Saving the Teacher, Skipping a Grade, Paying for AP Tests

Six students saved their teacher's life at Heritage High in suburban Atlanta. Debbie Shultz’s estranged husband, just out of a mental institution, showed up with a large knife. He rushed her. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports:

That's when Shultz's students, 16 and 17-year-old kids, went to her rescue. Several of the youngsters tackled the man, pinning him to the floor and wresting the knife from his hand.

The roll of honor is: Nimesh Patel, 17; Austin Hutchinson, 16; John Bailey, 16; Andy Anderson, 17; Matt Battaglia, 17; and Scott Wigington, 17.

As Hutchinson saw the man pull the knife, "I thought I could run like the rest of the people or I could help," the student said. "It's just not right leaving her there."

Hutchinson and Wigington, son of Rockdale County Sheriff Jeff Wigington, were the first to reach the assailant. Wigington grabbed the hand holding the knife.

The others helped push the man to the ground, at which point Wigington took the knife away from him. The six boys then kept him pinned to the ground.

After police took the attacker away, some of the boys stayed at school to finish taking their finals. Odds are they all passed Spanish II.

Smart Skipping

Skipping grades  benefits very smart students academically and socially, researchers say. Among factoids from Davidson Institute for Talent Development:

Accelerated highly gifted students achieve significantly higher levels of social and general self-esteem than do children of equal intellectual ability who have been retained with age peers or who have been permitted only a single grade-skip. (Gross, 2000)

. . . When exceptionally gifted children who have been rejected by their age peers are removed from the inappropriate grade placement and are permitted to work and play with intellectual peers, the loneliness and social isolation disappears, and the child is accepted as a valued classmate and friend. (Gross, 1993; Hollingworth, 1942)

Profoundly gifted students need to skip many grades, not just one, to benefit.

Laptops Don't Boost Scores

In Minneapolis, ninth graders in the class of 2002 were given free laptops for four years. Graduation rates improved, though of 980 students who got laptops an unimpressive 530 graduated four years later. Test scores didn't rise, says the Pioneer Press.

Ninety-two percent of continuously enrolled students with laptops passed the Minnesota Basic Standards reading test in October 2001. By comparison, 91 percent of similarly enrolled students in other schools passed the test.

The passing rate for the math section was 85 percent for the laptop-toting students, and 87 percent for students at other schools. Students passed the writing test at the rate of 90 percent and 87 percent, respectively.

Joshua Angrist, a Massachusetts Institute of Technology economics professor, found no increase in achievement from laptop use in a study on Israeli students. Math scores went down.

"I'm sure that kids are happy to get a free computer. I would be too," he said. "The simple answer is that it's not a better way to teach. It's costly. It's distracting. And it decreases teachers' ability to control what's going on in the classroom.

Money invested in laptops is not available for other things; teachers' energy and students' time are finite as well.

Pay for AP

More students are taking Advanced Placement classes at Texas high schools where students  get a $100 reward for passing the AP exam; teachers get $150 for each passing student. The program, which started in Dallas and is now spreading, is privately funded. Over five years, the number of Dallas students passing the AP exam jumped from 130 to 754, reports the Houston Chronicle. "The passing rate among minority students is 10 times higher than the national average" according to the program coordinator.

Bob Daniel, Tascosa High School principal in Amarillo, calls the program nothing short of "incredible."

"We've had about a 300 percent increase in the number of tests taken over the last three years and a 190 percent increase in the number of tests passed," Daniel said. "We are hearing back from our kids as they come back from college, saying they are much better prepared."

The Chronicle quotes critics who say the money should be spent elsewhere, or that financial incentives would put too much pressure on some students. Actually, this program is creating opportunities for advanced study at mediocre and low-performing schools that typically don't have enough ambitious students to justify AP Physics or AP European History. Once the classes are created, more students can give it a try.

Stars of Blunder

Big Arm Woman has advice for her church's preschool committee on "toddler wrangling" for the Christmas pageant.

Arming 15 2-year olds with hard cardboard stars glued to sticks and then forcing them to climb two flights of concrete stairs without a hand rail is a good way to give the preschool Christmas pageant a PG-13 rating for blood and violence. And getting said toddlers back DOWN the stairs is a good way to give five or six teachers heart attacks.

Oh, what's Christmas without a little blood.


Michelle Simmons of San Angelo/Wall, Texas, writes: 

At our small town school, my kindergarten daughter was informed that in the song "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" her class was to sing: "We Wish You a Merry Hissmas."  This prompted her young mind to ask me what holiday Hissmas was among other questions.

I informed her that she needed to tell her teachers and classmates and anyone else who would listen that in our house we sing, "We Wish You a Merry Christmas." She also told them that we want to keep the Christ in Christmas.

They told her that if she felt that way she could sing it, but to sing quietly.

Well, my family and I would like to wish you and yours a very Merry Hissmas and a Happy New Ear!!

Joanne Jacobs writes about education and other issues at She’s writing a book, Ride the Carrot Salad, about a start-up charter high school in San Jose.

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