, and so a law allowing parents to choose schools wasn’t needed.

Having parents choose public schools based on academics, athletics, or other reasons would lead to sports recruiting problems, more overcrowded schools, and possible displacement of children from their neighborhood schools, said opponents. Those testifying against the proposal also argued that some parents might choose schools based on what was convenient for them.

“We do a lot of things for convenience,” countered Washington, pointing out that some parents work far from home and it would be better if they could drive their children to a school near their workplace.

But Barbara Clark, representing the Nevada PTA, had a different take on driving children to school. She argued the bill would widen the gap between the haves and have-nots because children in single-parent families would be less likely to transfer if they did have to be driven to school each day.
Tahoe Daily Tribune
March 2, 1999


Schools Budget Has $94 million Deficit

In the $1.5 billion fiscal 2000 budget that he presented to the city council on March 1, Philadelphia Schools Superintendent David Hornbeck proposed adding summer school, expanding kindergarten and preschool, reducing kindergarten and first-grade class sizes, adding bilingual teachers–and spending $94 million more than he will receive from state, federal, and local sources.

When he presented a similar deficit budget last year, Hornbeck’s threat to close the schools rather than cut programs resulted in the state legislature approving a mechanism for taking over the city’s schools. He made no such threats this year, though he did criticize the state for historically under-funding Philadelphia schools.

“Before the spring of 2000, I expect additional revenue from government–local, state, and/or federal,” he said, indicating he would raise additional funds from foundations and other private-sector sources.

Besides the deficit, Hornbeck has two other major problems: hiring teachers and meeting academic goals. The district already has teacher shortages in many areas, including elementary education, but will need to hire up to 1,500 new teachers next September. And while the district’s goal is to have 95 percent of its students performing at “proficient” levels on the SAT-9 test by 2008, only 12.5 percent of the current students score at that level now.
Philadelphia Inquirer
March 2, 1999


Setback for Privatization

On February 16, the South Carolina House defeated an effort that would have authorized the state’s school districts to contract for services at alternative schools. Greenville Representative Dwight Loftis offered the measure as an amendment to an alternative school bill pending before the House.

The privatization amendment would have allowed school districts to seek bids from private companies on a variety of school services, including curriculum programs for teaching reading skills at alternative schools. Without the privatization amendment, the alternative school bill passed the full House.

“It is clear that there are many functions that can be provided through the private sector with great savings to the taxpayers,” commented a disappointed Loftis. “Advocates have long sought privatization of many government functions, including areas of education,” he added.
South Carolina Policy Council Insider
January-February 1999


250,000 Eligible for School Choice

More than a quarter of a million students in 281 of Texas’ 7,053 public schools will be eligible to choose a better public school this fall, according to information released in January by the Texas Education Agency. The 281 schools–about half as many as last year–either had less than half of their students pass the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills in two of the last three years, or were rated “low-performing” in one of the last three years.

Under the state’s Public Education Grant program, students in those schools have the right to transfer to a school in another district if the receiving district agrees to accept them. However, many of the better-performing public schools have chosen not to accept transfer students from the poorer-performing schools, sharply reducing the actual number of student transfers during the 1997-98 school year to only 413.

“As far as I know, only about 20 districts will take students under this program,” noted Allan Parker of the Texas Justice Foundation, saying that school officials strongly resisted the program. He argued that the only way to make the student choice a reality was to allow the students to go to private schools at state expense, using publicly funded school vouchers.
Dallas Morning News
January 21, 1999