Friday, December 14, 2012

Judge Places Pennsylvania District In Receivership

The Philadelphia Inquirer (12/14, Giordano) says Delaware County Judge Chad F. Kenney on Thursday granted state Education Secretary Ronald J. Tomalis' petition to place the Chester-Upland school district in receivership and "accepted his recommendation to appoint Joseph P. Watkins, who was already serving as the district's state-selected chief recovery officer." Kenney's decision accepts Watkins overhaul plan that "calls for increasing scholastic achievement, luring back students who have fled the district's schools, increasing programs, and attracting private funding. However, it also calls for closing and consolidating schools, including two of the district's higher achievers; increasing class sizes; raising taxes, and turning the schools over to external control, such as education-management companies or converting them to charter or cyber schools if they fail to met federal progress goals by the end of the 2014-2015 school year."


The Delaware County (PA) Daily Times (12/13, Kopp) notes the receivership will last for three years and quotes Kenney's order as saying, "The petition for appointment of Joseph P. Watkins to serve as receiver for the Chester Upland School District is not arbitrary, capricious or wholly irrelevant to restoring the school district to financial stability. In fact, the petition with an attached recovery plan speaks to only, and addresses only, the specific issue of restoring the school district to financial stability."

Philadelphia Officials Mull Safety Impact Of School Closures

The Philadelphia Inquirer (12/14, Snyder, Purcell) reports that some 14 "most dangerous" schools in Philadelphia are among the 44 that have been scheduled for closure, adding, "But just what impact the closing of the schools will have on overall safety in the 146,000-student district is uncertain and some officials say the potential exists for things to actually get worse. Some schools will grow larger as they are forced to take in students from shuttered buildings. ... And Philadelphia is known for its neighborhood rivalries, which over the years have erupted in violence inside and out of school." The piece quotes Kelley B. Hodge, the state-appointed "safe schools advocate" saying, "I think it's definitely going to have an impact on safety. How significant, I can't say at this point. It's a very intense social experiment. I think every student in the district is going to be affected in some way, shape or fashion."

District Officials Welcome Results From Nation's First Standardized Health Test

The Washington Post (12/14, Cohen) says students in the District "scored an average of 62% on the nation's first standardized health test, results that were better than education officials had expected because D.C. schools have not had a long history of teaching subjects the test covered." Sandra Schlicker at the Office of the State Superintendent of Education told DC Council members that she was "pleasantly surprised" with the results. Leaders of organizations that "work on teen health in the District said at Thursday's hearing that the test results are a valuable evaluative resource. Scores on the reproductive health section of the test, where high school students answered an average of 75% of the questions correctly, might improve if schools devoted more class time to that subject, said Shana Bartley, a peer health and sexuality education program coordinator at the Young Women's Project."


The ABC News (12/13, Jennings) "Health" blog quotes Ayan Islam, communications specialist for the Office of the State Superintendent of Education, as saying the results "will be very helpful in determining the improvements needed to be made for teacher professional development training and create challenging material that can further student's interest and knowledge in personal health. ... Fifth-graders seem to know a lot more when it comes to recognizing their own personal health. When it comes to general knowledge and physical education on alcohol, tobacco and drugs, they have a slight idea, but may not be exposed enough to give them an awareness to be prepared when they are exposed to those things."


Students Show Greater Proficiency In Health Than Math, Reading.The Washington Times (12/14, Howell) says the test results "exceeded the public school students' proficiency on in math and reading, at about 49 percent and 46 percent, respectively, in scores released in July. However, respondents to the health questions may have included students who did not take the traditional DC CAS in those core subjects." Adam Tenner of the Metro TeenAIDS organization praised the exam as "historic," adding: "While the results are concerning to Metro TeenAIDS, they demonstrate exactly how serious this epidemic is and which schools are most in need of improvement."

Writer: Cultural Sensitivity Requirements May Stymie Common Core Assessment Creators

In commentary for Bloomberg News (12/14), Emory University professor of English Mark Bauerlein writes that despite the Common Core Standards' bipartisan support and widespread acceptance, "a battle may break out once states and districts develop curricula and administer tests that align with Common Core's standards on English language arts. The clash revives the so-called canon wars from 25 years ago, when multiculturalists in high school and college demanded an end to the dead-white- male dominance of the humanities." Bauerlein states that the Common Core is "unambiguous" in its preference for the classics, adding that the "mandate is a problem for test developers," who must "heed 'bias and sensitivity guidelines' that rule out race and sex imbalances, stereotypes and pretty much anything that might upset or disserve any particular group of students."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Fiction or Nonfiction? Considering the Common Core’s Emphasis on Informational Text



(From the New York Time)


Overview | Does the emphasis on reading "informational text" in the new Common Core State Standards set up a "fiction versus nonfiction smackdown" in English classes? If so, is that good or bad?

In this lesson, students will reflect on their reading experiences in and out of school and discuss the roles that both nonfiction and fiction have played. Then, they will become familiar with what the Common Core standards say about reading, and what critics and supporters have written in reaction, in order to discuss and write about the question "What Should Children Read?"

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

Rural Districts' After-School Programs Benefit From 21st Century CLC Grants

Education Week (12/12, Courrégé) reports on the high degree to which rural districts rely on grant programs like the 21st Century Community Learning Center grant program for after-school programs, which "face a host of challenges because of their isolated locations," such as low funding, staffing difficulties, and transportation programs. "That lack of money is huge for Sherry Comer, who has directed an after-school program in Camdenton, Mo., for 14 years. Her program was one of the original recipients of the federal 21st Century Community Learning Center grants, and it's relied on a combination of sources, such as federal Title I and economic-stimulus money, to keep afloat since then." The article notes that many rural communities need 21st Century Community Learning Center grants to operate, adding that it "offers funding for centers that provide academic-enrichment opportunities during nonschool hours for children, especially those who are considered poor and attend low-performing schools."

Advocates Complain ED Focus On ELL Instruction Waning

Education Week (12/12, Maxwell) reports that advocates for English language learners are concerned "that the distinctive needs of those students and the educators who work with them are receiving diminishing attention from the US Department of Education." The piece notes that despite the rising ELL population and roughly $750 million in annual Federal spending, ED's Office of English Language Acquisition "has seen its clout steadily shrink. In mid-October, the office lost its director, Rosalinda B. Barrera, who was appointed in August 2010 and became the first permanent political appointee in that post since 2008. The department did not publicize her departure, and no one has been named to replace her." Education Week notes that OLEA also declined to renew a contract with George Washington University to manage ts National Clearninghouse for English Language Acquisition without explanation. Meanwhile, "Raúl Gonzalez, the director of legislative affairs for the National Council of La Raza, a Hispanic-advocacy group in Washington, said ELL issues have not been front and center in the Education Department in President Barack Obama's first term because officials have been focused on major initiatives such as the Race to the Top grant program and No Child Left Behind Act waivers." The piece quotes Gonzalez saying, "I think there's an opportunity in the second term to engage the department more intensely on English-learner issues."


Lesli A. Maxwell writes at the Education Week (12/13) "Learning the Language" blog about the above article written by her, noting that advocates complain about "the splitting of responsibilities over Title III, the provision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that provides roughly $750 million in federal aid to states and local districts for English-language acquisition programs. Since 2008, authority over the funds has been in a division of the department's office of elementary and secondary education, a change made at the tail end of President George W. Bush's administration and continued under President Barack Obama. That move has left the Office of English Language Acquisition-where authority over all of Title III had originally been placed-largely on the sidelines when it comes to major policy decisions that impact English-learners."

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

California Governor's Top Education Advisor Retiring

EdSource Today (12/11, Baron) reports that California State Board of Education Executive Director Sue Burr is stepping down after "guiding California through decades of education reform." The piece describes Burr as "Gov. Jerry Brown's top advisor on education policy," and notes that she "gave no specific reason for leaving other than the end of the year marking 40 years in public service. Her retirement follows the administration's exhausting and successful campaign to win voter support for Proposition 30, Brown's ballot initiative to raise taxes on the wealthiest Californians and increase the sales tax to boost education funding." The piece quotes Brown saying in a statement, "Sue brought a deep understanding of school policy and operations to her many years of public service. I thank her for her counsel and steady leadership."

ACLU Files ED Complaints Against Schools With Same-Gender Classes

The Bayou Buzz (12/11) reports that the ACLU has filed complaints with ED against school districts in Middleton, Idaho, and Birmingham, Alabama, that have middle schools that offer single-gender classes. "The ACLU said the programs...appear to violate federal law 'by forcing students into a single-sex environment with little or no alternative options, rely on harmful gender stereotypes and deprive students of equal educational opportunities merely because of their sex.' The organization filed the complaints last week, saying the schools are in violation of Title IX, which 'prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs.'"

Columnist Dismisses Idea Of Longer School Days

In her column in the Middletown (NY) Times Herald-Record (12/10, Liu), Pauline Liu writes, "Starting next year, 20,000 public school kids in the U.S. will spend an extra hour and a half each day in school, to boost achievement." Liu dismisses the "idea of keeping them late for more of the same instruction," saying, "If it's not working now, how will it be better if they're tired? There are many grown-ups and kids alike who would call that punishment." Liu adds, "some people in high places support longer school days, including U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan. He believes children of poverty can be helped if you 'give them the time to learn more.' While there are some studies to support this view, what about the importance of play in the development of a healthy child?"

AIR Releases ELL Support Guide For Waiver States

Lesli A. Maxwell writes at the Education Week (12/11, Maxwell) "Learning the Language" blog that a team from the American Institutes for Research has "developing guides to help states and districts keep the promises they made to win" NCLB waivers. "English-language learners are the focus of the first of these AIR waiver guides, which, among other things, highlights promising practices that state and local leaders may use to ensure that the particular needs of the English-language learners in their schools are served well under states' waiver plans." Maxwell writes that Diane August, who wrote the guide, "lays out concrete steps states and districts must take on behalf of English-learners under three of the four main principles that the Education Department required as a condition for states to receive flexibility."

English Teachers Express Concerns About Common Core's "Informational Text" Standards

The Huffington Post (12/10, Zhao) reports on growing concerns among "teachers and parents that literary classics will go the way of the dinosaurs" under the Common Core Standards, which "call for 12th grade reading to be 70 percent nonfiction, or 'informational texts' - gradually stepping up from the 50 percent nonfiction reading required of elementary school students." The Post notes that "the new guidelines are increasingly worrying English-lovers and English teachers, who feel they must replace literary greats like The Great Gatsby and Catcher in the Rye with Common Core-suggested 'exemplars,' like the Environmental Protection Agency's Recommended Levels of Insulation and the California Invasive Plant Council's Invasive Plant Inventory." However, the piece adds that David Coleman, who helped to craft the standards, says educators "are misreading the guidelines. The boost in informational texts, he says, is intended across disciplines: When social studies, science and math teachers increase nonfiction and informational reading assignments, English teachers won't have to alter their literature lessons."


Voxxi (12/10, Gillette) also runs an article on the angst teachers are expressing about deciding "which novels and poems will be eliminated from the classroom in favor of informational reading. ... Proponents of the new non-fiction book reading policies – including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers - claim students are entering college ill-prepared for the rigors of research." However, teachers argue that students' boredom with school will be exacerbated by emphasizing non-literary prose.

Maryland District Superintendent Calls For Assessment Moratorium

Valerie Strauss writes at the Washington Post (12/11) "Answer Sheet" that Montgomery County, Maryland, Superintendent Joshua Starr "said Monday that the country needs a three-year moratorium on standardized testing and needs to 'stop the insanity' of evaluating teachers according to student test scores because it is based on 'bad science.'" Starr, speaking at a Washington Post educaiton event, "solidified his role as a prominent and thoughtful critic of federal education policy as he challenged major initiatives launched by the administration and the reform community," Strauss writes.

Education Experts Debate Common Core

In an online "Room for Debate" feature, the New York Times (12/10, Subscription Publication) presents the views of a number of education stakeholders on the Common Core Standards. In his commentary, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (12/10, Subscription Publication) (R) praises both state and Federal governments for having adhered to their "proper roles" in developing the standards, which he stresses should be crafted by the states. Texas Board of Education chairwoman Barbara Cargill (12/10, Subscription Publication) writes that states should be free to design and implement their own standards, free from the funding vagaries she associates with the Federal government. Frederick M. Hess (12/10, Subscription Publication) of the American Enterprise Institute also argues against the "conformity" of the standards, while Rishawn Biddle (12/10, Subscription Publication), the editor of Dropout Nation, argues that the Common Core is key to ensuring equitable education opportunities for all students.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Special Needs Teachers See Assessments As Irrelevant

The Twin Cities (MN) Daily Planet (12/9, Brown) reports on the use of standardized testing on special needs students, relating the story of a teacher who must spend time assuaging the concerns of parents who are dismayed by their children's low scores. "That standardized test scores flatten the incredible variety of circumstances kids bring to school is something that all teachers recognize, but the problem is amplified in special education programs. For students in special education, the potential is greater for the test to mislabel an excelling student as failing." The piece notes that many Minnesota special education teachers see standardized testing "as being irrelevant to instruction."

Los Angeles Teacher Evaluation Deal Foregoes Use Of Value-Added Data

The Los Angeles Times (12/10, Watanabe, Blume, Times) reports, "The recent groundbreaking agreement over evaluations for educators in the Los Angeles school district is a major victory for the teachers union because it limits the use of a controversial - but increasingly widespread - measurement of teacher effectiveness," that being value-added analysis of student performance data. "That opposed by many teacher unions as unreliable; but it is being used in Illinois, New York, Texas, Florida, Washington, DC, and elsewhere."

Massachusetts Columnist Touts Interest-Based Bargaining For Teachers Unions

In a column in the Boston Globe (12/8, Harmon), Lawrence Harmon writes about the often rancorous nature of negotiations between districts and teachers unions, writing, "It turns out there is a better method - something labor experts call interest-based bargaining. Basically, it's the opposite of traditional collective bargaining. Instead of issuing tough demands and counter demands, the sides begin with a clear statement of their interests and objectives. Rather than pummel each other with data, the parties collect information jointly and analyze where each dollar is being spent contractually." Harmon describes a recent conference sponsored by the Massachusetts Educational Partnership at which "teachers' union officials and management representatives from Fitchburg and Franklin told scores of their counterparts from other communities how they overcame mistrust to craft mutually agreeable contracts."

Connecticut District Looking To Align Math Curriculum With Common Core

The Stamford (CT) Advocate (12/8, Chamoff) reports that a "committee of administrators, teachers and parents" in Greenwich, Connecticut, are preparing to review the district's math curriculum as the district "implements the common core standards, national standards for language arts and math that are intended to encourage more analytical thinking and in-depth problem solving. Brenda Brush, the district's math program administrator, said the committee will be looking through different materials and programs that support instruction with the common core." The piece notes that some area stakeholders have been critical of the current curriculum, saying it "doesn't allow students to master basic skills."

Friday, December 7, 2012

Pennsylvania Auditor Criticizes Charter's Finances, State Funding System

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (12/7, Vidonic) reports that the Pennsylvania Department of Education responded to state Auditor General Jack Wagner's report that "an 'out of whack' formula left the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter school flush with cash" by indicating that Gov. Tom Corbett will prioritize analyzing the state's charter funding system. "Wagner said the audit shows that the Midland, Beaver County, cyber school, the largest in the state with 10,600 students, is receiving much more public funding than it needs, and he criticized how the school spends some of it. The audit showed that at the end of the 2009-10 school year, the cyber school had a $13.8 million surplus, and between 2008 and 2010, it spent at least $3.5 million in taxpayer money for print, TV and radio advertising."

California Appeals Court Reverses Decision On Charter School Space

The Los Angeles Times (12/7, Blume) reports on the Los Angeles school district winning a "key legal battle with charter schools this week, when an appeals court struck down a ruling that could have opened up vast numbers of classrooms for charters." As a result of the decision, "charter schools will continue to receive space in much the same way as traditional schools" based on the same ratio of students to a classroom. An appeal was made by the California Charter Schools Association, which "argued that its operators were entitled to more space because the district uses many rooms for purposes other than regular classroom instruction." Following initial consent by a Los Angeles County Superior Court, a "California Court of Appeals unanimously reversed that decision Wednesday."

NAACP Launches Education Overhaul Push

The AP (12/7, Gamboa) reports, "The NAACP is going on the offensive on education, deploying volunteers across the country in its biggest push for a public education overhaul since the nation's classrooms were ordered desegregated in 1954, the civil rights group said Thursday." The AP reports that the group's volunteers will lobby for extended learning time, better teacher training, better pre-K programs, and more support for needy students. "Such changes for all children, not just minorities, are the only way to ensure an educated American workforce and a thriving economy, said NAACP president and CEO Ben Jealous." The piece quotes Jealous saying, "We will always play defense on Brown (vs. Board of Education). We will always play defense when folks who are disproportionately disciplining our children harshly in ways that do not help them. You know what we are playing offense on? We are playing offense on these four things." The piece notes that Education Secretary Arne Duncan is backing the initiative, and that he cited high dropout rates in minority communities. The piece quotes Duncan saying, "This is not just devastating individuals and families. This is devastating entire communities." The AP adds, "Duncan and others said a system with those kinds of results puts the nation at a competitive disadvantage. But if the NCAA could ban the University of Connecticut's men's championship basketball team from postseason play next year because of poor athlete graduation rates, Duncan said, surely activists could take on 'this sacred cow.'"


Duncan: Parents Should Demand Better Education System.Michele Molnar writes at the Education Week (12/7) "Parents and the Public" blog that Duncan, speaking at the release of the "Finding Our Way Back to First: Reclaiming World Leadership by Educating All America's Children" program, said that the "US has a shortage of demanding parents." The piece quotes him saying, "One of the countries out-educating us by every measure is South Korea," and relates his description of the Administration's efforts to learn from South Korea, where parents universally demand top-quality education. Molnar quotes Duncan saying, "I wish we had more demand. I wish we had a lot more parents ... demanding a world-class education-not just on the policy side, but on the advocacy side. We have a 25 percent dropout rate in this country-a million young kids leaving our schools for our streets each year. ... Our goal has to be to go from 25 percent to zero as fast as we can."

Los Angeles Moves Toward Incorporating Test Scores In Teacher Evaluations

The Los Angeles Times (12/7, Blume) reports the Los Angeles teachers union leaders are backing a "tentative agreement on teacher evaluations that incorporates the results of student standardized test scores. The approval was a key hurdle but rank-and-file members will have the final say when they vote at their schools in January." Proponents of the plan stressed "the deal did not permit a 'value-added' calculation for an individual teacher to be a specific part of that teacher's job evaluation. Value-added formulas gauge a teacher's role in student growth by attempting to account for past student performance and outside factors that affect test scores." The agreement allows "for test results to factor into an evaluation, but it doesn't specify how much they will count for. Union President Warren Fletcher characterized this lack of specifics as a victory for union negotiators."

Student Data Tracking Model Used To Improve Academic Success

In an article on its website, PBS NewsHour (12/7, Fritz) profiles Broadmoor Middle School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, which three years ago, had major discipline and academic problems. Administrators at the school implemented "a data-driven model known as Diplomas target students who were showing early signs of dropping out. Traditional models use testing to track student performance in the classroom. Under the Diplomas Now model, tardiness, unexcused absences, and misbehavior are also charted and flagged as problems that could lead to larger issues later in a student's life." The piece quotes Robert Balfanz of Johns Hopkins University, who founded the program, saying, "We can really map where the schools and where the kids are. It's almost like insider trading for the social good."

Writer Argues For Competency-Based Common Core Assessments

In a blog posting for Forbes (12/6), Michael Horn writes that education policy observers are "nervous" about "whether states will stick with the Common Core state standards once the Common Core assessments arrive in the 2014-15 school year." Horn supports the concept of the Common Core "in part because of the innovation their adoption could seed through the creation of a common market. Having common standards across the country could begin to reward content providers that target the long tail of learners because they would help to aggregate demand across the country, as opposed to what happens today where those providers that tailor their offerings to different and idiosyncratic state standards, for example, are rewarded." Horn continues to lay out an argument that competency-based assessments could be crafted into Common Core assessments, reducing the need for "end-of-the-line" assessments and strengthening academic performance.

Some States Implementing Fragmented School Choice Programs

Reuters (12/6, Simon) reports that Louisiana Superintendent of Education John White and his counterparts in Michigan, Arizona, and Utah are implementing a new education model in which students are allowed to create custom curricula chosen from a range of options offered by public schools and private firms, all of it funded by taxpayer money. Reuters notes that some educators find the system alarming in that it may result in less funding for public schools.

NCES Study Shows Many Students Lack Basic Vocabulary Skills

USA Today (12/6, Toppo) reports that according to a new study from ED's National Center for Education Statistics, "US schoolchildren may not improve their reading skills until they have a better grasp of basic vocabulary." The study "looks at the vocabulary skills of students nationwide and finds that they closely track students' reading comprehension levels. ... The findings represent the first time that the federal government has analyzed vocabulary in isolation, and the results show that students have a long way to go: The average fourth-grader scored 218 points in 2011, essentially unchanged from 2009. The average eighth-grader scored 265, also unchanged from 2009. Twelfth-graders' results for 2009 averaged 296 points, but the test wasn't repeated in 2011." The piece notes that the data comes from the NAEP.


The Christian Science Monitor (12/6, Khadaroo) reports that it is the first time that NAEP data has been used to assess students' vocabularies in this manner, noting that the "results show that students' vocabulary knowledge tracks closely with their overall reading ability." The piece quotes NCES Commissioner Jack Buckley saying, "About half of the variation in reading comprehension [on the main test] can be associated with variation in vocabulary." The Monitor adds that the report "also hints that schools and parents have a long way to go to ensure that their children can precisely understand the kinds of texts they will encounter in an academic context."


The Huffington Post (12/6, Resmovits) reports that education experts find the results "troubling - but not unexpected," adding that "average performance on the US Education Department's national exams was mostly stagnant at low levels between 2009 and 2011, and the highest performers lost ground during that time." The Post explains that it is "the first time the results of a separate scale for vocabulary questions on the national reading comprehension test have been released."


The Wall Street Journal (12/7, Banchero, Subscription Publication) also covers this story, noting that Margaret McKeown of the Learning Research and Development Center at the University of Pittsburgh expressed concern about the results, but not surprise. The piece quotes her saying, "There is very little vocabulary done in any classroom at any age. There is quite a bit of research about vocabulary and the best ways to teach it. Unfortunately we are not seeing that go into the classrooms as much as we would like."