The Final Quarter

March 14, 2009 at 9:54 pm | Posted in 1 | 2 Comments

This blog was an assignment for Kent State University’s Public Relations Online Tactics course. We were required to make a weekly update throughout the Spring 2008 semester. While I enjoyed blogging and appreciated the experience, once the class ended, I stopped posting and, instead, focused on finishing my education.

In May 2009, I will receive my Master of Arts degree in public relations. While I might blog again, someday, this site will no longer be updated.

Give Credit Where Credit is Due

April 13, 2008 at 9:36 am | Posted in Education, Graduation Rates | 9 Comments
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New York City principals are letting students make up classes they failed in efforts to boost graduation rates. The “credit recovery” program gives students a chance to write essays or answer questions for class credit needed to graduate. This excerpt from The New York Times highlights the situation:

Dennis Bunyan showed up for his first-semester senior English class at Wadleigh Secondary School in Harlem so rarely that, as he put it, “I basically didn’t attend.” But despite his sustained absence, Mr. Bunyan got the credit he needed to graduate last June by completing just three essay assignments, which he said took about 10 hours. “I’m grateful for it, but it also just seems kind of, you know, outrageous,” Mr. Bunyan said. “There’s no way three essays can possibly cover a semester of work.”

Officials from the New York City Education Department stated that principals always find ways to help students graduate – whether it is summer school or repeating a class. Although officials reported no abuse of the credit recovery program, they stated that the program is not monitored.

Obviously principals want their schools to be portrayed in a positive light and have high graduation rates; but, I think the idea that students can make up school credit and graduate by responding to prompts such as “Research and list all the global environmental issues that science focuses on; and, what are some ways you, as an individual, can help?” is unbelievable.

I wrote before about discrepancies in reported graduation rates, and, it turns out, the United Federation of Teachers has received numerous complaints about the credit recovery and how it calls graduation stats into question. According to data from New York, the city’s most recent graduation rate data was 50 percent in 2006, which was up from 44 percent in 2004.

Schools need to do what’s best for one of their key publics (students) and not what creates the best image of their school. Perhaps officials from the city’s Education Department need to set forth standards that have to be met to obtain the necessary credit and start tracking the schools’ programs.

While letting more students graduate and being able to boast of higher graduation stats is nice for the students and schools, won’t those students be at a disadvantage later when they haven’t the necessary skills needed to succeed?

Web 2.0 and Substitute Teachers

April 6, 2008 at 10:26 am | Posted in relationships, substitute teachers, Web 2.0 | Leave a comment
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I’ve noticed that the post on my blog getting the most traffic is Substitute Relationships; so, I decided to revisit the subject as it’s a popular one

I mentioned in my previous post how schools and substitute teachers need to form positive relationships since the school districts rely on the subs to help educate students. To put that statement into “PR terms,” substitutes are one of the key publics for a school district.

As it turns out, a whole online community of substitute teachers exists – I discovered this when I found a link to my blog posted on the Substitute Teachers United forum. With that in mind, I started thinking about how schools could connect with substitute teachers using Web 2.0 tools.

So far I have one answer: develop an online social network for subs.

Obviously this requires some work on the schools’ part – it might not even be feasible for each school district to develop a network; but, maybe each county or even each state could. For example, the Stark County Education Service Center could place a link on its Web site to an online network for subs in Stark County.

On this social network subs could share information about various schools, such as where to find the main office or the easiest way to get there, discuss ways to keep control over a classroom, or what to do if the teacher doesn’t leave any lesson plans.

I imagine discussions would also include what schools are best to sub at and even which teachers are better to sub for than others. School officials should also join, monitor, and participate in the network to stay in touch with the subs working in their districts and to understand any problems the substitutes face when coming to work.

Providing substitute teachers a way to connect with one another and to the schools could help start improving relationships.

Education Research and Journalists

March 30, 2008 at 11:31 am | Posted in education research | 2 Comments
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The American Educational Research Association held a panel discussion last Thursday called Disseminating Education Research Through Electronic Media: Advice From E-Journalists. The panel focused on education researchers sharing their findings with e-journalists. Several journalists and bloggers spoke to the group about how best to communicate with journalists working in electronic media.

For public relations professionals, knowing how to communicate with the media and pitch stories is just a part of the job. Of course, some are better at it than others.

Within the last week I’ve had two interviews for internships where my main responsibility would be media relations. So, with media relations fresh on my mind, I started thinking about what advice I would give education researchers trying to communicate findings with journalists.

1. Know the journalist or medium. If you are researching a topic or have findings you think are interesting communicate that to an appropriate source. You should know what journalist or news outlet might be most interested in the information. This could involve reading other articles written by the journalist or reviewing other articles in the news medium and knowing whether your information “fits” with the other stories.
2. Know the trends or current topics. It’s important to stay on top of educational issues. Even if your research isn’t complete it can always provide a context for issues being discussed or add valuable knowledge to a current topic. Journalists might not want to write a story just about research; but, if it provides information about a current story or trend it becomes more valuable.
3. Be candid
. Be honest about the research – don’t stretch the truth and exaggerate findings.
4. Help educate the journalist. It’s important to realize that even if you meet with a journalist your interview or research findings may only appear as one sentence in a story. However, you can give journalists a better understanding of an issue by answering their questions.

    These four points are the ones that immediately came to mind when first reading about the AERA’s panel discussion, but I’m sure the list could be much longer.  Any additional thoughts on communicating research findings to journalists?

    Ethics & Graduation Rates

    March 23, 2008 at 10:19 am | Posted in Ethics, Graduation Rates | Leave a comment
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    images55.jpgOne of the classes I took last semester was Values and Ethics Management. We studied ethical issues in businesses and developed our own values and ethics plan for a company as our final project.  Even if I hadn’t studied ethical dilemmas for 15 weeks I would still question the ethics of schools reporting two different graduation rates.

    Apparently some schools are reporting one set of numbers to Washington and then reporting other numbers back home. This excerpt from the New York Times highlights the situation:

    “California, for example, sends to Washington an official graduation rate of 83 percent but reports an estimated 67 percent on a state Web site. Delaware reported 84 percent to the federal government but publicized four lower rates at home.”

    What’s especially interesting is that school administrators know the “official” rates are inaccurate. Hank Bounds, the superintendent for Jackson Public Schools in Mississippi, stated the graduation rate was 56 percent. However, the official statistic reported the graduation rate at 81 percent. A principal at Murrah High School in Mississippi, Roy Brookshire, stated in the New York Times article that he didn’t know how the graduation rate for his school was 99 percent when typically half the students drop out of the school.

    How can school officials accept this discrepancy?

    Developing and requiring states to use one formula could solve the reporting problems. In 2005, one formula was developed; but, states weren’t required to use it and began dropping out of the program within the first year of its creation.

    Enforcing a standardized formula may dramatically reduce reported graduation rates, but it may also benefit schools. By not giving the schools a chance to play with the numbers, schools with low rates may receive the help they need. Perhaps programs or solutions would be developed to aid those schools reporting low graduation numbers.

    As the graduation rates are currently being reported, there doesn’t appear to be trouble – graduation rates of 90 percent and higher are being reported to Washington. By reporting two different sets of numbers schools are only hurting themselves; after all, if we don’t know there is a problem, how can we fix it?

    Licensing Fee Increase

    March 16, 2008 at 2:38 pm | Posted in Education, Ohio Department of Education, teaching license | Leave a comment
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    One educational issue receiving media coverage is the increase in licensing fees for Ohio teachers. The Ohio Department of Education has raised the price for a five-year license from $60 to $200. According to the State Department, the money will be used for more extensive background checks.

    In 2000 the fees were increased by $2; however, this is the first major increase in 14 years. Needless to say, teachers aren’t happy about the licensing fees more than tripling in cost.

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    The Ohio Education Association encouraged its members to speak out against the fee increase – which resulted in flooding the inboxes of members of the State Board of Education. One board member reported receiving approximately 1,200 e-mails and other reports call the e-mails threatening and abusive.

    The union’s vice-president, Bill Leibensperger, has apologized for the e-mails.

    While I can certainly understand the teachers’ anger about the licensing fee increase, the Ohio Education Association should have instructed the teachers on what to say (or not say) and how to say it.

    Perhaps if teachers were instructed to focus only on key messages, such as how the increase is for public safety and, therefore, taxpayers should be responsible for it, and were told to keep their tone professional, the e-mails might have been considered more effective.

    Telling the teachers what to write (or not write) might have eliminated e-mails such as the one KidsOhio.org mentioned:

    “…and I hope your children and their children’s children get screwed over by the educational policies you and your ignorant cornies (sic) develop.”

    That certainly didn’t help the teachers’ case.

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    Developing a list of messages that needed to be communicated to the board members and instructing teachers on how to effectively communicate might have helped the teachers lobby against the licensing fee increase.

    School Levy Recap

    March 9, 2008 at 9:22 am | Posted in Education, Levy Campaigns | 2 Comments
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    vote.jpgI’ve already blogged a couple times about school levies in Ohio and thought I should follow up with the results from the election last Tuesday. After all the votes were counted, only 1 out of 7 Stark County school districts saw their levy passed. As this article in the Canton Repository asks, “now what?”

    I certainly don’t have any easy answers for these school districts – but school officials better be prepared to start communicating with their key publics and evaluating their levy campaigns.

    One school district, Plain Local, is going to move forward with its “Phase V Crisis Plan.” This will include limiting bus services, shorter school days for students, closing the building promptly at the end of the school day, and teacher lay-offs.

    I’m sure parents will have questions about the limited busing and the shorter school day; students will probably want to know how the building closing will impact their after-school activities, and teachers will, undoubtedly, want to have more information about the lay-offs. I suggest the school district send a handout home for parents and students to review and also hold a few town hall meetings to discuss the Phase V Crisis Plan. The information sent home can give a brief overview of the up-coming changes and the face-to-face meetings can be a chance for school officials and those affected to discuss changes. Additionally, information about the lay-offs should be communicated as soon as possible – there are probably rumors and unease among the teachers.

    If schools are considering putting their levies back on the ballot, it’s important to evaluate their previous levy campaign.

    success.jpgFor public relations campaigns, it’s always important to have set goals or objectives that can be measured. The schools probably measured the success of their campaigns by whether the levy passed or not. For the 6 school districts with the failed levies, officials should look at the specific tactics used during the campaign and assess what did and didn’t work.

    It will be interesting to see if any of these schools do put their levies back on the ballot and if they change their campaign tactics.

    Substitute Relationships

    February 29, 2008 at 8:47 pm | Posted in Education, relationships, substitute teachers | 4 Comments
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    While I was looking around the education blogosphere trying to find inspiration for this post, I stumbled across a blog called, Just a Substitute Teacher. I’ve since added it to my blogroll because it was a fun read – the writer, KauaiMark, has a humorous voice. This post was a compilation of all the things that have gone wrong in his subbing experience over the years.

    It’s a fairly long list – 15 bullet points – but two in particular stood out to me. The first was that one day when he was subbing there were no lesson plans left for him. When the absent teacher finally e-mailed the school’s secretary with the plans, they were printed in such a small font he couldn’t read them. In another instance he hadn’t been informed of the teacher’s schedule and didn’t know he was responsible for yard duty. He found out later when a teacher said she had to cover for him.

    After reading those two points, it got me thinking about the relationship schools have with their substitute teachers.

    According to this article there’s a growing demand for substitute teachers and the responsibilities of subs have increased, due, in part, to teachers attending more professional development workshops and conferences.

    Obviously the relationship between schools and substitute teachers needs to be positive since schools are reliant on them to help educate students. Not taking the time to prepare materials for a sub or being understanding of the fact that he or she is unfamiliar with particular programs or policies doesn’t seem like a good way to develop a relationship.

    As this article states most substitutes want to feel respect from school officials and other teachers, as well as a sense of appreciation. The article goes on to mention one woman who substituted for 15 years and only had one administrator thank her.

    If a school can’t put the effort into developing a good relationship with substitutes, they might have to get used to more subs doing what KauaiMark mentioned in his last bullet point – he told a school district he would no longer sub there.

    photo courtesy of http://www.lawrence.com

    Where’s the (recalled) Beef?

    February 23, 2008 at 11:01 am | Posted in Education & Health | Leave a comment
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    By now you’ve probably heard or read something about the beef recall. The story seems to be everywhere – television, newspapers, and blogs. I thought it was only appropriate to write a post about the topic because, from the 143 million pounds of recalled beef, 37 million was sent to schools for lunches and nutritional programs.

    Of course, the recalled beef wasn’t just sent to schools – it was also eaten. According to US Department of Agriculture administrator, Ron Vogel, most of that recalled beef has already been consumed.

    Kind of puts a new meaning behind the idea of mystery meat, doesn’t it?

    It should be pointed out that the recall is a Class II, meaning it isn’t likely serious health risks will occur from eating the beef. But I wonder what the schools would have done if the recall had been a Class I, indicating serious health consequences (even death) could occur? Would they have some sort of crisis plan in place to deal with such a situation?

    Usually when I think about a school having a crisis plan, I think of a plan for a school shooting, a bomb threat, or a fire – not recalled food. But, part of having a crisis plan means being prepared for the unexpected – such as a mass beef recall.

    According to The Education Report, Oakland school district stopped serving the beef after the first allegations about animal abuse came out against the Westland/Hallmark Meat Company.

    The school district definitely took the correct action – to immediately stop serving beef when word first spread about the company using downer cows. As it turns out, none of the school district’s beef was part of the recall.

    Hopefully schools that had the recalled beef took immediate action to guarantee it wouldn’t be served to children. I also hope it has been communicated clearly to parents that it was a Class II recall.

    Having a crisis plan for all situations is crucial for schools (and any organization, for that matter). Knowing what action to take and what responsibility everyone has can mean not only the difference of surviving a crisis or not, but ensuring everyone’s health and safety.

    Too Little, Too Late?

    February 17, 2008 at 7:11 pm | Posted in Education | Leave a comment
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    My post last week ended on the topic of schools and school levies – and it’s a topic I want to continue discussing. In approximately two weeks, many voters in the state of Ohio will be faced with voting for or against a school levy; this is a big issue in particular for schools in Stark County.

    One Stark Country school district that’s receiving attention in the media is Marlington Local. According to one news article, the school district must pass a $6 million levy on March 4, or will be forced to implement several cost-saving measures. Money will be saved by eliminating teacher positions, canceling home football games and not permitting public use of the buildings or gym facilities after the school day ends. The school district is also considering the possibility of offering early retirement incentives, which you can read about here.

    For the last month, the school has offered weekly town hall meetings to talk with voters and hear their concerns. Although the meetings are one way to connect with the school district’s home-owners, I can’t help but think a public relations campaign should have been implemented months before March 4. Rather than relying on one month of weekly meetings to help pass the levy, the school should have researched voters’ attitudes and concerns and built a campaign around those results.

    Although the campaign would be dependent on research, I would suggest several other tactics in addition to the town hall meetings. First, several of the schools in the district have their own newsletter that goes home with students – informative articles about the levy and what its money would be used for should be included in those newsletters. After all, parents should have a stake in the levy because of their children.

    Articles should also be written for the local newspaper. Similar to the newsletter articles, these could explain how public schools are funded in Ohio and what Marlington will do with the levy money. Perhaps a high school English class could write essays for the paper about the levy or an elementary class could write what they would buy for the school.

    Finally, another face-to-face tactic should be used. Before sporting events, band concerts, choir concerts, etc. a school official should remind those in the audience that the levy will be on the ballot. People attending school functions will probably have an interest in the levy.

    If the district lacks the expertise to organize a campaign, the school could always take advantage of seminars like the one Mount Union College, also located in Stark County, offered. The seminar was free for participants and offered advice on creating successful school levy campaigns.

    If the levy is so critical to the school’s existence and success, shouldn’t school officials put forth the effort of developing a successful campaign and discussing the levy with voters well in advance?

    Stark County picture courtesy of www.ohiohistorycentral.org

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