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Colorado school shooting puzzles officials; victim is in coma

16 Dec

Two days after the shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, the wounded student, Claire Davis, was in a coma at Littleton Adventist Hospital, her family said in a statement released through the hospital’s Facebook page Sunday evening.

“The first responders got Claire to the right place, at the right time, and the doctors and hospital staff are doing a wonderful job taking care of her,” said the statement, which requested privacy. “We appreciate your continued good thoughts and prayers, and will provide updates as her condition improves.”

  • Also
  • Arapahoe High community rallies behind gunshot victim Claire Davis

    Arapahoe High community rallies behind gunshot victim Claire Davis

  • Gun control advocates take new look at strategy

    Gun control advocates take new look at strategy

  • Bells toll as nation marks anniversary of Sandy Hook school shooting

    Bells toll as nation marks anniversary of Sandy Hook school shooting

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, in an appearance on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday, said that a shotgun blast hit Claire in the face and that he had visited her and her family in the hospital.

“Her parents are two of the most wonderful people you could ever hope to meet,” Hickenlooper said. “You know, they adopted her. I mean, they are beside themselves, and, really, we all have to keep Claire in our thoughts and our prayers. Her parents … I can’t imagine what they’re going through. It’s unspeakable.”

Claire may not have been a premeditated target, Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said at a Saturday news conference. She was in “the wrong place at the wrong time” when Karl Halverson Pierson, 18, stalked through the high school with a shotgun Friday, he said.

The pair didn’t appear to interact before Pierson shot her, Robinson said. Authorities said Pierson unsuccessfully searched the school for a librarian who had been his debate coach before he set off a Molotov cocktail that ignited bookshelves in the library and then killed himself.

Robinson told reporters Sunday that investigators had wrapped up their investigation at the high school and would be releasing the facility back to the school district soon.

Hickenlooper, a Democrat who pushed successfully for universal background checks for in-state gun purchases and for limited magazine sizes, seemed almost at a loss in his “Face the Nation” interview.

Because Pierson was 18, he was able to buy his shotgun legally; a sheriff’s deputy was in the building when the shooting began; and Pierson didn’t exactly stand out among other students as a possible gunman, Hickenlooper said.

“He didn’t seem to have a mental illness. He had a lot of friends. He was outspoken. There have been a couple stories that he was bullied, and that’s a recurring theme we see sometimes with these shootings. But, again, there’s no rhyme or reason,” Hickenlooper said.

He added: “We’ve invested over $20 million the last legislative session in mental illness. So we’ve got, you know, 24/7 hot lines. We’ve got mobile crisis centers. We’ve got 24/7 drop-in centers, really trying to — to intercept people with mental illness before they can cause damage to themselves or to others. And — and yet somehow this kid didn’t exhibit any of those symptoms.”

A student who was on the debate team with Pierson, however, said that his friends were concerned about Pierson’s behavior.

Larson Ross, 18, a debate team captain, said Pierson had become angrier since his argument with the debate coach in September.

“It seemed like he was attacking people to try and elicit a response, and in doing so he would put himself above that person on a mental level,” Ross said. “It started making it tough for a lot of people to be his friend.”

Changes in Pierson were so apparent, Ross said, that his friends were talking about whether they needed to tell someone that he might be “going off the edge.”

One hour after that discussion, Pierson burst into the school with a shotgun.

matt.pearce@latimes.com

Times staff writer Saba Hamedy in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

Newtown marks anniversary of school killings

14 Dec

(CNN) — The people of Newtown, Connecticut, on Saturday are remembering a tragedy that convulsed the nation one year ago.

A socially awkward young man walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School with a rifle on December 14, 2012. Adam Lanza gunned down 20 children, ages 6 and 7, and six adults at the school. Then he killed himself.

The people in this community of 28,000 in the southwest part of the state hope to grieve in private. Town leaders have asked the news media to stay away.

Ken Henggeler started this memorial to the victims of the shooting at the intersection of Main Street and Sugar Street in Newtown, Connecticut. Ken Henggeler started this memorial to the victims of the shooting at the intersection of Main Street and Sugar Street in Newtown, Connecticut.

People pay their respects on Monday, December 17, at a memorial to the victims of an elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.People pay their respects on Monday, December 17, at a memorial to the victims of an elementary school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.

Teddy bears show the names of some of the victims at a makeshift memorial in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 17.Teddy bears show the names of some of the victims at a makeshift memorial in Newtown, Connecticut, on December 17.

Newtown resident Palmer Chiaepetta walks with his sons Jonathan and Jackson as the American flag flies at half-staff in Newtown, Connecticut, on Sunday, December 16, two days after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.Newtown resident Palmer Chiaepetta walks with his sons Jonathan and Jackson as the American flag flies at half-staff in Newtown, Connecticut, on Sunday, December 16, two days after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Names of victims are displayed on a flag in the business area of Newtown, Connecticut, on December 16.Names of victims are displayed on a flag in the business area of Newtown, Connecticut, on December 16.

Two people embrace near a makeshift memorial in Newtown, Connecticut, on Saturday, December 15.Two people embrace near a makeshift memorial in Newtown, Connecticut, on Saturday, December 15.


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Photos: Newtown grievesPhotos: Newtown grieves


Newtown mom reflects on anniversary


New details about Sandy Hook tragedy


Newtown: One year later


Honoring the Children – Newtown One Year Later

“There’s an emotional and economic toll that we pay when the media descends on us, so we ask for your forbearance after today and respectfully request that you allow us a time of peace and quiet,” said Pat Llodra, the town’s first selectman, a role similar to that of mayor.

In Washington, President Obama and the first lady observed a moment of silence and lit candles in honor of those lost in the massacre. Obama devoted his weekly address on Saturday to the one-year anniversary of the shooting.

“As parents, as Americans, the news filled us with grief,” Obama said in his address. “Newtown is a town like so many of our hometowns. The victims were educators and kids that could have been any of our own. And our hearts were broken for the families that lost a piece of their heart; for the communities changed forever; for the survivors, so young, whose innocence was torn away far too soon.”

Obama honored the “impossibly brave” Newtown parents “who stepped forward in the hopes that they might spare others their heartbreak. And they were joined by millions of Americans — mothers and fathers; sisters and brothers — who refused to accept these acts of violence as somehow inevitable.”

“Over the past year, their voices have sustained us. And their example has inspired us — to be better parents and better neighbors; to give our children everything they need to face the world without fear; to meet our responsibilities not just to our own families, but to our communities. More than the tragedy itself, that’s how Newtown will be remembered,” Obama said.

Many news organizations said they’ll honor that request by not reporting in the city of Newtown itself, but that was before Friday’s shooting at Arapahoe High in Colorado. The news value of Newtown has gone up. CNN will air a documentary about Newtown at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday.

Media vow to remember Newtown tragedy in respectful manner

Nobody knows why Lanza, 20, killed the children and adults at the school, his mother at the home they shared, and himself. He had attended the school briefly, but that was years ago.

Last month, Connecticut’s state attorney’s office released its official report that tried to piece together what happened. The investigation provided some insights into the life and actions of the gunman, but his motive remains a mystery.

The report suggested that improving the delivery of mental health care to those with chronic mental illness may be an important element in reducing certain acts of violence, and that mass shooters are not “enthralled” with violent video games.

After Newtown, mental health gains prominence in gun debate

The unanswered questions deepen the tragedy of Newtown, the second-deadliest school shooting in U.S. history, following the April 2007 slaying of 32 people at Virginia Tech.

The shootings also caused a renewal of the debate over gun control. Obama addressed that issue in his Saturday remarks.

“We haven’t yet done enough to make our communities and our country safer. We have to do more to keep dangerous people from getting their hands on a gun so easily. We have to do more to heal troubled minds. We have to do everything we can to protect our children from harm and make them feel loved, and valued, and cared for,” he said.

“As a nation, we can’t stop every act of violence. We can’t heal every troubled mind. But if we want to live in a country where we can go to work, send our kids to school, and walk our streets free from fear, we have to keep trying. We have to keep caring. We have to treat every child like they’re our child. Like those in Sandy Hook, we must choose love. And together, we must make a change.”

Newtown a year later



http://www.cnn.com/2013/12/14/us/newtown-anniversary/

Sheriff: Colo. school shooting suspect identified

14 Dec

One teen was wounded and two others suffered minor injuries Friday at a suburban Denver high school after a fellow student seeking revenge against a teacher opened fire with a shotgun before taking his own life, authorities said.

The shootings — on the eve of the anniversary of the Newtown school massacre, in which 20 students and six staffers were murdered — sent scores of terrified students and staffers at Centennial’s Arapahoe High School scurrying at about 12:30 p.m. Police and other first responders quickly mobilized to surround the 2,220-student school.

A 15year-old girl suffered a gunshot wound and was reported in critical condition at a Littleton hospital Friday evening.One other student suffered minor gunshot-related injuries and was released from the hospital hours later, authorities said. Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson said Friday night that another girl taken to a hospital was covered in blood from the other student, but wasn’t injured.

Sheriff Robinson identified the student who opened fire in Colorado school as Karl Halverson Pierson, 18.

The gunman also brought two Molotov cocktails inside the school and exploded one, KUSA-TV reported. The other was found and removed by the bomb squad.

The incident unfolded when the armed student entered the west side of the school from a student parking lot. He told other students he was interested in confronting a specific teacher. “Word got around immediately,” Robinson said.

The teacher, informed of the situation, fled the building unharmed, said Robinson, who noted that the teacher’s decision to flee helped limit the potential carnage.

The sheriff did not elaborate on any possible motive except to say Pierson had had a “confrontation or disagreement” with the teacher.

Many students locked themselves in classrooms until first responders arrived. Some said they heard several gunshots in a hallway near the school library.

“We were shaking, we were crying, we were freaking out,” 9th grader Whitney Riley told CNN.

ON THE SCENE?: Share your photos, videos if you can do so safely

Robinson said it appears that the shooter acted alone. He said investigators would also examine whether the timing was tied to Newtown. They were also trying to determine whether the suspect had planted an explosive device at the school.

Following the shooting, scores of students calmly exited the building, single file, with their hands above their heads. They gathered on a school track at about 1:30 p.m. Frightened parents were told to go to Shepherd of the Hills Lutheran Church where they were to reunite with their kids.

In a statement, Gov. John Hickenlooper slammed the shootings and praised first responders.

“This is an unspeakable horror and something no child, no family should have to endure. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Arapahoe High School community and those affected by this senseless act of violence,” Hickenlooper said. “We thank law enforcement and first responders for their swift work. All of Colorado is with you.”

The Denver area has witnessed two of the nation’s worst mass shootings. In July 2012, 12 people were shot to death and more than 60 injured at an Aurora movie theater. James Holmes, a University of Colorado graduate school dropout, has been charged in the shootings and is under psychiatric evaluation.

Nearby Columbine High School was the site of a 1999 massacre in which 12 students and a teacher were slain and 24 others were wounded or injured before the shooters, both Columbine students, committed suicide.

Contributing: Natalie DiBlasio and Michael Winter, USA TODAY.







http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2013/12/13/two-reported-injured-in-colorado-high-school-shooting/4014393/

Officials search home, car of Colo. school gunman

14 Dec

Denver authorities on Saturday searched the home and car of the gunman who opened fire at a high school, critically injuring a 17-year-old girl before he shot and killed himself.

Arapahoe County Sheriff Grayson Robinson told The Denver Post investigators were interviewing students, teachers and staff members Saturday in an effort to learn every tiny detail about the shooting at Arapahoe High School. Officials have identified the gunman as 18-year-old Karl Pierson.

“We will interview hundreds of people,” Robinson said Saturday morning. “We are going to do it right.”

Tracy Murphy, a librarian and debate team coach, is believed to have been the gunman’s target in the shooting.

According to KUSA-TV in Denver, Murphy implemented “active-shooter protocols” after he learned that Pierson was armed with a shotgun and asking for him on Friday. Murphy then left the scene, a move Robinson said may have helped to limit the potential carnage.

Robinson also heaped praise Saturday on a school resource officer who responded immediately after the first shots were fired.

“He found (Pierson’s) body within five minutes,” Robinson told the Post. “Not only did he know what he was doing but he was very courageous.”

On Friday night, Robinson would not elaborate on any possible motive except to say Pierson, who was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, had had a “confrontation or disagreement” with the teacher.

An Arapahoe County deputy escorted Murphy home to pick up a few belongings on Friday night. Murphy declined to talk about the shooting. What he has to say about his interactions with Pierson likely will be a key part of the investigation.

The 17-year-old girl who suffered a gunshot wound and remained in critical condition on Saturday. Two other students suffered minor injuries.

On Saturday, students were able to return to the high school for the first time since being evacuated during the shooting Friday afternoon. They picked up their cars, but they were not allowed to go inside the school, which remains a crime scene. The school was surrounded in yellow crime scene tape.

It is unknown when students will be allowed back into the school to pick up their backpacks, cellphones or other items left behind. Classes are canceled on Monday. Finals were scheduled to start Tuesday, but those also have been canceled.

“Communication about final exams will come as we have more information, but they will not occur in any format until after the holiday break,” according to a letter from the Arapahoe High School Administrative Team.

The shooting — on the eve of the first anniversary of the Newtown school massacre, in which 20 students and six staffers were killed — sent scores of terrified students and staffers at Centennial’s Arapahoe High School scurrying at about 12:30 p.m. Police and other first responders quickly mobilized to surround the 2,220-student school.

The gunman also brought two Molotov cocktails inside the school and exploded one, KUSA-TV reported. The other was found and removed by the bomb squad.

The incident unfolded when the armed student entered the west side of the school from a student parking lot. He told other students he was interested in confronting a specific teacher.

Many students locked themselves in classrooms until first responders arrived. Some said they heard several gunshots in a hallway near the school library.

“We were shaking, we were crying, we were freaking out,” 9th grader Whitney Riley told CNN.

Jessica Girard was in math class when she said she heard three shots.

“Then there was a bunch of yelling, and then I think one of the people who had been shot was yelling in the hallway, ‘Make it stop,’ ” she said.

Contributing: KUSA-TV, Denver; Associated Press

http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/12/14/colorado-shooting-debate-teacher/4023553/

Newtown anniversary: School in Chicago suburb leads the way in keeping kids …

13 Dec

NBC’s Jeff Rossen reports on an elementary school in Niles, Ill., that is using technology in a number of innovative ways to safeguard itself.

Don’t visit Viola Nelson Elementary School in Niles, Ill., if there’s a warrant out for your arrest. All guests must present a photo i.d. before they can get past the staffer at the school’s locked doors, and when they do a computer runs an instant criminal background check.

As the anniversary of Newtown looms, security experts say the grade school in suburban Chicago is a model of the sort of technology, security training and forethought that can prevent a worst-case scenario.

“What the Nelson School is doing is absolutely correct,” said safety consultant Sal Lifrieri, a former director of security at the New York City Office of Emergency Management. “They understand the reality and are taking the steps necessary to protect students.”


For complete coverage of the Newtown anniversary, click here.

“We’re not expecting schools to do the impossible, we’re expecting them to do what’s reasonable,” said Dr. Ronald Stephens, executive director of the National School Safety Center, “and this is a good example of that.”

East Maine School District 63 has committed $5 million to add extra security to Nelson and its six other schools, which together serve more than 3,600 students.

Visitors to Nelson find that when they go through the school’s front doors, they’re actually entering a security vestibule. On the other side of the vestibule are the doors to the school area itself, which are locked. Inside the vestibule is a window where visitors must present their i.d. to a secretary.

After the background check, via software called Raptor, an approved visitor gets an ID badge.  In case of an emergency, the secretary can pull down a bullet-resistant gate. The secretary can also hit a panic-button under her desk and alert local police. In fact, there’s a panic button in every single classroom.

Students at Viola H. Nelson Elementary School in suburban Chicago. The school has instituted a security plan that includes instant background checks for visitors and lockdown drills.

Nelson Principal Jean LeBlanc said the technology doesn’t interfere with the school’s mission.

“Most of what we have in place here, the kids don’t really even notice,” said LeBlanc. “They don’t necessarily see all the things that we have in place. They just focus on student learning.”

At least as important as Raptor and the panic buttons, however, are the measures that require very little technology, like lockdown drills, which Nelson Elementary conducts on a regular basis. Security experts say that lockdown drills are the most effective protection against intruders.

Students are trained to stay close to each other and to their teacher during “Code Red” lockdowns. They’re supposed to gather in a corner and stay out of sight and silent. Classroom doors are locked, the shades come down, and the lights go off.

Two students told NBC News that the drills made them feel safe.

A fifth-grade boy named Blez said he felt safer than in his old school because his old school didn’t have the drills.

Olivia, also in fifth grade, said she understood why the drills were necessary. “It was pretty terrifying and sad what happened to Sandy Hook,” she said. “The world is kind of scary, so it can happen, and we have to be prepared.”

But security experts noted that school security is about much more than school shootings, which, though tragic, are rare.

Said Lifrieri, “On a daily basis schools deal with sexual predators, custodial interference, and other dangerous matters. …These systems like (background) checks and lockdown drills are very effective to combat these risks.”

At one of the schools in Nelson Elementary’s district, in fact, the new Raptor software addressed one of those risks. The background check system identified a deliveryman as a registered sex offender. He was stopped before he could get anywhere near the students.

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NBC reporters gain access to some schools with ease, exposing security gaps

11 Dec

On the first anniversary of the fatal school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn., NBC’s Jeff Rossen investigates just how secure some schools are.

NBC reporters were able to access school buildings and walk around at several New York-area schools, two NBC investigations have found, raising questions about school security as the anniversary of the massacre in Newtown, Conn. approaches.

“Today” National Investigative Correspondent Jeff Rossen was able to enter one New Jersey school without giving a name. Unescorted, he went looking for the main office, per school policy. As he looked, he walked past several classrooms with kids, stopping at one to ask a teacher for directions. No one asked who he was, or what he was doing there. For two minutes, he walked through the halls, and was only stopped once he arrived at the office.

The school’s PTA told NBC the findings were a “wake-up” call.

“This is incredibly problematic,” said safety consultant Sal Lifrieri, a former director of security at the New York City Office of Emergency Management, after watching the video. “Something like this, two minutes of not being challenged, it’s just too much harm you could have caused if you really had intent,”


At the other four schools he visited, however, he was asked for identification and kept away from children and classrooms.

He was buzzed in after identifying himself at one school, and was escorted straight to the principal’s office. At another, a guard intercepted him outside the building and asked for identification.

But in New York City, Jonathan Vigliotti of WNBC was able to walk in to seven out of 10 schools without being challenged. “I had a harder time getting into my friend’s apartment building,” said Vigliotti.

At one school he was able to bypass the metal detector, roam the hallways, and enter a gym full of kids. Approached later, the guard at the metal detector was surprised to learn Vigliotti hadn’t signed in. “Wow,” said the guard. “I thought you were a teacher.”

The New York City Police Department, which trains public school guards, said it would investigate after it was contacted by NBC.

The city’s school chancellor watched the incident on video, and said more training was needed.

Said Chancellor Dennis Walcott, “When we have probably around 135,000 staff that works with us, we are going to have issues where some people need to be trained and trained better. And some people that don’t need to be in the system.”

While school safety experts say many schools have taken steps to increase building security by installing buzzer and intercom systems, surveillance cameras, and alarms on doors and entrances, security gaps still remain.

“It’s not just a matter of putting in technology,” said Michael Dorn, executive director of Safe Havens International, a non-profit organization that conducts safety assessments for school districts across the country. “Where we’re often running into problems is with training.”

Schools have hired Safe Havens to conduct “penetration tests” to determine how easily school procedures can be bypassed. He says one problem that persists is with school employees propping open doors in the middle of the school day.

“Access control is only as good as the weakest link to the building,” said Dorn. “If you don’t have people trained to not put rocks in the door, even with all the technology, we’ve still been able to defeat the access controls.”

Dorn says parents who feel inconvenienced by access control policies are often more motivated to complain to school officials, whereas parents with concerns about security tend to remain silent.

“School security is heavily based on what the parents want…if you look at your child’s school, and you don’t think it’s secure enough, you should express that,” said Dorn. 

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A ‘Day of Action’ to protest school closings

10 Dec

CHICAGO— A couple hundred parents, students, and teachers braved the frigid night air on Monday to deliver their holiday wish list to Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Governor Pat Quinn : stop school closings, end the privatization of neighborhood public schools, and eliminate mayoral control of the school board.

The protesters marched from City Hall to the nearby State of Illinois building–where the governor’s Chicago office is located–with signed holiday cards and lumps of coal or candy canes for local politicians, depending on how they’d supported city students and neighborhood schools.

The school board closed 47 public schools over the summer and announced that two additional schools would be phased out by the end of the school year. More than 88% of the students affected by the Chicago closures were African-American and the vast majority of the closed schools were in black and poor communities. Mass closings in other cities like Philadelphia have disrupted the lives of thousands of black and Latino students.

“We want to continue our fight for our schools,” said April Coleman, a teacher at Lane Tech College Preparatory High School. “Just because the strike is over doesn’t mean we were able to get everything that we need for our children,” she said, referring to last year’s teachers strike. “We don’t want the city to forget about us.”

Monday’s march and rally were part of a “National Day of Action” led by teachers unions, community groups and students in dozens of cities across the country including New York, New Orleans, and Philadelphia.

“All students deserve quality education that prepares them for college, meaningful employment, and full participation in democracy regardless of race or economic status,” said Jonathan Stith, national coordinator for the Alliance for Educational Justice, one of many umbrella organizations that helped plan the day. “Current school reform efforts by corporate education profiteers have bankrupted public education and have failed to deliver on its promise. Our children. Our schools. Our solutions. We must stop treating our young people as commodities and reclaim our public schools.”

Shortly before the march and rally, parents, grandparents, and community activists from the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago South Side packed a yellow school bus and chugged toward City Hall, picking up dozens of students at a local high school along the way.

“We’ve been working for the last year to bring together people from across the country to form a coalition to continue the movement,” said Jitu Brown, the education organizer for the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, standing in the aisle of the bus, his voice booming. “Today is not going to change anything overnight. We’re not going to just do this and the school closings end tomorrow. This needs to be sustained.”

April Stogner, had three kids educated in the Chicago Public Schools and has two young grandchildren who will be entering in the coming years. She said she’s fighting for her grandchildren’s futures.

“If the school closings don’t end, they won’t have a neighborhood school to attend,” Stogner said. “The big fight has been to get a moratorium on the closings. No matter how much we rally, no matter how much we march, it’s as if the school board and the mayor have their minds made up already. But we have to keep fighting.”

“All across the country, people are going through the same things we are,” Stogner said. “And all across the country people care about the same thing we do—the education of our children.”

The day of action was organized in part by the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association and local community groups across the country. According to the AFT, some 90 events were planned in various cities, including rallies, town hall meetings and teach-ins.

“Too often public schools are subject to budget cuts and privatization. Now, communities are coming together to build a new vision for our schools and our children—one that champions great public schools as the heart of our neighborhoods,” the Philadelphia Coalition Advocating for Public Schools said in a statement. (In Philadelphia, 24 schools were closed over the summer.) “We will continue to build on this day of action to strengthen and sustain our movement.” 

Gay Catholic School Teacher Fired for Wedding Plans

8 Dec

PHOTO: Michael Griffin and his partner Vincent Giannetto had a civil ceremony five years ago.

A gay teacher at a Pennsylvania Catholic school said he was fired after he applied for a marriage license to wed his long-time partner.

Michael Griffin worked at the Holy Ghost Preparatory School for 12 years teaching French and Italian. He said that although administrators, including the principal, knew he was gay, he never had any major conflict with the Catholic administrators until Friday.

Griffin said he was fired on Friday after he had emailed administrators to tell them he was going to file for a marriage license and would be slightly late to work.

Student Sues University over LGBT Views

Griffin said the school administrators told him that the email sent on the school email server made his relationship public and therefore they had to fire him if he decided to go through with the marriage.

“He said… ‘if you go through with that I have no other choice but to fire you,’” Griffin said of the ultimatum issued by Holy Ghost Preparatory School President Father James McCloskey. “I was in shock, I had no forewarning.”

Griffin said McCloskey and other school administrators knew he was gay, but had never brought it up prior. Griffin and his partner had a civil union five years prior and he wears a wedding ring in school.

In a statement sent to ABC News from McCloskey and Holy Ghost Preparatory School, the school president said Griffin was fired for violating the terms of his contract by deciding to marry a partner of the same sex.

“Unfortunately, this decision contradicts the terms of his teaching contract at our school, which requires all faculty and staff to follow the teachings of the Church as a condition of their employment,” McCloskey said in the statement. “In discussion with Mr. Griffin, he acknowledged that he was aware of this provision, yet he said that he intended to go ahead with the ceremony. Regretfully, we informed Mr. Griffin that we have no choice but to terminate his contract effective immediately.”

Griffin said he has not decided whether he will discuss his termination with a lawyer, but was incredibly saddened by the administrators’ actions.

Catholic School Administrator Fired for Supporting Gay Marriage

Griffin, who also attended Holy Ghost Preparatory School and was raised Catholic, said he loved teaching at the school. Griffin said he has only heard positive messages from faculty and students.

“There’s so much in it that I agree with,” Griffin said. “We talk about brotherhood with all of these people. … I feel like my parents disowned me but my brothers still stand by me.”

School bans Christmas trees, the colors red & green

7 Dec

An elementary school in Frisco, Texas is believed to be the first in the state to violate “The Merry Christmas Law” after they banned Christmas trees and the colors red green from an upcoming “winter” party.

Boys and girls who attend the Nichols Elementary School “Winter Party” will not be able to make any reference to Christmas or any other religious holiday. Christmas trees are also banned – along with the colors red and green.

The rules were sent to parents in an email from the school’s PTA and first reported on by MyFoxDFW.com.

Ironically, the school is located in the district of state Rep. Pat Fallon, the author of a bill signed into law in June that codifies the fact that students and staff are permitted to discuss winter holidays as they please.
Fallon tells me he was alerted by an angry parent.

“When Gov. Perry signed ‘The Merry Christmas Bill,’ clearly that didn’t solve the issue,” he said. “The battle rages on. It’s distressing.”

The school district released a statement to MyFoxDFW.com noting:

“The school was unaware of this and it was not an official PTA correspondence either. There have never been any limitations on what students wear, what they bring to share with their classmates on party days … what greetings people exchange with each other.”

But Fallon said contrary to the school district’s statement, the ban remains in place. He also said he spoke to the superintendent and learned that the school district was letting principals set their own policies regarding holiday celebrations.

“That leads to confusion, misinterpretation and flaunting of the law,” he said.

Fallon said the ban on Christmas trees and traditional holiday colors remains in place and calls it “unnecessary, inappropriate, and quite frankly draconian in nature.”

However, after a meeting between the principal and the PTA, the school decided to keep the draconian rules in place.

“She [the principal] said they didn’t want to offend any families and since each family donates money they feel this is the best policy,” read an email sent to the lawmaker.

What about all the families who might be offended by not being able to call Christmas, Christmas?

“I feel like my calling in life is to protect the students, parents and teachers,” Fallon said. “They have a constitutional right to express themselves. They have freedom of religion.”

Fallon fired off a letter to every school official in the district, reminding them of their yuletide rights under the law.

“Texas law clearly permits Christmas-themed celebrations, events and displays,” Fallon wrote. “The district may also display scenes or symbols with traditional winter holidays (e.g. nativity scenes, Christmas trees, menorahs, etc.)”

The lawmaker said he was shocked at the number of calls his office has received from nervous teachers and principals – wondering what they could and could not do.

“One teacher wanted to do ‘Elf on a Shelf’ and she thought she would get in trouble,” Fallon told me.

So this is what it’s come to, America. You’ve got college-educated teacher terrified to put a toy elf on the shelf because she might get sued by the ACLU or some other left wing anti-Christmas group.

Unfortunately, there are no criminal penalties for violating “The Merry Christmas Law.” Perhaps Rep. Fallon could offer an amendment? In lieu of jail time, violators would be subjected to a lump of coal on Christmas Day.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is Dispatches From Bitter America.

School bans Christmas trees, the colors red & green

5 Dec

An elementary school in Frisco, Texas is believed to be the first in the state to violate “The Merry Christmas Law” after they banned Christmas trees and the colors red green from an upcoming “winter” party.

Boys and girls who attend the Nichols Elementary School “Winter Party” will not be able to make any reference to Christmas or any other religious holiday. Christmas trees are also banned – along with the colors red and green.

The rules were sent to parents in an email from the school’s PTA and first reported on by MyFoxDFW.com.

Ironically, the school is located in the district of state Rep. Pat Fallon, the author of a bill signed into law in June that codifies the fact that students and staff are permitted to discuss winter holidays as they please.
Fallon tells me he was alerted by an angry parent.

“When Gov. Perry signed ‘The Merry Christmas Bill,’ clearly that didn’t solve the issue,” he said. “The battle rages on. It’s distressing.”

The school district released a statement to MyFoxDFW.com noting:

“The school was unaware of this and it was not an official PTA correspondence either. There have never been any limitations on what students wear, what they bring to share with their classmates on party days … what greetings people exchange with each other.”

But Fallon said contrary to the school district’s statement, the ban remains in place. He also said he spoke to the superintendent and learned that the school district was letting principals set their own policies regarding holiday celebrations.

“That leads to confusion, misinterpretation and flaunting of the law,” he said.

Fallon said the ban on Christmas trees and traditional holiday colors remains in place and calls it “unnecessary, inappropriate, and quite frankly draconian in nature.”

However, after a meeting between the principal and the PTA, the school decided to keep the draconian rules in place.

“She [the principal] said they didn’t want to offend any families and since each family donates money they feel this is the best policy,” read an email sent to the lawmaker.

What about all the families who might be offended by not being able to call Christmas, Christmas?

“I feel like my calling in life is to protect the students, parents and teachers,” Fallon said. “They have a constitutional right to express themselves. They have freedom of religion.”

Fallon fired off a letter to every school official in the district, reminding them of their yuletide rights under the law.

“Texas law clearly permits Christmas-themed celebrations, events and displays,” Fallon wrote. “The district may also display scenes or symbols with traditional winter holidays (e.g. nativity scenes, Christmas trees, menorahs, etc.)”

The lawmaker said he was shocked at the number of calls his office has received from nervous teachers and principals – wondering what they could and could not do.

“One teacher wanted to do ‘Elf on a Shelf’ and she thought she would get in trouble,” Fallon told me.

So this is what it’s come to, America. You’ve got college-educated teacher terrified to put a toy elf on the shelf because she might get sued by the ACLU or some other left wing anti-Christmas group.

Unfortunately, there are no criminal penalties for violating “The Merry Christmas Law.” Perhaps Rep. Fallon could offer an amendment? In lieu of jail time, violators would be subjected to a lump of coal on Christmas Day.

Todd Starnes is host of Fox News Commentary, heard on hundreds of radio stations. Sign up for his American Dispatch newsletter, be sure to join his Facebook page, and follow him on Twitter. His latest book is Dispatches From Bitter America.

Opinion: What Asian schools can teach the rest of the world

4 Dec


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Students attend class at the Jing'an Education College Affiliated School in Shanghai. The Chinese city of 23 million people topped PISA's 2012 study, performing at a level at least one year more advanced than the average 15-year-old in math, science and reading.Students attend class at the Jing’an Education College Affiliated School in Shanghai. The Chinese city of 23 million people topped PISA’s 2012 study, performing at a level at least one year more advanced than the average 15-year-old in math, science and reading.

Singapore ranked second in math, and third in reading and science. The test measured students' knowledge in all three subjects and their ability to apply what they've learned to new situations.Singapore ranked second in math, and third in reading and science. The test measured students’ knowledge in all three subjects and their ability to apply what they’ve learned to new situations.

The financial hub of Hong Kong came third in math, and second in reading and science in the OEDC's latest education assessment.The financial hub of Hong Kong came third in math, and second in reading and science in the OEDC’s latest education assessment.

High school students study at a cram school in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. The island ranked third in math, and equal 7th in reading, and 13th in science.High school students study at a cram school in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. The island ranked third in math, and equal 7th in reading, and 13th in science.

South Korean young people came 5th in math. Like other top performing East Asian economies, a relatively small proportion of students said they arrived late for class or skipped lessons.South Korean young people came 5th in math. Like other top performing East Asian economies, a relatively small proportion of students said they arrived late for class or skipped lessons.

Finland had the highest science score for a country outside Asia.Finland had the highest science score for a country outside Asia.

The United Kingdom equaled the average score for OECD countries in math and reading, and above average in science.The United Kingdom equaled the average score for OECD countries in math and reading, and above average in science.

In math, the United States ranked 36th out of 65 countries included in the 2012 study.In math, the United States ranked 36th out of 65 countries included in the 2012 study.

Jordan's Queen Rania Al Abdullah visits an all-girls secondary school. The PISA test is sat by students aged 15 and 16 who are near the end of the compulsory education.Jordan’s Queen Rania Al Abdullah visits an all-girls secondary school. The PISA test is sat by students aged 15 and 16 who are near the end of the compulsory education.

Children attend an English lesson at a public school in Manizales, Colombia. In math, around one in four Colombian students met a level of proficiency considered necessary to participate fully in modern society, according to the OECD.Children attend an English lesson at a public school in Manizales, Colombia. In math, around one in four Colombian students met a level of proficiency considered necessary to participate fully in modern society, according to the OECD.

Qatar ranked near the bottom of the OECD study, but it was one of the few countries where girls outperformed boys in mathematics.Qatar ranked near the bottom of the OECD study, but it was one of the few countries where girls outperformed boys in mathematics.

Children play football at their school in Kuta Rakyat village in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Fewer than 1% of Indonesian students performed in the top performance bands for mathematics.Children play football at their school in Kuta Rakyat village in North Sumatra, Indonesia. Fewer than 1% of Indonesian students performed in the top performance bands for mathematics.

Schoolchildren take part in a protest march in Peru's capital, Lima, in 2007, demanding better quality and greater investment in education. Peru's math score in the PISA study was the equivalent of about six years schooling behind the top performer, Shanghai.Schoolchildren take part in a protest march in Peru’s capital, Lima, in 2007, demanding better quality and greater investment in education. Peru’s math score in the PISA study was the equivalent of about six years schooling behind the top performer, Shanghai.


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Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are solely those of Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s special adviser on education policy. He has run the organization’s international education rankings — the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) — since 2000 and will appear on the forthcoming episode of On China with Kristie Lu Stout, which airs in mid-December.

(CNN) — In a global economy, the benchmark for educational success is no longer improvement by national standards alone, but the best performing school systems internationally.

Results from the latest PISA assessment, the world’s metric for evaluating learning outcomes at school, show amazing changes in the composition of the global talent pool.

Shanghai, already the top-performing education system in 2009, has extended its lead in students’ math performance over the next highest performer, Singapore, to the equivalent of a full school year.

Andreas Schleicher


The results The results


The resultsThe results

And that was at a time when Singapore, too, saw rapid progress.

READ: Shanghai teens top international education ranking

Other East Asian systems, including Chinese Taipei and Japan, also saw improved student learning outcomes. PISA — the Programme for International Student Assessment — was conducted in 2012, a year when many of the 65 participating countries were grappling with the aftermath of an economic crisis that has brought home the urgency of equipping more people with better skills to collaborate, compete and connect in ways that drive economies forward.

Some contend that Shanghai’s success in PISA just reflects rote learning and immense drilling for tests.

But the most impressive performance of Shanghai’s students is actually not on the tasks that ask them to simply reproduce what they have learned, but on tasks where they need to extrapolate from what they know and apply their knowledge creatively in novel situations.

Data on other Chinese provinces and cities is not yet published by PISA because not enough regions take part in the tests to be considered representative. However, China as a whole is expected to be included in the 2015 assessment.

Google knows everything

Consider this: Only 2% of American students can conceptualize, generalize and use advanced math in creative ways, which is what the highest performance level in PISA requires.

In Shanghai it is over 30%. Shanghai has understood that the world economy will pay an ever-rising premium on excellence, and that today’s economy no longer rewards people simply for what they know — Google already knows everything– but for what they can do with what they know.

Others have explained Shanghai’s high performance with the exclusion of disadvantaged internal immigrants from the comparisons. But immigrants have always been part of Shanghai’s PISA tests and most East Asian school systems excel precisely because they are capable to leverage the academic potential of disadvantaged students much better than many Western nations do, and because they are able to break the downward spiral between disadvantage, lower performance and lower levels of student engagement.

Making the grade in China: Grueling college exams


On China: Shanghai’s Success


Can China replicate Shanghai’s triumph?


On China: China’s education gap

They have devised powerful strategies to attract the most talented teachers to the most challenging classrooms and to get the strongest principals into the toughest schools.

While the American dream of social mobility is becoming a distant memory for the next generation of American students, it is just emerging as a new reality in East Asia.

Obviously, one can’t copy and paste school systems wholesale. But PISA has revealed a surprising number of features which the world’s most successful school systems share and from which others can learn. For a start, leaders in the East Asian education systems have convinced their citizens to make choices that value education, their future, more than consumption today. But placing a high value on education is just part of their equation.

Hard work vs. talent

Another part is the belief in the possibilities for all children to achieve. In Japan, for example, students not only believe they are in control of their ability to succeed, but they are prepared to do what it takes to do so: 84% of students said they won’t put off difficult problems, in the U.S. only half did so.

The fact that students in most Asian countries consistently believe that achievement is mainly a product of hard work, rather than inherited intelligence, suggests that education and its social context can make a difference in instilling values that foster success in education.

In the past different students were taught in similar ways. Shanghai embraces diversity with differentiated instructional practices, its teachers have high expectations for every student and realize that ordinary students have extraordinary talents.

They also share clear and ambitious standards across the board. Everyone knows what is required to get a given qualification.

Teachers matter

And nowhere does the quality of a school system exceed the quality of its teachers.

The East Asian school systems all pay great attention to how they select and train their staff. And when deciding where to invest, they prioritize the quality of teachers over the size of classes. Not least, they provide intelligent pathways for teachers to grow in their careers.

High performers have also moved on from bureaucratic control and accountability to professional forms of work organization. They support their teachers to make innovations in pedagogy, to improve their own performance and that of their colleagues, and to pursue professional development that leads to stronger educational practice.

The goal of the past was standardization and compliance, top performers enable teachers to be inventive. In the past, the policy focus was on the provision of education, in top school systems it’s on outcomes, shifting from looking upwards in the bureaucracy towards looking outwards to the next teacher, the next school, about creating networks of innovation. You can see that nowhere better than in Finland and Japan.

READ: ‘Tiger mothers’ leave lifelong scars

The most impressive outcome of world class school systems is perhaps that they deliver high quality across the entire school system so that every student benefits from excellent learning. And they align policies and practices effectively across all aspects of the system, they make them coherent over sustained periods of time, and they see that they are consistently implemented. You can see that nowhere better than in Singapore

Room for improvement

And yet, there are areas where Shanghai, too, has room for improvement. Intrinsic motivation is often low, for example, only 36% of students in Shanghai say they like to solve complex problems.

Just 75% say that school has taught them things which could be useful in a job, compared with an OECD average of 87%. There are also indications that Shanghai’s schools can improve the social climate for learning: Just two-thirds of Shanghai’s 15-year-olds feel they belong at school. On average across OECD countries it is over 80%, and in some countries over 90%. Not least, just 77% of students in Shanghai say that other students like them, compared with an average of 90%.

The challenges are tough and the status quo has many protectors. But global comparisons like PISA remind us of what is possible in education. And they help us to set meaningful targets in terms of measurable goals achieved by the world’s educational leaders.

The world has become indifferent to tradition and past reputations, unforgiving of frailty and ignorant of custom or practice. Success will go to those individuals, institutions and countries which are swift to adapt, slow to complain and open to change. And the task for governments is to ensure that their citizens and education systems rise to this challenge.

The opinions in this article are solely those of Andreas Schleicher, the OECD’s special adviser on education policy



Urban Schools Aim for Environmental Revolution

2 Dec

Looks, however, can be deceiving: They were the vanguard of what could become an environmental revolution in schools across the United States.

With any uneaten food, the plates, made from sugar cane, can be thrown away and turned into a product prized by gardeners and farmers everywhere: compost. If all goes as planned, compostable plates will replace plastic foam lunch trays by September not just for the 345,000 students in the Miami-Dade County school system, but also for more than 2.6 million others nationwide.

That would be some 271 million plates a year, replacing enough foam trays to create a stack of plastic several hundred miles tall.

“I want our money and resources for food going into children, not in garbage going to the landfill,” said Penny Parham, the Miami school district’s administrative director of food and nutrition.

Compostable plates are but the first initiative on the environmental checklist of the Urban School Food Alliance, a pioneering attempt by six big-city school systems to create new markets for sustainable food and lunchroom supplies.

The alliance members — the public school systems in Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Orlando, Fla. — are betting that by combining their purchasing power, they can persuade suppliers to create and sell healthier and more environment-friendly products at prices no system could negotiate alone.

“We pay about 4 cents for a foam tray, and compostable trays are about 15 cents — but volume is always the game changer,” said Leslie Fowler, the director of nutrition support services for the Chicago school system. “We want to set the tone for the marketplace, rather than having the marketplace tell us what’s available.”

The compostable plates are the first test of the alliance’s thesis. This week, the New York City Education Department will open sealed bids to supply the roughly 850,000 plates it needs each day for breakfast and lunch programs in about 1,200 schools. New York is running a pilot program, like Miami’s, in four schools, with 30 more expected to join this month.

If a winning bidder is chosen, the other alliance members will be able to piggyback on the contract, placing their own orders without having to navigate a separate bidding process. The call for bids names all six districts and says they must all be allowed to place orders at the same price.

The alliance’s next target is healthier food. It is already looking at potential suppliers of antibiotic-free chicken. School officials say possible future initiatives include sustainable tableware, pesticide-free fruit and goods with less packaging waste.

The direct benefits of these efforts may not always be obvious, or even noticeable. To a child, antibiotic-free chicken tastes like any other chicken. And even a huge purchase by the alliance would have little effect on farmers’ preferences for giving animals antibiotics, much less on the danger the practice poses: spawning new classes of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

But short-term environmental and health benefits are not the only goals, said Eric Goldstein, the chief executive of school support services in New York City. Using recyclable plates or serving healthier chicken sets an example that students may carry into adulthood, he said, and that other school systems may come to see as a standard.

“It sounds corny,” Mr. Goldstein said, “but we all believe in this.”

The six districts banded together in July 2012 at a school-nutrition conference in Denver. They received a lift later last year when the Natural Resources Defense Council, a national advocacy group with a history of pressing governments for environment-friendly changes, met with Mr. Goldstein and other New York school executives to talk about recycling and healthier food.

“We were pleasantly surprised when they told us they were interested both in getting rid of polystyrene trays and moving forward on healthier chicken,” said Mark Izeman, the director of the council’s New York program.

The council has recruited a law firm to create a nonprofit corporation for the alliance and lent its environmental expertise to help the six districts decide what to buy next. “We’re delighted to work with them,” Mr. Izeman said. “What’s not to like?”

If the alliance succeeds, it could help change nutrition and sustainability policies across the nation. Already, other school districts are asking to join the group. Eventually, Mr. Izeman said, the alliance could be a template for sustainability efforts by other big food bureaucracies. What works for school districts, after all, should also work for institutions like hospitals and universities.

But first, it has to work in public schools. For now, that means producing a compostable plate that school systems can afford.

That may not be easy. Foam trays are made from petroleum byproducts and are stamped out at dizzying rates. Sugar-cane plates take longer to make and require more machinery to produce in volume, said an official at one manufacturer of recycled tableware who did not want to be named because his company is involved in the alliance bid.

Mr. Goldstein said that 21 manufacturers had expressed interest in bidding, and that he believed they would slash prices to win such a huge contract.

But if not, the manufacturing official said, there is a way for alliance members to recoup some of the cost. Demand for compost is high, and by late next year, schools may be deluged with it.

“Budgets are always tough,” the official said. “They could sell that mulch, a buck or two a bag.”

Public schools to bear brunt of Pyne Gonski switch, say education ministers

1 Dec

The federal government is looking to reduce the share of funding it provides to the public school sector, according to angry state and territory education ministers who faced off with Christopher Pyne at a “very heated” meeting on Friday.

Far from allaying concerns over the federal government’s decision to rewrite the David Gonski-inspired funding system next year, Friday’s face-to-face discussion has further stoked anger from both Liberal and Labor colleagues who are demanding assurances their states will not be disadvantaged for having signed deals with the former government.

In a show of force, the education ministers from jurisdictions that signed a deal – the conservative-led New South Wales and Victoria and Labor-run South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory – jointly fronted the media in Sydney to demand the government meet its election pledge to honour signed agreements on school funding.

The NSW education minister, Adrian Piccoli, led the attack on his federal Coalition colleagues, saying pointedly that the Abbott government had broken its election promises and the “parents of the millions of children” had a right to be disappointed.

“The government made a promise, made a commitment, that there would be no broken promises under the government that they lead, and unfortunately that has not come to pass,” Piccoli said.

Pyne said this week he would match the $1.6bn total extra federal funding budgeted by Labor over the next four years, plus an extra $230m for Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory – states which failed to reach a deal with the former government before the election. He has not repeated pledges that no school would be worse off.

States that signed up fear they will lose out in a redistribution of funding after 2014 as part of Pyne’s yet-to-be-developed new funding model.

Piccoli said there was uncertainty over who would bear the loss of any reduction in funding in the three years after 2014, revealing Pyne made comments “that would presume that that loss will have to be borne by public schools”.

“When asked for clarification about that, or to confirm that that was not the case, no such clarification was forthcoming, so not only do we have the uncertainty about the funding over six years, over four years – what that funding might be, even within four years – but the reduction in the funding, where’s that burden going to fall?,” said Piccoli, a National party minister.

“It’s been made very clear to me by the independent and Catholic sectors in NSW that they agree to the split of additional funds that we signed up to.”

Piccoli added: “I think that’s quite an incredible outcome, if reduced funding for states only comes out of public schools, not out of non-government schools.”

The Tasmanian education minister, Nick McKim, said Pyne “implied strongly” that he retained the capacity to renegotiate agreements, including on the funding share between government and non-government school sectors.

“This is a bombshell revelation that will rock the public education system in Australia to its core,” said McKim, who is also leader of the Greens in Tasmania.

“You wouldn’t have thought it possible; there is now less certainty at lunchtime today than there was when we walked into this meeting this morning. That is down to Christopher Pyne’s complete incapacity to offer any guarantees that satisfied these states.”

Pyne, who was standing nearby during the state ministers’ media conference, sought to downplay the conflict, saying there was nothing new in disputes between federal and state governments over funding and he expected ministers to argue strongly on behalf of their states.

Asked whether he was committed to a sector-blind approach to funding, Pyne said: “The sector-blind approach to funding was for disadvantaged students … I’m completely committed to a sector-blind approach on the loadings that might follow students whether they are in the public sector or the private sector, and that’s always what we’ve said.”

The reforms pursued by the former Labor federal government would see a base level of funding for each student, to be topped up by sector-blind loadings targeting specific categories of disadvantage. The benchmark funding for each student was to be adjusted in the non-government school sector, based on the capacity of parents to pay.

Catholic and independent schools have previously received the majority of government funding from the Commonwealth, while public schools have been largely funded by the states. The Gonski panel’s report, published last year, recommended a shift towards “more balanced funding roles”, with the Commonwealth assuming a greater role in funding government schools and the states taking on a greater role in funding non-government schools.

Australian Education Union national president Angelo Gavrielatos said the loadings represented only a small fraction of all the additional funding and he feared cuts to the base funding.

He said any suggestion that any such cut would be borne only by the public school sector was “an affront to every public school student, their teachers and their parents”, given the majority of disadvantaged students attended government schools.

“In all of my involvement over many years I’ve never seen a press conference where ministers – National party ministers, Liberal party ministers, a Greens minister and Labor ministers – have expressed such unity and such force with respect to the critical issue of funding,” Gavrielatos said.

Further comment is being sought from Pyne about his plans regarding federal funding shares for government and non-government schools. But he earlier told reporters in Sydney that the Coalition had made it clear it would match funding over four years, rather than the full six-year agreements signed by Labor.

“Every commitment that I have made, we are keeping, but we do need to sort out the [Bill] Shorten shambles I have been left,” Pyne said. “The idea there is a national funding model is quite frankly farcical and everyone knows it.”

Pyne said the former government had made different deals with different states when it came to annual indexation and the pace at which the new base level of funding would be reached.

His new model, to be revealed early next year, would be truly national and fair and would not treat students in some states as second class, he said.

Piccoli, chair of the ministerial council that met in Sydney, said states that signed a deal with the Commonwealth before the election did not oppose extra money flowing to the hold-out states, but this funding should not be taken away from the early adopters.

He said the recent funding agreements had brought peace to the long-running battles over funding of public schools and non-government schools, but the federal government had now “plunged education across this country into unnecessary uncertainty”.

“The bottom line is the current federal government made unequivocal promises that they would honour dollar for dollar agreements and funding signed by the states, and those signatory states are here as part of this press conference and we are very disappointed that they have so far made announcements that they are not going to honour those agreements,” Piccoli said.

The Victorian Liberal education minister, Martin Dixon, said the state was currently framing its budget for the 2014-15 financial year, but had no certainty about the level of federal support for schools in the 2015 calendar year.

An open letter to Pyne, signed by Gonski review panel members Ken Boston, Kathryn Greiner and Carmen Lawrence, as well as education advocates and charities, urges the federal government to stick by its election claim to be on a school funding “unity ticket” with Labor by keeping the new system for at least four years.

The prime minister, Tony Abbott, told reporters in Adelaide on Friday he could guarantee “that the money that was agreed to for next year will be fully delivered”.

But the federal opposition education spokeswoman, Kate Ellis, said the prospect of public school funding cuts would revive a divisive debate pitting parent against parent, school against school and state against state.

“We know that some of the most disadvantaged schools in this country are run in the government system and they cannot be thrown aside by this cruel government who have already broken promise after promise when it comes to school funding,” Ellis said in Adelaide.

The Greens’ spokeswoman on schools, Penny Wright, said the Coalition’s “elitist and shameful” plan went against the Gonski aim to end huge education gaps between the most and least privileged children.

What Does It Take to Get Kids to Stop Skipping School?

29 Nov


Conspirator/Flickr

When it comes to tackling the problem of chronic absenteeism, students who already have a track record of skipping class can be a particularly tough crowd to sway. But a new report out of New York City—where one out of every five students missed a month or more of school last year — suggests an intensive community-wide initiative is gaining ground.

First, some background: chronic absenteeism is defined as missing at least 10 percent of the instructional days over the course of an academic year, which amounts to about 18 days in the average district. The national advocacy group 

Attendance Works considers chronic absenteeism as an early warning system that too many schools, parents and students are failing to heed.

Educated Reporter logo
Chicago Study: Preschool Absences Predict Student Learning Struggles in Later Grades

Student Absenteeism: Turning More Eyes Toward Empty Desks

The Early Habit of Being Late

Compounding the challenge, researchers say, is that the scope of the problem is largely unreported. That’s because the statistic typically reported by schools is average daily attendance, which can mask the fact that many students are missing significant amounts of seat time.  (I’ve written previously about 

some of the reasons why kids say they skip class, and the role motivation can play in their academic success). It’s also important to note that it’s not just the later grades that matter. A recent Chicago study found absenteeism in preschool contributed to social-emotional developmental delays as well as academic hurdles that students were still trying to overcome years down the road.

Now on to the New York City report, compiled by the Everyone Graduates Centerat Johns Hopkins University, which looked at the impact of a task force created by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2010 to address the city’s high rate of school absenteeism. The task force’s pilot program was aimed at at-risk students and launched with 25 high-need schools in its first year and has since grown to 100 schools with more than 60,000 students participating. The initiative crafted an intensive network of mentors, support services, staff training, better tracking and sharing of data of individual student attendance, and community outreach—particularly to parents.

Among the key findings of the report:

  • Students living poverty were 15 percent less likely to absent at the task force schools than their peers at similar campuses. The gains were even greater for students living in temporary shelters—they were 31 percent less likely to absent. The city’s Department of Homeless Services was given access to student data and staff received specialized training and support. One city official told the researchers, ”It seems like common sense, but until now we just didn’t have the tools, data, or knowledge to do it,” according to the report.
  • Assigning mentors to work one-on-one with students was the most successful intervention, with kids adding an average of nine days (nearly two full school weeks) of attendance per school year. High school students working with mentors were 52 percent more likely to be enrolled the following academic year than their comparison peers, suggesting the program also contributed to dropout prevention.
  • Students who were chronically absent in the 2009-10 academic year at the task force schools were 20 percent more likely to still be in school three years later when compared to similarly situated students at campuses that didn’t participate in the task force’s programs. That suggests the initiative was also effective as a means of dropout prevention.

A couple of takeaways that particularly caught my attention: The Johns Hopkins researchers point out that much of what the task force accomplished could be carried over into other cities, and be funded by reallocating existing resources—an important consideration for cash-strapped districts. What’s also worth highlighting is that schools, public agencies, and community organizations effectively joined forces to focus their combined energies on a common goal. That kind of multi-pronged approach is critical, the report’s authors concluded, noting that “no school system can tackle this problem alone.”

Should any of this be a surprise? Probably not to researchers and policymakers who are increasingly focusing on the growing body of evidence about the long-term effects of even short-term absenteeism. Will it raise the volume on calls for more interventions and programs targeting what many educators consider to be an under-addressed factor in student success? That remains to be heard.

Counselors at school after death of 3rd grader – WBIR

28 Nov

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Girl says Florida school threatening expulsion over her ‘natural hair’

26 Nov

A Florida school told a 12-year-old African-American girl that she either does something with her hair or should start looking for a new school, WKMG reported.

Vanessa VanDyke told the station that officials at Faith Christian Academy in Orlando are giving her one week to cut her overgrown hair, which she wears natural, with no styling. If she refuses to cut and shape her hair, the private school, which has rules regarding how students wear their hair, said she is not allowed to attend classes, she told the station.

“I’m depressed about leaving my friends and people that I’ve known for a while, but I’d rather have that than the principals and administrators picking on me and saying that I should change my hair,” VanDyke told the station.

Her mom told the station that she is standing beside her daughter. One of the rules at the school is that hair should not be a distraction to other students. The mother said “a distraction to one person is not a distraction to another.”

According to WKMG, Faith Christian Academy has rules governing student hairstyles. The student handbook reads: “Hair must be a natural color and must not be a distraction,” and goes on to state examples that include, but are not limited to, mohawks, shaved designs and rat tails.

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NSW and SA warn Coalition to honour Gonski school funding deal

25 Nov

New South Wales and South Australia have warned the federal education minister, Christopher Pyne, they will fight any attempts to back out of Gonski school funding arrangements as he flagged a review of all agreements.

New South Wales education minister, Adrian Piccoli, says the state signed a six-year binding agreement under the previous Labor government’s reforms and will not return to the previous “broken” school funding model.

Pyne, the federal education minister, announced he was planning to review all aspects of the Gonski funding models after discovering the agreements Victoria, Tasmania and the Catholic schools sector struck with the federal government before the election were not finalised.

However, the executive director of the National Catholic Education Commission (NCEC) said the Coalition committed to funding before the election and should see it through.

Piccoli said he expected the federal government to fulfil all the obligations under the six-year agreement signed in April.

“NSW will not agree to returning to the broken SES funding model,” he said in a statement.

“The new funding model has secured additional resources for classrooms across NSW, with the majority going to schools in most need.

“Any attempt to change the model now may see both government and non-government schools lose funding.”

Piccoli said New South Wales had already implemented the new funding model for the state’s 2,200 schools and it had been met with wide acclaim from the education sector.

South Australian premier, Jay Weatherill, joined Piccoli in calling on the federal government to keep their Gonski funding commitments calling Pyne’s assertions that the entire model needed to be reviewed “extraordinary”.

“Christopher Pyne has put it out there he wants to walk away from the Gonski funding, what does that mean for South Australian schools? There’s over $1bn of funding for South Australian schools at stake,” he said.

Weatherill said programs in physical education, language, science were at risk of being cut if Pyne withdrew the funding agreement.

The NCEC executive director, Ross Fox, said the Catholic sector needed certainty in funding arrangements for their schools and the government was yet to advise of any changes to funding next year.

“While there are aspects of this school funding model that we believe could be improved, the Coalition’s commitment has delivered important funding certainty to Catholic education,” he said.

“Any proposals to change funding arrangements would need to be carefully considered.”

Fox said schools need at least six months notice of changes to funding arrangements and any changes must improve on funding arrangements the schools currently operate under.

“Catholic education looks forward to working with the government to ensure funding certainty for all schools well beyond 2014,” he said.

The opposition leader, Bill Shorten – who was education minister when the deals were struck with Victoria, Tasmania and the Catholic sector – mocked Pyne’s suggestion that they were not finalised and accused the government of using “weasel words” to back out of election commitments.

“What we’re being told by Tony Abbott and Christopher Pyne is that all of us have collectively imagined that there was a press conference with the state minister for education of Victoria, that there was a press conference with the Tasmanian minister, that there were statements from the National Catholic Education Commission,” Shorten said in Melbourne.

Before the September election the Coalition said it would honour all school funding arrangements reached with states, territories and education sectors for four years.

“Before the election the government said it is not an issue, it’s a unity ticket, no daylight between Liberal and Labor,” Shorten said.

“Now we see the Coalition government saying, ‘Well, actually we don’t mean what we said then, and that we’re reopening agreements, we’re reopening deals with state governments, we’re reopening deals with the Catholic education system in Australia.”

The Labor federal government under Julia Gillard initially committed to an extra $14.5bn in school funding over the next six years and asked states and territories to contribute about 35% of the funds, but different deals were reached with each state and territory.

It was announced an agreement had been reached with Victoria the day before the election was called which would see the state receive more than $12bn in extra funding over six years. NSW, the first state to sign on, was supposed to receive $5bn in extra education funding, with the state chipping in about $1.7bn, while Tasmania was said to have secured an extra $380m in funding.

South Australia and the federal government were together to contribute $1.1bn in extra school funding to the state over the next six years and the Australian Capital Territory signed on to receive an extra $190m.

Legislation passing the education funding reforms into law went through in June despite not all states and territories signing on.

Non-government and Catholic schools in the states and territories that did not sign up to the reforms were supposed to still receive extra funding as their organisations had announced deals with the federal government.

Missouri high school under fire for teacher-led prayer sessions

23 Nov

A Missouri school district has vowed to “vigorously defend” itself after a secular organization announced it had filed a lawsuit to prevent alleged teacher-sponsored school prayer sessions in high school classrooms.  

The legal arm of the American Humanist Association filed a complaint filed Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Missouri, claiming that prayer sessions held at Fayette High School violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment, which says the government may not establish an official religion.  

The lawsuit alleges a math teacher led the weekly Christian devotional prayer sessions for several years in her classrooms after buses arrived in the morning and before classes began. The suit said she would urge students to pray for sick or injured students and joined the students in saying “amen.” The school’s former principal made an announcement over the public address system to remind students about the meetings. 

The teacher violated a school district policy that states school employees “are to be present solely in a nonparticipatory capacity at any student-initiated religious activity held at school and will strictly observe a policy of official neutrality regarding religious activity,” the lawsuit says.

The suit also said the teacher told students during her math class that God would punish them if they are not good and prominently displayed the book “God’s Game Plan” in her classroom.

The teacher and principal left the district at the end of the 2012-13 year, but the association believes the prayer sessions are continuing this year, said Monica Miller, an attorney for the group. She said it’s unclear whether a teacher is participating in them.

“What we are challenging is that the district has established a policy of allowing teachers to pray with students,” Miller said, adding that the suit seeks to keep that from happening in the future. 

Miller said that a student plaintiff is still attending the school. The student that originally reached out to the group about the prayer sessions recently left the school over concerns the school was promoting a religious environment, KOMU.com reported.

In a statement obtained by the station, the school district declined to comment on the allegations specified in the complaint but said it would “vigorously defend against any claim that the district has taken actions which violate any person’s First Amendment rights.”

Carl Esbeck, University of Missouri law professor, told ColumbiaTribune.com that an important distinction is whether the prayer sessions took place while the teacher was “on the clock.”

“Outside their clock hours, they’re private citizens like anybody else,” Esbeck said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Kids Pay The Price In Fight Over Fixing Philadelphia Schools

22 Nov

Third-grader Kassim West last July at Walter G. Smith Elementary School, one of more than 20 Philadelphia public schools that closed at the end of the school year.Enlarge image i

Third-grader Kassim West last July at Walter G. Smith Elementary School, one of more than 20 Philadelphia public schools that closed at the end of the school year.


Matt Stanley for NPR

Third-grader Kassim West last July at Walter G. Smith Elementary School, one of more than 20 Philadelphia public schools that closed at the end of the school year.

Third-grader Kassim West last July at Walter G. Smith Elementary School, one of more than 20 Philadelphia public schools that closed at the end of the school year.

Matt Stanley for NPR

This is the first in a three-part report on Philadelphia schools in crisis.

Sharron Snyder and Othella Stanback, both seniors at Philadelphia’s Benjamin Franklin High, will be the first in their families to graduate from high school. This, their final year, was supposed to be memorable. Instead, these teenagers say they feel cheated.

“We’re fed up with the budget cuts and everything. Like, this year, my school is like really overcrowded. We don’t even have lockers because it’s, like, too many students,” Sharron says.

Franklin High doubled in size because it absorbed hundreds of kids from two high schools the district could not afford to keep open this fall.

But “we didn’t gain an extra counselor, we didn’t gain extra teachers,” Othella says.

Timeline: The Quest To Fix Philadelphia Public Schools

1998 — Philadelphia Mayor Ed Rendell and David Hornbeck, school district superintendent, sue Pennsylvania, accusing the state of not adequately funding the city’s public schools. The suit goes nowhere.

2001 — Pennsylvania moves to take over the school district, citing a total breakdown in administration as well as scandalously low test scores and graduation rates. Hornbeck and the city’s elected school board are ousted. The state creates a five-member School Reform Commission (SRC).

2002-2011 — The SRC oversees a massive expansion of charter schools and takeover of struggling schools by private third-party operators. Dozens of private foundations pour millions of dollars into Philadelphia, mostly to subsidize charter schools.

2011 Philadelphia loses almost $200 million due to federal aid budget cuts.

February 2012 The SRC hires a global business consulting group to help the district devise a cost-cutting plan. The group’s $2.7 million fee is paid with private donations, reportedly from powerful pro-charter, pro-voucher advocates. The group wants to expand privately run, publicly funded charter schools, shut down 60 traditional public schools over five years and reorganize all other schools.

June 2012 In the face of a $304 million budget deficit, the SRC eliminates athletics, art, music and most extracurricular activities. Layoff notices go out to 3,800 district employees, including teachers, counselors, administrators, aides and clerical staff.

Fall 2013 Still broke, the district announces it will have to permanently close more than 20 schools. The mayor borrows money to open the remaining schools with bare-bones budgets. Many parents are asked to buy paper, books and basic supplies for schools to operate.

October 2013 The SRC restores music, art and athletics programs and rehires some guidance counselors and support staff after Gov. Tom Corbett releases $45 million he had been withholding pending discussions with Philadelphia’s teachers union. Superintendent William Hite warns that without union concessions on pay and health benefits, the district next year will be back to where it was: broke and unable to operate.

What’s worse, Othella adds, is that without enough guidance counselors, she’s not getting much help with her college applications.

“I have no one to talk to. … I’m sitting there, like, having a panic attack in class because I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” Othella says.

“It’s just they’re taking so much away from us and expecting us to do so much with so little,” Sharron says.

Layoffs at the beginning of the school year included teachers, librarians, clerical staff — even school nurses. They’re down to one per 1,500 students districtwide.

“The crisis is real,” says Philadelphia schools Superintendent William Hite. Hite says state budget cuts have left him with a $304 million deficit this year. “In addition to that, we lost $134 million in federal grants. All combined, it was $450 million. So if, in fact, there is not a more significant investment in the education of the children of Philadelphia, the future is at risk.”

What Went Wrong?

But has there really been a lack of investment in Philadelphia’s public schools? Private foundations, after all, have poured millions of dollars into schools here; much of that money has gone to the city’s 86 privately run charter schools. But in terms of public funds, the district says it’s broke.

Is it the state’s struggling economy? Poor management and waste? Or, as some critics allege, is it the fault of the politicians who control the district’s funding, starting with Republican Gov. Tom Corbett?

“Absolutely, he’s 100 percent responsible for what’s happening in the Philadelphia public schools,” says Helen Gym, founder of Parents United for Public Education. A former teacher and a mother of three, she has helped organize protests across Philadelphia.

Protesters have targeted Corbett because Philadelphia’s public schools have been under the state’s control since 2001 — after years of dysfunction under an elected school board and chronically low test scores and graduation rates.

Nobody wants to go back to that, Gym says, but lawmakers think they can get better results by sending less money.

“Children are languishing in these overcrowded classrooms. They don’t have books and supplies. … Some of them don’t even have sufficient numbers of desks,” Gym says. “This is a very purposeful defunding, starving of one of the nation’s largest school districts, not to mention the academic chaos that is going on in every single classroom across the city.”

Charles Zogby, Pennsylvania’s budget secretary and a close Corbett ally, says that’s an outright falsehood.

“None of this has been intentional,” Zogby says. “In fact, if it was political, then why would a Republican governor deliver $138 million in new funding to Philadelphia public schools? To lay this all on the governor, I think, is just really off base.”

What people in Philadelphia should be asking, says Zogby, is what have they gotten from the money they’re spending?

“It’s gotten us 50 percent of African-American and Latino kids who can’t read and do math,” Zogby says.

Angry parents and teachers, though, will hear none of it. They say their schools are being starved, plain and simple.

David Hornbeck says Philadelphia’s schools have been underfunded for decades. He should know: He served as superintendent of schools in Philadelphia from 1994 through 2000. Before he was ousted to make room for a state-appointed School Reform Commission to run schools, Hornbeck sued the state, accusing lawmakers of denying the city’s mostly poor, black and Latino children their right to an equal educational opportunity guaranteed by the state constitution. The suit went nowhere.

“Putting money in Philadelphia was sending money down the rat hole — and they really did use that kind of language on a routine basis,” Hornbeck says.

The prevalent view among lawmakers to this day, says Hornbeck, is that the city’s schools are not underfunded, that the budget crisis is the result of the waste and inefficiencies of traditional public schools.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers protests outside Feltonville Intermediate School in Philadelphia last month. The protesters demanded the reinstatement of counselors and teachers aides, and blamed Gov. Tom Corbett for budget cuts.Enlarge image i

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers protests outside Feltonville Intermediate School in Philadelphia last month. The protesters demanded the reinstatement of counselors and teachers aides, and blamed Gov. Tom Corbett for budget cuts.


Claudio Sanchez/NPR

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers protests outside Feltonville Intermediate School in Philadelphia last month. The protesters demanded the reinstatement of counselors and teachers aides, and blamed Gov. Tom Corbett for budget cuts.

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers protests outside Feltonville Intermediate School in Philadelphia last month. The protesters demanded the reinstatement of counselors and teachers aides, and blamed Gov. Tom Corbett for budget cuts.

Claudio Sanchez/NPR

So the commission’s solution has been to hand schools over to private nonprofits and for-profits that came to Philadelphia promising to create a so-called laboratory of innovation, made up mostly of charter schools, for less money. Today, charter schools represent almost a third of the district’s $2.4 billion budget.

Hite says parents now have more choices, better choices.

“This is about saving public education, not destroying it, but we just can’t save it by saying we’re going to maintain status quo,” Hite says.

Dual School Systems

What’s happening in Philadelphia is alarming, says education historian Diane Ravitch, a leading critic of what she calls the privatization of the school reform movement. She says school districts that are having to cut to the bone, like Philadelphia, are creating dual school systems — one made up of charters backed by private funders and the other, says Ravitch, “will be the dumping grounds for kids who couldn’t get into charters.”

“People continue to push this model,” she says, “whether it’s the Gates Foundation, the Broad Foundation, the Walton Foundation, the Dell Foundation — I could go on and on with all the foundations pumping millions and millions of dollars into charters.”

Foundations say that money is giving struggling kids a shot at a better education. In Philadelphia, though, most charters are actually performing the same — and in some cases, worse — than traditional public schools, and yet charter school enrollment has skyrocketed.

And that makes some parents nervous.

“It looks like they’re trying to do away with public schools and make everything charter. That’s the way it looks now to me,” says parent Donna Mackie. She has an 8-year-old at A.S. Jenks Elementary, a high-performing neighborhood school in South Philadelphia. She says parents’ biggest fear is that the district is going to shut down their school in a year or two to save money.

School district officials have talked about closing up to 60 in five years. They call it “right sizing” the system.

Jennifer Miller, also a Jenks mom, calls it a mistake.

“I feel bad, and I feel like I have nowhere to go. I mean, I live here. I can’t leave the city. I can’t afford private school. This is my only choice,” Miller says.

Sometimes, Miller says, she can’t sleep at night, not knowing whether her school and city will survive this crisis.

Massachusetts high school cancels football games after racial slur …

20 Nov

(CNN) — A Massachusetts high school football team canceled the rest of its season after someone scrawled a racial epithet on the home of one of its players.

“Knights don’t need [the n-word],” the slur read.

The Blue Knights are the football team at Lunenburg High School, a school 55 miles northwest of Boston.

The epithet was spray painted in large blue letters on the foundation of the ranch-style home where the team’s 13-year-old fullback lives.

The incident has brought the FBI to Lunenburg — and shone a national spotlight on the small town of about 10,000 that is not used to such a harsh glare.

“I don’t really understand why someone would even do something like this,” the 8th grader told CNN affiliate WCVB. “I have two younger brothers and a younger sister. This is our house, this is where we live. Eventually they’re going to see it.”

A slur or term of ‘honor’? Controversy heightens about Washington Redskins

The boy’s mother is white; his father black, the station said.

The boy told the station he’s been dealing with other harassing incidents in recent weeks. His cleats were doused in water; the tire on his bicycle was slashed, he said.

“We wish to express our outrage and sorrow over the hateful and vile acts against one of our own,” the Lunenburg School Committee said in a press release.

“We assure you and our entire community that we will continue to work to ensure that hate has no place in our schools.”

School officials canceled last Friday’s game, and said they will forfeit the remaining two games — including the traditional Thanksgiving Day game.

“It would be highly inappropriate to play the remaining games while there is an ongoing investigation,” the committee said.

The team is 4-6 this season.

Authorities are also investigating whether racial slurs were hurled at a rival team by Lunenburg High School players during a football game earlier in the season.

The committee said its decision to forfeit the games was made the decision out of safety concerns “in the emotionally-charged environment that has been generated by these recent acts.”

Group demands California high school change ‘Arab’ team name, mascot