If you follow me on Twitter @DrMerylAin, you know that I’ve been trying to tweet the education news that has been coming fast and furiously since 2012 began. There’s so much of importance that it’s hard to keep track. The economy has still not recovered as school districts grapple with their 2012-2013 budget process. The following news items deserve to be watched as they unfold, both as local and national trends. The key is to read the fine print and ask lots of question.
1. The Half Hollow Hills (N.Y.) Board of Education voted unanimously to freeze salary increases of district administrators for two years as a result of negotiations between the board and the administrators’ union. While it sounds idealistic, note that included in the agreement is a stipulation that there will be no administrative terminations due to budgetary reasons. Is this just an attempt by administrators to save their jobs at the expense of teachers, librarians, nurses and others? Will the salaries of non-union administrators, such as the superintendent, also be frozen?
2. School districts throughout the country are looking to save money and school libraries and librarians have become targets. Nowadays – librarians or library media specialists — do so much more than encourage reading, which is certainly important enough. They teach cutting edge online information skills and collaborate with teachers. Is your school district threatening to cut librarians and libraries? Let the school board and district administration know that this is unacceptable. There is also a petition drive to ensure that all U.S. students have access to an effective library program. The petition asks that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) provide dedicated funding to support library programs.
3. We all know about the harm that has been done to young people with cyber-bullying. The National School Boards Association and other educational groups requested “clear guidance” from the Supreme Court about the power of school officials to mete out consequences to students for electronic misbehavior. Nevertheless, the Supreme Court recently decided to stay out of this maelstrom by not hearing two cases involving students’ use of their MySpace accounts to belittle other students and a school principal. By not hearing the two cases – one in West Virginia and the other in Pennsylvania — the issue of whether school officials throughout the U.S. can regulate online behavior that takes place off school grounds is still unresolved. Check to see if your school district has policies and practices in place to deal with cyber-bullying.
4. A measure being presented in the Indiana House of Representatives would let 51 percent of parents vote on turning public schools into charter schools. The “parent trigger” almost made it through the Indiana General Assembly last year as a part of a package of education reforms that included the creation of the nation’s most expansive voucher program and an expansion of the groups that can approve new charter schools. In its place, legislators approved an abridged version of the bill, which left the ultimate decision with school boards and limited it to schools that have underperformed for at least two years in a row. Proponents are attempting again this year to pass a full “parent trigger.”
The idea is part of a national trend that began in California in 2009 and has been debated in a number of states over the last two years. The proposal would also let parents petition the state school board to have the state take control of their schools. The “parent trigger” leaves out the school administration and school boards from the decision. Although the California law has given parents this power, the parents of one school who attempted to use it now find themselves in court. The “parent trigger” has also been used as a vehicle to push for removal of incompetent teachers and principals. Two other states, Texas and Mississippi, approved the “parent trigger” last year. Other states, including Arizona and Florida, are considering the measure this year.
5. Proposed revisions to the American Psychiatric Association’s definition of autism would exclude about three-quarters of those now diagnosed with milder forms of autism called Asperger syndrome or “pervasive developmental disorder, not otherwise specified,” also known as P.D.D.-N.O.S. These are people who have difficulties with social interaction but do not share the most severe impairments of children with classic autism. The proposed revisions, which would take effect in 2013, have alarmed parents of children with special needs and special education advocates. The changes, coming at a time when resources are shrinking, may reduce the number of students who will qualify for services that will ultimately improve their ability to learn, socialize, and succeed in school and beyond.
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1. In a dismal economy, schools made deep cuts into their educational programs in 2011.
• In 2012, look for more cutting, including mid-year cuts. School districts will consider school closings, grade reorganization, and redistricting. Administrative jobs, particularly district-wide positions, will be on the chopping block. Parents will lobby for central administrative cuts, insisting that an extensive and excessive central administration should not be kept at the expense of educational programs impacting their children. Consolidation of school districts, in a way that reduces administration and retains neighborhood schools, will also be seriously explored.
2. High school and college sports were under fire for lack of accountability in insular “old boys’ networks” in 2011. Most notably, the egregious allegations of repeated child abuse by Jerry Sandusky and the cover-up by his superiors heightened awareness of the dangers to children when there is a lack of accountability. On Long Island, a superintendent who had once been a coach was accused of directing a principal to have teachers inflate the grades of a star football player.
• In 2012, look for more uncovering of favoritism and bad behavior on the part of the adults in charge in high school and college sports. There will be an outcry for fairness, watchfulness, and an overhauling of sports programs as well as child abuse reporting laws.
3. Bullying and cyber-bullying were in the news in 2011 because of resulting teen suicide. States, such as New Jersey, passed anti-bullying laws.
• In 2012, look for more serious discussion about bullying and cyber-bullying. The emphasis will be on programs that prevent bullying and what adults – parents, educators, and others – can do in this digital age where online bullying can occur 24/7. Watch also for a serious dialogue of whether legislation is the answer or if creates additional victims.
4. In 2011, SAT student cheating rings were uncovered on Long Island, and teachers were accused of cheating by changing their students’ answers on standardized tests in Atlanta, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, DC.
• In 2012, watch for more cheating scandals. While there will be more arrests to crackdown on cheating, there will also be soul-searching reflections about why students and teachers feel compelled to cheat.
5. Many parochial schools closed their doors and there was increasing fire directed at some charter schools in 2011.
• Look for the impact on already strapped school districts as hundreds of former parochial school students enter the public schools in 2012.
6. In 2011, parents formed unions in places as far-flung as California and New York City. These groups were created to empower parents with a voice in their children’s education.
• Watch for more parent power in 2012. For example, in New York State a 2 percent tax cap will go into effect, forcing districts to look for cost savings unless 60 percent of the voters vote to exceed the cap. Parents in New York and elsewhere are becoming increasingly aware that districts can put anything on the table to be cut, including sacred cows such as full-day kindergarten. Look for your district’s schedule of budget meetings, attend them and speak up! Stay tuned to Your Education Doctor for strategies to help you advocate for quality education for your children!
I wish you a happy, healthy, and successful new year!!!