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Saturday, December 26, 2009


How the decade changed education

How the decade changed education


Tiffany Lankes & Christopher O'Donnell

Published: Saturday, December 26, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, December 25, 2009 at 8:36 p.m.

The big theme in education for the past decade: accountability.

Heightened state and federal pressure to do well on standardized tests prompted schools to try everything from community outreach to technology to help their most struggling students.

Those efforts became some of the biggest trends of the early 2000s, as deemed by education publishing company Scholastic. Here's the company list of the biggest education ideas of the decade:


The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 kicked off an unprecedented era of testing and accountability in the nation's school system, charging educators to make every child proficient in reading and math by 2014. The law required states to develop standardized tests and report how well students in different racial groups were performing. Florida students were already taking the FCAT when the federal law went into effect. But No Child forced area schools to add remedial programs, offered parents the option to move their children to other schools and led to the dismissal of several Manatee County principals whose students were not making enough progress.


One of the most striking statistics to come out of the decade was that just 35 percent of the nation's eighth-graders could read at grade level. In response, schools amped up reading efforts — once reserved for elementary schools — in middle and high schools. Sarasota hired an elementary principal who had successfully raised student test scores to use the same strategies at Booker High. Teachers tapped into students' interests to get them to focus on writing with programs such as the rap class at Bayshore High, in which students write, record and produce their own rap tracks.


Schools seized on the popularity of the Harry Potter and Twilight series in their effort to improve students' reading, adding them to school summer reading lists and starting programs to get students excited about books. Last year, Sarasota middle schools started a program in which every student read the same book at the same time. The idea was that students would discuss the book with one another and get excited to read it.


Educators embraced a slew of technological innovations in hopes of getting students more interested in learning. Sarasota County became the world's largest purchaser of Activboards when it installed one in every classroom. In Manatee, many students used the E-folio system, creating an electronic portfolio of their classwork using Web publishing software, iPods, video cameras, scanners and digital cameras. Some schools also adopted initiatives to equip every student with a laptop.


What happens at home can have a dramatic impact on how students do in school, especially among children who live in poverty. So schools have made efforts to try to improve students' lives at home, offering parents GED and English language classes. At Samoset Elementary School in Bradenton, school leaders formed a community coalition to clean up the neighborhood and raze abandoned houses used by drug dealers. They worked with the Sheriff's Office to get regular patrols by deputies on bicycles. An abandoned and vandalized community center was restored and reopened. Sarasota's Booker High School is even now trying to get jobs for area residents as the school is rebuilt.



Schools started testing students more often and using scores to pinpoint their weaknesses. School districts hired data and reading coaches to assist with this effort. At the height of the trend, more than 2,500 reading coaches pulled struggling students for intensive one-on-one help. But drastic budget cuts this year forced many districts to cut the extra positions, including Sarasota and Manatee.


The push for more technology ultimately meant the sunset of some traditional classroom tools. Electronic white boards all but replaced blackboards, and even textbooks began to disappear as more schools invested in laptops. In Sarasota, one classroom at Phoenix Academy went entirely paperless.


A shortage of teachers inspired a number of programs that made it easier for people to get into the classroom without going to a traditional education college. In Florida, fast growth in the mid 2000s drove the state to start offering fast-track certification programs through the community colleges and allowing professionals to start working while they earn their license.


The decade brought a rise in the number of charter schools, which are privately run but publicly funded. The idea was to give parents more options. Florida has been at the forefront of the charter school movement, with state laws that make it easy for such schools to open. The state now has nearly 400 of the country's 3,000 charter schools.


One of the last major education trends in the decade could have the biggest impact on schools for the next few years. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act put more than $100 billion into American school systems, trying to help bridge the gap for budget losses because of the economy.

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