Sunday, October 16, 2011

Quick Hits

Coalition of Texas districts sue state over school funding: A coalition of more than 150 school districts in Texas is suing the state, claiming its system for funding education is not efficient, fair or constitutional. The Texas Taxpayer & Student Fairness Coalition is targeting a 2006 funding overhaul that froze aid to some districts, as well as a move by the state in recent months to slash $4 billion in school aid to cover a budget shortfall. (Yahoo!)

Group recommends education-funding boost for poor students in N.Y.:
The Campaign for Educational Equity, a group of education experts at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York, is recommending the state increase annual education spending by $4,750 for each poor student to pay for support services outside the classroom. "What we're saying is, if we're really serious about overcoming the achievement gap, students need these services to have a meaningful opportunity," said education professor and lawyer Michael A. Rebell, the group's executive director. (The New York Times)

NCLB rewrite scales back federal involvement in schools: A draft bill to rewrite No Child Left Behind eliminates mandatory proficiency standards and removes sanctions for many struggling schools. Instead, states would be required to establish their own standards, and the federal government would intervene on a limited basis -- targeting the bottom 5% of schools and those considered to have wide achievement gaps. The proposal, from Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is expected to be presented to the full Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee next week. (The Wall Street Journal)

What role will tutoring have under revised NCLB law?:
New flexibility for states being provided under waivers to No Child Left Behind will make available about $800 million set aside for mandated tutoring, which will allow states to choose the type of interventions to help struggling students. Roughly 600,000 students, whose schools do not meet NCLB standards, use district-subsidized private tutoring, which some say is an important tool in improving education for at-risk students. However, others say tutoring has produced mixed results and that districts would be better off spending the money elsewhere. (Education Week)

NCLB draft bill would not require specific proficiency goals, deadlines:
Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, is expected to introduce legislation this week that would reauthorize the No Child Left Behind law. While changes still could be made, the draft offers more flexibility by requiring schools to show "continuous improvement" but not meet specific proficiency targets. The draft also would require states to establish guidelines for college and career readiness and English-language proficiency. (Politics K-12)

Bill prohibiting school fees is vetoed in Calif.: California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill Oct. 9 that would have prohibited public schools from charging students fees for participating in extracurricular activities such as clubs or sports, or for supplies such as books and lab equipment. The bill was based on the premise that such fees are in violation of students' constitutional rights to a free public education. In vetoing the bill, Brown reiterated schools' responsibilities under the state constitution but said his opposition was based on the bill's inclusion of onerous noticing and complaint procedures for schools. (Schooled in Sports blog)

How the financial crisis has affected the country's public schools: A new report released Thursday examines how the current financial crisis is harming public education in five states, writes Robert Borosage, president of the Campaign for America's Future, which co-sponsored the study. The report, also sponsored by the National Education Association, highlights developments such as cuts to early-childhood programs, increases in class sizes, the elimination of arts and foreign-language courses, and the reduction in services for students with varying abilities, Borosage writes. (The Huffington Post)

Research links student activities to academic achievement: Even as districts eliminate extracurricular activities to cut costs, some researchers find that student clubs and sports could improve academic achievement. However, it is unclear whether after-school clubs and other activities improve students' performance, or whether high-achieving students are drawn to extracurricular activities. Still, one researcher found students' likelihood of attending college was 97% higher for those who participated in school activities for two years. (Education Next)

How to educate young students about digital citizenship: Elementary-school computer teacher Mary Beth Hertz describes how she teaches her young students about social skills and responsibility online. Students in second grade practice commenting on each other's original stories posted on Storybird, while students in fifth through seventh grade learn how to blog and participate in discussion forums on Schoology, she writes. (Edutopia)

Mass. considers statewide union for early-childhood workers: More than 10,000 early-childhood education workers could be enrolled in a new statewide union, under a bill proposed in the Massachusetts state legislature. The proposal would authorize the creation of the Massachusetts Early Childhood Educators Union, which would negotiate directly with the state on salaries, benefits and other terms, creating a single contract for employees. Supporters of the effort say it would help child-care centers retain their best workers, but critics say it could result in higher tuition costs for families. (The Boston Globe)

Virginia's "Hippie High" turns 40:
A high school in Arlington County, Va., that became known in the 1970s as "Hippie High" is now 40 years old. H-B Woodlawn Secondary School was founded in 1971 as an experiment in alternative education, with students given the power to decide everything from teacher salaries to their own curricula. "We had to take ownership of our time; that was the key," said Jay Constantz, now 57, who was one of the first graduates of the school. (The Washington Post)

Chicago school aims to train minority teachers for urban classrooms:
Wells Community Academy High School in Chicago is aiming to prepare more black and Hispanic students for the teaching profession through a teacher-training program in which students work in the classroom throughout their four years of high school. The school's Chicago Urban Teacher Academy is a partnership with National Louis University and features a curriculum focused on best practices in teaching. (The New York Times)

Can Race to the Top winners deliver on their ambitious goals?: Winners of the federal Race to the Top grant program are working to achieve the ambitious goals they set when they applied for the funds. Their plans are varied and include raising college-going rates by 20 percentage points in Washington, D.C., and eliminating the race-based achievement gap in Maryland. Some say several of the winners' goals are unrealistic given the four-year window to achieve them, but many state and federal officials remain optimistic. (Education Week)

New Muppet, Lily, is intended to raise awareness of hunger: A new Muppet named Lily, whose family struggles with issues of hunger and food insecurity, is being introduced into the television show "Sesame Street" to raise awareness of the problem. Lily will first appear in a PBS special called "Growing Hope Against Hunger." (USA TODAY)

Mass. plans to assess students' kindergarten readiness: Plans are under way in Massachusetts to assess kindergarten students' school readiness through classroom observations and questioning. The plan calls for comparing students' performance, including work samples, to state standards and assessing students' cognitive, emotional, social and physical development. While the state hopes to use the data to identify learning gaps and better direct resources, others question whether students already are assessed too much. (The Boston Globe)

High court to hear case over teachers' civil rights in religious schools: The U.S. Supreme Court today will begin hearing arguments in a case concerning the civil rights of teachers who work in parochial schools. The case centers on the rights of a teacher who taught mainly nonreligious subjects at a parochial school in Michigan and was fired in a dispute over her right to go on disability leave. The school argues that it is protected by exemptions to civil rights statutes afforded to religious institutions, but lawyers for the plaintiff contend that those exemptions are being too broadly applied. (National Public Radio)

Is differentiated instruction harmful for top achievers?: Educators and experts weigh in on whether teaching students of varying abilities in the same classroom is harming American education by offering less attention to the country's top students, as a recent study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute suggests. Michael J. Petrilli, executive vice president of the institute, argues that the movement to end academic tracking is detrimental to top achievers. However, ASCD author and University of Virginia education professor Carol Ann Tomlinson contends that differentiation can be effective for all learners when used appropriately. (The New York Times)

Debate over choice, quality at center of charter proposal in Mich.:
Proposed legislation that would ease restrictions on charter schools in Michigan is drawing mixed reactions from educators, parents and policymakers. The changes were approved by the Senate last week as part of a statewide reform package that would allow charters to open in high-performing districts and would lift a cap on the number that can be established as entities sponsored by universities. (Detroit Free Press)

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