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New Media Guidelines, Math Requirements, Vouchers

A roundup of the week’s news affecting high school students.

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Virginia Sets New Electronic Communication Guidelines for Teachers and Students

Virginia's school board unanimously approved a set of guidelines outlining appropriate electronic communication between teachers and students. The measure is much less restrictive than a draft prepared in November that would have recommended local school boards to bar teachers from communicating with students through texts, social networking, or online gaming.

Under the initial draft, school employees would only be allowed to contact students electronically through official school platforms such as classroom websites and Blackboard. Those restrictions are lifted in the new measure, called "Guidelines for the Prevention of Sexual Misconduct and Abuse in Virginia Public Schools."

In Virginia, each of the state's 132 school districts must enact guidelines to prevent sexual misconduct between teachers and students. "It was apparent that there was a strong feeling that, given the diversity in the technology used in our school districts, rules that might make sense in one division wouldn't make sense in another division," says Charles Pyle, the board's director of communications.

The new measure urges local boards to make sure teachers "avoid appearances of impropriety and refrain from inappropriate electronic communications with students." The communication should be "transparent, accessible to supervisors and parents, and professional in content and tone."

Some of the guidelines were loosened after comments from individual teachers and teacher associations about the use of social networking sites and other electronic communication methods as a legitimate teaching tool. More specific guidelines will be left up to individual districts. Pyle says the document is important because "improper relationships are often facilitated by the ease with which an adult can have a private, virtual conversation [with a student]."

But Pyle says there is a place for social media in the classroom. "There's nothing wrong with electronic communications between teachers and students—that's the way we communicate today," he says. "Local school systems need to look at how [electronic communication] is being used and develop policies that ensure there is transparency."

Electronic communication between teachers and students has become a hotly debated topic over the past few years. Texas, Massachusetts, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas all have or are considering similar measures outlining proper use of social media in schools. In Massachusetts, guidelines state that teachers may not become Facebook friends with students and shouldn't give out their home or cell phone number without prior approval from the school district.

Massachusetts State Universities to Require Four Years of High School Math

Massachusetts students hoping to enroll in a public university will have to take four years of high school math starting in 2016 after the state's higher education board passed a resolution earlier this week.

The state becomes the 11th to require four years of high school math for admission. "This vote puts Massachusetts in the vanguard of states that are increasing expectations for students from preschool to graduate school," Charles Desmond, chair of the state's higher education board said in a statement. "Strong mathematics ability is no longer an option. It is essential knowledge for every student given the demands of our 21st century economy."

Studies have shown that students who complete high-level math courses in high school are more likely to earn a bachelor's degree than those who don't. Completing at least one math course after Algebra 2 raises a student's chances of graduating college by 23 percent, according to a 2006 study by Clifford Adelman, a senior research analyst at the U.S. Department of Education.

Over the past few years, more states have been requiring four years of high school math for high school graduation. In 2005, just two states required four years of high school math. Now, 21 states and Washington, D.C. require four years of English and four years of math for high school graduation.

More States Considering Charter Schools and Vouchers

Debates over charter schools and voucher programs have been in the news a lot lately as states try to find creative ways to trim budgets.

Detroit plans to turn about a third of its 142 public schools into privately run charters, a move that officials estimate would save more than $28 million in overhead costs. But the plan could mean job losses for some unionized teachers because many charter schools do not require teachers to be a part of the union.

Officials are considering expanding the number of charter schools in North CarolinaPennsylvania, and Oregon. Charter schools are privately run institutions that receive some public funding. They usually operate with more autonomy than public schools and are held accountable for test scores. Often, charter schools cost less to run than public schools because many receive private donations and less funding per student than public schools.

Elsewhere, the House of Representatives advanced a bill that reauthorizes the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship, which allows students whose neighborhood school is failing to attend a private school of their parents' choice. The scholarship was discontinued in 2009.

In Pennsylvania, a similar voucher bill advanced to the state Senate floor that would allow students who attend one of 144 poorly performing schools to transfer to another public school or a private school. Tuition would be paid by the taxpayers and donations, with donating companies receiving tax credits.

voucher program is also being considered for Chicago by state lawmakers in Illinois.

Have something of interest to share? Send your news to us at highschoolnotes@usnews.com.