Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Black Suspensions Mushroming EKU Prof Says

Concerns Raised in
Fayette and Jefferson Counties

Fayette County suspends African-American students at a rate higher than the statewide average.

A complaint filed against the Jefferson County school in May, asks the U.S. Department of Education to intervene.

This from the Herald-Leader:

Web page to address high percentage of Black suspensions
A group that includes African-American professors at Eastern Kentucky University is developing a Web page aimed at getting information to students and educators to help them reduce the disproportionate numbers of black students being suspended in Kentucky schools.

For the 2009-'10 school year, 26 out of every 100 students in Kentucky who were suspended for violations of board policies were African Americans, while eight of every 100 students were white, according to the Kentucky Safe Schools Data Project.

Superintendents, principals, teachers, and students will be able to go to the Web page and find information aimed at reducing suspensions and expulsions, said Sherwood Thompson, Assistant Dean in the College of Education at EKU.

"We want to lend our academic resources to a problem that is mushrooming," Thompson said.
A web presence is anticipated by fall, Thompson told H-L, and will provide information on programs being attempted by other school districts nationally, such as teacher training and creating student courts, to reduce the number of suspensions.

Apparently Jon Akers, executive director of the Kentucky Center for School Safety at EKU, and former PL Dunbar principal in Lexington got it started.

As the honcho at KCSS, Jon shares school safety information and ideas with all Kentucky school districts on a regular basis. Some of that data says...
For the 2009-'10 school year, 35 of every 100 students suspended in Fayette County were African-American, compared with 9 of every 100 students who were white.

In February, Fayette County Public Schools and the Equity Council — a group that advises the school board — joined with the non-profit Children's Law Center to try to cut high rates of suspensions and disciplinary actions involving African-Americans and students with disabilities.

The agreement required Fayette County to reduce the disproportionately large number of suspensions among such students. The Fayette district is implementing a system called PBIS (Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports) to help students and faculty members avoid disciplinary conflicts. The program will be used in five pilot schools.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

A Heritage of Disrespect?

This from Deborah Meier at Bridging Diffrerences:
"They never had a formal education, and they don't understand the value of
 education," New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently said of the poor. "The old Norman Rockwell family is gone."

Bloomberg got properly chastised for these words, but they get at the heart of the matter. We have a heritage of disrespect for the poor. Either they don't know what they're doing or they deserve what they get. (While we insist on bragging about our rags-to-riches family histories to prove the latter.)

Meanwhile, over the past 100 years we have raised the bar from a few years of schooling to a high school degree and now a bachelor's degree. If you can't do it, well, you had your chance. Its value? It's measurable to dollars and cents in your pocket...
At the same time, the gap between the poor and rich has grown exponentially, and the amount that's inheritable has grown apace. And, the odds of running into each other in the grocery store, the post office, or at a local meeting—ala Rockwell—has grown ever more remote.

[T]he nation's founders valued education from the start. Thus the founding in 1636 of Harvard, then Yale, Princeton, Dartmouth, Brown, and Columbia—all before the American Revolution. But education for "the masses"? (Or women, or people of color? Almost zilch.)

The idea of educating everyone—universally and freely—is not as ancient as I am. When I was born in 1931 a majority of Americans had not dropped into high school.

It wasn't and isn't the poor who, ala Bloomberg, failed to "value" education. It was those with far more power and resources who made the rules that kept them out. It took an enormous battle, led by labor unions and do-gooders, on behalf of our natural thirst for knowledge and self-respect. How dare the elite question the value others placed on getting a good education for their children? But it is part of our shared history to do so...

RTTT Runners-Up Not Jumping at Chance to Split $200 Million

This from Politics K-12:

It seems some of the nine states who are eligible to share a Race to the Top consolation prize are looking at the $200 million Education Secretary Arne Duncan has offerred them with a wary eye. After all, the most any of the states would likely get is $50 million, and some could wind up with as little as $10 million.
South Carolina already says it has no interest in the money.
Now, Pennsylvania officials are telling me they might apply, but will not be submitting any part of the old application, which failed to win a share of the original $4 billion pot. The state's Race to the Top plans were crafted under the Democratic administration of former Gov. Ed Rendell. Now, Republican Gov. Tom Corbett is running the show. Any proposal would be an entirely new one, Pennsylvania Department of Education spokesman Timothy Eller said. That would conflict with what the U.S. Department of Education wants to do with the money, which is to let states implement part of their original plans as part of this latest round.
Kentucky's participation isn't a sure thing either. State education department spokeswoman Lisa Gross told us the state is always on the lookout for additional funding streams, but would review the offer "closely."
And the National Governors Association, in general, is clearly perturbed at how this whole thing went down—and by that we mean that governors, who will be the ones applying for this money, seemed to have been left out of any decision-making process. NGA spokeswoman Jodi Omear sent me this statement yesterday:
The timing of today's announcement was surprising given that just last week the Department of Education asked for gubernatorial input to help determine how best to implement the third round of the Race to the Top program...
Justin Hamilton, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Education, said the department meant no slight...
Gross told the Herald-Leader that the criteria Washington might use to pick winners are not yet known.

"We really haven't had time to look at it yet to see if it's worthwhile," Gross said. "Depending on what the criteria are, that might influence us as to whether we apply."

Kentucky lost out in the first two rounds of Race to the Top mainly because the state has no provision for charter schools. If charters remain a key requirement in the third round, it might not be beneficial for Kentucky to apply, Gross said.

Kentucky had hoped to win almost $200 million in the first round in spring 2010.

With nine states competing for a total of $200 million in the third round, "we're not talking about a huge pile of money," Gross said.

On the other hand, Kentucky still needs money to implement Senate Bill 1, the education-reform program that kicks in for the 2011-12 school year.

"State funding remains tight, so any additional funding that we could access would be worthwhile," Gross said. "Money is money."...

National Research Council Report Casts Doubt on Incentives and Test-based Accountability Results

For years now, many of our leading educators have been touting school management by results. We use data to drive decision-making, to provide incentives and to punish. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation along with the Department of Education's Race to the Top programs are all focused on creating more elaborate schemes for using test data to drive instruction - in many cases, we hear, the same way a mule team driver uses a whip.

But what if these leaders are wrong?

The National Academies' Board on Testing and Assessment just released a report titled, Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education, which examines the effects of test-based incentive programs like No Child Left Behind, high school exit exams, teacher performance pay, and direct student rewards. In recent decades, federal and state governments have increasingly relied on these types of programs as a way to raise accountability in public education and improve achievement. And, it is fair to say that Kentucky has been at the forefront of many of these efforts. Though these programs differ from each other in many ways, they all use the same strategy of adding consequences to students’ test performance as a way of improving education.

This report looks across all the rigorous studies of these different incentive programs and concludes that they have not consistently generated positive effects on student achievement.

In recent years there have been increasing efforts to use accountability systems based on large-scale tests of students as a mechanism for improving student achievement. The federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) is a prominent example of such an effort, but it is only the continuation of a steady trend toward greater test-based accountability in education that has been going on for decades. Over time, such accountability systems included ever-stronger incentives to motivate school administrators, teachers, and students to perform better.

The report helps identify circumstances in which test-based incentives may have a positive or a negative impact on student learning and offers recommendations for how to improve current test-based accountability policies. The most important directions for further research are also highlighted.

For the first time, research and theory on incentives from the fields of economics, psychology, and educational measurement have all been pulled together and synthesized. Incentives and Test-Based Accountability in Education will inform people about the motivation of educators and students and inform policy discussions about NCLB and state accountability systems.

School-level incentives – like those of No Child Left Behind – produce some of the larger effects among the programs studied, but the gains are concentrated in elementary grade mathematics and are small in comparison with the improvements the nation hopes to achieve. Evidence also suggests that high school exit exam programs, as implemented in many states, decrease the rate of high school graduation without increasing student achievement - a particularly troubling finding, as Kentucky is poised to begin a series of high school exit exams.

The report urges policymakers to support the development and evaluation of promising new models that use-test based incentives in more sophisticated ways as one aspect of a richer accountability and improvement process. However, given the modest success of incentive programs to date, it is essential that all use of test-based incentives should be carefully studied to help determine which forms of incentives are successful. In addition, continued experimentation with test-based incentives should not displace investment in the development of other aspects of the education system.

Sponsored by the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Flora Hewlett Foundation, the report reviews and synthesizes relevant research from economics, psychology, education, and related fields about how incentives work in educational accountability systems. The report offers recommendations for how to improve current test-based accountability policies and highlights directions for further research.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

FayetteABC Makes It's Case

On Monday, Dr Erik Myrup, representing FayetteABC spent about 12 minutes addressing the Fayette County Board of Education. Myrup discussed the unintended, negative consequences of standardized test preparation on children in Fayette County Public Schools. The board listened without comment or questions.

In his comments, Myrup quoted KSN&C's Skip Kifer on the issue of standardized testing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Behind Grass-Roots School Advocacy, Bill Gates

The information in the chart above is now more than a year old and only partly reflects the scope of influence the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has brought to American education policy. (I'm not sure when I'll have the time to update it.) How does all that play out? To paraphrase Chuck Colson, When you've got them buy the wallet they're hearts and minds will follow.

This from Sam Dillon in the New York Times:
A handful of outspoken teachers helped persuade state lawmakers this spring to eliminate seniority-based layoff policies. They testified before the legislature, wrote briefing papers and published an op-ed article in The Indianapolis Star.

They described themselves simply as local teachers who favored school reform — one sympathetic state representative, Mary Ann Sullivan, said, “They seemed like genuine, real people versus the teachers’ union lobbyists.” They were, but they were also recruits in a national organization, Teach Plus, financed significantly by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

For years, Bill Gates focused his education philanthropy on overhauling large schools and opening small ones. His new strategy is more ambitious: overhauling the nation’s education policies. To that end, the foundation is financing educators to pose alternatives to union orthodoxies on issues like the seniority system and the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.

In some cases, Mr. Gates is creating entirely new advocacy groups. The foundation is also paying Harvard-trained data specialists to work inside school districts, not only to crunch numbers but also to change practices. It is bankrolling many of the Washington analysts who interpret education issues for journalists and giving grants to some media organizations.

“We’ve learned that school-level investments aren’t enough to drive systemic changes,” said Allan C. Golston, the president of the foundation’s United States program. “The importance of advocacy has gotten clearer and clearer.”

The foundation spent $373 million on education in 2009, the latest year for which its tax returns are available, and devoted $78 million to advocacy — quadruple the amount spent on advocacy in 2005. Over the next five or six years, Mr. Golston said, the foundation expects to pour $3.5 billion more into education, up to 15 percent of it on advocacy.

Given the scale and scope of the largess, some worry that the foundation’s assertive philanthropy is squelching independent thought, while others express concerns about transparency. Few policy makers, reporters or members of the public who encounter advocates like Teach Plus or pundits like Frederick M. Hess of the American Enterprise Institute realize they are underwritten by the foundation.

“It’s Orwellian in the sense that through this vast funding they start to control even how we tacitly think about the problems facing public education,” said Bruce Fuller, an education professor at the University of California, Berkeley, who said he received no financing from the foundation.

Mr. Hess, a frequent blogger on education whose institute received $500,000 from the Gates foundation in 2009 “to influence the national education debates,” acknowledged that he and others sometimes felt constrained. “As researchers, we have a reasonable self-preservation instinct,” he said. “There can be an exquisite carefulness about how we’re going to say anything that could reflect badly on a foundation.”

“Everybody’s implicated,” he added.

Indeed, the foundation’s 2009 tax filing runs to 263 pages and includes about 360 education grants. There are the more traditional and publicly celebrated programmatic initiatives, like financing charter school operators and early-college high schools. Then there are the less well-known advocacy grants to civil rights groups like the Education Equality Project and Education Trust that try to influence policy, to research institutes that study the policies’ effectiveness, and to Education Week and public radio and television stations that cover education policies.

The foundation paid a New York philanthropic advisory firm $3.5 million “to mount and support public education and advocacy campaigns.” It also paid a string of universities to support pieces of the Gates agenda. Harvard, for instance, got $3.5 million to place “strategic data fellows” who could act as “entrepreneurial change agents” in school districts in Boston, Los Angeles and elsewhere. The foundation has given to the two national teachers’ unions — as well to groups whose mission seems to be to criticize them.

“It’s easier to name which groups Gates doesn’t support than to list all of those they do, because it’s just so overwhelming,” noted Ken Libby, a graduate student who has pored over the foundation’s tax filings as part of his academic work...

Other Gates funded groups cited in the piece:
  • The National Governors Association
  • Council of Chief State School Officers
  • Achieve Inc.
  • Alliance for Excellent Education
  • The Fordham Institute
  • New Teacher Project
  • American Federation of Teachers
  • National Education Association
  • Gates spent $2 million on a “social action” campaign focused on the film “Waiting for ‘Superman
  • Jeb Bush's Foundation for Educational Excellence
  • Educators for Excellence
  • Teach Plus
In what seems to be the exception rather than the rule,
The Center on Education Policy, which calls itself “a national independent advocate,” was awarded $1 million over two years to track which states adopted the standards. Its president, Jack Jennings, said he had nonetheless publicly criticized the Gates stand on other issues, including charter schools and teacher evaluations. “I feel free to speak out when I think something is wrongheaded,” he said.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Court Backs Censorship of High School Paper's Sex Cartoon

This from the School Law Blog:
A New York State school district was on solid legal ground when it barred a high school student newspaper from publishing a sexually explicit cartoon, a federal appeals court has ruled.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, unanimously upheld the censorship of the cartoon depicting stick figures in various sexual positions.

Students involved with The Tattler, the student paper at Ithaca High School, sued the Ithaca, N.Y., school district alleging violations of First Amendment free speech rights, among other claims.

The incident stems from 2005, when the faculty adviser of The Tattler, a school-sponsored student newspaper, pulled the stick-figure cartoon and an accompanying article by a recent Ithaca High alumnus headlined, "Alumni Advice: Sex is Fun!" (The How Appealing web site has linked to this site containing documents from the case, with the cartoon on Page 18 of the PDF.)...

"We hold that defendants complied with the standards for regulation of speech in public schools set forth in Bethel School District Number 403 v. Fraser, which permits schools wide discretion to prohibit speech that is 'lewd, indecent, or offensive,' and Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, which permits schools to censor school-sponsored speech in ways 'reasonably related to legitimate pedagogical concerns,'" Judge Jose A. Cabranes wrote for the court.

The stick-figure cartoon is "unquestionably lewd" and thus fell under Fraser, the judge said. And "the record clearly demonstrates that the paper was school-sponsored, or at least that its publication constituted an expressive activity that students, parents, and members of the public might reasonably perceive to bear the imprimatur of the school, which is sufficient to trigger the application of Hazelwood."

As for the school district's restriction on distributing the independent newspaper containing the cartoon, the court said it need not decide whether the publication would have been disruptive under U.S. Supreme Court's landmark student speech case, Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, because the censorship of lewd speech was lawful under Fraser.

From the Nation's Cartoonists

This from Signey Wilkinson at Slate:

This from Chuck Asay:

This from Tom Toles:

This from Nick Anderson:

This from Dana Summers:

This from Lalo Alcaraz:

This from Walt Handlesman:

This from Drew Sheneman:

and this:

Back in the Saddle Again

So Long "Old" Friend

I don't think I ever mentioned it, but for the past year I've been sharing office space at EKU with Rev Alvin Farris. Yes, Elaine's husband. Following a career in Human Resources at Sylvania, Alvin went back to grad school and will be certified to teach this fall. Quiet, hard-working, intelligent, sincere and moral; he's going to make some school district, and a bunch of kids, very lucky.

Advocates call for end to paddling in 45 Kentucky school districts

This from the Herald-Leader:
James Wallace said he and his wife, Tammy, gave permission for the Belfry Middle School principal to paddle their 12-year-old son in November for spitting on another child in a fight.

But Wallace said his son ended up in a hospital emergency room for treatment of bruises and blisters on his buttocks. A board that regulates teachers in Kentucky is investigating the incident in Pike County, which is among 45 school districts in Kentucky that report allowing corporal punishment.

The case comes at a time when the Blueprint for Kentucky's Children, a six-year plan to improve child well-being in Kentucky, is calling for all school districts to stop corporal punishment. Kentucky law allows each district to decide whether to use corporal punishment.

"I believe in local control, but it shouldn't be a ZIP code lottery, where some kids get smacked and some kids don't depending upon where they live," said Terry Brooks, executive director of Kentucky Youth Advocates...

Top paddlers

The Kentucky 2010 Annual Safe School Data Project lists the five following school districts as reporting the most incidents of corporal punishment for the 2009-10 school year.

Pike County 263

McCreary County 187

Russell County 141

Bell County 100

Pulaski County 89

These five school districts had the highest rate of corporal punishment per 100 students.

Monticello Independent 6.97

McCreary County 6.16

Russell County 4.87

Clinton County 4.18

Fairview Independent 3.58

A Chat with FayetteABC

When the Fayette County Board of Education meets Monday night, somewhere toward the end of the meeting, 10 minutes will be spent discussing issues raised by a parent group calling itself Fayette Advocates for Balance in the Classroom (FayetteABC). At present, FayetteABC boasts 300+ signatories - representing more than 14 schools and 16 Fayette County zip codes - on a petition which calls test-driven instruction into question.

To better understand where FayetteABC is coming from, I met with Dr. Erik Myrup, one of the group's co-founders, in his office high in the Patterson Office Tower at the University of Kentucky, where he serves as an assistant professor in history. Also in attendance was one of Myrup's top advisers, three-year-old Lars Myrup. And historian David Hamilton, an old friend and colleague from my days at Cassidy, stopped by briefly. We spent just under an hour and a half together.

Erik Myrup grew up in Salt Lake City until he was 18. He completed a Mormon mission, serving in Brazil. After that he went off to Yale University, as a 21-year-old freshman, where he met his wife Cheryl who had also served an LDS mission in Taiwan. They were married and lived in Taiwan for a couple of years teaching English and editing textbooks.

The Myrup’s taught in a buxiban. In Taiwan, the kids go to school, and then, after school, they go to the buxiban, which is where they catch up on all the other things they didn't get in school.

“So we got this group of kids that are highly pushed by their parents. And their parents come from fairly high socioeconomic backgrounds, and they're sacrificing everything to try to get their kid to keep up with somebody else,” Myrup said. “And then we’d go to baseball games and we'd see these kids who were from a totally different background than the ones who are taking these international tests that America is being compared to. They had mechanic’s kids (who were going grow up to become mechanics) and they’re chewing beetle nuts, which are like tobacco, and these are not the kids that were in the buxiban.

Myrup returned to Yale as a graduate student and lived in Lisbon, Portugal for two years while he was conducting research for his dissertation. He came to Lexington four years ago from Greeley Colorado where he had taught at the University of Northern Colorado for a year.

Myrup says FayetteABC is trying to keep a fairly narrow focus on test-driven instruction. “We know that testing is not going to go away. There are always going to be numbers. But people need to understand the limits of what that data is actually saying. And a school, and a teacher, and a child shouldn't be judged totally on that. We need to take a much broader set of things into account. And of course, the data can be manipulated, Myrup said.

Myrup shared how FayetteABC got started and says the group is essentially “just some parents that came together." Myrup and his wife Cheryl are the parents of two fourth-graders and a kindergartner at Glendover Elementary School, plus 3-year-old Lars, pictured above with his father.

For four years now, Myrup has been volunteering in each of his children's classes on a weekly basis. He does dramatic readings from literature [The Hobbit, Wind in the Willows, Roald Dahl…] with voices – and, from the sampling I heard, he’s very good. This year, in his children’s fourth grade, he read throughout the first semester. But in the second semester, the testing activity schedule got to be too much. He shifted to short stories because of the interruptions to the schedule.

Myrup appreciates his having been involved with his children during their early developmental years. His graduate preparations in history took eight years, instead of the more typical five years, largely because of activities he was involved in with his children. Myrup's wife worked full-time and he would read to the kids for as much as two hours a day. “It took me eight years to get through grad school. It didn't take me long as it took you, [laughing] but it took a long time, Myrup said. [In fact, it took me 13 years. But in my defense, I was serving as a principal at the time.] He says he can look back now with no regrets about how he spent his time.

Myrup says the experience at Glendover has been very very good. We've experienced some very good teachers, but some have been better than others. “Our sense is that as the children have gotten older and moved on…it has become all about the test. I think when they were younger the teachers were able to shield them a little bit more. It wasn't all test-driven instruction like it is now,” Myrup said.

He thinks the district has made some changes that have led to this situation. “My sense is that the school board played a part in this. One of the things we want to do is to try to make changes," Myrup said.

He notes that Fayette County schools Superintendent Stu Silberman is being replaced at the present time and FayetteABC does not want their concerns to be focused on his administration. Silberman will begin leading the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence beginning in July. "We want to go forward," Myrup said.

But has Silberman driven much of what FayetteABC is concerned about?

"I think that he's played a role in that…I think it's a reflection of administrators who are very quantitative. They look at numbers; they're taught to do that. And maybe they have not been in the classroom for a while…A teacher in the classroom has a very good sense [of what children know] regardless of what the data points show.

KSN&C: Wait a minute. Let me challenge you on something. You went to Glendover. You chose Glendover. You knew where your kids were going to be attending school based on some assessment of the school, I'll bet you. Why did you choose Glendover?

Myrup: In part, because it was close to work. We didn’t look, though, at the test scores but we had good recommendations. And we liked the fact that it had kids from all over the place…because of UK. Our twins had grown up with that in Portugal and we speak some different languages, so we liked that… We didn't do all that much research but we knew that Glendover had gotten good recommendations from people we trusted.… Our kids have done well. We could have had them try to get into SCAPA. We have a short story writer, and artists, and we did look at that. But we said, ‘No. We like it here.’ And [one of the girls] tested into [the gifted program]... And we went and looked at it, but again, we like [Glendover]. The last thing we want for these little girls… is to take them out of an environment where they are dealing one-on-one with kids from all sorts of backgrounds, and put them in a classroom where all the kids think and act like you do. Some time back, we had gone to the district office and asked what goes on in terms of gifted and talented. We were told that you take these tests and if you get a certain number, then you get in. And I remember the one person, (I think this was like a volunteer, or a part-timer - I mean this was not an administrator) whose children had come up through the program, and had a good experience. And this person said to us, ‘Your child is a frog. And they have been surrounded all their lives by monkeys. But they can't talk to monkeys. And you put him next to other frogs and they can suddenly say, ‘ I'm not different…’ [Laughing]. But the last thing I want this to become is a harping on gifted and talented. Ultimately every child is gifted with unique talents—many of which go unrecognized in our current system. In any event, you've got a huge number of kids who've got needs and they try to come up with a variety of ways to meet those needs. But the truth is…the opening of gifted and talented classes has every bit as much to do with raising test scores [at particular schools] as…

KSN&C: Gee, you think?

Myrup: I think so, but I'm a skeptic. [laughing]. That's just who I am.

KSN&C: Well the gifted program in Fayette County has been around since about 1980. But they kind of took on a new life around the time Fayette County was implementing magnet programs. And those magnet programs were specifically designed to try to attract students who would not normally choose a particular school, and in that way balance building usage and transportation issues and all of that. So I suppose there is some residual validation to your suspicions.

But let me take you back to Glendover. So now you've selected a school. Your kids are going to school. They are having a good experience. You're running into some pretty good teachers...and all that stuff. But you start seeing some things that raise concerns that the school - this school that you like - is just a little too focused on testing. What kinds of things are you seeing?

Myrup: Well, the thing that got me… they had an assembly. And we were never aware that this is an assembly that they have in the fall. My sense is that all the schools have them, although, in talking to the superintendent, he insists that this is all a local thing, and that there is complete local control, and that they want to celebrate. But in our school, the way it worked: they called the assembly; the tests and been taken the previous year; and they have these designations – distinguished, proficient, apprentice, novice. I guess some kids, we found out, don't get anything at all. Anyway, they announced [each child's name] one by one, and it flashes what their [designation]is up on the screen. It's announced to the whole school. And then that child comes forward and picks up their [certificate]. Our daughter knew this was coming. It's so surreal. We were dumbfounded. I kept saying, ‘This can't possibly be right.’

KSN&C: Class rank for fourth-graders?

Myrup: …and the kids and teachers we talked to about it didn't like it. And of course we talked to [principal] Cathy Fine, and she was embarrassed about it. I mean, she said, ‘We just want to celebrate. We’re instructed to celebrate.’ And that's what led me to think that this isn't just an approved-locally sort of thing.

KSN&C: Like someone else says what you're going to do, and you determine how?

Myrup: Yeah. I assume they're told they have to do something, based on some mandate. But they've got some local control. But to have an assembly? But anyway… I wrote a fairly scathing letter at the time and pulled my kids out. The teachers told us they would be sure to let us know when it was going to happen. The original plan was to have [my kids] come to my grad course here, although at the time we ended up with sick kids and we couldn’t bring them over here. But it disturbed me as well because, as a university professor, I would never do such a thing with college kids. It would be against the law!

KSN&C: That occurred to me while you were saying it.

Myrup: Yeah. You teach. It would be against the law. And these designations—distinguished, proficient, novice, and so forth—are really euphemisms... Children aren’t dumb.

KSN&C: Oh no.

Myrup: And one of my daughters was terrified. She said, “Dad, what if I don't get distinguished?... I'll be embarrassed in front of all…” But we asked a bunch of parents at the time, and we jabber little bit. A lot of parents weren't…

KSN&C: … not crazy about it?

Myrup: No. They weren't upset…They said, ‘Shouldn’t we celebrate?’ Not everybody. But this is sort of what started us off. …finding like-minded parents.

My experience has been that people at the top don't mind keeping score, as a general rule.

Myrup: I was dumbfounded. In my letter I say, this would be against the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act…

KSN&C: That's the one.

Myrup: One of the points I made in my letter was that this is basically using peer pressure to try to motivate children.… And scare them, and reward them, I guess.

Together with others, the Myrup’s would go on to found FayetteABC. And Myrup himself would eventually end up on the telephone with Silberman a couple of weeks ago, leading to FayetteABC’s inclusion on the board agenda for May 23.

Myrup indicated that he was grateful for the time that Silberman took to speak with him—nearly an hour and a half—but that he wasn’t necessarily satisfied with all of the superintendent’s answers. One of the points that Silberman made, according to Myrup, was that the problems he was describing could all be solved locally by a school council. “The implication was that this wasn’t a district problem, but a problem of individual teachers.” Myrup indicated that he was "really mad" when he got off the phone and that he wrote Silberman a letter, in response. (Additionally, he visited with each of his children's teachers to discuss his conversation with the superintendent and to assure them of his support. He said the last thing he wanted was for anything he said to come back against the teachers in any way.)

Myrup noted that Silberman responded to his letter quickly, acknowledging that the district has many wonderful teachers. More generally, Myrup noted that Silberman “said everything I wanted to hear": That test-driven instruction isn’t a good thing; that he prizes other things; that the district puts a lot of money and resources into languages; the arts and sciences; and that he does not support the idea of a teacher teaching to a test. “These are all the things that we wanted to hear,” Myrup said, “but we still feel that a great deal more could be done at the district level to solve these problems. Ultimately, the superintendent sets expectations for principals and principals do the same for teachers, and eventually these pressures make their way into the classroom and are placed upon the shoulders of our children, taking away everything that is fun, exciting, and inspiring about the learning process.”

FayetteABC spent about two months doing research before launching their website. Some of the parents in FayetteABC have backgrounds that allow them to do educational research and they are conversant on the work of Ravitch, Rothstein, Koretz, and others. So far, more than 300 folks have indicated sympathy with the FayetteABC message, but some teachers are reluctant to join in openly.

“We've had a teacher say to us, 'I would sign it, but I just can't,'" Myrup said. “We've even had a teacher who signed [our petition] contact us in say, “Can you please take my name back off?” What they say is, “I don't want to put my principal in a bad light. I don't draw attention to my school.”

Among the research FayetteABC looked at was the TELL Survey data for Fayette County. That data suggests that Fayette County teachers don't feel there's an atmosphere of trust and respect in the schools.

“My child's kindergarten teacher showed me this list of data that she needs to gather for each child. And I thought, “Wow. Do you know how much time that takes? What wasted time. And that's kindergarten. I can't imagine what they're turning in for the fourth-graders…(The [MAP tests] are tools that can be used to diagnose, but basically, [teachers are] required to turn in all these numbers. Of all the people it's the teachers who can speak to the data and whether it's being misused,” Myrup said.

So Myrup had a conversation with Silberman, and he said the kinds of things they had hoped he would say, yet they believe he has led the district to where it is. And now, FayetteABC is focused on the next superintendent and they are about to have a chat with the board.

How are they to know if the next superintendent is what they are looking for, or simply someone able to talk a good game?

“You roll the dice,” Myrup said. “Some things are out of your hands and the board will have to make the best judgment they can based on the information they have. We know this is a problem…and we don't pretend to have answers. We will say that we want balance. And we really want there to be discussion,” Myrup said. That discussion would ideally include administrators, citizens and teachers coming together and not being afraid to speak honestly and openly.

Myrup believes that if administrators knew they had public backing, and the school board members knew they had public backing for ratcheting things down, that they would get a lot more than they would without that public backing.

Myrup sees hope in the school board’s hiring process, which appears to be open enough that the public will have a week or two to take a look at the candidates before the board makes a final decision. That will allow enough time to create a verifiable track record of the finalists that will give the board some basis for hiring.

FayetteABC sent out an e-mail message to each board member this week. They would like to speak to each member before Monday’s meeting and for each of their 300+ petition signers to show up. Of course, it's one thing for people to sign a petition. It's another thing for them to show up. The present level of fear expressed by teachers, though, is a cultural marker. It says something about what life is like in the Fayette County schools.

Myrup seemed skeptical of Silberman’s attempt to distance himself from the various manifestations of the push for higher test scores. So far, he does not see the situation getting any better. The heat is still on and indications are that it will remain so.

Myrup noted that test scores are an incomplete measure of assessment and should always be accompanied by additional sources of data. “In the current system, the whole assumption is that test scores provide some magically precise way to compare schools, and that a nudge up or down is indicative of progress or decline. The reality is that the scores are indicative of a student’s ability to navigate a very narrow set of parameters, and that the scores themselves are not meant to be precise but to speak to larger ranges. A child at any given moment will fall somewhere…within a particular range. So [answer] one test question and you move a certain number of points.” One of Myrup’s daughters scored in the 99th percentile when she took the MAP back in the fall. (That’s the one time when teachers hope that students don’t do too well.) Then she got five fewer questions correct in the spring and instead of scoring at the ninth grade, as she had, the fourth grader only scored in the eighth grade. Based on a simple reading of the numbers, he noted, she would appear to have failed to make her year’s progress. And yet, as he also pointed out, a closer reading of the data would show that her final score fell within the standard deviation for her stanine. “Scores can easily be misused and misinterpreted,” he maintained.

Myrup noted that in their conversation, Silberman assured him that common sense needs to be taken into account when looking at the numbers of individual students, but Myrup is still skeptical that this truly happens at every level in the district. “I suspect, in all good faith, when you're [the superintendent] trying to make changes…you set the big picture... And then what happens is you’ve got underlings that don’t truly understand what the numbers mean and crank up the pressure, and you’ve got principals that are scared,” Myrup said.

As for Monday’s meeting, Myrup says, “Our main thing is that we want…to introduce [to the board] the idea that a number doesn't always mean what we think it says. If we can just get that just the whole idea that there's more going on – that the most important things a child is going to learn in school are not going to be things you can measure; certainly not the way that we do." Quantitative numbers are going to exist. But you have to take some of that with a grain of salt and understand the limitations and caveats that accompany their use, Myrup believes.

As a principal, I liked data. It gave me a lot of good insight into how things were moving programmatically, but most of it I ignored because not all data is really useful to you in planning. But invariably you'll see something that will wake you up and you'll say, ‘Hey, that oughtta be better,’ or you'll ask, ‘Why is that happening?’I would look across all of the data, inferentially, and ask myself, ‘What story does this tell?’ It may cause me to change focus, put money here instead of there, bump up this instead of that. Data is a useful tool. But on some level, the impulse to quantify everything kind of dehumanizes the educational process in some sense.

“It's About People [is] the mantra of the district. 'It's about kids.' But somewhere along the way the bigger picture is that it has become about test scores, Myrup said. “Kids come to school and they don't think the whole purpose of learning is to be creative, or to be inspired. I think the idea of the teacher inspiring a child was totally lost in test-driven instruction.”

People may not agree with everything Myrup says, but much of the goal of FayetteABC is to create a dialogue where one presently does not exist - between citizens, teachers, administrators and parents. “Ultimately, we all want what's best for these kids,” Myrup said.”Everybody has a stake. To iron these things out we have to have dialogue. We have to bring these things out into the open.”

CORRECTION: This article was edited to resolve several journalistic issues in the original. Most significantly, the author included some information in the first posting that was not intended for inclusion. That error was the author's and it is regretted. Some spelling and language corrections were also made.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Keeping an Eye on China

Education Commissioner Terry Holliday returned from a recent trip to China with some thoughts on schooling.
China made a choice about teacher time. In China, teachers have about 12-15 hours of instruction time with students each week, compared to U.S. teachers with 24-30 hours. The Chinese teachers utilize between 15-18 hours each week for preparation, improving instruction, collaborative learning with other teachers and support services like grading papers, as compared to U.S. teachers with 0-6 hours. The choice made by China is class size. The average class size in China could be between 40-50 students per class as compared to the average U.S. class size of 16-25.

Another choice the Chinese have made is teacher specialization. In elementary/middle grades, teachers have specialization in Chinese, English, math, science and other subjects. In the U.S., our teachers -- especially in elementary school -- are asked to be ALL things to students and teach ALL subjects. Quite often, our elementary and even middle school teachers lack the math and science content knowledge that these specialized teachers in China have.
Check it out.

The other thing we are seeing from China, is that while they are building a new college per month, the Chinese are not happy with the overall performance of their schools. It's because the highly routinized and test-driven method, while producing solid test scores, is not producing creative thinking to any satisfactory degree. To develop the creative thinking necessary to produce innovation, they send their students to American colleges.

Still, if they continue to support the success of their teachers to a high degree, while shifting their curriculum toward more openness and creativity, it could be a whole new ballgame within a couple of decades.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Another Change at Prichard Helm

This from Prich:

Veteran educator named chair of
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Veteran educator and community leader Hilma Prather of Somerset is the new chair of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

Prather, a retired principal from the Somerset Independent School System, is a member of the Kentucky Authority for Educational Television (KET’s governing board) and has been a member of the Kentucky Board of Education, the advisory board of Somerset Community and Technical College and the Council on Postsecondary Education.

Prather, a member of the Prichard Committee since 2006, succeeds Louisville businessman Sam Corbett, who stepped down as chair with his application for the position of superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools.
Meanwhile in The Ville...from C-J:

28 applied to be next JCPS superintendent

Twenty-eight people from across the country have applied to become the next superintendent of Jefferson County Public Schools.

Tom Jacobson, owner and CEO of McPherson & Jacobson LLC in Omaha, Neb., said the list includes applicants from Kentucky, Florida, Maryland, Georgia, New York, Michigan, Iowa and North Carolina.

“We are very pleased with the applications — it's a very strong slate of candidates,” Jacobson said. “Some of the applicants were people we specifically recruited for this job, others applied independently.”...

[T]he school board will not release the names of any applicants until June 1 – the day they plan on announcing finalists for the job.

However, Sam Corbett, a local businessman and former Jefferson County Board of Education member, confirmed Wednesday that he is among those who have applied.

Corbett, 55, was a school board member from 1992 to 1998, representing District 3 in northeastern Jefferson County. He now serves as chairman of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence.

He said Wednesday he applied for the position because he wants to improve the education system.

“I've been involved with elementary and secondary education for 20 years now and I am convinced this is a great opportunity to make educational excellence a reality in Jefferson County,” he said. “That's a goal all of us in Jefferson County should have and I am excited to be part of this process.”

Corbett, who is co-owner of Sam Meyers Formal Wear, does not have an education background, other than his service as a school board member and member of the Prichard Committee. He was a member of the school board when Stephen Daeschner was hired as superintendent in 1993. Daeschner was superintendent of JCPS for 14 years before being replaced by Berman in 2007.

Respect and Disrespect

Amid the good news for Fayette County Schools, gleaned from the recent TELL Survey, are a couple of bothersome items that mirror comments made by KSN&C readers on occasion. Many teachers feel disrespected. Not only that, but they feel unable to voice concerns.

Fayette County scores 10 points below the state average when it comes to teachers feeling that an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect exists. Similarly, Fayette County lags 10 points behind the state when it comes to feeling comfortable raising important concerns. Even fewer teachers believe that there is an appropriate amount of input allowed teachers on decision making.

While not a part of the survey, the same concerns have been echoed by a growing number of district transportation employees for a number of months now. In fact, we've received a new batch of transportation documents that would seem to establish a generalized atmosphere of disrespect (and perhaps worse) and even ridicule of bus drivers. And it is very clear these drivers fear retaliation if district administrators were to discover that they have "talked out of school."

This perceived disrespect manifests itself in various ways but most consistently it seems to be a general tone - how the administration addresses the bus drivers. Folks know when they are being "talked down to" and they resent it. The drivers say it all starts with Director John Kiser.

For example, below is a photo sent to KSN&C of a notice that was taped next to the department of transportation time clocks recently, apparently instructing adults on what they may, and may not, do while using the restroom.

A little clarification might be in order.

The very-inclusive-sounding "WE" sheet referred to above, is a weekly missive from Kiser that announces events, and more often, instructions. But if the drivers are to be believed, it is also a place where the director ridicules certain individuals if he is unhappy with them for some reason. Although not personally identifiable, it is pretty clear that someone is being addressed, and those "in the know" (including drivers from time to time) are usually aware of who it is. Remember this?

Here's what one driver thinks the above message really says:
Kiser: I've already told you this, but apparently somebody is so stupid that I have to say it again. If you absolutely must use the restroom at a school, go one at a time. And you dummies need to be told what you can and can't do while you are in there....
Now I remember enough from elementary school to know what #1 and #2 are, but it made me wonder if there was a #3. The driver reminded me that, for women, there is a #3 but it's apparently forbidden by the transportation department's potty police.

"I'm an adult. When I go in there I might wash my face and I'll certainly wash my hands. I don't need anybody telling me what my bodily functions are," one driver told KSN&C.

This driver said they called Human Resources downtown and told them about the sign. HR reportedly said, "Oh my God, you've got to be kidding me." The message was subsequently altered but not before the above photo was taken.

There is a leadership theory that suggests less-educated employees may need more direction than would be given highly-skilled professional personnel. I get that. But nowhere in that theory does it suggest that patronizing or humiliating language does anything to build the capacity of the work force or foster the camaraderie Kiser's "WE" would suggest. Sarcasm doesn't work as a means of improving the performance of students, and outside of boot camp, it doesn't work with adults either.

The drivers say they are told that the WE sheet should be taken as department policy. But a review of several We Sheets (...or is it the wee wee sheet now?) over several months reveals a tone and purpose that is inappropriate for any policy document.

For example, on February 24th, after one employee grumbled about not being selected for a promotion, instead of (or perhaps in addition to) talking to the individual personally the We Sheet carried an item on "Why I wasn't selected for Driver Trainer School" that said, "Was it because of my three preventable accidents? Was it because 13 of my last 17 absences were on a Monday or Friday?..."

On May 12th Kiser (or perhaps We sheet editor Mona Seratt) favored the staff with the definition of "prattle." Why? Was that a message to the troops that their complaints were meaningless?

Apparently, like when Kiser defined a "blogger," the We Sheet is used to send surreptitious messages. Well, the messages are getting through. And too often they spout disrespect.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Quick Hits

Elimination of federal ed-tech grant program is criticized: Some education groups are criticizing a House bill introduced Friday that would end 43 education programs, including the federal Enhancing Education Through Technology program -- the only dedicated funding stream for education technology. "The elimination of the ed tech funds is a disappointment," ASCD Policy Director David Griffith said. "It is both shortsighted and contradictory to support increased student access to technologies, improved student proficiency with technologies, and teacher capacity to utilize technologies while eliminating the funding supporting these goals." (T.H.E. Journal)

Turnaround Bill Would Give Congress' Stamp of Approval: The administration's four school improvement models would stay pretty much intact—with some important tweaks—under a measure introduced last week by Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C. Hagan, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, has been helping to chart a moderate Democratic course on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. And her own state is home to the Charlotte-Mecklenberg school district, which is seen as a national leader in school turnaround, arguably the trickiest area of education policy. The four models outlined in regulations finalized by the administration back in late 2009 include some pretty dramatic options such as closing a school entirely, or reopening it with a charter or education management organization. (Politics K-12)

Groups begin work on guidelines for teaching social studies: More than a dozen social studies groups and specialists from nearly 20 states are working to develop broad guidelines and resources that states can share in teaching social studies to students. The goal is to re-establish a more prominent role for the subject and help states improve their own social-studies standards -- rather than create national standards -- which many say would be difficult, given the differing perspectives and priorities from state to state. (Education Week)

Teacher uses college materials to teach research, writing: A fourth-grade teacher in Louisiana developed a project to teach research and writing skills to her English-language learners, while helping them also get excited about going to college. Teacher Tobie Lynn Tranchina requested admissions information from numerous colleges, which the students used in several classroom lessons including one on persuasive writing. "They became the recruiter and they had to write a persuasive essay and tell the other students why they should come to their school," Tranchina said. (The Times-Picayune)

Denver teacher group makes recommendations on evaluation system:
A group of Denver-area educators called the New Millennium Initiative have released recommendations for improving teacher evaluations. Among their suggestions, the group is advocating for the development of pre- and post-tests to measure student achievement during one year, rather than comparing students' scores with those from past years. The teacher panel is sponsored by three education groups -- including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation -- and similar groups have been created nationwide. (The Denver Post)

Technologies to watch for in education: Cloud computing and mobile devices are the technologies expected to change education over the next year, according to an annual report by the New Media Consortium. The report, released Tuesday, named game-based learning and open content as technologies to watch over the next two to three years. Personal learning environments and learning analytics are expected to make a major impact on education in closer to four or five years. (Digital Education), (T.H.E. Journal)

What do struggling schools need in order to improve?:
Additional resources at struggling schools in Philadelphia did lead to improvements, according to research from the nonprofit Research for Action. However, the report finds the district's efforts to turn around poor-performing schools over the past year have been mixed. The environment is improved at many schools and student attendance overall is up, but lateness has increased and new teachers need additional support. (The Philadelphia Inquirer)

Survey: Common core standards to be slowly implemented: Few of the education reforms expected in response to the adoption of new common national education standards will be fully implemented before 2013, according to a new survey of states that have signed on to the initiative. Most states say their first step will be to train teachers how to teach the new standards. Changes in curriculum, assessment and other areas will take longer. Jack Jennings, president of the Center on Education Policy, which conducted the survey, said that "it's going to be very complicated to make these standards mean anything." (Education Week)

15 school districts test standards: Fifteen school districts nationwide are testing the common core curriculum that has been adopted by 48 states nationwide. In one of those districts, Hillsborough County, Fla., educators say the national standards are the most important issue in education. The new standards, they say, will fundamentally change teaching, learning and assessments. (Tampa Tribune)

Plans for national assessments are taking shape: Officials in 24 states are working to develop standardized tests that are aligned with the common core standards. The current plan is for such assessments to be administered quarterly to provide feedback on students' progress. The assessments will measure whether students are on track, and high-school students will be tested on their college-readiness. (Hattiesburg American)

Florida begins to roll out end-of-course state exams: Florida's new Algebra I exams, being taken by 200,000 students this month, will be administered via computer and mark the first time students have taken standardized end-of-course exams. Educators say they expect scores to be low in the first year, but improve over time. This year, the algebra exams will count for 30% of course grades for high-school freshmen. In the future, the exams will be requirements for earning course credit and graduating. (Orlando Sentinel)

Union lawsuit is considered over N.Y. teacher evaluations: The umbrella organization of New York state's teachers unions is contemplating legal action over the teacher-evaluation system approved this week by the state's Board of Regents. The new evaluations would link up to 40% of teacher ratings to students' state test scores, rather than the 20% agreed to by the unions. "It's over-weighting something that all of the experts and researchers say should never be given the kind of weight that the Regents are asking to do," said Richard Iannuzzi, president of New York State United Teachers. (WNYC)

A guide to blended learning: Most blended-learning models fit into one of six categories, according to a recent report by the Innosight Institute. The report, which makes policy and funding recommendations for blended-learning programs, also aims to provide a working definition for programs that combine face-to-face and online instruction. (Education Week)

Should virtual learning be used to replace snow days?: More schools are considering virtual learning as an alternative to snow days that encroach on preparation for standardized tests in the spring or threaten to lengthen the school year. Some educators use Skype or YouTube to connect students with lessons when school is closed, while other options include assignments posted on teacher websites or directing students to activities on external sites. Despite the increasing use, concerns remain about equal access to computers and the Internet for poor students or those in rural areas. (Associated Press)

The science behind math anxiety: Students' fear of math can hinder their learning, according to one study that shows math creates a stress reaction in the brain for some students that could direct brainpower to worrying -- rather than math. Separate experiments show that such students might otherwise be enthusiastic about the subject. Researchers also have found that students' anxiety about math often starts at an early age and even can be passed down from their parents. (Education Week)

Former charter leader is appointed as N.Y.'s education commissioner: Members of New York's Board of Regents voted unanimously to appoint John B. King Jr., a former leader of charter schools in New York and Massachusetts, as the state's new education commissioner. He replaces outgoing commissioner David M. Steiner. King, 36, becomes one of the youngest education leaders in the country and the first person of black or Puerto Rican descent to hold the post in New York. (The New York Times)

Future of Ga. charter schools is uncertain after ruling: Georgia's Supreme Court has ruled that only local school boards can approve and finance charter schools -- not the Georgia Charter School Commission. It is unclear whether 17 authorized charter schools in the state -- eight of which were expected to open in the fall -- will continue to operate. Similar commissions are in place in six states and the District of Columbia, and four others are considering them, according to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. (The New York Times)

School News from Around Kentucky

Drug testing only to include students, for now: There are still many unanswered questions regarding the implementation of student drug testing at Marion County High School, but the committee charged with developing a drug testing policy is working to resolve those issues before fall sports begin July 15. Last week, the Marion County Public Schools Drug Testing Implementation Committee met with school board attorney Joe Mattingly to discuss the legalities of student drug testing and the next steps that need to be taken. According to Mattingly, while many people in the public believe the school system should also drug test teachers and staff, the committee’s focus is strictly student drug testing, for now. (Lebanon Enterprise by way of KSBA)

Madison Clerk accepts Three Year plea deal: The former Madison Central high school secretary accused of having sex with a student has decided to accept a plea agreement, her attorney revealed Tuesday evening. Lynda Chase, 37, will plead guilty Thursday in Madison Circuit Court to third-degree rape and four counts of third-degree sodomy, said attorney Jim Baechtold. The state will recommend a one-year sentence on each count, he said. “Three of the counts will run consecutively and the other two will run concurrently,” Baechtold said, for a total sentence of three years. (Register)

Newport H.S. principal and site-based council to be replaced: Newport High School's principal and site-based council will be replaced before next school year after a state assessment team said they do "not have the capability and capacity to continue" in their roles. That comment was made in a report released this week by the Kentucky Department of Education after a school leadership assessment was conducted the last week of April. Principal Scott Draud, in his seventh year, will be out after his contract expires June 30. The site-based council, which makes major decisions on the direction of the school (such as the curriculum) will be replaced by August. (NKy.com)

At least 14 in running for Fayette school superintendent: At least 14 applications had been received as of Tuesday afternoon for Fayette County's school superintendent, the county school board's executive search firm reported. Tom Jacobson, owner and CEO of McPherson & Jacobson LLC in Omaha, Neb., said the list includes applicants from Kentucky, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York and Washington state. (H-L)

JCPS one step closer to hiring interim superintendent: The JCPS school board interviewed three candidates for interim superintendent Tuesday afternoon. The board is remaining tight-lipped about this process, but the board chair revealed the interim will not be the next superintendent. WDRB learned the three candidates come from both inside and outside the district. All of them were recruited. But none of the candidates, a woman and two men, have been superintendent before. (WDRB)

EDITORIAL - Cooperate for the kids: Local school boards should listen to the district and circuit court judges who are telling them it’s a mistake to split up an alternative education program that’s been conducted at Wilkinson Street School. Judges intervened in the debate because students in the alternative school often end up in contact with the criminal justice system, either as offenders or victims. Wilkinson Street School tries to put them on track for success and happiness and has a done a remarkably good job, according to a letter the court officials sent to chairmen of the city and county school districts. Because they fear the program will be less effective if pursued separately by the two systems, the judges have formed a task force to review options. (State Journal by way of KSBA)

Frankfort Ind Board chairman scolds council: Student testing data shows no evidence that Frankfort Middle and High School is doing “any better than average,” the city school board chairman said Monday. Paul Looney was responding to the school council’s decision to reject a pre-Advanced Placement program next year. The unanimous vote earlier this month puts the council at odds with the school board, which supports the rigorous curriculum. Looney told Frankfort High School Council members Monday that he was “really saddened and disappointed” with their decision. In Kentucky, school councils have the final say on curriculum choices. FHS teachers told school board members last month that they worried the SpringBoard program was being introduced too fast and could leave some kids behind. The council’s action contradicts the Frankfort Independent Board of Education’s unanimous vote in January to approve a 10-part improvement plan that included the use of the English and math program for all students in grades six through 12. “It has become obvious that this council has in no way bought into the board’s vision of raising student achievement,” Looney said in a 10-minute statement during public comment time at the council’s meeting Monday. (State Journal by way of KSBA)

Friday, May 13, 2011

House Bill Calls for Eliminating 43 Education Programs

The piecemeal assault on the Department of Education has begun. Expect NCLB reauthorization to be taken hostage in the process.

This from Politics K-12:

Forty-three education programs would be scrapped under a bill introduced today by Rep. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce subcommittee that oversees K-12 policy.

Backstory from Politics K-12.

"It's time to trim the fat," Hunter said in a statement. "Today I will introduce legislation that will eliminate—not consolidate, not defund, but eliminate—43 wasteful K-12 education programs. At a time when approximately one-third of American fourth graders can't read, we must concentrate on education initiatives that have a track record of putting the needs of students first."

Among the programs the bill would eliminate are Striving Readers, the Even Start Family Literacy Program, and the National Writing Project...

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Education Programs Assail 'U.S. News' Survey

This from NPR:
Amid criticism from education reform advocates who say many teacher preparation programs provide poor training, a national organization is conducting a review of more than 1,000 programs to help aspiring teachers choose from the best. This consumer guide for prospective teachers — conducted by the National Council on Teacher Quality — will be published in U.S. News and World Report next year.

But many schools of education say the effort is misguided, and they are threatening to scuttle the project.

Compiling The Stats

Teacher training programs have similar goals, but they vary tremendously. Kate Walsh of the National Council on Teacher Quality, who is spearheading the effort, points to requirements for middle school biology teachers.

"In some places it means that teacher has to take nine biology courses, and some places it means that teacher has to take one biology course," Walsh says. She says her staff is combing through course syllabuses and entrance requirements and examining the rigor of in-classroom training.

"We want to know how prepared they are to teach reading, the mathematics preparation of elementary teachers. We're looking at whether they're at all selective," Walsh says.

It may sound like another harmless rating system for higher ed, but in the world of education, it can be impossible to get people to agree on standards. And that's exactly what's happening here.

Lynne Weisenbach, vice chancellor of the University of Georgia, says her state's institutions are doing fine. They have already been vetted by a state review board.

"The professional standards commission has high standards, and all of our institutions are accredited" by the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education, Weisenbach says.

She says the U.S. News survey relies too heavily on documents like curriculum contents. Some teachers use materials that may not show up in a syllabus, she says. For that and other reasons, she thinks the survey will be misleading and a waste of time. So the University of Georgia has refused to participate in the U.S. News review of teacher training.

"Given the time and resources we have, we really feel that we're putting them in the right place," she says.

'A Very Strange Metric'

A number of other institutions have similar problems and may not help supply data.

Walsh says this won't stop her. She will get the information through open records requests if she has to. "These are publicly approved programs preparing public school teachers. This is information the public has a right to know," she says.

But Walsh admits that open records requests will not let her peek inside private preparation programs. And even with public programs, filing all those requests will be expensive and will make it tougher to get a complete picture.

Many schools say they feel the U.S. News ratings are just looking at the wrong indicators.

"For example, most of the indicators people are discussing have to do with inputs like the quality of the entrance requirements. That's a very strange metric," says Deborah Ball, the dean of the education school at the University of Michigan. "If I was a person looking for a program, I'd want to know what I'm going to learn while I'm there, not how selective the program is."

Nevertheless, Ball says the University of Michigan will produce the requested data.

People behind the review project say they feel as though teaching programs are reluctant to have outsiders looking in. But they say a view from the outside is just what is needed if teacher prep is ever going to undergo the changes they say are needed...

Hat Tip to Scott.

Monday, May 09, 2011

Fayette School Board Could Hire Superintendent Next Month

This from Jim Warren at H-L:
The Fayette County Board of Education could select a new school superintendent before mid-June, according to a tentative schedule worked out Monday afternoon.

The board has said it wants to have a new superintendent in place by July 1 to succeed Stu Silberman, who announced in February that he is stepping down after leading the Fayette schools for seven years.

Board members met for more than two hours Monday with representatives of the search firm, McPherson & Jacobson LLC, to discuss plans for the final phase of the search. Jacobson officials also gave members a summary of comments received during public forums and stakeholder groups late last month seeking input on the qualities being sought in the new superintendent...

[T]he final phase of that process will kick in after May 16, the deadline for superintendent candidates to submit applications.

McPherson & Jacobson will deliver applications to the district central office on May 19. The district's six-member superintendent screening committee would then review the applications, planning to select top candidates on May 25 in consultation with representatives from McPherson & Jacobson.

The names of recommended candidates would go to the school board for discussion on May 31...it is expected that they would select three to possibly five finalists in executive session at that meeting. The names would be made public...

Board members plan to bring the finalists to Lexington for interviews with board members, and forums with key groups and members of the general public during June 6-10...