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Nov 262012

According To US News and World Report:

Seven U.S. states have passed “parent trigger” laws, which give parents the ability to petition for changes at their children’s low-performing public schools.  If more than half of the parents at a school sign the petition, the school district must comply with the changes.  These can include hiring a new staff, hiring a public charter school operator to take over reforms, or closing the school altogether and sending students to better performing neighboring schools.

Proponents of the laws say it gives parents real power to make a change in schools that are chronically failing when the administration has been unable to improve student performance. They say that parents at these schools, often in poor and minority neighborhoods, should be able to take steps in closing the achievement gap to which their children fall victim. It allows parents, they argue, to take a dominant role in their children’s educations and actively advocate for better schools.

Opponents of the parent trigger laws say merely signing a petition isn’t the appropriate way for parents to institute reforms. Allowing parents to instigate such disruptive changes denies teachers and parents the ability to work together to improve the school community, often relinquishing control of the process to a third-party charter company. Those against the laws maintain that there is no proof that they work, and though well-intentioned, the trigger system gives parents the false perception that they don’t have to play any other active role in improving their child’s education.


This article first appeared http://www.usnews.com/debate-club/is-there-a-need-for-parent-trigger-laws/fixing-our-failing-schools-is-a-civil-rights-issue

Michelle Rhee, CEO at Students First:  Communities Need Parent Trigger Laws   

Parents of children at Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto, Calif., didn’t decide to seek an overhaul of the school using the state’s 2010 parent-trigger law lightly, or with little thought. They sought changes on numerous occasions, giving administrators plenty of chances to bring about improvements at the school, where 70 percent of sixth graders aren’t reading or doing math on grade level and which has been on a state list of failing schools for six years.

Parent-trigger isn’t a first course of action, and it’s not used to solve small problems. It’s a law families can rely on to bring about change when their children are trapped in a school that isn’t meeting their kids’ needs. I’ve met a fair number of parents whose sons and daughters are assigned to such schools and it’s truly heartbreaking. We can’t expect parents and kids to be patient while slow-moving reforms take root.

Parent-trigger laws, recently enacted in half a dozen states, allow parents of children at a chronically failing school to petition for immediate, transformative changes. Districts are then required to implement those changes if more than half of parents sign the petition. I’ve been involved in plenty of schools as a mother, teacher, and administrator, and I can tell you that getting half of the parent body to agree on something isn’t a low bar.

[See the U.S. News Best High Schools.]

Parents can select from a set of options such as turning to a public charter operator for help with the overhaul, bringing in new staff, or closing the school and sending the students to better-performing schools nearby. Other changes might result in new curricula or longer days. Each of these has been defined by the Department of Education as sound turnaround options for failing schools. Parents are responsible for choosing the changes, not for running the school once a plan has been established.

Many, like me, see this as a civil rights issue. Far too often, chronically failing schools—the ones that are subject to parent-trigger laws—serve poor and minority communities. These schools, if left unchanged, will perpetuate achievement gaps between minority students and their wealthier, white peers. No child should have to attend such a school, and as concerned citizens we have a special responsibility to close the unconscionably large learning gaps in our country. Poverty can present huge challenges in our schools—I’ve seen this firsthand—but with the right supports in place, all children can learn at high levels.

When we’re having conversations in this country about how to improve schools in high-needs communities, people say we need to encourage more parental involvement. Well, parent-trigger is a way in which parents are seeking to be involved in their kids’ education and serve as advocates for them. It may not be a traditional form of parental involvement, such as helping with a fundraiser, but we shouldn’t limit what form parental involvement should come in.

[See the U.S. News Best STEM Schools.]

Of course, I’m not saying that parent-trigger laws offer some sort of silver bullet solution that will fix all of the problems our schools are facing. We also need to ensure that all of our kids have great teachers, and must ensure those teachers are supported and rewarded for their hard work. We also need excellent principals, more educational choices for families, and better stewardship of our public resources. If we bring about these kinds of reforms and include parent-trigger as one tool, then we will be well on our way toward building the kind of world-class education system we all want for our kids.


Nov 262012

Mike Petrilli is one of the nation’s foremost education analysts. As executive vice president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, he oversees the organization’s research projects and publications and contributes to the Flypaper blog and weekly Education Gadfly newsletter. He is also a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution and Executive Editor of Education Next, where he writes a regular column on technology and media, as well as feature-length articles. Petrilli has published opinion pieces in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Wall Street Journal and appears regularly on NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight, CNN, and Fox. He’s been a guest on several National Public Radio programs, including All Things Considered, Talk of the Nation, and the Diane Rehm Show. He is author, with Frederick M. Hess, of No Child Left Behind: A Primer. Previously Petrilli was an official in the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Innovation and Improvement and a vice president at K12.com. He started his career as a teacher at the Joy Outdoor Education Center in Clarksville, Ohio, and holds a Bachelor’s degree in Honors Political Science from the University of Michigan. He lives with his wife Meghan and sons Nico and Leandro in Bethesda, Maryland.

Ten questions with Mike Petrilli about Mike’s new book, The Diverse Schools Dilemma. This post was originally published on Education News.

1. Why did you write The Diverse Schools Dilemma: A Parent’s Guide to Socioeconomically Mixed Public Schools?

Three years ago, when I started working on the book, I was struggling with the “diverse schools dilemma” myself. My wife, my young son, and I lived in Takoma Park, Maryland—a wonderful, urbanized city adjacent to the District of Columbia with walkable neighborhoods, a great sense of community…and socioeconomically diverse schools with lackluster test scores. I wanted to understand the pros and cons of such schools, and I decided to share what I learned with others.

2. You show that as cities change, middle-class families are returning to culturally vibrant urban neighborhoods for the first time in decades and considering sending their children to the diverse local public schools. What are the upsides of socioeconomically mixed public schools for middle-class children?

First of all, they get to become friends with kids with diverse backgrounds and experiences, with enriches their lives and, some research shows, will make them more comfortable in a multicultural America in the future. To be sure, getting to know people from different cultures or income levels can be stressful, but some amount of stress can be good for kids as they learn and grow. Second, living in the city can be great for kids, with less driving, more friends nearby, lots of museums and other cultural venues in the area—and many urban schools come with this sort of diversity.

3.What are the risks of choosing a socioeconomically mixed public school?

I see two. First, it’s true that such schools are less safe than homogeneously affluent schools. Still, all public schools are dramatically safer for kids than the world around them. Second, there’s the risk that high-achieving students—including, in general, many affluent kids—won’t get the challenge they need in diverse schools that are focused on helping other kids reach basic standards.

4. Can diverse schools effectively serve children of different socioeconomic backgrounds and educational needs simultaneously? What are the challenges? How are some schools overcoming them?

Yes, but it’s hard. The biggest challenge is academic diversity. All public schools face this challenge to some degree: How do you serve students who enter school at vastly different points in terms of academic preparedness? But socioeconomically diverse schools tend to face a spectrum that’s even wider, with some kids (mostly affluent) many grade levels ahead and other kids (mostly poor) several grade levels behind. There are no easy solutions. You can group kids by achievement levels, but doing so results largely in classrooms segregated by race and class. But if you keep all kids together, the high achievers will tend to be bored and the low achievers will tend to be overwhelmed. The best approach is probably a compromise: grouping kids by achievement for part of the day (say, for math and reading) but not for the rest.

5. Is there enough challenge and stimulation in schools that also struggle to help poor and immigrant children reach basic standards?

Sometimes, but it’s especially hard if schools don’t group students by ability. Beware of talk of “differentiated instruction”—the idea that one teacher can simultaneously instruct kids of vastly different achievement levels at the same time. It’s incredibly hard to do and often results in high achievers not getting the challenge they need.

6. Why are so few diverse public schools educationally “progressive”? Is it possible to find public schools that are both socioeconomically diverse and educationally progressive?

There are very few diverse public schools that are also “progressive.” They do exist—see, for instance, D.C.’s Capital City Public Charter School. But most diverse schools, focused as they are on meeting the needs of typically low-achieving low-income kids, tend to use a fairly traditional, structured, disciplined approach—in other words, the kind of educational style that many upper-middle-class parents hate.

7. Almost sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education, many poor and minority children still attend segregated schools. How crippling is such isolation? In particular, what’s the evidence that poor kids perform better in integrated schools?

It’s just as crippling as it was sixty years ago. Some recent research from Caroline Hoxby, Rick Hanushek, and others shows that racially isolated classrooms are really bad for minority kids, especially African-American males. No one knows why for sure, but “separate but equal” is still a major problem. That said, some of the schools garnering the best results for poor and minority kids are racially isolated, such as many “no excuses” charter schools. So it’s not impossible to make racially and socioeconomically isolated schools work, but we’d be better off if we didn’t have to.

8. You note that the rapid gentrification of many of our great cities is making school integration more feasible than it has been for decades. As neighborhoods grow more diverse, it’s easier for their local schools to become diverse. How can we take advantage of this unique opportunity? How can charter schools be used to achieve this goal?

Public policy has to help, because schools that today are nicely integrated could “flip” to becoming overwhelmingly white and upper-middle-class in just a matter of years, especially if their surrounding neighborhoods flip. There are a few options. First, cities could create “controlled-choice” programs, whereby parents choose from among several options and a computer considers parental preferences and school demographics to create matches. But this means that no one has the “right” to attend the school down the street. Another option is to draw school boundaries in a way that takes demographics into account. And a third way is to create magnet or charter schools that are designed to draw a diverse set of students.

9. In the book, you also share your personal struggle with the “Diverse Schools Dilemma.” What did you decide when it came to your own children? Why?

In the end, we decided to leave Takoma Park and move to a forested part of Bethesda, Maryland where, I’m embarrassed to say, the only diversity is biodiversity. I struggle with this decision every day, and we miss our old walkable, diverse neighborhood. But we felt that the schools in Takoma Park were too “traditional” and focused on getting kids to pass Maryland’s basic skills test. Those pressures play out differently in communities where the kids are all upper-middle-class and are going to pass the tests no matter what.

10. What solutions exist for parents facing the “Diverse Schools Dilemma”?

They can absolutely make diverse public schools work for them, especially if schools are willing to group students by achievement levels for at least part of the day. Parents might also consider diverse magnet schools, charter schools, or even private schools—which are often more diverse than their public school peers.

Nov 052012

On November 3rd, a State Department of Education Arbitration Panel rendered its decision and award in the collective bargaining agreement between the Norwalk Board of Education (BOE) and the Norwalk Federation of Teachers (NFT) for a successor agreement to the existing contract following the end of the 2012-13 school year.

Both parties met 3 times for direct negotiations and after that with a mutually agreed mediator, on 2 occasions, but failed to resolve outstanding issues and so the collective bargaining agreement went into arbitration.   Below is the decision and award in its entirety along with the BOE and NFT  Briefs.  Also included are exhibits that benchmark Norwalk’s contract items against other teacher contracts  in cities and town around Connecticut.

NORWALK 2012 11 AWARD (3)



Norwalk Teacher Arbitration Brief 2012 FINAL 10-19


Norwalk BOE Exhibits 1 thru 18

Norwalk BOE Exhibits 19 thru 37