Florida Charter School 10-year Anniversary Report

Florida charter schools are serving diverse populations and closing the achievement gap

The Florida Department of Education has released a report commemorating the tenth anniversary of Florida charter schools, which have provided parents an additional public education option. The report highlights the history of charter schools in Florida, provides student demographic information, and compares achievement of students in charter schools with those in traditional public schools.

Like all public school students in Florida, charter school students are assessed through the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT). Overall, the performance of Florida's charter school students on the FCAT is on par with, and in some cases exceeds, the performance of students attending traditional public schools. Further, charter schools are closing the achievement gap between white and minority students at a rate similar to that of traditional public schools.

A greater percentage of charter elementary and middle schools students are reading at or above grade level as compared to their traditional public school counterparts. In addition, the percentage of charter middle school students proficient in mathematics surpassed their traditional public school peers for the first time this year. While the percentage of proficient charter school students still falls below traditional public school students at some grade levels, significant progress has been made to reduce or eliminate the gap that once existed.

Florida's charter schools have also seen their student populations become increasingly diverse. On average, the state's charter schools serve a slightly greater proportion of minority students than traditional public schools, with a significant increase in the enrollment of Hispanic students from 2 percent in 1996-97 to 29 percent last school year. In terms of minority student performance on the reading and mathematics FCAT, charter and traditional public schools have experienced similar decreases in the achievement gap between white and minority students at all school levels.

"During the last 10 years, Florida's charter schools helped students — especially our minority students — achieve academic success," said Florida Board of Education Chairman T. Willard Fair and founder of one of Florida's first charter schools, The Liberty City Charter School. "These schools focus on the individual needs of students and challenge them to reach their full potential."

The Hispanic student population at charter schools appears, on average, to be more proficient in reading and mathematics than the Hispanic student population at traditional public schools. While the achievement gap has narrowed at a similar rate in charter and traditional public schools, the magnitude of the actual gap between white and African-American and white and Hispanic students at charter schools is smaller across all school levels when compared to traditional public schools.
Last year, enrollment in Florida charter schools topped 92,000, which equates to about 3 percent of Florida's total public school population during the 2005-06 school year. Enrollment in Florida's charter schools is projected to surpass 100,000 students this school year. Ten years later, there are approximately 175 times more the number of students enrolled in charter schools in their first year (1996-97). Florida is ranked second in the nation in public charter school student enrollment.

In May 1996, legislation authorizing the creation of charter schools as part of Florida's state system of public education was signed into law and was effective in July of that year. Charter school applications were submitted and approved by schools boards in Escambia, Leon, Miami-Dade, Polk and Walton Counties, resulting in the state's first five charter schools — Escambia Charter School (Escambia County), C.K. Steele-LeRoy Collins Charter Middle School (Leon County), The Liberty City Charter School (Miami-Dade County), the APPLE School (Polk County), and Seaside Neighborhood School (Walton County). Today, there are more than 350 Florida charter schools — the third largest charter school system in the county.
Charter schools are among the fastest growing school choice options in Florida. Charter schools are public schools that are independently designed and operated and committed to improving the academic achievement of every student. Charter schools are largely free to innovate, and are open to all students, regardless of income, gender, race, or religion. Charter schools tend to attract students who struggle academically and cover a spectrum of educational needs from specializing in the performing arts to technical training.

To view the complete charter school tenth anniversary report, visit www.floridaschoolchoice.org/information/charter_schools/files/Charter_10Year_Book.pdf.
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Report on the Cost of Education

Executive Summary

The following report was prepared by the New Jersey Department of Education (the Department) and Augenblick, Palaich, and Associates, Inc. (APA), a nationally recognized education consulting firm with more than 20 years experience in education policy and school finance. The report describes work undertaken by staff from both organizations over the past several years.

The primary purpose of this report is to calculate the costs New Jersey school districts face in meeting state performance and accountability standards. Costs addressed include:

1. A per-student “base” cost (which reflects only the cost of serving students with no special needs); and 2. Adjustments to the base cost that reflect the added cost of serving special need students (including special education students, at-risk students and English language learners).

To identify these costs, the report used two nationally recognized study approaches. The Department weighed the strengths and weaknesses of each approach, and then selected one – the Professional Judgment Panel (PJP) approach – whose results form the basis of the report’s findings. The tables below identify the median base cost and added cost weights identified using the PJP approach.

These costs reflect the price of putting resources into schools and districts that panels of educators from across the state say are needed for students to meet New Jersey’s academic performance expectations. It is critical to note, however, that panelists only identified a set of resources to be used in a series of hypothetical school scenarios and did not specifically examine any existing school or district in the state. It is therefore not appropriate to suggest that any specific resources or programs identified by the panels should be applied in all New Jersey schools. Nor can the report be used to determine which portion of these resources should be paid for at the state or local level.

Instead, the panel recommendations are perhaps best viewed simply in terms of identifying an overall level of funds which should be available to purchase personnel, resources, and programs as individual school or district leaders see fit. The advantage of such an approach is that it gives the flexibility to educators to decide how best to meet the specific needs of their students. These are the professionals who: 1) work with children in classrooms on a daily basis; 2) have the experience and training to make the best decisions possible on the types of resources needed for students to meet state standards; and 3) have the greatest understanding of the unique characteristics of their district and student population that might warrant a different way of deploying resources. As shown in the tables below, the process used identified a base cost and added weights for students with special needs in both K–8 and K–12 districts. The base cost shown below is only a median cost.

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Education Next Most Influential Journal in Education, Study Finds

Education Next is the most influential journal in education, according to a study released last week by the Editorial Projects in Education (EPE) Research Center. The study, Influence: A Study of the Factors Shaping Education Policy, was based on an extensive survey of the education field’s opinion-elite.

Education Next, published quarterly by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, was the sole journal, peer-reviewed or otherwise, listed among the top-ten information sources in the EPE survey, surpassed only by agencies of the U. S. government, Education Week, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and the non-profit organization Education Trust.

“The other editors and I are very pleased to learn that this young journal, now in its sixth year of publication, has attained such prominence and recognition,” said Paul E. Peterson, editor-in-chief of Education Next and director of the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University. “The honor reminds us to keep focused on our central mission, namely to ‘present the facts as best they can be determined, giving voice (without fear or favor) to worthy research, sound ideas and responsible arguments.’”

EPE’s study also ranked most influential research in education as well as the most influential individuals. The research on school vouchers conducted by Peterson and his colleagues at Harvard was cited among the thirteen “blockbuster” studies of the past decade. A study of graduation rates by Jay Greene, an Education Next contributing editor, was also listed as one of the top thirteen. The National Assessment of Educational Progress, conducted under the auspices of the U. S. Department of Education, was listed as the most influential research study.

Education Next Senior Editor Chester E. Finn Jr., who also serves as chair of the Hoover Institution’s Koret Task Force on K-12 Education and president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, was named as one of the 20 most influential individuals in education. Microsoft founder Bill Gates held the top spot as the single most influential person in education in the last decade.

In a statement, EPE Director Christopher Swanson said the study provides “a unique look at the power-brokers in American education who have shaped much of what happens in our nation’s classrooms over the last 10 years. The influence rankings also shed some light on the movers and shakers to watch in the next decade.”

Education Next features and forums provide opportunities for experts and analysts to cover key issues in school reform. All items in its research section are subject to double-blind peer-review. The journal has garnered national and international attention in recent months with the publication of ground breaking research on such topics as the increased achievement of students when taught by teachers of the same gender, the failure of school phys-ed classes to fight obesity, and the hidden social costs for academically successful minority students in integrated public schools. Regular features of the journal, such as its annual report card on states’ proficiency standards and its “Check the Facts” column, which shines a spotlight on inaccurate and misleading research, are widely referenced by the media, policymakers, government officials, and education practitioners.

The current issue of Education Next (Winter 2007) headlines research that shows that state certification requirements that call for a specific course of study in education schools have little impact on student learning in the classroom. The issue also includes analyses of evidence and arguments used in education adequacy lawsuits and an assessment of the effectiveness of early childhood education. Other articles reveal the local barriers to charter school reform and the extent to which school restructuring is not taking place under No Child Left Behind.
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The Cato Education Market Index

The school choice movement has a long way to go according to the newly released "Cato Education Market Index." The report rates all fifty states and two foreign countries on the extent to which they enjoy market freedoms and incentives in education. It finds that no state in the nation has anything approaching a free educational marketplace — including states with charter school, voucher, or education tax credit programs. Cato scholar Andrew J. Coulson, the report's author, argues that in order to enjoy the substantial benefits of a true free market in education — innovation, diversity, efficiency, the rapid dissemination of best practices, reduced social conflict over the curriculum — several key policy changes are necessary.

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New York state's charter schools breaking their promise

Most charter schools are underperforming the traditional public schools in their districts, according to a report released today by New York State United Teachers. The report found that only 13 percent of charter schools had shown higher academic achievement than their public school counterparts.

"The numbers don't lie," said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. "It's clear that the performance of charter schools has been lackluster at best. Increasing the number of charter schools in New York state may serve some political agenda, but it won't serve the needs of our students."

The study, titled "Broken Promise: How the charter school experiment is falling short," compared the results of 2004-05 4 th and 8 th grade state assessments for students at charter schools with comparable public schools in the district. Fewer than 13 percent of the charter schools had better test results than the traditional public schools. NYSUT Executive Vice President Alan B. Lubin also noted that charter schools have drained tremendous resources from local public schools, particularly in Albany and Buffalo.

"Charter schools were created to be better than traditional public schools," Lubin said. "That's just not happening. And who knows how much better public schools in cities like Albany could be performing if they hadn't been devastated by cuts made to pay for charter schools."

Lubin said the charter school report has been sent to the governor and every legislator. He said the goal of the study was to ensure that the Legislature had a clear picture of the poor performance of most charter schools before they returned to Albany for this week's special legislative session.

" New York state hasn't received much bang for its charter school bucks," Lubin said. "There should have been a Hippocratic oath applied to the creation of charter schools: First, do no harm. Unfortunately, a lot of harm has already been done to public schools. But, hopefully, this report will help ensure that the Legislature doesn't do any more harm when it's in Albany."
"Charter schools were set up to encourage the use of new and innovative approaches to education that could be replicated in other schools," NYSUT Vice President Maria Neira said. "This report shows the educational programs offered by charter schools are already being used in public schools throughout the state."

The report also found that charter schools tend to serve students who are more advantaged than the general population of the district they're located in, and charters also have one-sixth the number of English language learners and far fewer special education students. The report examined test results for local public schools with the same or a higher percentage of students eligible for free lunch as the charter schools.

"We compared apples to apples, and that's the only comparison that matters," Neira said.

NYSUT represents 575,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education and health care and retirees. NYSUT is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and the AFL-CIO.

DOWNLOAD: Complete Report.
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“Influence: A Study of the Factors Influencing Education Policy

The Editorial Projects in Education Research Center…has conducted a study of the factors that have influenced the educational policy landscape during the past decade. Using a two-stage survey methodology, we asked leading education-policy experts first to identify and then to rate highly influential agents or “Influentials” across four different categories – Studies, Organizations, People, and Information Sources.

We report influence scores and rankings for the leading nominees in each category. As the study’s results demonstrate, there are strong interconnections among these four dimensions of influence. Certain institutions, for example, appear in multiple categories, represented as prominent organizations, the homes of renowned experts, and sponsors of leading studies and information sources.

This report offers a first attempt at untangling the complex web of influence that has helped to shape education policy over the years. The full report describes the study’s methodology in greater detail and provides in-depth profiles for the top-ranked nominees in each of the four influence categories. An appendix to the report also includes a complete listing of all studies, organizations, people, and information sources that received nominations in our survey of education-policy experts.

Influential Studies

… The studies ranking in the highest tier of influence – the “short list” – prove to be quite different from one another in a variety of ways. Some nominees conform to a conventional understanding of a study, as a relatively discrete work taking the form of a clearly identifiable core product like a report, monograph, or commission proceedings. The National Reading Panel’s 2000 report Teaching Children to Read very much fits this mold, as do: the two National Research Council reports that made the list (How People Learn and Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children); What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future, a report by the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF); and the American Diploma Project’s Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma that Counts.

But when asked to identify influential studies, respondents often cited broader bodies or collections of work rather than individual reports and publications. Several researchers, for example, were nominated for strands of investigation on particular topics: Richard Elmore on school reform; Jay Greene on graduation rates; Paul Peterson on school choice and vouchers; and William Sanders on value-added methodology.

The Education Trust, as an organization, was recognized in a similar manner for a series of reports highlighting the issue of teacher quality. The Tennessee Student/Teacher Achievement Ratio experiment (Project STAR) offers another twist within the set of nominees that could be labeled research strands. Project STAR is represented by a variety of studies conducted by a number of independent researchers and institutions, all focusing on the state’s class-size experiment. Perhaps furthest removed from the traditional conception of a discrete study were the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Far from being a single piece of work, NAEP is a decades-long student assessment and data collection initiative of the U.S. Department of Education. Likewise, the international TIMSS study has at its core a large-scale assessment combined with the collection of background and contextual data, as well as major research components examining curricular content and instructional practices… “

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The Consequences of a “Narrowing” K-12 Curriculum

Neglecting history, civics, literature and the arts threatens U.S. economic competitiveness, leaders say

Doubling the time that schools devote to math and reading in response to state and federal testing requirements won’t truly prepare young Americans for life in the 21st century. It probably won’t even boost reading and math scores long term, concluded a conference of policymakers, business leaders, and educators today.

At the event scholars and education leaders highlighted alternatives to a hyper-narrow curriculum, including testing added subjects like history, lengthening the school day to encompass art and music, and providing stronger curricular guidance and instructional materials for teachers.

“Narrowing the K-12 curriculum isn’t just a problem that arrived with No Child Left Behind,” said Fordham president Chester E. Finn, Jr. “Since the dawn of standards-based education reform, some states and schools have reacted to pressure for better basic skills by squeezing out history, civics, literature, and the arts. This is wrong. Our kids need both to walk and chew gum and our schools must prepare them accordingly, ensuring that they’re adept in the basic skills while also acquiring a broad liberal arts education.”

Business leaders, including technology mastermind Dr. Sidney Harman; artists, including poet and chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts Dana Gioia; statesmen, historians, and practicing educators from around the country gathered at the Fordham symposium, Beyond The Basics: Why reading, math, and science aren’t sufficient for a 21st century education, to ponder possible remedies, including:

• Increasing instructional time in U.S. classrooms. According to data newly analyzed by Kate Walsh, president of the National Council for Teacher Quality, students in some cities (e.g. Chicago) spend the equivalent of eight weeks less in school per year than their peers in other cities (e.g. New York). Such sharp differences mean less time for learning basics—and everything else.
• Adding subjects to the testing docket. Brown University scholar Martin West presented research showing that, at a national level, instructional time for reading has risen dramatically while time for non-tested subjects such as history has eroded. However, states that test students in history haven’t experienced these same declines; their students spend more time studying history than in other states. UNESCO researcher Aaron Benavot also found that U.S. primary schools spend more time on reading instruction—and less on the arts—than do other OECD nations.

• Equipping teachers with better instructional materials and professional development to teach a well-rounded curriculum. A range of leaders including Kati Haycock of the Education Trust, E. D. Hirsch, Jr. of the Core Knowledge Foundation, and Antonia Cortese of the American Federation of Teachers faulted states for lacking a coherent curriculum that teachers can use in class. As most state standards are too vague to be helpful, teachers crave clear expectations and powerful classroom tools.

“The narrowing of the curriculum is not an inevitable response to testing and accountability,” said education historian Diane Ravitch. “Some schools, districts, and states have done a better job ensuring a broad education for all of their students, and they deserve to be emulated. The educators in charge of schools must hew close to a vision of a good education for their students, regardless of NCLB requirements.”

In the coming months, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute will release a volume highlighting today’s discussions and conclusions. To view the Beyond the Basics Symposium via Webcast, visit http://www.widmeyer.tv/webcast/beyondthebasics.
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Market Trends Report – Teacher Buying Behavior, 2006-2007

Findings in the report include:

• On average, teachers report spending a total of $475 of their own money on classroom materials and supplies.
• 44% of respondents spend over $500 on their classrooms, with 20% spending over $1,000.
• 38% of teachers report needing materials that support differentiated instruction
• Respondents in the South and West are significantly more likely to report needing English Language Learning Materials compared to respondents in the Northeast.
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Charter High Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap

Closing the achievement gaps that separate the academic performance of various subgroups of students is a central goal of current education reform efforts nationwide. Hard-earned progress has been made at the elementary school level, but high school students are not progressing nearly as well. Indeed, it is at this level that performance gains in general have been most elusive and chronic student achievement disparities among significant subgroups seem most intransigent. Yet success is not beyond reach.

This guide profiles eight charter secondary schools that are making headway in meeting the achievement challenge. They are introduced here so their practices can inspire and inform other school communities striving to ensure that all of their students, regardless of their race, ZIP code, learning differences, or home language, are successful learners capable of meeting high academic standards.

In the nationwide drive to raise student achievement and eliminate performance gaps, state accountability systems and the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) provide public access to data on how students are doing. This information pinpoints any achievement gaps that exist and, in doing so, propels and helps guide action to close them. The data also shed light on hard-won advances. For example, 2005 results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) show significant performance gains in the early grades. Fourth-graders in all subgroups demonstrated improved achievement on the reading exam. Equally important, the achievement gaps between African-American and white students and between Hispanic and white students narrowed to the smallest size in history on the reading assessment. Gaps also narrowed in mathematics, and the average scores for white, African-American, and Hispanic fourth-graders were higher than in any previous assessment year. Students who were eligible for free or reduced-price lunch—an indicator of family poverty—had higher average scores in math in 2005 than in 1996. Those fourth-graders with disabilities who were assessed also had a higher average score, and a higher percentage of them performed at or above “basic” compared to previous assessment years. Such gains do not come about by accident: While there is more to do, these improvements suggest that by paying attention to the data and implementing research-based practices, schools can make a powerful difference in closing achievement gaps.

Unfortunately, improving high schools has proved more challenging. Achievement on NAEP for 17-year-olds has not increased. In in-ternational comparisons, our high schools are effectively losing ground rather than gaining it. NAEP data show that higher percentages of 12th-grade African-American and Hispanic students score “below basic” in reading and math, compared to their white and Asian American peers: In 2000, 70 percent of African-American students scored below basic in math compared to 58 percent of Hispanic students, 29 percent of white students, and 26 percent of Asian American students. In reading, 48 percent of African-American students scored below basic compared to 41 percent of Hispanic students, 28 percent of Asian American students, and 22 percent of white students. Meanwhile, high school graduation rates continue to be lower for minority students than for white students. In the class of 2002, about 78 percent of white students graduated from high school with a regular diploma, compared to 56 percent of African-American students and 52 percent of Hispanic students.

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Teacher Pay Reforms

New Report from the Center for American Progress Studies Teacher Quality and Pay Issues

Education research convincingly shows that teacher quality is the most important schooling factor influencing student achievement. A very good teacher as opposed to a very bad one can make as much as a full year’s difference in learning growth for students. Indeed, the effect of increases in teacher quality swamps the impact of any other educational investment, such as reductions in class size.

A new report from the Center for American Progress shows that while improving the quality of the teacher workforce presents educational policymakers with a tremendous opportunity to dramatically improve the educational achievement of America’s students, there does not appear to be any specific credential or characteristic that is a silver-bullet predictor of quality.

This casts doubt on the prospects of using state licensure policy to determine who is eligible to teach (a “gatekeeper approach”) to greatly improve the quality of the teacher workforce. Instead, the report suggests that policymakers may wish to address teacher performance through a focus on teacher workforce policies—that is, policies that are based on a teacher’s actual demonstrated classroom performance.

“Teachers are the most important factor in educational success for most youngsters, especially those from low-income families,” said Cindy Brown, Director of Education Policy at the Center for American Progress. “Examples abound of highly effective teachers in every community, but overall we are faced with a continuing shortage of good teachers that jeopardizes progress in education improvement. State and federal policymakers need to invest in and carefully evaluate new ways to attract high quality candidates to teaching, and reward those who are most effective.”

Based on this review of what we know about teacher pay reform, this paper argues that pay reform holds promise, and offers the following recommendations for those who wish to see teacher pay reforms successfully implemented:

• Teacher pay reform is much more likely to be successful if the reform takes place at the state level.
• States must make basic investments in their education data infrastructures.
• More basic research is needed on the data and methodological requirements for using student achievement tests as a gauge of teacher effectiveness.
• States and localities need to engage in a number of pay experiments.

Pay is certainly not the only way to manage a workforce, but it is one of the primary policy tools that school systems have at their disposal. The strict adherence to the traditional single-salary schedule therefore strips school districts of a key managerial tool. Even though the research on teacher compensation reform is hardly definitive enough to recommend the use of specific pay reforms to reach specific goals, the few quantitative studies that do exist suggest that a more strategic use of teacher compensation could lead to both a more equitable allocation of teachers among students, and increased student achievement.

To read the entire report: Teacher Pay Reforms: The Political Implications of Recent Research:
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Crime, Violence, Discipline and Safety in U.S. Public Schools

Crime, Violence, Discipline and Safety in U.S. Public Schools: Findings from the School Survey on Crime and Safety: 2003-04

This report presents national-level information about crime and safety in U.S. public schools as reported by school principals, including the frequency of criminal incidents at school, the use of disciplinary actions, and efforts to prevent and reduce crime at school. Data come from the 2003–04 School Survey on Crime and Safety (SSOCS:2004). Eighteen percent of public schools reported at least one serious violent incident during the 2003–04 school year; two percent of public schools reported hate crimes; five percent of public schools reported gang-related crimes.

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New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce Says U.S. Standard of Living Jeopardized by Current System—Offers Framework for Change

Declaring the U.S. is continuing to lose the education race to other nations in this new global economy, The New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce has laid out in its Tough Choices or Tough Times report a plan for the total overhaul of U.S. education by 2021.

“The first Commission, in 1990, never dreamed that we would end up competing with countries that could offer large numbers of highly educated workers willing to work for low wages. American workers must match their education levels — a big challenge — but our workers’ wages will still fall unless we can offer something else, and that is a capacity for endless creativity and innovation,” noted Chairman Charles Knapp.

To confront this U.S. crisis head-on, the bi-partisan commission, comprised of former Cabinet secretaries, governors, college presidents and business, civic and labor leaders, is calling for a total shakeup in how America educates its people with an innovative system that boosts students to unprecedented levels of learning throughout their lives while creating a structure that gives them the best teachers and schools the country can offer. The report points out that the United States has one of the most expensive elementary and secondary education systems in the world, one that produces only mediocre results. Because it is the system that is the problem, it is the system that must be rebuilt, the Commissioners noted. The report lays out a series of steps that are designed as an integrated approach to changing the entire system, and it warns that only selecting ideas that “cost the least and offend the fewest will not solve the problem.” The new system would support students beginning at age three and create an infrastructure to stimulate learning, dramatically increase the number of students headed to college, and allow everyone in the workforce the chance to strengthen and improve their skills. The recommendations include:

_ Revamping the high school-college transition. High school would end for most students after 10th grade, when they would take rigorous State Board Exams set to what they should be able to do to succeed in state colleges. Students meeting that Board Exam standard would be able to go directly to state technical schools and colleges as freshmen. But students could choose to stay In high school to prepare for entrance to selective colleges, if they wished.

_ Reallocating funds to high priority strategies for improving system performance. The new progression through high school and college would release nearly $60 billion in funds that can be used to make sure that students would in fact be ready for college by the time they are 16.

_ Pre-K for all. A third of the savings would be used to provide high-quality early childhood education for all four-year-olds and all low-income three-year olds.

_ Redesigning how schools are funded. The last third of the savings would be used to provide more money to schools serving low-income and other disadvantaged children. Local funding would be abolished; the funds would be raised and distributed to the schools by the state.

_ Redesigning how schools are managed. All public schools would be managed by independent contractors operating under performance contracts managed by the local school districts. Only those schools that succeeded in improving the performance of their students would be funded. Parents would be free to send their children to any of these schools they wished.

_ Educating the current workforce to a high standard. Adults who are currently in the workforce would have the right to a free education to the same standard that would be set for high school students under the new system.

_ Creating personal competitiveness accounts. Inspired by the GI bill, the federal government would deposit an initial $500 into each account at birth, and these accounts would allow everyone to receive ongoing education and training throughout their lives.

“Our education and training systems were built for another era. It is not possible to get where we have to go by patching that system, and there is not enough money available at any level to fix this problem by spending more on the system we have,” says Marc Tucker, Commission Vice- Chairman and Staff Director. “We believe this kind of change, which will take 15 years of hard work to implement, will result in what will plausibly be the best national public school system in the world.”

These changes track closely with the views of top students nationwide. A November 2006 survey of top students (those with a combined math and verbal score of 1100 on the SAT) found that when asked about the obstacles and / or downsides to choosing a teaching career, six out of ten (62%) students mentioned “low pay.” In addition, these students identified the following as the four most highly motivating incentives for them to consider a teaching career: _ a system in which teacher pensions would be mobile; _ top salaries of about $95,000 per year for teachers working a regular school year, and $110,000 per year if they work a full year; and _ a system where a teacher could earn more for accepting greater responsibilities than regular teachers for working in difficult situations, and for serving in shortage fields. If these changes were implemented, one out of three (34%) top students indicated that they would choose classroom teaching as a career. Compared to the pre-measure where only 21% indicated they were very likely to choose a career in classroom teaching at some point, this is a significant increase of 13%.



Our first step is creating a set of State Board Examinations, which are exams in a set of core subjects based on syllabi provided by the Board. For most students, the first Board Exam will come at the end of 10th grade. Students who score well enough will be guaranteed the right to go to their community or technical college to begin a program leading to a two-year technical degree or a two-year program designed to enable the student to transfer later into a four-year state college. Students who get a good enough score can stay in high school to prepare for a second Board exam, like the ones given by the International Baccalaureate program, or the AP, or another state or private equivalent. When those students are finished with their program, assuming they do well enough on their second set of Board exams, they can go off to a selective college or university and might or might not be given college credit for the courses they took in high school.


The proposed changes release close to $60 billion for reinvestment in our education system. With those resources, we propose to invest in: 1) recruiting, training and deploying a teaching force for the nation’s schools recruited mainly from the top third of the high school students going on to college; 2) building a high quality full service early childhood education system for every four-year old student in the United States and every low-income three-year old and 3) giving the nation’s disadvantaged students the resources they need to succeed against internationally benchmarked education standards.


We must first change the shape of teacher compensation, which is currently weak on cash compensation, and heavy on pensions and health benefits for retired teachers. Therefore, we would make retirement benefits comparable to those of the private sector firms and use the savings to increase teachers’ cash compensation. We would add to this a substantial amount from what is saved by changing the progression of students through the system. These changes would enable the nation to pay beginning teachers about $45,000 per year, which is now the median teachers’ pay, and to pay about $95,000 per year to the typical teachers working at the top of new career ladders for a regular teaching year and as much as $110,000 per year to teachers willing to work the same hours per year as other professionals typically do. Higher cost states might pay more and lower cost states might pay less.


The new system will not work without much higher quality assessments than those now in wide use in the United States. And those assessments will have to be set to standards that take account of the greatly changed challenges described in the Commission report. When we have the right assessments, and they are connected to the right syllabi, then the task will be to create instructional materials fashioned in the same spirit and train our teachers to use the standards, assessments, syllabi and materials as well as possible.


Public schools would be run by independent contractors, many of them limited liability corporations owned and run by teachers. The primary role of school district central offices would be to write performance contracts with the operators of these schools, monitor their operations using very sophisticated data systems, cancel or decide not to renew the contracts of those providers who did not perform well and find others who could do better.


The funds freed up by the Commission’s proposals for altering the student progression through the system will, for the first time, make it possible for the whole nation to do what should have been done many years ago in early childhood education.


The proposal to abandon local funding of schools in favor of state funding using a uniform pupilweighting funding formula, combined with the addition of $19 billion to the system as a whole, will make it possible to have an equitable means of funding our schools. In this way, funding for the state system as a whole would be increased, so that relatively well to do districts would not have the incentive to defeat the system that they would have if the funds were simply redistributed.

To buythe report:
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Education Trust Releases 2006 Education Watch State Summaries

Parents, policymakers and the public-at-large are paying closer attention to education outcomes than ever before. That’s good news, because education matters more now than ever before.

Spurred in part by No Child Left Behind, much of the focus is on the achievement gap that separates students of color and low-income students from White and more affluent students. The Education Trust is releasing its Education Watch 2006 State Summary Reports to provide a common foundation of fact for conversations about—and action to close—these gaps.

The State Summary Reports provide a data-based snapshot of student achievement and the condition of public education in the 50 states, the District of Columbia and the nation. The information in these reports reveals how far we have to go to ensure that every young American has access to high-quality education.

The Education Watch State Summary Reports provide state-specific data on:

Achievement Gaps:
• How many students are proficient in reading and mathematics on state assessments? How do proficiency rates on state assessments compare to proficiency rates on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)?
• How do achievement gaps between groups compare across states? Where are gaps the smallest? Where are they the biggest?
• What are the trends in student achievement over time? Which states are making the biggest gains?

High School and College Attainment Gaps:
• What is the on-time high school graduation rate for different groups of students?
• How many high school graduates enroll in college?
• What is the college graduation rate for different groups of students?

• Opportunity Gaps
• What are the participation and success rates for different groups of students in high-level courses such as Advanced Placement (AP)?
• Which students are most likely to have teachers who have even a college minor in the subject they’re teaching?
• How much state and local per-pupil funding is provided to schools in low- versus high-poverty districts? Which states provide the most funding to low-income districts? Which states provide the least?
• How affordable is college for each state’s lowest income students?

The data in these reports underscore the need for a renewed commitment to closing achievement gaps. Despite the dramatic changes in our economy, our public schools continue to turn out millions of young people—mostly minority and low-income—without the knowledge or skills they need to be productive participants in our democracy and economy.

“While manufacturing and agriculture once gave America an edge, education will determine who leads the 21st century,” said Kati Haycock, director of the Education Trust. “America is facing unprecedented pressure to compete in a global economy, and we simply cannot afford to under-educate so many of our young people.”

A Deeper Look at Achievement across States: NAEP Data Tables

While no state is yet where it needs to be in terms of educating poor and minority students, some are doing a much better job than others. To help state leaders, researchers, and advocates explore these differences and identify states from which they might learn, the accompanying NAEP Data Tables allow for easy state-to-state comparisons of scale scores for different groups of students. They include tables that look at student achievement and gap trends over time. For example:

• Low-income eighth-graders in Massachusetts score 21 points higher in math than low-income eighth-graders in neighboring Rhode Island (273 vs. 252).
• In 2003, reading scores for African-American fourth-graders were 14 points higher in Connecticut than in Delaware. Over the last five years, however, African-American reading scores increased by 23 points in Delaware while in Connecticut, they decreased by 2 points. Delaware’s African-American fourth-graders now read at higher levels than their peers in Connecticut.
• The gap in math achievement separating Latino from White eighth-graders in Minnesota is 10 points larger than the gap in Virginia, a state educating a similar proportion of Latino students (33 points vs. 23 points).

The wide variation between states in achievement for the same groups of students demonstrates just how important state policies and practices are. “If race and poverty mattered more than what happens in schools, then NAEP scores for low-income students and students of color would be more consistent from state to state,” said Daria Hall, senior policy analyst for the Education Trust.

Focus on Opportunities to Learn

The data are clear: what states do matters a lot when it comes to student achievement. But far too often, state policies and practices work to the direct disadvantage of low-income and minority students. For example:

• In New York, schools in the highest poverty districts have $2,065 less to spend per pupil than schools in the most affluent districts.
• In Illinois, students in high-poverty secondary schools are more than three times as likely as students in low-poverty schools to have a teacher lacking even a minor in the subject they’re teaching (47 percent vs.15 percent).
• In Michigan, African-American students represent 20 percent of the state’s K-12 enrollment but just 5 percent of the students enrolled in Advanced Placement English Language and Composition courses.

The State Summary Reports provide data on the opportunities that students are given to learn in all states. The accompanying PowerPoint presentation delves deeper into opportunity gaps in individual states, illustrating more advanced ways to look at these issues. For example, while a teacher’s college degree provides just a very rough proxy for his or her content knowledge, researchers at the Illinois Education Research Council have devised a much fuller measure of teacher quality—one that includes certification status, years of experience, performance on licensure exams and the teacher’s own academic background and skills. Using this measure as well as student ACT performance, the researchers demonstrate the profound impact that teachers have on their students’ college-readiness. They further demonstrate the hugely inequitable distribution of teacher quality between schools serving poor and minority students and those serving White and middle-class students.

Both the state summary reports and the PowerPoint testify to the unfortunate truth that states continue to give poor and minority students less of everything that research and experience suggest would help them catch up in school: less access to qualified and effective teachers, less money and less access to challenging curriculum.

Rather than questioning whether we can close achievement gaps, as some would have us do, we should instead question policies and practices that undermine the school success of low-income students and students of color. “As our country pushes on into the 21st century, the international challenges will only become steeper. We need to focus NOW on the unfinished business of combining both excellence and equity,” Haycock said. “We owe it to the young people who are relying on public education to give them a path out of poverty, and we owe it to our country. Achievement gaps are not inevitable, but we can’t close them without profoundly rethinking and reshaping our public schools.”

Links to Education Watch 2006 State Summary Reports:
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Commercial marketing in schools may discourage healthy nutrition environment for students

Commercial activity permitted in schools, such as soft drink ads; the use of Channel One broadcasts in classrooms; sales incentives from soft drink bottlers; and exclusive beverage contracts may discourage a "nutrition-friendly" environment for students, says researchers.

Dr. Claudia Probart, Penn State associate professor of nutritional sciences who led the study, says, "Schools’ newly created wellness policies as mandated by the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 provide ideal opportunities to examine school environments for advertising that might conflict with their goals for a healthy climate for students."
The study is detailed in the current (December) issue of the Journal of the American Dietetic Association in a paper, "Existence and Predictors of Soft Drink Advertisements in Pennsylvania High Schools." The authors are Probart; Elaine McDonnell, project coordinator, Penn State; Lisa Bailey-Davis, director of operations, Pennsylvania Advocates for Nutrition and Activity; and J. Elaine Weirich, project manager at Penn State.

The researchers sent surveys to 271 school foodservice directors at high schools in Pennsylvania and received 84 percent participation. The schools were representative of the entire population of high schools in Pennsylvania.

Approximately two-thirds (66.5%) of the respondents said soft drink advertisements were located in at least one spot in their school, with 62 percent at vending machines and 27 percent on school grounds such as sports playing fields. More than 10 percent of the respondents said the ads were displayed in the cafeteria.

Factors influencing the number of soft drink ads were soft drink company incentives from distributors, exclusive beverage contracts with the schools and subscriptions to Channel One, a free 12-minute news broadcast with 2 minutes of advertisements.

The extent of soft drink ads appears to be linked to lower average daily participation in the school lunch program, the researchers write.

"The negative association between number of soft drink advertisement locations and participation in school lunch is a disturbing finding, suggesting these ads compete effectively with school lunches, which are designed for good nutrition," Probart notes.

McDonnell adds, "The school-supported appearance of commercial advertising in locations or in news programs may be sending silent messages that this brand might be 'OK,’ creating a 'halo effect.’ "

This study points to the need for additional research, including physical inventories of commercialization on school campuses to verify the possible impact on students. The findings may prompt consideration of tough issues because financially strapped schools may not be able to replace the revenue from commercial activity.

"However, under the 2004 legislation, schools are being asked to become zones of good health and nutrition, providing leadership in the effort to prevent childhood obesity," Probart says. "One way is for a community, parents and educators to change teens’ unhealthy eating habits is to develop, implement and enforce policies to create advertising-free, nutrition-friendly school environments."
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New Dyslexia Theory Blames 'Noise'

Poor filtering of unwanted data may be the root cause of common disorder

The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development defines dyslexia as "a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction.

Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge."

The dyslexic brain struggles to read because even small distractions can throw it off, according to a new model of dyslexia emerging from a group of recent studies.

The studies contradict an influential, 30-year-old theory that blamed dyslexia on a neural deficit in processing the fast sounds of language.

Instead, the studies suggest that children with dyslexia have bad filters for irrelevant data. As a result, they struggle to form solid mental categories for identifying letters and word sounds.

Such children may benefit from intensive training under "noisy" conditions to strengthen their mental templates, said University of Southern California neuroscientist Zhong-Lin Lu.

Lu was a co-author on three studies, along with lead author and former USC graduate student Anne Sperling (now at the National Institute of Mental Health), USC psychologist Franklin Manis and University of Wisconsin, Madison psychologist Mark Seidenberg.

The most recent study is due to be published later this month in Psychological Science.

Confusion about dyslexia rivals the confusion of dyslexia. Many still think that to have dyslexia means to mix up your letters (one of many possible symptoms having to do with word recognition, directional ability and decoding of symbols)
What is known is that dyslexia affects millions of children, with estimates of its incidence ranging from 5 to 15 percent.

Sperling, who conducted her research as a doctoral student at USC, said the new findings point to a deeper problem - not just a visual deficit - affecting all areas of perception.

Sperling said people with dyslexia appear to have shaky mental categories for the essential sounds that make up language.
"It's harder to make a [language] task automatic when your categories are fuzzier than they ought to be to begin with," she said.

"In terms of treatment, the results suggest that programs that foster the development of sharper perceptual categories for letters and letter sounds might be a good way to supplement existing dyslexia interventions," she added.
Lu said, "Train them in noise."

The new study in Psychological Science builds on similar results published by the team of Sperling, Lu, Manis and Seidenberg last year in Nature Neuroscience.

In addition, the same authors previously showed that poor readers also have trouble figuring out categories in simple card games.

Other recent studies lend support to the noise exclusion theory.

Johannes Ziegler of the Universite de Provence in Marseille, France, was the lead author on a study of dyslexia and auditory noise published this year in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Ziegler said his results suggest that dyslexia stems from shaky categories for phonemes (the basic sounds of language).
"In silence, information is often redundant and dyslexics get away with the perception deficit," Ziegler said in an e-mail. "In noise, however, they can no longer compensate.

"What is important is that noisy environments are the rule and not the exception," he added, citing a study from South Bank University in the U.K. that found average noise levels in primary classrooms to be as high as near a busy intersection.
"What Sperling and Lu's data suggest is that the mechanism responsible for faulty phonological development is quite general and has to do with attention in a broad sense....

"This is a great paper of very high significance... As people like Steve Grossberg [of Boston University] have argued for many years, attention ... is crucial for stable learning of categories."

Ziegler called for preventive training for children with weak speech perception in noise in kindergarten or early primary grades, saying they are at greater risk for developing dyslexia.

He also cited a Northwestern University study from 2003 that documented negative effects from noise on children with learning deficits.

Lu said there is a "lot of evidence" of learning problems from ambient noise. In one such study, Manis and a collaborator from UCLA found that children with dyslexia struggled to discriminate similar sounds, like "spy" and "sky," because they weighed irrelevant differences in sounds equally with key distinctions.

Manis also cited research from Finland and the United States showing that infants with dyslexic parents lag behind their peers in forming categories for speech sounds.

In the conclusion to their study in Psychological Science, the authors speculate that the deficit in noise exclusion may have biochemical roots in abnormal levels of GABA, a neurotransmitter that helps the brain to filter out irrelevant information.

"This may become interesting for drug development," said Lu, who is testing this hypothesis with functional magnetic resonance imaging trials.

Lu and his collaborators interpret the new results as a rejection of the "magnocellular hypothesis" - named for a type of neuron involved in processing fast visual information - that influenced dyslexia research for decades.

The researchers found that the magnocellular pathway works normally both in children with dyslexia and in adult poor readers - as long as visual or aural noise is low.

As external noise goes up, the same subjects begin to score poorly on visual pattern tests.

The deficit persists even when the task requires only slow processing.

"The findings, and particularly the [slow processing] ones, are consistent with the hypothesis that ... dyslexic children have difficulty setting their signal filters to optimum and ignoring distracting noise," Lu said at the time of the Nature Neuroscience study.

The new study in Psychological Science was designed to replicate visual tests on motion perception from seminal experiments in the 1970s, with the addition of variable external noise. It also found no magnocellular deficit.

"These were the stimuli people used to establish the magnocellular hypothesis," Lu said. "This is a more direct test of what we said before [in the Nature Neuroscience study], which used different spatial and temporal patterns."
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Growing up in Bad Neighborhood not as Harmful as Expected

U. of Colorado study finds growing up in bad neighborhood not as harmful as expected

Study shows successful rate of development of children in best neighborhoods not significantly higher than those from disadvantaged neighborhoods

There's good news for children growing up in bad neighborhoods in a comprehensive study led by nationally renowned University of Colorado at Boulder sociology Professor Delbert Elliott.

The 8-year effort analyzing the successful development of children in different kinds of neighborhoods in Denver and Chicago found that children growing up in high-poverty neighborhoods were doing much better than expected. The rate of successful development for children from the best neighborhoods was 63 percent while the success rate for children living in high-poverty, disadvantaged neighborhoods was 52 percent.

"There's an 11-point difference between our worst neighborhoods and our best neighborhoods," said Elliott, director of the CU-Boulder Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence. "That's very surprising."

"The idea that living in high-poverty, disorganized, disadvantaged neighborhoods is kind of a death sentence for kids is clearly not the case," he said. "We're getting kids coming out of those neighborhoods that are doing quite well."

The examination of neighborhoods was one of four integrated studies launched by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation's Network on Successful Adolescent Development. The portion of the study conducted by Elliott and his colleagues looked at neighborhoods, while three other teams focused on family and school influences on development, and youth development in rural farming areas.

The results were published this fall in "Goods Kids From Bad Neighborhoods" by Cambridge University Press. The study was co-authored by Scott Menard, Amanda Elliott and David Huizinga of the CU-Boulder Institute of Behavioral Science, William Julius Wilson of Harvard University and Bruce Rankin of Koc University in Turkey.

The researchers used U.S. census data, personal interviews and focus groups to study 662 families and 820 youths age 10 to 18 from 33 neighborhoods in Denver, and 545 families and 830 youths from 40 neighborhoods in Chicago. Names of all neighborhoods in the study were changed to protect the confidentiality of the participants.

Relatively little is known about how adolescents from disadvantaged neighborhoods overcome adversity, according to Elliott. While most other studies focus on crime, drugs and the dysfunctional behavior of youth in poor neighborhoods, this study focused on success: the factors that helped adolescents develop into healthy, productive, contributing citizens.

In examining the combined effects of neighborhood, family, school and peer group, the researchers were surprised to find that "success in any one of those seemed to be able to buffer the kids from the negative effects of living in a bad neighborhood," Elliott said. This finding is "very encouraging" because it means that the conditions in all four contexts don't have to improve at once in order to make a difference in children's lives, he said.

It also was somewhat surprising that the impact of each of these social contexts was fairly similar, although not identical, Elliott said. For positive youth development, the family and the school are the two most critical contexts. But for issues of delinquent behavior, drug use and early sexual activity, the critical context is the peer group.

As expected, the family has a strong influence on the behavior of younger children but this influence wanes starting at about age 15 when the school and peer group gain in importance. The good news from this finding is that good family-based interventions are available for parents of younger children, he said.

"We know that we can teach parents how to do a better job of parenting," Elliott said. "That's an intervention in disadvantaged, high-poverty neighborhoods that potentially can have a dramatic effect on youth development. The earlier we can do that the better, given this age effect that we see. You can't wait until kids are 16, 17, 18."

Another key finding was that parents in disadvantaged neighborhoods are doing a pretty good job of parenting. The researchers didn't find that the quality of parenting was strongly related to the type of neighborhood. The tendency for poor parenting, bad schools and antisocial peer groups to cluster in bad neighborhoods was quite weak.

When the difference in financial resources between poorer and wealthier neighborhoods was taken into account, "The quality of parenting was just as good and in some cases better than in more advantaged neighborhoods," Elliott said.

The nature of the parenting was different, however. In disadvantaged neighborhoods, a lot of the parenting dealt with teaching children how to deal with the dangers in their neighborhoods -- the exposure to drugs, delinquency, crime and the dysfunctional behavior of some of the adults and teens who live there, he said.

"A large part of the parenting practice issues for those parents had to do with ensuring the safety of their children," he said.
One of the findings in the companion MacArthur study on families showed that trying to confine kids to the house in a dangerous neighborhood doesn't appear to be a good strategy because teenagers are too apt to sneak out to be with their peers.

"There's such a need on the part of adolescents to be with their friends that if you don't provide positive social contexts for that to happen, it's going to happen anyway, and it's going to happen in some sort of context where you don't have good monitoring and supervision, and then you get some pretty negative outcomes," he said.

A more effective strategy was for parents to get their children involved in afterschool programs, church-related activities or athletics where there is adult monitoring and supervision. This strategy looked like it was "very, very effective," he said.
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States Key to Ensuring Access and Quality of Effective Preschools

Quality pre-school programs have proven themselves so successful at boosting student achievement that states should expand high-quality preschool systems to as many children as possible as soon as possible, concludes a new study by the National Association of State Boards of Education.

The new NASBE report, Fulfilling the Promise of Preschool, recommends that state boards of education leverage their existing authority — over K-12 system standards and teacher licensure — to vertically align the pre-kindergarten system with the rest of public education.

The report also encourages state boards to collaborate with other state agencies, both to transform disparate preschool service providers into a more cohesive network and move toward universal preschool, in an incremental and phased-in shift that serves low-income and at-risk children first.

State board leaders, the report emphasizes, are uniquely positioned to promote the report’s recommendations on extending pre-k access and ensuring pre-k program quality.

“The goal of leaving no child behind simply cannot be met without high-quality preschools for all,” says Brenda Welburn, NASBE Executive Director. “Given the clear payoff from early childhood programs, in everything from narrowing the achievement gap to boosting student performance,” she adds, “state board members need to take the lead in efforts to nurture the best early childhood practices and ensure access and quality for all students.”

Poor children may have the most to gain from expanded access to preschool, the new NASBE study points out, but all children can benefit from quality preschool. The K-12 system benefits as well, as the experiences young children gain in pre-k programs translate into higher achievement in later grades.

The year-long NASBE study examined how state policymakers can create high-quality learning environments for all children within the current fragmented system of pre-k programs, authority, and funding that stretches from federal and state to local levels and encompasses both public and private entities. State education leaders, the report finds, can surmount this fragmentation by helping to forge a common vision and well-defined preschool standards linked to child outcomes.
“The teacher-child interaction is the linchpin of a quality early learning experience,” says Karabelle Pizzigati, the chair of the report committee and a member of the Maryland State Board of Education. “As we expand preschool education, we need to put in place clear policies in teacher training, instructional supports, and other areas that promote quality early learning. We also need program evaluations that assess how well children are progressing.”

The executive summary, Fulfilling the Promise of Preschool is accessible on NASBE’s website at http://www.nasbe.org/publications/Early_Childhood_Study_Group/early_childhood_exec_summary.pdf

and the full report is available by either calling 800-220-5183 or ordering online.

NASBE represents America’s state and territorial boards of education. Our principal objectives are to strengthen state leadership in education policymaking; advocate quality of access to educational opportunity; promote excellence in the education of all students; and assure responsible lay governance of education.
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AFT Report: Building Minds, Minding Buildings Turning Crumbling Schools into Environments for Learning

Mold, extreme temperatures, overcrowding, poor air quality, vermin infestation and other deplorable conditions in too many public schools throughout the United States must be addressed immediately as a top educational priority, the American Federation of Teachers concludes in a report released recently.

"This is a health issue, a safety issue and an educational issue," said Antonia Cortese, AFT executive vice president. "In the world’s richest nation, every child is entitled to learn in clean, well-maintained classrooms. As we try to build young minds, we also have to mind school buildings."

Building Minds, Minding Buildings—Turning Crumbling Schools into Environments for Learning was based on the responses of more than 1,000 school employees to a survey on the physical environment at their schools. Many of the responses revealed some startling building conditions, from students who have to wear coats and gloves in class to rats and mice entering classrooms through windows and cracks in walls. The report features compelling observations and quotes from teachers and school employees in urban areas, small towns and rural communities alike:

• "The mold is so bad that in one of the teachers' bathrooms, mushrooms are growing," remarked a math specialist from New York state.
• "[We have] leaks and even the occasional icicle from my computer lab ceiling, asbestos coming up off the floor, the exterior walls are crumbling. We feel forgotten by our community and state and federal funding," said a Minnesota technology coordinator.
• "Our school has broken ceiling tiles, plumbing in bathrooms that have not been updated since the '60s, dirty carpets and electrical outlets that don't work (this causes the use of extension cords across the room), and finally, roaches are everywhere!" an employee at a Florida school commented.

Building Minds, Minding Buildings also includes vivid photographs of school conditions submitted by AFT members.__
According to the report, an increase in cases of asthma may be linked to poor air quality, student concentration may be affected by temperature extremes, and student and staff absenteeism may be due to an unhealthy "built environment."
These also were the conclusions of a study required to be conducted by the U.S. Department of Education under the No Child Left Behind law but never publicized. The study found "the overall evidence strongly suggests that poor environments in schools due primarily to effects of indoor pollutants adversely influence the health, performance and attendance of students." The agency shelved the study's results and took no action.

Even in the face of such evidence, federal, state and local elected officials have been slow to adopt this issue as a top priority. As the AFT report notes, "Some supporters of increased accountability in our schools change the subject when the discussion turns to the condition of the buildings where our children learn."

The AFT recommends federal action, including:
• Passage of America’s Better Classroom (ABC) Act, which would provide $24.8 billion in school modernization bonds for renovation of existing buildings and construction of new schools.
• Passage of the 21st Century High Performing School Facilities Act, which would authorize grants to school districts for modernization and construction.
• Creation of a “Learning Environment Index” under NCLB that would require schools and districts to make improvements in the teaching and learning environment.

The AFT recommends improvements at the state and local levels, including:
• Stronger standards for school building and systems inspections.
• Clear guidelines for school renovation practices.
• Uniform and comprehensive pest control and maintenance plans.
• Increased involvement of union members in the planning of new school construction and renovation.

"Teachers and school staff are more than willing to be held accountable for the achievement of our students," said Cortese, "but it’s time for elected officials at all levels to begin taking more responsibility for improving the physical learning environment in our schools."

Visit the links below:
• The Building Minds, Minding Buildings report is available at: http://www.aft.org/topics/building-conditions/downloads/minding-bldgs.pdf

• More details and additional resources on the AFT's school buildings campaign are available here: http://www.aft.org/topics/building-conditions/index.htm.
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Students' academic success can be a matter of principal

Student performance can soar under the influence of a good teacher, but school principals are just as important in getting results, a study has found.

The research into 38 NSW high schools shows principals have a key responsibility in raising educational standards.
Those who played an active role as educational leaders, who were not simply bogged down in management and administration tasks, made all the difference.

Good principals were identified as those who were open to change, were informed risk takers, and were friendly and approachable. Their leadership was highly influential in the development of a positive school culture.

Stephen Dinham, of the education faculty at the University of Wollongong, who conducted the study, said he was surprised to discover how much of a role principals played in influencing student results.

"The degree of influence of the principal was somewhat surprising, given that the project aim was to identify and investigate faculties and teams producing outstanding educational outcomes in years 7 to 10, rather than effective schools as a whole, or effective principals," the study concluded.

"This finding could partly call into question the current concentration on the individual teacher as the major within-school factor in student accomplishment.

"While there is little doubt as to the importance of the individual teacher, based on these findings, principals can play key roles in providing the conditions where teachers can operate effectively and students can learn."

The study found that the principals of schools where outstanding results were being achieved were relentless in helping students do better.

"They do not become distracted and bogged down by the administrative demands of the principalship, finding ways to concentrate their energies on educational leadership," Professor Dinham said.

"They constantly remind students, staff and the community that the core purpose of the school is teaching and learning."
Principals who brought out the best in their teachers and students were those who were not afraid of change.
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Acceleration Lets Students Excel

…School districts in Ohio were required by law to adopt an acceleration policy for this school year for advanced learners, allowing them to move through traditional curriculum faster than usual.

The state offered a model policy that districts could adopt or allowed districts to adopt a similar version. The policy covers early entrance into kindergarten, single-subject acceleration, whole-grade acceleration and early graduation. The model is available at: http://www.ode.state.oh.us/GD/DocumentManagement/DocumentDownload.aspx?DocumentID=7694”

"There was a concern at the state level that some districts were putting up barriers to acceleration, and that acceleration is an underused mechanism for students who are gifted," said Laurie Frank, assistant director of the Office of Student Services in Sycamore School District.

Much resistance from educators occurs because of an outdated and unfounded notion that kids who skip a grade will be harmed psychologically, said Tom Southern, a Miami University educational psychology professor who has studied acceleration for 20 years.

At the request of the Ohio Department of Education, Southern and Eric Jones, a Bowling Green State University professor, looked at acceleration policies and practices that the state's 600 districts had for gifted students in 2004.

They found:

While all districts had policies on early admission to kindergarten and first grade, which were required by state law, few had policies on grade or single-subject advancement.

The policies frequently discouraged the practice of acceleration, citing potential harm that is unsupported by research.

Some policies contained over-rigorous standards with little relationship to academic success, such as a student's height.
The educators found the rate of grade acceleration in Ohio was less than one child per district during the 2004-05 school year.

"What seems clear is that many districts are resistant to grade acceleration and more or less ignore it," the study said. "Some are actively hostile to it. In these districts, it would seem unlikely that they would engage in the practice at all. In the districts where policy seemed to be well-thought, there appeared to be more acceptance of this intervention."

Acceleration has been an issue long debated in the history of gifted education. It has fallen in and out of favor through the decades.

"People have been trying to determine for years whether accelerating a student is academically, socially and emotionally harmful," Southern said. "There's been no documented harm, academically. Kids who are accelerated tend to operate at the head of their new placement. There's also no documentation that shows harm, socially and emotionally."

In fact, Southern said, research shows that kids who are accelerated do much better, academically, in terms of achievement.
"I think the state is reacting to that, as well as the idea that, in many instances, acceleration is a relatively economical way to meet the needs of students. You already have the books and the teachers," Southern said. "With the pressure on school budgets, it you're going to meet the needs of gifted students, you ought to have this in your arsenal.."

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A Nation Deceived: How Schools Hold Back America’s Brightest Students

America’s schools routinely avoid academic acceleration, the easiest and most effective way to help highly capable students. While the popular perception is that a child who skips a grade will be socially stunted, fifty years of research shows that moving bright students ahead often makes them happy.

Acceleration means moving through the traditional curriculum at rates faster than typical. The 18 forms of acceleration include grade-skipping, early-entrance to school, and Advanced Placement (AP) courses. It is appropriate educational planning. It means matching the level and complexity of the curriculum with the readiness and motivation of the student.
Students who are moved ahead tend to be more ambitious, and they earn graduate degrees at higher rates than other students. Interviewed years later, an overwhelming majority of accelerated students say that acceleration was an excellent experience for them. Accelerated students feel academically challenged and socially accepted, and they do not fall prey to the boredom that plagues many highly capable students who are forced to follow the curriculum for their age-peers.

With all this research evidence, why haven’t schools, parents, and teachers accepted the idea of acceleration? A Nation Deceived presents these reasons for why schools hold back America’s brightest kids:

• Limited familiarity with the research on acceleration
• Philosophy that children must be kept with their age group
• Belief that acceleration hurries children out of childhood
• Fear that acceleration hurts children socially
• Political concerns about equity
• Worry that other students will be offended if one child is accelerated.

This report shows that these reasons are simply not supported by research. By distributing thousands of copies and launching a public-awareness campaign, the Nation Deceived report provides teachers and parents the knowledge, support, and confidence to consider acceleration.

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Teens Feel Intense Pressure To Succeed

Teens Feel Intense Pressure To Succeed — Even If It Means Cutting Ethical Corners

Young people are feeling strong pressure to succeed in school, no matter the cost, a new survey has found. More than two out of five teens (44 percent) say they feel either a lot or overwhelming pressure to succeed in school, no matter the cost. And more girls than boys feel this heavy burden to succeed. Those are among the findings of the fourth annual “Teen Ethics Poll” released by JA Worldwide™ (Junior Achievement) and Deloitte & Touche USA LLP (Deloitte).

The survey, designed to take the ethical pulse of teens aged 13 to 18, found a notable gender gap among those who reported “a lot” or “overwhelming” pressure to succeed in school at any cost: fully half of the girls (50 percent) – but only 38 percent of the boys – felt this burden to do well in school. Teens also hold a dim view on the ethics of their peers. Many (44 percent) say high school students behave unethically, placing them, in their eyes, below doctors, teachers, professional athletes and business leaders.

The survey also raised an apparent discrepancy between how students define ethical behavior and what constitutes such behavior:
• In a seemingly positive trend, the percentage of students who say they would not act unethically to get ahead or make more money, even if they knew for sure they would not get caught (59 percent), has increased by 40 percent since 2003.
• However, this is juxtaposed against the fact that many teens admitted they had personally engaged in unethical behavior in the last year by lying (69 percent), downloading a song without paying (34 percent), and cheating on tests (22 percent).

Eight in 10 (81 percent) students who feel significant pressure to succeed, no matter the cost, think it’s going to remain the same or get worse when they join the workforce. And more than a quarter (29 percent) of all teens believe they are currently only somewhat or not at all prepared to make ethical decisions. “We have to take it seriously when students who are under so much stress tell us they think it’s not going to get any better, especially if they don’t feel prepared to make the right calls,” said Ainar D. Aijala, Jr., vice chairman and deputy chief executive officer of Deloitte Consulting LLP and chairman of the board of JA Worldwide.

Experts agree that these results raise a red flag. “The notion that large numbers of students feel somewhat unprepared to make ethical decisions, coupled with the fact that they feel pressure to succeed at all costs, is a troubling combination,” said David Miller Ph.D., Executive Director of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture and Assistant Professor (Adjunct) of Business Ethics. “We are reminded that community and corporate leaders can play a pivotal role in helping prepare students to recognize and resist the inevitable ethical dilemmas they will face later in life.”

These results suggest a profound need for training in ethical decision-making.

The 2006 “Teen Ethics Poll” was commissioned by Junior Achievement and Deloitte and conducted by Harris Interactive during September 2006; 787 students between the ages of 13 and 18 participated.

Methodology_This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Interactive® on behalf of Junior Achievement and Deloitte between September 13 to September 21, 2006 among 787 teens ages 13-18. Figures for age, sex, race/ethnicity, education, parental education, and region were weighted where necessary to bring them into line with their actual proportions in the population.

With a pure probability sample of 787 one could say with a ninety-five percent probability that the overall results have a sampling error of +/-3 percentage points. Sampling error for data based on sub-samples may be higher and may vary. However, this does not take other sources of error into account. This online survey is not based on a probability sample and therefore no theoretical sampling error can be calculated._These statements conform to the principles of disclosure of the National Council on Public Polls.

About JA Worldwide™ (Junior Achievement)_JA Worldwide is the world's largest organization dedicated to inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in a global economy. Through a dedicated volunteer network, JA Worldwide provides in-school and after-school programs for students in grades K-12. JA Worldwide offers educational programs that focus on seven key content areas: business, citizenship, economics, entrepreneurship, ethics/character, financial literacy, and career development. Today, 139 individual area operations reach approximately four million students in the United States, with more than 3.5 million students served by operations in 100 countries worldwide. For more information, visit www.ja.org.
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Dropout Rates in the United States: 2004

This report shows that in students living in low-income families were approximately four times more likely to drop out of high school between 2003 and 2004 than were their peers from high-income families. Focusing on indicators of on-time graduation from public high schools, the averaged freshman graduation rate for the 3 most recent years for which data are available shows an increase from 72.6 percent for 2001–02 to 73.9 percent for 2002–03 to 74.3 percent for 2003–04.

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If every student in the class of 2005-2006 graduates from high school, the nation could save $17.1 billion in lifetime health costs, according to conservative calculations by the Alliance for Excellent Education in its new brief, Healthier and Wealthier: Decreasing Health Care Costs by Increasing Educational Attainment.

Since healthcare costs are highest for the least educated, the Alliance calculated savings by combining the lifetime costs of Medicaid and expenditures for uninsured care, then multiplying this total by the number of students who drop out of the nation’s high schools. If these students were to graduate instead, the nation would realize a significant benefit.

Healthier and Wealthier argues that higher educational attainment improves a student’s future income, occupational status, and social prestige, all of which contributes to improved individual health. The brief cites several reasons why, including the fact that Americans with higher educational attainment have more insurance coverage, individuals who lack health insurance receive less medical care and have poorer health outcomes, and lower education levels generally lead to occupations with greater health hazards.

“This study shows clearly that providing quality education not only improves students’ lives, but also saves taxpayers dollars,” said Bob Wise, president of the Alliance for Excellent Education and former governor of West Virginia. “A high school diploma opens the door to physical health as well as financial health.”

“High dropout rates and low educational attainment result in financial and social costs for state and federal budgets,” said Sibyl Jacobson, president of MetLife Foundation. “Education promotes economic freedom and inspires a lifetime of knowledge acquisition, and for those reasons, is pivotal to all of the initiatives the Foundation supports.”

Healthier and Wealthier: Decreasing Health Care Costs by Increasing Educational Attainment is available at http://www.all4ed.org/publications/HandW.pdf.
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Violence At School Declines

The rate of violent crimes that occurred at public schools during the 2004-05 school year fell from a year earlier. A joint effort by the Bureau of Justice Statistics and National Center for Education Statistics, this annual report examines crime occurring in school as well as on the way to and from school. It provides the most current detailed statistical information to inform the Nation on the nature of crime in schools. This report presents data on crime at school from the perspectives of students, teachers, principals, and the general population.

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Life Skill PE Most Effective

Taking physical education (PE) class every school day for a full year improves high school girls' cardiovascular fitness, a new study shows.

But daily PE class has become a rarity at US schools, Dr. Deborah Rohm Young of the University of Maryland in College Park, the study's lead author, told Reuters Health…

Young and her team tested a life-skills based approach to PE in a group of ninth-graders, which involved instructing kids on problem-solving skills and other techniques to help them add more physical activity to their lives…

The researchers randomly assigned 221 girls at a Baltimore school to the life-skills based class or a standard PE class. Girls spent 30.5 percent of the regular class in moderate to vigorous activity, compared with nearly half of the time in the special class.
After eight months, both groups showed significant improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, according to the report, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine. They also showed improvements in waist-hip ratio, blood pressure, and HDL or "good" cholesterol levels.

The percentage of girls who spent three hours a day watching TV dropped from 22.3 percent to 17.0 percent for those in the life-skills class, but did not change for the girls who attended the standard gym class.

Young noted that the life-skills approach is considered the state-of-the-art for physical education instruction, although it is still not widely used…

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Internet Access in U.S. Public Schools and Classrooms: 1994-2005

This report presents 11 years of data from 1994 to 2005 (no survey was conducted in 2004) on Internet access in U.S. public schools by school characteristics. It provides trend analysis on the percent of public schools and instructional rooms with Internet access and on the ratio of students to instructional computers with Internet access. The report contains data on the types of Internet connections, technologies and procedures used to prevent student access to inappropriate material on the Internet, and the availability of hand-held and laptop computers to students and teachers. It also provides information on teacher professional development on how to integrate the use of the Internet into the curriculum, and the use of the Internet to provide opportunities and information for teaching and learning.

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National School Breakfast Program Served Record 7.7 Million Low-Income Children in 2005-2006

National School Breakfast Program Served Record 7.7 Million Low-Income Children in 2005-2006

Participation in the School Breakfast Program continued its steady increase, with a record 7.7 million low-income children receiving free and reduced-price breakfasts on an average day during the 2005-2006 school year. The Food Research and Action Center’s School Breakfast Scorecard 2006 finds accelerating growth in school breakfast participation by low-income children – up by 622,000 children (8.7 percent) over the past two school years.

The School Breakfast Program began as a pilot program in 1966 with the intent of making sure children started the school day with the boost breakfast can give. Studies continue to demonstrate the links between breakfast and learning, making the case stronger for more schools to expand breakfast participation and make sure all children participate. There are now 44.6 low-income children receiving breakfast for every 100 eating lunch, compared to 31.5 for every 100 when FRAC first began the scorecard in 1991, and 43.1 per 100 during the 2003-2004 school year.

“Reaching a lot more children with breakfast in schools is probably the most cost-effective and fastest way to improve children’s learning and health, improve attendance and, of course, reduce hunger,” said Jim Weill, president of the Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). “It’s essential that more schools serve breakfast, adopt steps like breakfast in the classroom and reach out to more children.”

To measure the reach of the School Breakfast Program, FRAC compares the number of schools and low-income children that participate breakfast as compared to the broadly utilized National School Lunch Program. In 2005-2006, 83 percent of schools that offered school lunch also had a breakfast program – an increase from 81 percent during the previous school year.

FRAC also sets a goal for states as a way to gauge state progress and the costs of underparticipation in the program. If states were able to increase participation in the program so that there were 60 children eating breakfast for every 100 eating lunch, a very attainable goal, 2.7 million more low-income children would be eating school breakfast around the nation. And, states would have collected an additional $558 million in federal child nutrition funding. As it is, state participation rates range from a high of 58.5 in West Virginia to a low of 29.3 in Wisconsin. The FRAC report gives these and other data for every state.

“We’re glad that schools are seeing and supporting the vital links between education and learning,” said Lynn Parker, FRAC’s director of child nutrition. “Skipping breakfast in the morning can become an unhealthy routine for some children. We’d like to see more schools move to universal breakfast, which provides school breakfast at no charge to all children who wish to eat, more schools offer breakfast in the classroom to ensure children’s access and more districts and states aggressively market the benefits of breakfast to parents and children. These are all proven strategies for success.”

The Food Research and Action Center (www.frac.org) is the leading national organization working for more effective public and private policies to eradicate domestic hunger and undernutrition.

Read the report: "School Breakfast Scorecard 2006":
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Schools Getting Raw Deal from Bottlers

Beverage Deals Not Very Lucrative According to Analysis of Beverage Contracts

Most school beverage deals aren’t very lucrative, raising an average of only $18 per student per year, according to the first-ever multi-state analysis of school systems’ contracts with beverage companies. The study, conducted by the nonprofit Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and the Public Health Advocacy Institute (PHAI), analyzed 120 contracts in 16 states and found that the majority (67 percent) of the revenue collected from drink sales goes to beverage companies, not schools. The $18 dollars per student raised represents only one quarter of one percent of the average cost of a student's education, which, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, is about $8,000 per year.

Annual revenue to schools ranged from $0.60 to $93 per student per year. Schools typically earn commissions on sales and cash advances. Some schools are clearly getting better deals than others, even with the same companies, according to the report.

One hundred eleven, or 93 percent of the contracts analyzed, were exclusive, meaning that they permit just one company to sell and market its beverages in schools, allowing them to cultivate brand loyalty. Sixty-four contracts were with PepsiCo, 53 with Coca-Cola, and three with smaller regional manufacturers. A bottler or distributor is typically the contracting party.

“Selling sugary drinks in vending machines and elsewhere in schools doesn’t pump money into the community, it drains it,” said CSPI nutrition policy director Margo G. Wootan. “It’s not philanthropic behavior on the part of soft drink companies, it’s predatory. When a kid puts a dollar in a soft drink vending machine, the school is lucky to keep 33 cents. And the money comes from parents’ and kids’ pocketbooks.”

In addition to simply selling soft drinks, companies negotiate other marketing privileges in schools, including putting their logos on signage, scoreboards, athletic equipment, book covers and the panels of vending machines themselves. Many contracts examined by CSPI and PHAI contain clauses penalizing schools for not meeting sales quotas, which gives school administrators an incentive to encourage soda consumption.

CSPI calculations based on sales data from the American Beverage Association (ABA) show that students are purchasing and consuming significant amounts of soft drinks at school. On average, high school students drink the equivalent of about 40 20-ounce bottles of non-diet soft drinks per year, or 8,577 calories’ worth. Middle schoolers drink about 14 20-ounce bottles, or 2,842 calories’ worth. Overall, soft drinks are the single-largest source of calories in teens’ diets.
Obesity is more clearly linked to soda consumption than to any other food. A Harvard study found that for each additional soft drink a child consumes per day, the chance of becoming overweight increases by 60 percent. Many studies have further shown that soda consumption displaces healthier beverages, such as low-fat milk and 100 percent fruit juice, from children’s diets.
“These contracts apply financial pressure on schools to encourage students to drink more of something that is harmful to their health,” said Wootan. “That’s the last thing schools should be doing, and it’s the last thing parents want when they send their kids off to school.”

Voluntary guidelines announced in May by former President Clinton, the ABA, the American Heart Association and leading soda companies would cap portion sizes and restrict soda sales in schools over the next three years. However, schools aren’t a party to that agreement, and it remains to be seen if schools will comply with the guidelines, according to Wootan. CSPI dropped a planned lawsuit against soda companies immediately after those guidelines were announced.

Many of the largest school districts in the country have gotten rid of soda, including Boston, Chicago, the District of Columbia, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami, New York City, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle. However, CSPI’s School Foods Report Card shows that the nation has a patchwork of policies addressing soda and junk foods in schools and that two-thirds of states have very weak policies, which were graded as Ds or Fs.

Given rising obesity rates and children’s poor diets (only 2 percent of American children eat a healthy diet, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition recommendations), it’s critical that the foods offered in school lunchrooms and hallways be as healthy as possible. CSPI is working with over 100 organizations, Senators Tom Harkin (D-IA) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Representatives Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) and Christopher Shays (R-CT) for passage of the federal Child Nutrition Promotion and School Lunch Protection Act. The bill would require the USDA to update its nutrition standards for foods sold out of vending machines, school stores, and other school venues.

“Schools, state lawmakers and members of Congress, who are considering replacing soft drinks in vending machines with healthier options, should be reassured by our findings,” said Wootan. “Generally, the revenue generated by soft drink sales in schools is modest and could be replaced by the sale of healthier beverages or by alternative fundraisers that don’t undermine children’s diets or health.”
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