This could change everything about school — for kids, teachers and everybody else


For years, veteran educator Marion Brady has argued on this blog that no matter the level of a learner’s ability, much higher levels of academic performance are possible.  The means to that end, he says, is learners’ understanding and deliberate use of their “master mental organizer”—the information organizer we all begin developing at birth and routinely use (except in schoolwork) to make sense and communicate.

Acknowledging and accommodating institutional resistance to the idea, he and his brother have written, for middle or high school students, three illustrative, ready-to-use, year-long courses. The first helps learners understand the sense-making process; the other two use world history and American history as vehicles for exercising and elaborating the sense-making process. To encourage examination, criticism, use, and collaboration in their improvement, the three courses are and will remain free for the downloading.  Links are at the end of the post.

By Marion and Howard Brady

Learning is challenging. Kids need to accept that life is a test and grit is essential to success. Competition builds character. A quiet school is a good school. Recess and leisurely lunchtimes are poor uses of valuable instructional time. Kindergarten should be the new first grade. Poverty is no excuse for poor performance. Retention in grade for under-performing kids just makes good sense. The root cause of academic decline is teachers’ low expectations. Rigor is the key to winning the Race to the Top.

So goes the conventional wisdom. Saying that learning is natural, that stress is counterproductive, that free play and the so-called “frill” subjects teach in powerful ways, that standardized tests are counterproductive, invites heated argument. To say that present corporately driven education policies have been a monumental waste of time, money, and talent invites being dismissed by those setting education policy as too out of touch with reality to deserve continued reading.

But hear us out. That first paragraph reflects a Puritanical view of human nature that, historically, Americans have tended to favor. No surprise then that those leading the “reform” effort believe the “test and punish, standards-and-accountability,” approach to schooling is a good, even a necessary, thing.

We start with a different assumption—that true learning is natural, deeply satisfying, and is its own reward. As evidence, we call attention to the fact that healthy kids start learning on their own as soon as they’re born, and continue at a spectacular rate long before they see the inside of a classroom. Not until they go to school and begin to be hammered with information of the “What Every First Grader (etc.) Should Know” sort, does their enthusiasm for learning begin to fade.

What is it about formal schooling that turns so many kids off? It may come as a surprise that the major problem is a lack of mental stimulation. Some of the work is too easy, some of it is simply neither interesting nor useful, and recently, much of what’s being touted as rigorous is merely onerous.

Blame most of kids’ negativity about school on lessons and homework that aren’t memorable, mind-changing experiences.


Three lesson essentials

In school, instructional activities—lessons—are where the rubber meets the road. That means (at least to us) that every lesson should make something important and memorable happen in kids’ heads. How little most adults remember and use of what they once supposedly learned suggests that relatively little of their schoolwork actually did that.

Lessons that stick and make a permanent difference in the mind usually share three characteristics.

First, they’re “active.” What makes “active learning” lessons active is the role assigned to learners. Traditional lessons treat them as passive receptacles of secondhand information. Active learning gives them intellectually demanding, real-world puzzles, problems, anomalies, situations, difficulties, and so on, and learning comes not secondhand from reading or listening, but firsthand, from doing, from wrestling with the puzzle, the problem, the difficulty, for however long it takes.

For…however…long…it…takes. Yes, compared with “covering the material,” puzzle-solving is slow going. But learning is an extremely complex, little-understood process that can’t be hurried or forced. It moves at the learner’s pace or it doesn’t move. Period. Authorities who mandate pacing guides, give teachers scripts to read, or demand that lesson plans be submitted days in advance of use, should be in a line of work other than education.

Second, the most memorable lessons focus on immediate reality. For learning to be permanent, the puzzles must be interesting now; the lessons they teach must be useful now.

The richest “textbook” isn’t a textbook; it’s the present moment. With few exceptions, every important idea taught in every school subject manifests itself in some concrete, instructionally useful, “hands on” form on school property or within walking distance. It’s all there, just a matter of going to where it is and staring at it until familiarity’s veil lifts and it becomes strange enough to see.

Study of immediate reality does something else of vital importance in learning—it triggers emotion. Love it or hate it, a kid’s “right-here, right-now” matters. And because it matters, it’s unfailingly, indisputably relevant.

Third, the brain copes poorly with poorly organized information, which is what school subjects give it—information at odds with how the brain perceives reality, at odds with how sense is made of it, at odds with reality’s holistic, systemic nature.

In the real world—the world that schooling is supposed to explain and explore—everything connects to everything. In the real world, politics, climate, economies, laws, transport, literature, health, belief systems, weapons, weather, humor, religion, technology, entertainment, and so on and on and on, swirl together in dynamic, continuously changing, evolving, mind-boggling complexity.

The traditional core curriculum suffers from the problem pointed out by the ancient story of blind men examining an elephant. It pulls complexity apart and studies the parts as if they had little or nothing to do with each other. Separate-subject instruction sends kids on their way inadequately prepared for life, and it’s sending America on its way seriously crippled by an inability to anticipate the consequences of technological change, policy initiatives, ideologies, and unexamined cultural assumptions.

A fix

Systems theory solves the information-organizing problem, and does so in a way easily understood by adolescents. It doesn’t do away with school subjects, just makes them working parts of a much simpler “master information organizer”—the organizer they began using when they were born and continue to use non-stop. When kids understand how their minds sort, store, retrieve, integrate, and relate information, they know how to create knowledge—sometimes even wisdom. In a dynamic, evolving world facing an unknown but obviously very dangerous future, no other ability comes even close to that in importance.

Operationalizing the fix

The decision in the late 19th Century to adopt the core curriculum has created a profession made up of specialists ill-equipped and disinclined to work together on the whole of which their specializations are parts. What the profession needs is what systems theory can give it—a shared, comprehensive, coherent conceptual framework for thinking about reality on a general level, and a vocabulary for talking about it.

Problems, Einstein said, can’t be solved using the same kind of thinking that created them. Knowing that teachers will at first need a little help devising and making use of systems-based lessons, we wrote an illustrative, multidisciplinary course of study for kids and teachers titled Connections: Investigating Reality. Experimentation tells us it should be used the first year of secondary-level schooling, before kids are programmed to assume that school subjects are the best or even the only way to organize knowledge.

A first of its kind, Connections is far from polished, so in the spirit of open-source, we give it away, along with provision for users to connect electronically and work together to improve its active-learning activities.

We had intended to leave it at that and get on with our retirements, but inserting a new course into a massive, rigid bureaucracy proving all but impossible, we decided to use material left over from a project we’d done for Prentice-Hall, Inc., to write a course less likely to meet resistance. We put Investigating American History: A Systems Approach, online alongside Connections, and invited criticism and suggestions for improvement.

This spring we got an e-mail from a young teacher in western Argentina, Ignacio Carrel. He’d translated some of the American history material into Spanish and, notwithstanding his students’ unfamiliarity with the content, he said his hard-to-teach alternative school students were suddenly easy to teach. So convinced was he of the effectiveness of systems theory as an information organizer, he was using it to write an ancient history course.

Howard, willing to help, began building and expanding on what Ignacio had done. The project, World History: A Systems Approach, is underway. It’s not yet complete, but is far enough along to allow its use and invite feedback for improvement. Like Connections and the American history course, it’s free for the downloading.

Classroom teachers collaborating—not commercial publishers, not special interest groups, not corporations, not federal or state departments of education, not Congress, state legislatures, foundations, or think tanks—should be writing curricula. No one else is better positioned. The fact that about 650 items a week are downloaded from our website (without a dime’s worth of advertising and despite our relative anonymity) says teachers are talking to other teachers.

We’re convinced that systems theory is the key to creating a general education curriculum free of the core curriculum’s major problems. And we’re dead certain—based on extensive classroom experimentation—that helping kids lift into consciousness and use their already-known systemically integrated information organizer moves them, in just a few weeks, to performance levels not otherwise possible.

Bonuses of educator-led change: Taxpayers save billions on the cost of textbooks and tests. Textbook publishers and test manufacturers stop being the tail wagging the curriculum dog. Business leaders and politicians finally have to accept that learning—real, mind-changing learning—has almost nothing in common with manufacturing and marketing. If kids’ minds function as well as they can and should, it might even be possible for America to survive its superficial commitment to educating.

The present multi-million dollar push to close the achievement gap has focused on what teachers do. What matters far more is what kids do. If we’ll give them what they want—genuine intellectual stimulation—America’s schools will eventually dazzle the world.

We’ll know we’re on the right track when it becomes obvious that what’s going on in kids’ heads is far too idiosyncratic, too multi-faceted, too complex, too important, too wonderful, to be evaluated by ACT, SAT, the NAEP, or any standardized test.


  1. A quick summary of fundamental problems with the core curriculum.
  2. A multidisciplinary course of study for middle and high school levels introducing teachers and learners to systems-based learning.
  3. Investigating World History: A Systems Approach. (The course uses many color photographs as elements of investigations, so to keep file sizes reasonable, each unit is downloaded separately.) The first is “1: Paleoanthropology” which downloads at All units completed to date are at that link.
  4. Investigating American History: A Systems Approach.
  5. A small book explaining how we got where we are in education, and how systems theory can take us where we need to go:


New program gives students jobs, second chance at education

A new alternative high school equivalency program is giving adults in Anderson County a chance to complete General Education Development testing while working full time at Bosch or Afco.

Between 16,000 and 19,000 people who live in Anderson County have not completed high school.

Anderson School District 5 trustee Jay Blankenship helped bring Human Technologies Inc. and the Anderson Adult Education Center together to get the new program off the ground. The program began in February.

“We are not trying to create a cookie cutter,” Blankenship said. “We are trying to create a real-life avenue where people can become economically stable and have a nice education.”

HTI, a human resources firm, contacted some of their clients to partner with the program. The company provided the classroom, computers and other supplies for the class, and paid for the GED tests.

Center officials wrote a grant that was approved by the state Department of Education for $10,000 to help fund the program and pay for the two teachers, said center Director Jacky Stamps.

The program

Students enrolled in the program are hired for full-time positions with benefits at Bosch or Afco. The students attend classes as well. As soon as they graduate, they can keep their jobs at the plants, if they choose, or they can move on to technical college or another job.

One student has already graduated faster than most students take to complete the program.

“It takes a disciplined person to get through the program quickly,” said Dickie Smith, the business and community liaison from the center.

Brent Morgan, a 19-year-old living in Anderson was the first one in his class to complete the program. He started his high school career at Easley High School, but left in his junior year. He transferred to Tri-County Technical College in Pendleton through the Connect to College program to finish his high school education. But that wasn’t for him either. With the help of his mother, Morgan enrolled in the new program.

Morgan realized he needed to complete his high school education when he was working in a restaurant, and thought to himself that he didn’t want to be doing that job anymore.

“It was a challenge working third shift and waking up early to come back to school,” Morgan said.

One of his biggest challenges was fitting the GED tests into his work schedule and handling the stress of the tests.

Morgan began working at Bosch on an assembly line six months ago. He plans to stay at Bosch while at Tri-County, where he is studying mechatronics, and plans to graduate with mechatronics and industrial electronic technology degrees.

Morgan said it feels good to have completed his high school education. “I already have the motivation to keep going to college, get the degree, and have it all fresh in my memory,” he said.

In the classroom

Every Monday and Thursday, the students sit in a back room at HTI for two hours studying math, English-language arts, social studies or science.

“I have one more test to go. I went to adult education three years ago, and these classes go a lot more in detail and cover a lot,” said Jessica Keene of Townville, the mother of three boys.

“The program was originally designed to last 12 weeks, but I think we underestimated the time it would take to cover everything,”said Beverly Cottingham, a teacher in the program. “It’s not a typical class where it has an end date. Some students have been out of school for more than 20 years, and it’s difficult to learn all the information in a short amount of time.”

Keene, who left school in 10th grade, works on the assembly line making oil filters at Afco, as part of the program.

“To do it any other way, and having to work and with the kids, it wouldn’t have worked out,” Keene said. “Being able to work at Afco and have the time to go to class is everything. My mom and husband have helped out a lot. It’s a really big opportunity for me, and I feel privileged. This is something you’re not going to find anywhere else where you can go to school for free and work full-time.”

Students learn not only academic skills but also soft skills that employers look for, such as time management and communication.

“They are learning the skill on the job, and that’s something we can’t teach from a textbook,” Blankenship said.

Follow Frances Parrish on Twitter @frances_AIM.

East Moline school officials deny claims of mold at Hillcrest Elementary

Educators with the East Moline School District are rebutting new accusations against the district by state Rep. Mike Smiddy, D-Hillsdale.

During Monday’s school board meeting, Superintendent Kristin Humphries informed board members that Rep. Smiddy filed complaints with the Illinois State Board of Education alleging mold growth in the classrooms at Hillcrest Elementary, the same school Smiddy’s wife, Debra, teaches.  Debra Smiddy is also the president of the East Moline Education Association, a union representing the district’s teachers.

According to emails obtained by News 8, Debra Smiddy emailed Hillcrest Elementary Principal Dalina Archer at 12:47 p.m., August 5, 2015, claiming she had found black mold on the ceiling tile in her classroom. District officials claimed this was the first they had heard of the problem.

Emails exchanged between two members of the Illinois State Board of Education, one hour before Debra Smiddy contacted principal Archer, indicated someone had already tipped them off about the alleged mold in the East Moline School District.

In a letter to the East Moline School Board, Supt. Humphries suggested Rep. Smiddy “apparently contacted the State Board of Education’s legislative liaison orally on or before August 5, 2015.”

Following an inspection from Graves Environmental Inc., Humphries said there was no evidence of black mold or any other hazardous materials in the air.  Humphries said the inspections will cost the district about $20,000, and about $14,000 of that cost will come from the general education fund.

Smiddy did not answer attempts by News 8 to contact him Monday, August 24, 2015.

Frustrated board member Kai Killam was quoted in the Dispatch-Argus Monday night, stating, “He [Rep. Smiddy] has insulted our staff and wasted taxpayer money.”  Smiddy was quoted in the paper saying, “I was shown some very disturbing photos on the condition of some classrooms.”

“I am fine with the administration placing the blame upon me as long as the concerns are addressed. The health and safety of the students and staff within my legislative district is a top priority,” Smiddy added.

While Hillcrest Elementary is located in East Moline, it does not actually fall within Rep. Smiddy’s district; according to a spokesperson for Rep. Pat Verschoore, Hillcrest Elementary is located in Verschoore’s district.

This is not the first confrontation between Smiddy and the East Moline School District.  In May of 2015, Rep. Smiddy filed a resolution in the Illinois House of Representatives seeking a performance audit of the East Moline School District.  Humphries said the audit would have cost the district up to $360,000; however, Rep. Smiddy later withdrew the audit request.

Disabled Students Face Special Risk of Summer Slide



Randi Levine, a policy coordinator at the nonprofit Advocates for Children, often counsels the parents of New York City public school students with disabilities who are trying to get the services their child requires from the Department of Education. She recalls a student whose parents fought to keep her school-year services going throughout the summer, demonstrating that she risked a considerable learning loss over the break without the assistance.

“We showed the skills that she loses overnight, over weekends, over school holidays, the amount of repetition that she needs, and how quickly she forgets or loses those skills,” Levine says.

The “summer slide” impacts students in different ways. Science and math losses are widespread, and slips in literacy affect students to varying degrees. But students with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to regression; without consistent services, disabled students often face the prospect of more severe losses in the summer than their peers. According to advocates for the parents of these public school students, securing services from the DOE can be a struggle during the summer months.

The legal framework for disabled students’ rights is four decades old. Section 504 of the 1973 Rehabilitation Act stipulates that school districts are required to provide a “free and appropriate public education” to all students with disabilities. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, signed into law by President George H.W. Bush in 1990, requires that every student with a disability have an Individual Education Plan (IEP).

An IEP lays out the specific needs of the student, measurable goals, the services that are crucial to accomplishing those goals, and whether the services should last for 12 months or only through the 10-month school year. The student’s school district is required to supply these services. If the district cannot do so, and the parents find other approved service providers, the district must pay for those services.

According to state statistics, 178,933 school-age students with disabilities enrolled in New York City public schools in the 2013-2014 year, 13.9 percent of the total student enrollment. Statewide, 16.6 percent of students have IEPs, one of the five highest rates in the nation.

Who is at risk of regression?

While the majority of public-school students with IEPs have 10-month plans, some students qualify for a full year of services. According to state regulations, a student qualifies for summer services if that student is considered to be at risk for “substantial regression” if their services are not continued during the break.

The regulations don’t detail how to determine if a child is in danger of substantial regression, leaving it to each student’s Committee on Special Education—the group that writes a student’s IEP and can consist of a general education teacher, a psychologist, a school administrator, a special education teacher and the student’s parents—to decide whether such a risk exists. This lets a student’s committee judge that student’s progress on its own terms, but the process can leave educators and parents uncertain.

“It’s very individualized, where you’re looking at a student over the course of time,” Maggie Moroff, Advocates for Children’s special education policy coordinator, says.

According to Kim Sweet, the organization’s executive director, students who would benefit from 12-month services may not always get what they require.

“The danger of regression is amplified for many students with disabilities, and if there’s a likelihood of substantial regression, they need to prove it,” Sweet says. “If they go two months without the services, they might regress, but it can be very hard to get that special ed support over the summer.”

Sweet said that sometimes the school system is unable to provide the services dictated by a student’s IEP, recalling a situation where a student’s 12-month plan was changed to 10 months because the student’s school district determined it couldn’t provide help over the summer break.

Most—but not all—students with 12-month plans are enrolled in District 75, a collection of schools and service facilities throughout New York City that offer specialized support for students with more severe disabilities.

Liz Pardo, an attorney at Sinergia’s Metropolitan Parent Center who often works with parents of students with disabilities, said that parents are sometimes told during IEP meetings that students in neighborhood schools are not eligible for a full year of services because the student is not enrolled in a District 75 school—despite the student’s legal right to that help.

“They’re psychologists and special education teachers. They’re not attorneys or advocates,” she says. “What they know of students’ rights is what they’ve been practicing.”

Classroom setting must fit

Federal law requires that students with disabilities must be educated in the “least restrictive environment” (LRE) possible, and if a student with a disability can learn in a general education setting, the school district must provide whatever is necessary to ensure that happens. In 2013, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that the LRE mandate applied to 12-month IEPs, and not only during the regular school year.

In the past, the DOE would often send students from neighborhood schools with 12-month service plans to District 75 schools during the summer, claiming that the services students required were not available in the local schools. But that meant students who could learn in a general-education environment were often being taught in spaces and classes designed for students with more severe disabilities.

In response to the Second Circuit’s decision, earlier this year the DOE announced that students enrolled in neighborhood schools should not be sent to District 75 schools during the summer.

“This was an important development that will help ensure students are getting the services and support they need in the best environment possible,” Harry Hartfield, the DOE’s deputy press secretary, says.

Levine said that Advocates for Children had seen a drop in neighborhood school students going to District 75 schools for the summer, suggesting the DOE’s policy shift was bearing fruit. But she noted that families of students with disabilities enrolled in neighborhood schools were still being told that 12-month services were not available to those students.

“They’re told ‘because you’re in a neighborhood school, you can’t have summer services,'” she says. “Perhaps as schools become familiar with neighborhood schools with summer services, they’ll have more understanding that it’s a possibility for students who need them.”

Resources are the obstacle

Other policy changes could also help. In 2011, the DOE unveiled the Special Education Student Information System (SESIS), an online database with a profile for each special education student. On the SESIS, an educator can find a student’s IEP, evaluations and the classes and services the student has received. Though plagued with glitches and criticism, Levine says that such a system was sorely needed.

“We used to have situations where (a student’s) file would just go missing, and the student wouldn’t get a 12-month IEP,” she says. “The database has a lot of potential, and the DOE is hoping to expand on that potential.”

Moroff said that the lack of resources at the neighborhood school level was always going to be an obstacle for substantive, system-wide care for all students with disabilities.

“I do think the DOE has a ways to go; they’re working very hard to offer services for students with disabilities,” she says. “It’s a great goal, but the devil is in the details.”

* * * *
This is the final story in City Limits’ summer-long series on the “summer slide”—the fear that students, particularly in low-income households, will lose ground during the summer break and the myriad efforts underway to prevent that. Read the rest of the series here.
* * * *

Singapore to hold snap election on September 11

Singapore will hold a snap general election on September 11, officials said Tuesday as Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong seeks a new mandate from voters worried over immigration and the high cost of living.

Despite a slowing economy the People’s Action Party (PAP), which has ruled for more than 50 years thanks to strict political controls and Singaporeans’ rising affluence, is expected to keep its overwhelming majority in parliament against a fragmented opposition.

But the party will be under pressure to improve on its electoral performance in 2011, when it won just 60 percent of votes cast — its lowest-ever share — despite retaining 80 of the 87 seats in a block-voting system.

It will be the first election without the prime minister’s hugely influential father, independence leader Lee Kuan Yew, who died in March.

The election department set the shortest possible campaigning period of nine days after President Tony Tan dissolved parliament at the prime minister’s request.

Lee, who has been in power for 11 years and had until January 2017 to hold an election, sought support in a Facebook post.

This photo taken on August 9, 2015 shows Singaporeansnbsp;hellip;

“I called this general election to seek your mandate to take Singapore beyond SG50, into its next half century,” he said, referring to the 50th anniversary of independence from Malaysia.

Singapore celebrated half a century as a republic on August 9 with a massive parade which highlighted its rapid economic development and stability under PAP rule.

All eyes will be on whether the opposition can gain more than the seven seats it currently holds.

– Watershed election –

“I would say this would be the watershed election after independence because we will see whether Singapore moves in a definitive manner towards a two-party system,” said analyst Eugene Tan, an associate law professor at the Singapore Management University.

Singapores satisfaction rating on the cost ofnbsp;hellip;

A survey by local research firm Blackbox said the government enjoyed a “satisfaction index” of 76.4 percent in July after peaking at 80 percent in April following Lee Kuan Yew’s death, which triggered an outpouring of grief and stirred patriotism.

But its satisfaction rating on the cost of living in July stood at just 42 percent, housing affordability at 53 percent, public transport at 57 percent and population management at 61 percent.

An influx of foreign workers and immigrants as the local birthrate declined has seen the population surge from 4.17 million in 2004 to 5.47 million last year, of whom over 2.46 million are eligible Singaporean voters.

Middle-class Singaporeans complain that newcomers are competing with them for jobs and housing while straining public services like mass transport.

After the 2011 election the government invested billions of dollars in building new public housing flats and metro lines while curbing the intake of foreign workers and immigrants.

Rights groups have long criticised the PAP, particularlynbsp;hellip;

Michael Barr, a Singapore politics researcher at Flinders University in Australia, said the PAP had no doubts about being re-elected. “But they are worried about losing more seats than the last time, which was a record for the opposition.”

However the main opposition Workers’ Party has indicated it will contest only 28 of the 89 seats in the next parliament, with weaker parties fighting the PAP in the rest.

“Most of the opposition will simply secure a protest vote,” said local analyst Derek da Cunha.

Singapore is now one of the world’s richest cities, boasting top-notch education, health care and high-tech industries and financial institutions that attract workers and executives from around the world.

But rights groups have long criticised the PAP, particularly under Lee Kuan Yew, for jailing dissidents and driving political opponents to self-exile or financial ruin as a result of costly libel suits.

Singapore continues to impose strict rules on free speech and assembly, but social media have undermined the government’s control over information and political debate.

Braema Mathi, president of independent human rights group Maruah, said the PAP has largely abandoned its “big stick approach” under the younger Lee, a British-educated former army brigadier general.

Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. using state funding increase to hire staff …

Posted: Monday, August 24, 2015 10:39 pm

Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. using state funding increase to hire staff, booster pay

By Jeff Parrott South Bend Tribune

Penn-Harris-Madison School Corp. fared well in this year’s Indiana General Assembly and plans to hire more staff and boost pay for existing personnel in 2016, administrators said Monday.

The corporation will advertise a General Fund of about $67.9 million for calendar year 2016, a 4.9 percent increase from this year’s roughly $64.8 million.

P-H-M Superintendent Jerry Thacker, as a member of Families for Fair Funding, helped lobby the legislature earlier this year to increase funding for suburban school districts.

Associate Superintendent Denise Seger projects enrollment for the new school year at 10,700, noting that’s a preliminary estimate and won’t be finalized until Sept. 18. P-H-M has managed to largely sustain its enrollment in recent years, despite aging demographics in its district, by adding more nonresident students.

Nonresident enrollment has increased tenfold over the past five years, rising from 109 in 2010-11 to 1,002 this year.

P-H-M held its annual budget work session Monday night. Board member Gary Fox noted that nonresident students are now bringing in about $6 million a year in state funding, nearly 10 percent of the corporation’s budget.

The corporation only allows nonresident students if at least one child in the family is in kindergarten through grade two.

“It’s a large increase from where we were at and we continue to look at growth there,” Seger said.

The corporation is spending about $1 million of its new revenue on hiring additional staff to make elementary class sizes smaller, and about $400,000 on anticipated health insurance premium increases, Seger said.

Exact figures on how many new teachers and aides have been hired this school year were not available Monday, said P-H-M spokeswoman Lucha Ramey. Thacker declined to provide details on hiring and pay raise plans, citing his desire to maintain leverage in collective bargaining with teachers that begins Wednesday.

Staff received an average 2 percent pay raise for the 2014-15 school year, and flat $1,000 raises in 2013-14, Thacker said. They received no salary increases in 2010, 2011 or 2012. In 2010 and 2011, staff did receive bonuses equal to 1 percent of their salaries.

For all the upbeat figures, there was one area of concern. The corporation’s Rainy Day Fund, which has been used largely for professional development and teacher stipends in recent years, has dwindled from $6 million in 2006 to $3.8 million last year. Seger projected it to fall to $3.2 this year and $2.6 million next year under a “worse case scenario.”

Seger said the state’s Circuit Breaker property tax caps have restricted the types of revenue that can be placed into the fund. She noted that the corporation still has about $7 million in its General Fund cash reserves.

Still, board president Chris Riley asked the administration to develop a plan for shoring up the Rainy Day Fund before it ultimately runs out.

The board will hold a public hearing Sept. 8 on the 2016 budget and await state approval in January or February.

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Monday, August 24, 2015 10:39 pm.




Indiana General Assembly,

Denise Seger,

Penn-harris-madison School Corp.

Probe investigates secular education practices of ultra-Orthodox Jewish schools – New York’s PIX11 / WPIX

BROOKLYN — By the time he was 20 years old, Naftuli Moster says he didn’t even know what an essay was, let alone how to write one.

“I didn’t know the very basics, what I would be taught in elementary, high school,” said Moster.

He says the curriculum at his Brooklyn Yeshiva focused almost entirely on religious texts taught in Yiddish or Hebrew.

“English or math or science or history, none of that is taught.”

While girls find a little more balance in the curriculum, Moster says boys in the ultra- Orthadox communities of Williamsburg, Borough Park, and Midwood are almost completely cut off from general education at 13 years of age.

“My experience represents the majority of the community.” Which is why Moster started the group Young Advocates for Fair Education or YAFFED.

Last month, the group sent a letter to the Department of Education signed by more than 50 parents, students, and teachers from almost 40 schools in Brooklyn and Queens. Now the DOE says it’s investigating.

In a statement, a spokesperson said: “We take seriously our responsibility to ensure that all students in New York receive an appropriate education, and we will investigate all allegations that are brought to our attention.”

“The investigation alone is not enough,” said Moster. “The question is what’s going to come after the investigation. And I would appreciate it if the DOE was a little clearer on what they want to do. What kind of questions are they asking? What kind of proof are they going to look for? And if they contacted us we could actually guide them on that.”

State law requires schools to teach English, math, science, history, and several other subjects.

Yeshivas, Catholic and other private schools fall under the same requirements, but get very little oversight even though they receive public funding.
Moster says it’s not about criticizing the curriculum, but rather ensuring that future generations don’t have to face the same challenges he had to overcome.

“They can teach the Jewish studies, which I believe are important. I gained a lot from learning those studies as well. But at the same time it shouldn’t come at the expense of no secular studies.”

Apple’s Tim Cook Says Student Have Right to ‘Great Public Education’

Tuskegee Public School in Alabama is among 114 others in 29 states that are starting the school year with Apple iPads, technology that many children haven’t experienced before.

Apple CEO Tim Cook is focusing on an academic revolution that aims to prepare these students for the 21st century.

The tech giant is part of the White House initiative known as ConnectED. The goal of the program is to connect 99 percent of U.S. schools to good technology.

Cook spoke with “Good Morning America” co-anchor Robin Roberts about the company’s goals within the program.

“I think technology has to be a key part [of education] and that’s why we’re here,” Cook said. “Too many times today kids aren’t given the right for a great public education and this isn’t right. It’s not fair.

“I wouldn’t be where I am today without a great public education,” added Cook, who was named CEO of Apple in 2011.

The technology will help children learn better in the 21st century, Cook said.

“Kids today, they’re born in a digital world, but too many kids, when it comes time for the 8 o’clock bell to ring, go to an analog world,” he said. “It’s not engaging.”

The teachers are already noticing a difference.

“It means a lot to me, because you can do a lot at a faster rate,” one Tuskegee Public School teacher told Roberts. “It’s hands-on with everything in them … Last year we didn’t have that. But this is day seven, eight, and we did a whole lot.”

When President Obama announced ConnectED in June 2013, many wondered how to make it work and how to judge its success.

“I think you look for a lot of things,” Cook said when asked how the program’s success would be measured. “You look for engagement and you look for how many kids move on to higher education then, so that education is something they desire.”

Roberts also asked Cook, 54, about when the country would see more diversity in Apple and in the wider technology industry.

“It’s a really good question. There’s not a simple answer,” Cook said. “One is, there has to be more role models. I think technology in general has not done a great job of establishing role models. I think technology in general has not done a great job of establishing role models, and so that’s changing.

“That’s critically important,” he said.

Diversity is important, Cook, said, because “inclusion and diversity inspires innovation. And so we actually make better products because we’re more diverse.”

As for what the young students now using an iPad for the first time should do with the new-to-them technology, Cook had three words.

“Explore, discover, create,” he said.

Newest Harford teachers gear up for fast approaching first day of school

After two years of teaching children with special needs, who were in her Cecil County classrooms with their general-education peers, Karley Macomber will be a full-time special education teacher in Harford County, working with sixth graders in Magnolia Middle School in Joppa, when the 2016-17 school year starts Aug. 27.

Though students still have a few days of summer vacation left, the 2,500 teachers in Harford County Public Schools have no such luxury.

lRelated New teachers
Fallston / JoppaNew teachersSee all related

Macomber is one of 15 new teachers at Magnolia. They have spent the past week in professional development meetings for new teachers, and next week there will be professional development for all Harford County teachers, Macomber said.

“[We’re] just learning the Harford County school system and getting set up,” she said, as she worked at her new school Thursday morning.

Ora Dunham is another veteran teacher making her debut at Magnolia Middle School this year; she will teach eighth grade physical science.

Dunham spent six years teaching in Woodbridge, Va., Columbus, Ga., and Mississippi. She has also served in the Army.

She has taught math and science to sixth- and seventh-graders, but this year is the first she will teach physical science, which involves chemistry, as well as principles of motion and the science behind electricity and mathematics.

“It’ll be a learning experience for me as well as the students,” she said.

Magnolia Middle Principal Melissa Mickey, who is starting her seventh year at Magnolia, said the school will have 750 to 770 students in sixth through eighth grades.

“The staff here is very supportive of each other, so there is always somebody to go to for questions, somebody to go to for help,” Mickey said.

Macomber was a first-grade and later a fifth-grade classroom teacher at Leeds Elementary School in Elkton.

“I loved that time and watching them make progress and meet goals they set for themselves, it was so rewarding,” she said.

Macomber will specialize in sixth-grade language arts at Magnolia, where she will co-teach alongside language arts teachers in four separate classes, and then she will have her own class with special-needs students.

“I’ll be mostly in someone else’s classroom, co-teaching with them,” she said.

Macomber, 24, lives in Bel Air. She is a 2008 graduate of C. Milton Wright High School and received her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Salisbury University in 2012.

“I’ve always wanted to be a teacher, and I felt like I had great teachers growing up,” she said. Two of her cousins and a sister-in-law are teachers, too.

“I grew up going to school in Harford County, and I was really lucky to have great teachers and a great experience,” she said.

Macomber noted the challenges of making a transition from general education to special education and from elementary school to middle school, but she said she feels as if she has enough support from fellow staffers.

“I’m excited to be here,” she said. “I’m excited to start.”

The faculty and staff at Magnolia Middle have been supportive and making offers to help her get set up, she said.

“It’s a good feeling, being in a school where you know if you need help, somebody’s willing to help you.”

Macomber said she has learned the skills for teaching students with special needs during her time in college, on the job in Cecil County and through professional development provided by Harford County Public Schools.

She will work with students who have a variety of physical, emotional and mental needs.

“You have to know the students and know what their needs are and differentiate your lesson for what the students need,” she said.

Macomber stressed that “you can’t always teach one way if you want to reach all your learners.”

She said teaching fifth-graders for a full year helps with the transition to working with middle school students.

“I loved that age, so I knew that just going one step farther would be really enjoyable, and it’s where I wanted to be,” she said.

Macomber said middle schoolers are “definitely at an impressionable age, so as a teacher, working with those students makes you want to be a good role model for them and help them.”

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun

Early childhood health targeted as path to better education

Miguelina Matista, right, benefited from early-childhood programs for her daughter, Nicaury, and son, Noel, seven years ago. Now she is volunteering to let other Danbury parents know about free programs offered through social service agencies.
Jodie Mozdzer Gil — Conn. Health Investigative Team

Experts are focusing more money and attention on the health of young children in Connecticut in an effort to prepare them to be successful in school later on.

The efforts include developmental screenings at child-care centers; home visits and information hot lines for parents; better collaboration with pediatricians; and more support for preschool staff members dealing with emotional and behavioral issues.

The idea is that if a child’s basic health needs aren’t met, he or she won’t be able to keep up with academic and social expectations in school.

“There’s been a huge interest in addressing early-childhood development with the understanding that’s where we get the most bang for the buck,” said Lisa Honigfeld, vice president for health initiatives at The Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut.

In the last 10 years, there has been “an explosion” of federal funds for early-childhood initiatives to get children on track early and prevent spending on remediation down the road, Honigfeld said.

The Connecticut legislature in 2014 approved the Office of Early Childhood, which combines services for children from birth to age 8. The United Way has been running the Child Development Infoline to provide free information to parents and caretakers, and private foundations are financing many early-childhood health initiatives.

The Problems

Several early-childhood initiatives stem from a concern for educational goals, but many have shifted to focus on health needs such as nutrition, dental care and, more frequently, mental health issues.

“This idea of health used to be really around your blood pressure or do you have a fever,” said Hector Glynn, vice president of programs for The Village for Families and Children, a Hartford agency that has several early-childhood and prenatal programs. “Now the concept of health is so much broader.”

A look at children’s health measures — such as obesity levels, asthma rates and birth weight — show that there is room for improvement in Connecticut.

Almost a third of Connecticut students in kindergarten and third grade in 2010-11 were overweight or obese, according to state Department of Public Health data. Connecticut has a higher childhood asthma rate (11.3 percent) than the national average (9.4 percent), according to a 2012 state report on asthma in Connecticut. DPH statistics show 7.9 percent of children born in 2012 were considered of low birth weight.

Doctors also report that mental health issues are increasing among young children.

“When I started practicing, I might see a case of some behavioral health problem one time every six weeks,” said Dr. Gerald Calnen, who was a pediatrician in Enfield for 38 years. “By the time I retired, I was seeing two to three cases a day.”

Poor academic performance in children often is linked to health and emotional problems, Honigfeld said. A 20-year study released in July showed connections between positive social development in kindergartners and their likelihood of graduating high school or college and becoming employed as young adults.

“We recognize children arriving at school not ready to learn largely have health problems, largely have social-emotional problems,” Honingfeld said.

Influx of Money

That’s why 14 foundations formed a collaborative in 2011 through the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy to direct money toward a comprehensive early-childhood system.

They’ve pooled about $400,000 since 2011, and individual foundations have given $25 million to early-childhood causes in the same period, said Maggie Gunther Osborn, president of the Connecticut Council for Philanthropy.

The William Caspar Graustein Memorial Fund, a member of the collaborative, has been giving early-childhood education grants through its Discovery Communities program since the early 2000s. Last year, 53 communities received an average of $50,000 each, said Nancy Leonard, the public policy program officer for the fund.

In 2009, the fund offered several grants for communities to start focusing on children’s health issues, resulting in long-term plans. Through its plan, Enfield and the Key Initiatives to Early Education group hosted a forum for all Enfield pediatricians in 2010.

“We talked to them about developmental screening,” said Calnen, who is a member of KITE. “Turns out, as important as it is, nationwide too many pediatricians aren’t doing it. We wanted to find out why that was and how we could encourage the pediatricians to do them in their office.”

Many doctors, Calnen said, don’t have enough time to complete screenings, which could discover development problems, but add about 30 minutes to checkups. So KITE started working with child-care centers and preschools to encourage them to share results of their screenings.

At Opportunity Knocks, an early-childhood coalition in Middletown, nutrition consultant Monica Belyea is working to get local companies to offer space for new mothers to pump breast milk at work, citing studies that breast milk improves infant health.

Her group also has been supporting preschool teachers in an effort to reduce suspensions. Two consultants visit classrooms and give advice on how to address behavioral issues, which Belyea said are increasing every year.

There were 106 children in the preschools identified as at-risk this past year, she said. With the help from the consultants, no students were suspended or put on a reduced schedule, she said.

“Teachers have a lot of skills to support kids with normal, challenging preschool behavior,” Belyea said. “What we’re seeing is more kids coming in with trauma and challenging home situations.”

Danbury’s Promise for Children has recruited parent volunteers to spread the word about free services available in the city. On a recent July afternoon, three women chatted with customers at the Danbury Farmers Market about the services. About 20 parents are part of the group, and many speak English and Spanish to reach more parents, coordinator Elizabeth Quinonez said.

“This kind of program helped me to be a better mom,” said Miguelina Matista, a Danbury resident who began receiving early-childhood services seven years ago.

Home Visits, Information Sharing

Home visits are becoming common in many early-childhood initiatives. Child First sends counselors into homes to give families trauma therapy. The federal Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visits program guides families through parenting issues.

“We focus on parenting skills, making them understand what their child development looks like,” said Glynn at The Village, whose staff visits more than 100 families through its programs.

The state Office of Early Childhood is working to organize all home-visitation programs. The state recently set up an Early Childhood Information System to track health and learning data so policy-makers and experts can address issues.

Efforts like CHDI’s Early Childhood Data Institute seek to bring more data — once relegated to forms in a file cabinet at day-care centers — into a centralized system.

“A lot of things have gotten in the way of exact children tracking: confidentiality issues, inability of state agencies to share data,” Honigfeld said. “We’re just starting to make some headway on overcoming those barriers.”

This story was reported under a partnership with the Connecticut Health I-Team (