Elsewhere

Print More

Tennessee: Grading policy

About 75 percent of high schools would have to change their grading policy under a state plan to require a standardized system, according to the Oct. 17 Memphis Commercial Appeal. The proposed policy would primarily affect how schools give out grades of A and B. Students would have to receive scores of 94-100 on assignments to receive an A and scores of 85-93 to receive a B. Currently, only 25 percent of school districts set grading standards that high. Any score of 69 or below would count as an F.

Detroit: Achievement gap

Test scores are lower in Detroit Public Schools now than when the state took over the school system five years ago, according to the Oct. 16 Detroit Free Press. Students now lag even further behind students in the rest of the state in every subject (math, science and reading) and at every grade level except for high school reading, according to the paper’s analysis.

Minnesota: Teacher quality

Minnesota is poised to become the first state to work with the non-partisan Teaching Commission on a plan to improve teacher quality, according to the Oct. 14 Duluth News-Tribune. Among the proposals are higher pay for teachers in fields such as math and science; giving teachers more say in how schools are run; improving schools and colleges of education; and providing better professional development. Gov. Tim Pawlenty wants lawmakers to agree to link a boost in education spending to better teacher performance.

Elsewhere

Print More

NEW YORK CITY

Coming to Children’s Aid. In 1992, the Children’s Aid Society opened a unique extended-day program at the new Intermediate School 218 in Washington Heights, then the poorest, most crime-ridden neighborhood in New York. The program has since expanded to include four schools in District 6.

Aimed at students scoring in the bottom quartile of standardized tests, it offers academics but goes far beyond that, providing students and their families with free in-school counseling, medical and dental care, and quick referrals to dozens of other agencies.

The agency has worked hard to weave its program into the school culture: Children’s Aid workers remain in schools during the day, ready to meet the needs teachers can’t; before and after hours, school staff conduct most of the activities, which range from test preparation to karate and aerobics.

Children’s Aid collects private donations to fund the program. It also collects Medicare and Medicaid payments for eligible students.

“The teacher can really extend creatively whatever they’re doing during the day,” says Hersilia Mendez, an assistant director at Children’s Aid. For four hours each night, the program serves parents, too, providing college-level courses, recreational activities and classes in English, GED preparation, computers and U.S. citizenship.

The Children’s Aid program is not the only extended-day offering in District 6. Thanks to Project Read, a systemwide literacy initiative, the district got money to provide a full-scale extended-day program for all primary-grade students, focusing on science and social studies. “One way of enhancing literacy is to do some of the content-based subjects in the afternoon, so you can focus on reading skills during the day,” explains District Deputy Supt. Brian Morrow. Each of the city’s 32 community districts can design its own Project Read programs, within broad guidelines.

ST. PAUL, MINN.

Do-it-yourself extended day, year. Extended-time programs are mushrooming in this district of 43,500 students. But precise numbers are hard to come by because both management and funding of the programs are less centralized than in Chicago; over the last decade, the Minnesota Legislature has opened a variety of avenues for schools and school districts to buy time. St. Paul school officials say that at least 40 of its 70 schools have programs ranging from extended-day to extended-year to providing separate schools for kids who need more attention.

One school serving large numbers of Hmong immigrants, for example, conducts special family sessions to help the Hmong adapt to American culture. A school serving at-risk African-American children combines mentoring from members of the community with after-school academics. A few programs even provide dinner for both parents and children to foster family involvement in the school.

Each school is free to combine funds and apply for grants to support its program. While most focus on academics, the approaches vary widely, from use of technology to Howard Gardner’s “seven intelligences.”

Many programs provide learning opportunities for parents that are as varied as those for children, including computer labs, English as a second language, GED preparation and parenting skills. In some cases, parents and children learn to read side by side.

As for results, University of Minnesota researcher Elisabeth Palmer’s study of 21 programs shows participants’ study skills, social skills and self-confidence improved, compared to similar children who were not in the programs. There are some indications that reading and math test scores have gone up, too, but further research is needed.

MURFREESBORO, TENN.

Pay your own way. The extended-day program in this small elementary district of 5,300 students began 11 years ago with the goal of keeping kids safe after school, says community relations coordinator Tommy Lynch. “It was really designed to help just the ‘latchkey child,'” he says.

But under Supt. John Hodge Jones, who chaired a prestigious national commission that advocated more and better teaching time, the program grew to include over 100 activities, ranging from homework tutoring and hands-on science labs to music, sports and crafts activities. Lynch estimates that 45 percent of the district’s students take advantage of the extended-day program.

Murfreesboro’s nine elementary schools stay open 12 hours a day, year-round. The district holds down costs by taking advantage of childcare subsidies and staffing the programs partly with volunteers and low-paid college students. Parents must come up with the remainder, $25 per child per week (about $900 a year).

During the summer, they can enroll their children in a more costly, but popular, intensive study program staffed by teachers; the program reviews the curriculum for a student’s previous grade level so he or she will be better prepared to advance in the fall. Lynch says that no substantive research has been done on the effects of either program on student achievement.