Students who struggled on state exams in a Minnesota district recently posted impressive gains following a 15-minute-a-day exercise program implemented by the school's physical-education teacher. PE advocates say the results are typical and part of a growing body of research that shows the academic benefits of student fitness.
Connecticut education officials are encouraging teachers to include more physical activities in classroom lessons, citing research that finds it improves concentration and academic performance. One high-school teacher has adapted musical chairs to literature lessons, and a health teacher has students compete in races during class. One high-school principal also is hoping that exercising prior to taking standardized tests will help improve scores.
A Florida district is testing a standards-based report card that eliminates letter grades. Some Palm Beach County schools will assign performance codes-- exemplary, proficient, approaching or needs development -- to evaluate students' achievement. A district administrator said the use of performance codes will give "the parent clearer information about progress toward a standard that a simple grade cannot." Some parents, however, are concerned about the plan.
Schools in Newark, N.J., laid off 300 teachers last school year, including Sauce Leon, a high-school history teacher. Leon, a newer teacher who was one of the 15% of teachers at his school to receive a "distinguished" rating, was let go ahead of more senior teachers with poor ratings. Tim Daly, president of the New Teacher Project, says policies that base layoffs solely on seniority are especially troubling for struggling urban districts like Newark, where one great teacher can make a difference for students.
This question is one being considered by school districts and lawmakers, but Washington Post education columnist Jay Mathews questions the value of rating teacher performance based on student achievement, especially since there are many variables when it comes to individual students. "The decisions we make to strengthen schools should not be made by speculation or unproven theory, but on data," said Nancy S. Grasmick, Maryland state superintendent of schools.