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Judge Rules Washington Salary Distribution Method Unconstitutional

The Federal Way School District has prevailed in its lawsuit against the state of Washington, which alleged that the state’s method for allocating money to school districts’ various types of staff positions is inequitable.

The P-I explains:

The state education salary formula was revised once in the 1980s, but is still largely based on what the average actual salaries were in the 1976-77 school year, the year Seattle Public Schools won a state Supreme Court ruling that found the state school-funding system was not “general and uniform.”

It will be interesting to see whether the case is appealed, and if Federal Way maintains its victory, how this will impact funding across the state, particularly for administrators. The funding gap for administrators is particularly large, with the state covering only $54,000 of the $94,000 or so Federal Way pays the average administrator.

Further reading:

This news comes shortly before Washingtonians vote on simple majority, which will have an even bigger impact on school finance across the state.

2 The Ethics of TurnItIn.com: Plagiarism Prevention, Assumption of Guilt, or Copyright Violation?

Is TurnItIn.com, the anti-plagiarism service that compares submitted student papers with existing papers and other works in its database, a force for good or a thief?

According to the Washington Post, four high school students have sued TurnItIn in US District Court this week. They allege that TurnItIn has violated their intellectual property rights by including their papers in its database, after they specifically instructed the company not to do so when checking their papers.

TurnItIn has an enormous database of papers, both professional and student-generated. Instructors upload the work they collect from students, and TurnItIn compares the submitted work with papers already in its database. If a suspicious match is found, the instructor is notified, and may request to see the original paper to compare it with the new paper.

In the process, every paper an instructor uploads is added to TurnItIn’s database. This is the service’s chief advantage over simply using Google (apart from being more automated); without this massive cache of student papers, the service would be far less useful.

TurnItIn’s revenues are in the tens of millions of dollars per year. However, students assert that they are the ones doing the work that makes TurnItIn profitable. The students who are suing have previously complained about the company’s policy of using submitted papers for comparison against later papers. By law, students retain copyright for writing assignments they complete as part of academic coursework.

A second ethical problem with TurnItIn – one which has long sparked student opposition – is that all papers are checked, not just those suspected by instructors of being plagiarized. This assumption of “guilty until proven innocent” has students on the defensive. According to the earlier WaPo article, students at McLean High School circulated a petition in opposition to the school’s use of TurnItIn. The petition received 1100 signatures.

What is best for students – to expect and teach academic honesty, or to actually enforce it? Are these methods incompatible? Are we placing less trust in students when we check on them?

For its part, TurnItIn’s data indicates that 29% of papers submitted show evidence of significant plagiarism, while 1% of papers are copied in their entirety. The remaining 70% are found to be original, and these original papers are added to the database. It’s unclear whether instructors are uploading all of the papers they receive, or only those they suspect of plagiarism; if many instructors are uploading only papers they suspect of cheating, this would overstate the percentage of students who are cheating – and thus, overstate the need for a service like TurnItIn.

The copyright lawsuit will likely hinge on how TurnItIn stores student papers and what it does with them. Mike Smit, a Canadian Computer Science doctoral candidate who has investigated TurnItIn in some depth, and notes that TurnItIn claims not to store or distribute entire papers, but clearly does both. He also points out that hash algorithms could be used to detect copied sentences or phrases without actually storing student papers.

However, in order to prove cheating, an instructor will generally want to show the offending student the paper from which he or she allegedly copied. TurnItIn does allow for this, though it requires the permission of the instructor – not the student – who submitted the original paper. Mike’s experiments with this feature are very informative.

This lawsuit could mark the end of TurnItIn’s business model, which relies so heavily on stored student papers. However, the anti-plagiarism industry is not necessarily doomed if TurnItIn loses in court; a variety of technical means, such as calculating an MD5 hash for each sentence, could be used to detect plagiarism.

Seattle School Board Announces Two Finalists for Superintendent

School Board Announces Two Superintendent Finalists
Outstanding Candidates Reflect Qualities in Superintendent Profile

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

On Tuesday, April 3, the Seattle School Board voted unanimously to invite two (2) finalists to continue in the Superintendent Search process. These individuals were selected from an outstanding national group of six semi-finalists who were interviewed by the Board over the weekend.

“We had a very qualified pool of semi-finalists from which to choose,” said School Board President Cheryl Chow. “High-caliber candidates from across the nation were attracted and recruited, and the entire Board was very impressed by their leadership quality, educational experience, and personal enthusiasm. Our interview questions were designed to probe for experience and ability related to the nine points of our Superintendent Profile. During each two-hour interview, we were able to get a very good understanding of the strengths of each individual as they relate to the needs of our district.”

The two finalists for the role of Superintendent include Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D., currently Superintendent, Charleston County School District, Charleston, South Carolina; and Gregory Thornton, Ed.D., who serves as Chief Academic Officer of the School District of Philadelphia.

“Both finalists clearly demonstrated to us that they have the qualities we are seeking as outlined in the Superintendent Profile,” said Chow. “Their depth and breadth of understanding of what is needed to support teachers to do their best is impressive, and their passion for academic achievement for all students was very evident. In addition, they both have the experience and qualities that will enable them to be successful in building relationships internally and externally, providing leadership throughout our district, and effectively managing resources.”

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson and Dr. Thornton are career educators with 25-plus years of experience that includes working in large urban school systems. Both candidates began their careers as classroom teachers, progressing on to principal and then to senior leadership roles. Additional biographical information is available below.

Next Steps

The board has invited the two finalists to visit Seattle for a day of interviews and meetings. They will visit schools, meet with the School Board and the district’s leadership team, and also meet with an invited group of representatives from a wide array of community organizations.

The Board will then conduct site visits to the districts where the candidates are currently employed. As planned, the Board is on track to complete the hiring process and name a new Superintendent before the end of April.

Biography – Maria Goodloe-Johnson, Ph.D.

As Superintendent of Charleston County School District, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is responsible for the administration and supervision of a school system with 43,000 students, 5,500 employees and a $308 million budget. Prior to joining Charleston County School District in 2003, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson served the students of Corpus Christi Independent School District in Texas. At Corpus Christi she served in the capacity of assistant superintendent, overseeing three areas – instruction and school services (1999-2000), special education and instructional support (2000-2001), and school services and elementary instruction (2001-2003). Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has also served as director of secondary instruction, St. Vrain Valley School District, Longmont, Colorado (1994-1999), and as high school principal and assistant principal (1988-1994). She began her career as a high school special education teacher in Colorado.

Current professional and community affiliations include service on the boards of the Charleston Trident United Way Campaign, the Carolina Boy Scouts, and the Children’s Museum. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson also serves on the Broad Advisory Board, and the National Staff Development Board of Trustees. She is a member of the Charleston Chamber Education Foundation and Charleston Rotary Club; and is a community advisor to Junior League. Prior community service includes serving on the boards of the National High School Alliance, National Board for Middle Grades Reform, National Conference for Community and Justice, and American Heart Association. She is also a member of a number of education-related professional associations.

Dr. Goodloe-Johnson has been recognized and honored for her work in education. Among those honors are: American Association of University Women, Denver Chapter, “1996 Trailblazer Award,” “The Superintendent of Education Excellence” Award from Mt. Pleasant District AME Hall of Fame (2006), Morris Street Baptist Church Community Service Award (2006), Charleston Branch NAACP Trailblazer Award (2004), and University of Nebraska at Lincoln Alumni Achievement Award (2000).

Goodloe-Johnson holds a Bachelor of Science in Special Education from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln; a Master of Arts in Educationally Handicapped K-12 from the University of Northern Colorado at Greely, and a Ph.D. in Educational Administration, Supervision, Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Colorado at Denver. Dr. Goodloe-Johnson is also a graduate of the Broad Center for Superintendents.

Biography – Gregory Thornton, Ed.D.

As Chief Academic Officer of the School District of Philadelphia, Dr. Thornton has total responsibility for developing and managing all facets of the instructional, school management, accountability, policy, and compliance programs of the district. He serves 189,000 students, and oversees 272 schools, 15,000 professional and support staff, and a budget of $2.2 billion.

Prior to joining Philadelphia in 2004, Thornton served as Community Superintendent and then Deputy Superintendent for the Montgomery County (Maryland) Public Schools (2002-2004); Assistant Superintendent for the Winston-Salem, Forsyth County (North Carolina) Public Schools (1998-2002); Coordinating Director of Secondary Schools, Charlotte-Mecklenberg (North Carolina) Public Schools (1997-1998). He has also held elementary and high school principal positions in Maryland, Delaware, and North Carolina (1981-1997).

Dr. Thornton has served as chair, board member, and member of numerous educational, civic, and community organizations. Recent civic and professional activities include Adjunct Professor, University of Pennsylvania, School of Education and Dissertation Chair, Nova Southeastern University. Thornton has served as a member of the National Urban Education Collaboration, Yale Institute for Teaching and Learning, Coalition of Urban Schools Initiative, Community College of Philadelphia Strategic Design Team, Mayor’s Advisory Board for Appointments to Community College of Philadelphia, National Educational Trust Advisory Group for the Reorganization of New Orleans Public Schools, Mid-Atlantic Comprehensive Center at The George Washington University Center for Equity and Excellence in Education Advisory Board, and Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts Education Board. Dr. Thornton has been a keynote speaker at a variety of national and international education conferences.

Recognized and honored for his work in education, Dr. Thornton was awarded the Citizen of the Year Award from the Montgomery County Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, the Black Achiever Award from the Winston-Salem YMCA, and the Outstanding Service Award from the Caroline County Board of Commissioners. He is also an Inductee, Temple University Gallery of Success, was an IBM Nominee for Technology Superintendent of the Year in 2005, and received the President’s Award from the Schoolmen’s Club of Philadelphia.

Dr. Thornton holds a Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education/Math from Temple University in Pennsylvania, a Master of Arts in Administration/Supervision from Salisbury State University, Maryland; and an Ed.D. Educational Leadership from Nova Southeastern University in Florida.

Seattle Public Schools – Superintendent Search Process – Background

In November 2006, the Seattle School Board launched a national search to replace current Superintendent Raj Manhas, who announced his resignation effective August 2007. The School Board hired Ray & Associates, a national executive search firm, to conduct the search. During January the consultants led a series of discussions and meetings where staff, families, and community members provided input on the qualities and experience that are needed in the next Superintendent of Seattle Public Schools. Based on that input, the Board adopted a Superintendent Profile, which contains nine key elements.

Engaging in a national search, the consultants received 39 applications. Eleven (11) semi-finalists were brought forward to the board for in-depth consideration, and six (6) were invited for interviews.

Additional background and timeline information is available on the School Board website.

See Freedom Writers for Free Jan 26 – Feb 1

Teachers can now see Freedom Writers, which was mentioned in the previous post about the stereotype of the heroic urban teacher, for free from January 26 to February 1 at AMC theatres:

In appreciation of teachers across the nation who give endlessly and enrich so many lives, AMC and Paramount Pictures are offering teachers* an exclusive opportunity to see the highly acclaimed film “FREEDOM WRITERS” for FREE.

Dates: January 26 to February 1, 2007

To receive one free ticket to see the film, teachers must present a school-issued ID or pay stub and a valid photo ID.

Passes to school teachers will be provided on a first-come, first-served basis, while supplies last at participating theatres in the AMC system including: AMC Loews theatres, AMC Star theatres, AMC Magic Johnson theatres and AMC Cineplex Odeon theatres throughout the United States. Limit one pass per school teacher. Please arrive early.

*Teachers for grades kindergarten through 12 are eligible for this offer.

More information

1 Special Education is a Service, Not a Place

The 2004 reauthorization of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) points out how far we’ve come in offering a free and appropriate public education to every student, while reminding us that we have a long way to go:

(3) Since the enactment and implementation of the Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975, this title has been successful in ensuring children with disabilities and the families of such children access to a free appropriate public education and in improving educational results for children with disabilities.

(4) However, the implementation of this title has been impeded by low expectations, and an insufficient focus on applying replicable research on proven methods of teaching and learning for children with disabilities. Public Law 108-446, Section 1, p. 118

Specifically, the law remarks that

(5) Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by…[ensuring] that special education can become a service for such children rather than a place where such children are sent.

This is an important message that we must hear if we are to take on the challenge of educating all students to high standards. Terminology matters here more than usual – our students who receive special educational services, or specially designed instruction, are just that – not “SPED students” or “SPED kids.”

There is widespread concern over the fact that some populations of students are being “placed in special education” at disproportionate rates. If misidentification is occuring, this problem needs to be addressed. However, the larger problem is that special education, in reality, is for many students in many schools more of a sentence than a service. If we are to truly educate all students, we need to treat special education as a service that we provide for students who need it, and not as a place where we hide certain students.

Principal Power

A growing body of evidence indicates that powerful, charismatic principals are a major factor in the success of a school. Despite the power of teachers’ unions, experiments that give principals more latitude to hire and fire are becoming more popular.

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signed a bill that would give principals more power to hire teachers they deem qualified, rather than having to accept teachers who have applied for a transfer:

Currently, principals must give teachers seeking a transfer first priority for any open positions, even if they are not performing well.

“Right now we have what we call the dance of the lemons,” Schwarzenegger said at a bill signing ceremony at a Pasadena high school. “Teachers who are failing our students, or getting into trouble in one school, can voluntarily move to another school, and there the school principal has to accept them, even knowing that they’re not good teachers.”

The bill gives principals power to “say no to those teachers and only hire the best candidates,” the Republican governor said.

SB1655 was opposed by the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, two traditional Democratic allies. link

Baltimore Talent Development High School, an experimental school working with Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Social Organization of Schools, seems to illustrate this trend well.

TDHS does not have any eye-catching special programs or exorbitant funding. The curriculum is standard, but the expectations are high in this 400-student high school. The principal exercises careful control over the teachers he hires, and takes pains to ensure a positive, orderly environment. And it’s working – the school has almost no dropouts, and attendance rates over 90% – unheard of for an urban school that serves low-income students.

For all its promise, the powerful-principal model has one major limitation: it takes the right person, and if that person leaves, the school’s success may leave as well. However, if the practices and cultural norms the principal introduces are institutionalized and internalized by all staff members, perhaps a long-term turnaround can be effected in a short time.

What are the pros and cons of giving principals more power? Speak up in the comments.

Risk Factors and Resiliency

Dr. Rico Catalano of the Social Development Research Group was a guest speaker today in a master’s class at UW. He gave a presentation on resiliency, risk factors, and support programs to reduce the risk of drug use, delinquency, and school dropout.

The presentation he gave can be viewed in its entirety here. One of the most important insights he shared was that not all support programs are effective, despite their popularity. For example, some anti-drug programs actually increase students’ likelihood of trying drugs, because the program raises students’ awareness and piques their interest in drugs, without effectively reducing risk factors. Dr. Catalano described how his research group uses longitudinal studies and meta-analyses to determine if a program is effective.

The Four-Day School Week

Some schools are shortening the school week to four days, staying longer Monday through Thursday and keeping schools closed on Fridays:

In parts of the American West such as Salmon [Idaho], sharply higher fuel prices have prompted a growing number of school districts to save money by shortening the school week to four days.

School systems in such remote, sparsely populated areas, where school bus routes can stretch across many miles and take hours to complete, say far higher transport and other energy-related expenses are squeezing already shrinking budgets. link

Parents are concerned about the cost of daycare for Fridays, and schools are concerned that longer school days may make it harder to keep students engaged productively. However, many districts have successfully transitioned to the four-day week, saving money and giving teachers three-day weekends.