Monday, October 31, 2011

Ron Paul: End U.S. student loans

This from Politico:
Republican presidential contender Ron Paul said Sunday he wants to end federal student loans, calling it a failed program that has put students $1 trillion in debt when there are no jobs and when the quality of education has deteriorated.

Paul unveiled a plan last week to cut $1 trillion from the federal budget that would eliminate five Cabinet departments, including education. He’s also wants young workers to be able to opt out of Social Security.

The student loan program is not part of those cuts, but Paul said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press” that he’d kill the loan program eventually if he were president. That could put him at odds with some of his young followers, many of whom are college students.

Paul blamed government intervention in the economy for rising tuition.

“Just think of all this willingness to want to help every student get a college education,” said Paul, who graduated from Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania before earning a medical degree at the Duke University School of Medicine. “I went to school when we had none of those. I could work my way through college and medical school because it wasn’t so expensive.”

Annual tuition for Gettysburg College is $42,610 for the 2011-2012 academic year. Annual tuition at Duke’s medical school runs $46,621, according to its web site.

Amid such rising costs, borrowing for college is at record levels. The Federal Reserve Bank of New York says students and parents took out a record $100 billion last year, and owe more on student loans - more than $1 trillion is outstanding - than credit cards...

2011 Roundtable at Stanford: Education Nation 2.0

Settle in for this 90 minute chat on school reform,wherein founding TFA member Kim Smith described how new teachers struggle until year three. Then interviewer Charlie Rose stymied her when he asked her how many TFAers get that far.

Hat tip to Russo.

Thomas: Establishment Clause Jurisprudence 'In Shambles'

This from The School Law Blog:

Justice Clarence Thomas on Monday said that the U.S. Supreme Court's establishment-clause jurisprudence is "in shambles."

Citing divergent lower-court opinions on the display of crosses, the Ten Commandments, and other religious messages in courthouses, city halls, and public schools, Thomas said "our jurisprudence has confounded the lower courts and rendered the constitutionality of displays of religious imagery on government property anyone's guess."

"Even if the court does not share my view that the establishment clause restrains only the federal government, and that, even if incorporated [i.e., applied to the states], the clause only prohibits actual legal coercion, the court should be deeply troubled by what its establishment clause jurisprudence has wrought," Thomas said in a lone dissent from the court's denial of certiorari in Utah Highway Patrol Association v. American Atheists Inc. (Case No. 10-1276).

The Supreme Court on Oct. 31 refused to hear the case involving white crosses placed on or near spots where members of the Utah Highway Patrol were killed while on duty. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, ruled last year that although the crosses were placed by a private group, their location predominantly on public property conveyed a message that the state of Utah endorsed Christianity.

In his 19-page dissent, Thomas referred to a number of school cases that, in his view, reflect confusion or inconsistent application by lower courts of the Supreme Court's rulings under the First Amendment's prohibition against government establishment of religion...

Major Teach For America Recruiter Does a 180

Why I did TFA, and why you shouldn’t

This bomb shell from Gary Rubinstein's TFA Blog: 

There was a time, not very long ago, when I was an active volunteer alumni recruiter for TFA. And, as you might expect, I was great at it. One year, I think it was 1998, I did a recruitment session at Colorado College, a very small school, which brought the house down. A year later when TFA published the list of the most popular schools for TFA, Colorado College was listed alongside The University Of Michigan and all the other common TFA schools as one of the top twenty schools for that year...

I’ve been getting some emails from perspective corps members recently asking me if I think they should apply or not. They say that my writings and the writings of others have made them realize that TFA might have its flaws. But, they wonder, do those flaws outweigh the benefits of the program?

When I joined TFA twenty years ago, I did it because I believed that poor kids deserved to have someone like me helping battle education inequity in this country. At the time, there were massive teacher shortages in high need areas. The 1990 corps had 500 members and the 1991 corps had 750 members, with a third of us going to Houston. I was one of those Houston corps members, the first group to ever go to Houston. At the time, we knew that we weren’t going to be great teachers. It was unrealistic to believe otherwise. But we also knew that the jobs we were taking were jobs that nobody else wanted. Principals who were hiring these ‘Teachers For America’ or other paraphrasings of this unknown organization, were completely desperate. If not for us, our students, most likely, would be taught by a different substitute each day. Even if we were bad permanent teachers, we WERE permanent teachers and for kids who had little in life they can call permanent, it was something. The motto for TFA back then could have been ‘Hey, we’re better than nothing.’

And we got out butts kicked. As tough as this was, we partly expected it. That was what we signed up for. We were like those front line Civil War soldiers — the ones with the bayonets whose job it was to weaken the enemy front line ever so slightly at the expense of our own health and well-being.

Many of us quit. I think that a third of the 1990 charter corps did. I’m not sure how many of the 1991s did. I lost count. Those of us who made it through the first year had pretty good second years. It was true, I guess, that what didn’t kill us only made us stronger.

Most of the people I knew left after their second year. They went to law school or other graduate programs. Even if they had a bad first year and a much better second year, they could feel they did their part in the fight to help kids. If many of those kids really were going to have rotating subs, we could be sure that we were doing less damage than good.

I’m glad I ‘did’ TFA. Twenty years ago they filled a need. Putting a few hundred barely trained teachers into the toughest to serve schools was one of those concepts that was ‘so crazy, it might just work.’ We weren’t always doing ‘good,’ but we also weren’t doing much harm. Our five or six hundred teachers were pretty insignificant in the scheme of things.

Over the next twenty years, TFA did a lot of growing, but not a lot of evolving. They replicated their institutes and increased their regions. The 2011 corps is nearly 6,000, twelve times as big as the cohorts from the early 90s. Unfortunately, the landscape in education has changed a lot in the past twenty years. Instead of facing teacher shortages, we have teacher surpluses. There are regions where experienced teachers are being laid off to make room for incoming TFA corps members because the district has signed a contract with TFA, promising to hire their new people. In situations like this, it is hard to say with confidence that these under trained new teachers are really doing less harm than good.

As TFA tried to grow and gain private and federal money, they had to develop a public relations machine. They found ways to spotlight their few successes. There were some dynamo teachers — there were bound to be. And then some of those teachers advanced to leadership roles. Some started schools, like the KIPP program which started in Houston in 1995. Some got appointed to big education jobs, like Michelle Rhee​ as D.C. chancellor, and some got elected to public office, like Michael Johnston as a state senator in Colorado.

More and more alumni started charter schools rather than take the long route of becoming an assistant principal at a ‘district’ school and then advancing to principal. Some of these charter schools were successful, some weren’t. Some of the successful ones, it is documented, mysteriously lose their toughest to educate kids. TFA ignored this as they needed success stories to grow.

Even through most of this, up until about three years ago, I still supported TFA and encouraged people to apply to it. But right now, I don’t.

Twenty years ago TFA was, to steal an expression from the late great Douglas Adams​ — ‘mostly harmless.’ Then about ten years ago they became ‘potentially harmful.’ Now, in my opinion, they have become ‘mostly harmful.’

Though the change happened so gradually, I hardly noticed it, TFA is now completely different than it was when I joined. I still believe in the original mission of TFA as much as anyone possibly can. The problem is, in my opinion, that TFA has become one of the biggest obstacles in achieving that mission.

TFA has highlighted their few successes so much that many politicians actually believe that first year TFA teachers are effective. They believe that there are lazy veteran teachers who are not ‘accountable’ to their students and who are making a lot of money so we’re better off firing those older teachers and replacing them with these young go-getters.

Some TFA alums have become leaders of school systems in various cities and states. In New York City, several of the deputy chancellors are from TFA. I already mentioned ex-chancellor Michelle Rhee who now runs StudentsFirst. John White runs the Recovery District in New Orleans. Kevin Huffman, former TFA public relations VP, is the state commissioner of Tennessee. TFA likes to point to these leaders as the true effect of TFA. Even if they haven’t really fixed the training model much and the first years are pretty awful teachers, and even if those first year teachers aren’t ‘needed’ anymore to fill any teacher shortages, it doesn’t matter since as long as a fraction of them become these ‘leaders’ TFA will have a positive impact in a big way on the education landscape.

Which sounds great except these leaders are some of the most destructive forces in public education. They seem to love nothing more than labeling schools as ‘failing,’ shutting them down, and blaming the supposed failure on the veteran teachers. The buildings of the closed schools are taken over by charter networks, often with leaders who were TFA alums and who get salaries of $200,000 or more to run a few schools.

Rather than be honest about both their successes and their failures, they deny any failures, and charge forward with an agenda that has not worked and will never work. Their ‘proof’ consists of a few high-performing charters. These charters are unwilling to release the data that proves that they succeed by booting the ‘worst’ kids — the ones that bring down their test scores. See this recent peer reviewed research paper from Berkely about KIPPs attrition.

TFA and the destructive TFA spawned leaders suffer a type of arrogance and overconfidence where they completely ignore any evidence that their beliefs are flawed. The leaders TFA has spawned are, to say this in the kindest way possible, ‘lacking wisdom.’

They say things like ‘Poverty is not destiny,’ which is true if they’re saying that it is possible for some to overcome it, but not true if they are saying that teachers, alone — and untrained teachers, at that — have the power to do this.

And the very worst thing that the TFA alum turned into education ‘reformers’ advocate is strong ‘accountability’ by measuring a teacher’s ‘value added’ through standardized test scores. It might be hard for someone who is not a teacher yet to believe that this is not a cop out by lazy teachers. The fact is that even the companies that do the measurements say that these calculations are very inaccurate. Over a third of the time, they misidentify effective teachers as ineffective and vice versa, in certain models. ‘Value added’ is in it’s infancy, and certainly not ready to be rolled out yet. But ALL the TFA reformers I’ve followed are strong supporters of this kind of evaluation.

So TFA has participated in building a group of ‘leaders’ who, in my opinion, are assisting in the destruction of public education. If this continues, there will soon be, again, a large shortage of teachers as nobody in their right mind would enter this profession for the long haul knowing they can be fired because of an inaccurate evaluation process. And then, of course, TFA can grow more since they will be needed to fill those shortages that the leaders they supported caused....

If I were ‘America’ I would have this to say to TFA: While I appreciate your offer to ‘teach’ for me, I’ve already got enough untrained teachers for my poorest kids. And if teaching is just a stepping stone, for you, on the path to becoming an influential education ‘leader,’ thanks, but no thanks to that too. I don’t need the kind of leaders you spawn — leaders who think education ‘reform’ is done by threats of school closings and teacher firings. These leaders celebrate school closings rather than see them as their own failures to help them. These leaders deny any proof that their reforms are failing and instead continue to use P.R. to inflate their own claims of success. We’re having enough trouble swatting the number of that type of leader you’ve already given us. If you want to think of a new way to harness the brain power and energy of the ‘best and brightest,’ please do, but if you’re just going to give us a scaled up version of the program that tries to fill a need that no longer exists, please go and teach for someone else.

Do Struggling Charter Schools Deserve a Second Chance?

Last week, I wrote about the "Struggling Schools and the Problem with the 'Shut It Down' Mentality." The post seemed to strike a chord, so I would like to encourage my readers to consider the same framework for struggling charter schools. Most people who follow research on charter schools would agree that there is little evidence that, on average, students in charter schools gain any more than similar children in non-charters. Charter advocates admit this to be true, but point to positive effects documented for outstanding charter networks, such as KIPP, and often vow to "weed out" failing charters from their ranks.

Opponents of closure of traditional public schools seem to accept this tough love approach for charters. I would like to suggest that their circumstances, and solutions, are more similar than some may think.

Unfortunately, "weeding out" (i.e., shutting down) ineffective charters is no easier than shutting down ineffective non-charters. In both cases, there may be a reasonable rationale for closing down the worst of the worst, but not only is closing any school financially and politically wrenching, a recent study of closing public schools found that students from the closed schools perform worse than similar children for a year or more and then end up doing no better. School closure (in charters as well as non-charters) must be an extreme solution in extreme circumstances to keep the system honest, but if other solutions exist, they should be tried first...

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Lewis Offers One More Argument in Favor of Charters

Over at Education Policy Matters blog, Wayne Lewis has advanced his second and third arguments in favor of charter schools for Kentucky. His first was that charters offer parents choice.

His second installment asserts "a simple truth," that "the only children who attend public charter schools are those whose parents decided to enroll them in one."

So, charters are better because the folks who enroll their children in charters "are people who were believe that their children are be better served by the program(s) avaiable at their chosen charter school"(sic)? Even if the school is not performing poorly, so long as "parents are not satisfied" that the school is meeting their childrens' "specific needs" then charter schools ought to be available, Lewis argues.

"That's it. Nothing more. Public charter schools give parents options," Lewis writes, making school choice his first argument and his second argument.

Later he proposes Horace Mann's original conception of what the common schools should be: that is, as well supported as the best private schools. Alas, it didn't work out that way. Lewis argues that,
Saying no to the creation of public charter schools in Kentucky says to those Kentucky parents that because they don't have the resources that more affluent and connected Kentuckians have, their children don't deserve access to the same educational opportunities as other children.
Unfortunately, that is exactly what the public has said for decades. The public has long shown its desire to place limits on the amount of funding schools receive. Public schools never operated as though they were private. If they had things would have been different.

Argument number three is different, at least.

"In exchange for the increased autonomy or independence that charter schools receive they are held to high accountability standards," Lewis writes.

The phrase "in exchange" is curious. Traditional public schools are held to the very same high standards in exchange for...doing their jobs.

But charter schools have an important advantage, Lewis argues."The benefit of the charter that if it does not work we can close it down."

There is mounting evidence that this is just not done in far too many cases where charters fail to meet their goals, so I'm suspicious. The suggestion seems to be that the market place will create good schools in response to demand, but it doesn't seem to always happen. And my guess is that options are fewest in more economically depressed neighborhoods. Besides, how strong of an argument is that?

In the present preschool market (including private preschools), parents are able to switch schools anytime they are unsatisfied with the school. Yet I hear preschool parents complain about their inability to find good options for their kids. Worse, I hear preschool teachers complain about the quality of care in some preschools. Apparently, it's not at all guaranteed that - if left to the marketplace - an adequate school will be within easy reach of every community.

There is also an historical "property rights" argument related to schools that have been chartered by the state. But I don't know if today's courts see that issue the same way they once did.
For Kentucky, we want a charter school law that has a high threshold; meaning applicants wanting to open charter schools will have to meet a rigorous standard before being granted a charter. We also want the law written so that charter schools that fail to meet their agreed upon expectations will be shut down with minimal difficulty. In addition to this outcomes-based accountability that comes with charter schools, any parent that is unhappy with the charter school that their child attends simply takes the child out of the charter school and sends him/her to another school. That's consumer accountability (Lewis & Fusarelli, 2010).

I'm not sold on the consumer accountability argument but I certainly agree that Kentucky ought to have a strong charter school law.

Copenhagen Symphonic Flash Mob


Friday, October 28, 2011

Ex-Ohio Teacher, Convicted Of Having Sex With 5 Students

This from The Huffington Post:
A high school teacher was convicted Thursday of having sex with five students, some of them football players, after a judge rejected an insanity defense that argued the teens took advantage of her.

Stacy Schuler was sentenced to a total of four years in prison for the encounters with the Mason High School students at her home in Springboro in southwest Ohio in 2010. She can ask a judge to free her from prison after six months.

The 33-year-old Schuler, who could have faced decades in prison, cried as she was handcuffed and led out of the courtroom.

The five teens testified that Schuler, a health and gym teacher, had been drinking alcohol at the time of the encounters and was a willing participant who initiated much of the contact. The teens were about 17 at the time. The age of consent in Ohio is 16, but it's illegal for a teacher to have sex with a student.

"This is a noble profession that you have, and I've heard a lot of good things about you, but I know that you had the opportunity, as all teachers do, to affect the lives of our children," Warren County Common Pleas Judge Robert Peeler said. "You crossed a line."

Schuler's lawyers argued that she had medical and psychological issues and couldn't remember the encounters.

Before sentencing Schuler on 16 counts of sexual battery and three counts of providing alcohol to a minor, the judge said it would be a "magnificent leap" to believe she didn't know her actions were wrong.

Schuler didn't testify during the four-day nonjury trial, and she and her attorneys declined to address the judge before he sentenced her.

But parents of two of the teen victims made tearful statements.

A father spoke of his son's depression and lost motivation and said the teen almost didn't go to college. He asked the judge to hand down a sentence to send a message that Schuler's acts are not acceptable and there are serious consequences.

"It impacts the teaching community as a whole, how a single teacher who made the wrong decision multiple times overshadows 99.9 percent of the teachers that truly do care, not pretend to care, about their students," he said.

A mother said her son turned to and trusted Schuler during an extremely low period when his father had cancer and related health problems.

"These young men may appear as if they are tough guys, but in reality, they are truly hurting," she said.

"She took advantage of their vulnerability. She crossed the line and it is unacceptable."

Assistant prosecutor Teresa Hiett further pointed out to the judge how the teens have been affected, noting that Mason High School was shut down for the week of the trial because "everyone's been trying to figure out who these five boys were."
Testimony from a defense psychologist had suggested that Schuler's medical and physical ailments, combined with her vegan diet and use of alcohol and an antidepressant, helped impair her ability to tell right from wrong.

A psychologist for the prosecution rebutted that testimony, saying that the use of alcohol does not meet the state standard for an insanity defense and that willingly getting drunk is not a legal defense for a crime.

Two former Mason students had testified that Schuler had devised a plan to enter an insanity plea before she was ever charged. Other students testified on Schuler's behalf, hugging her in the courtroom and telling the judge she was a supportive advocate who kept appropriate boundaries.

Schuler had been a teacher and athletic trainer at the school north of Cincinnati since 2000 before resigning in February after an anonymous tip to the school led to the charges against her.

Quick Hits

Chicago schools to focus on college readiness in school ratings: Chicago Public Schools is implementing a new system for evaluating schools that is based in part on how well they are preparing students for college. As the district prepares to release a list of low-performing schools slated for consolidation or closure, this tougher evaluation system is expected to lead to the inclusion of schools that fall short of the standard. Next spring, the district also will begin using new assessments that are more closely aligned with the ACT and other college-readiness benchmarks to rate schools' performance. (Chicago Tribune)

Ideas for using fantasy football to help students score in math: Fantasy football can be used to teach students lessons in math, particularly statistical analysis and quantitative evaluations, this blog post argues. After students are familiar with the game, students should work in pairs and select teams. The writers suggest students then study statistics, such as touchdowns, yards passing and interceptions, then average player and opponent data. As games progress, students can do their own calculations to determine who won. The New York Times (The Learning Network blog)

Researchers say common core is aligned with top standards:
The new Common Core State Standards in English/language arts and mathematics are, in general, on par with the standards of leading states, as well as those of the International Baccalaureate and others used to assess college readiness, but they may be more demanding in some areas, according to a new report by the Educational Policy Improvement Center. Researchers said the new standards require more complex thinking, particularly for certain reading and writing skills, plus geometry. (Education Week)

Report - States emphasize test scores in teacher evaluations: Nearly half of the states in the U.S. use standardized testing data when evaluating public-school teachers, according to a National Council on Teacher Quality report released Wednesday. Separately, districts in 14 states can use testing data as cause to fire teachers, the report shows. About two-thirds of states have adopted new teacher-evaluation policies, though California is among the holdouts. (Los Angeles Times), (The Wall Street Journal)

Report criticizes rush to virtual education:
A new report by the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder questions whether there is enough oversight of full-time virtual schools and whether virtual schooling should be considered an effective replacement for traditional education. The report, which comes amid a growing interest in cyber-schooling, recommends steps to improve online learning, including more careful financial monitoring of schools and face-to-face exams for students. /(The Answer Sheet)

Can schools raise student achievement with longer days?:
Many districts across the country are expanding the school day in the hopes of raising student achievement, but critics say the way the additional time is used is crucial to the effectiveness of the approach. In one Providence, R.I., school, an extra hour has been added each day for in-depth, mostly off-campus study of STEM -- science, technology, engineering and math -- subjects, which some say is a strategy that has the most impact on student learning. (Education Week)

Is the interactive whiteboard living up to the hype?: Interactive whiteboards are expensive and time-consuming, says teacher Heather Wolpert-Gawron, who writes that the future of education technology will be guided by mobile devices. She writes that mobile technology is less expensive, and encourages student-centered learning and greater access to information. She compares the benefits of mobile technology, such as smartphones, to what she describes as the interactive whiteboards' antiquated style, which still relies on a teacher-focused style of learning. (

Research weighs civics education as important as literacy: Civics education is as important as mathematics and literacy instruction, according to new research from the American Enterprise Institute. Scholars from various disciplines contributed to the research, which suggested that teachers expand their civics understanding, and model and teach civic engagement to help boost students' practical knowledge of the subject. (Education Week)

Merit pay is tied to parental engagement in some Idaho schools: Teachers at one Idaho school this year will receive merit bonuses based in part on the percentage of parents who attend parent-teacher conferences, which has been lagging in recent years. At another school in the district, teacher bonuses will be tied to the percentage of students who complete portfolios for student-led conferences attended by their parents. The new systems are the result of a law requiring districts to develop their own pay-for-performance plans. (The Times-News)

How much is too much work for today's students?: Several elite private schools in New York City are working to ease the workload for their students by staggering exam schedules, offering reprieves from homework and adding new tutoring support. Some educators and parents maintain that rigor and hard work are the cornerstones of success, while others say chronically overworked students lack sleep and happiness. (The New York Times)

Gates - Teachers should be evaluated using business model: Teachers want to -- and should -- be treated as professionals, say Bill and Melinda Gates, who push in this article for an evaluation system modeled after the private sector. Using data from a recent survey of teachers, the couple writes that teachers want additional support and are seeking an evaluation system that takes students' achievement into consideration. The couple also shares their progress in working to define effective teaching, which they say should be at the heart of the systems used to evaluate teachers. (The Wall Street Journal)

Ore. district abandons grant for teacher merit pay: An Oregon school district is turning down a $2.54 million federal grant to provide performance pay for its classroom teachers after district officials in Oregon City remained divided over plans to provide merit pay for individual teachers based on student test scores. "Oregon City's design team could not support the requirement by TIF -- which is an absolute in the Teacher Incentive Fund -- of priority for individual awards," U.S. Education Department spokeswoman Jane Glickman said. (The Oregonian)

Some Tenn. educators struggle under new evaluation system: Some Tennessee teachers and administrators are struggling under the state's new system for awarding teacher tenure. The system, adopted as part of the state's bid for federal Race to the Top funds, includes a detailed checklist to determine teachers' mastery of lessons -- this type of "nitpicking" is unfamiliar to many veteran educators, according to this analysis. Some educators are calling on the state to ease the new process, which they say is time-consuming for administrators and demoralizing for teachers. (WPLN-FM)

Occupy L.A. protest offers democracy lesson for students: A group of students in fifth through eighth grade from a private school in Pasadena, Calif., took a field trip Tuesday to the Occupy Los Angeles event to discuss democracy with protesters, attend a city council meeting and hear a speech by a member of the tea party. "My goal as a teacher, regardless of my own personal beliefs, is to expose the students to as many viewpoints as possible," teacher Susanna Barkataki said. "We're here to get first-hand experience." (Los Angeles Times)

Should alternative-program grads be considered "highly qualified"?:
A coalition of civil-rights groups is calling on lawmakers to renew their commitment to ensuring that all students are taught by "Highly Qualified Teachers" as part of a revised No Child Left Behind Act, veteran teacher Anthony Cody reports. Cody argues that such a commitment should include a return to a stricter interpretation of the designation and exclude those teachers who have been certified in alternative training programs, who, he claims, often lack the skills and longevity in the profession to match the label. (Living in Dialogue blog)

New laws on bullying are adopted in 21 states:
Twenty-one states have passed laws this year aimed at preventing and reducing bullying in schools. The laws vary in scope with the most far-reaching in New Jersey requiring schools to employ specialized personnel and report all incidents to the state. Many states also are working to address online bullying, provide new protection for victims of bullying, and are requiring new training for teachers on bullying prevention. In some states, however, budget constraints are making it challenging to implement such programs. (Education Week)

L.A. principals are granted access to teachers' ratings: School principals in Los Angeles will have access to ratings that measure teachers' effectiveness at improving students' standardized test scores. The evaluations -- which are similar to value-added measurements -- have been confidential. The change comes as the district and teachers union negotiate using the effectiveness measures in teachers' formal evaluations. (Los Angeles Times)

Judge blocks Ala. immigration law's student-related provisions: A federal judge temporarily blocked portions of an Alabama immigration-enforcement law under which as many as 5,300 Hispanic students across the state had been absent from school on an average day. The stricken provisions required that school officials determine the immigration status of students enrolling in school for the first time, as well as that of their parents. The judge, however, upheld a requirement that police officers determine the immigration status of individuals who are arrested or stopped for traffic violations, among others. (The New York Times)

Kentucky's NCLB Waiver Application Posted for Comment

The Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has posted the state’s application for flexibility under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965, which was reauthorized in 2001 as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act.

KDE welcomes public comment on the state’s application, which is posted on KDE’s Unbridled Learning page, here. Comments and feedback may be sent to Comments will be accepted until Tuesday, November 8.

To help states move forward with education reforms designed to improve academic achievement and increase the quality of instruction for all students, in September, President Barack Obama and U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan outlined how states can get relief from provisions of NCLB in exchange for serious state-led efforts to close achievement gaps, promote rigorous accountability and ensure that all students are on track to graduate college- and career-ready.

Since the passage of NCLB, Kentucky has used a two-tiered accountability model for its public schools and districts that provides both state- and federal-level designations. If the state’s application for flexibility is accepted, the Unbridled Learning Accountability Model would provide a single designation for both state and federal purposes.
The proposed accountability model also may be seen on the Unbridled Learning page.

The deadline for submission of the flexibility request is November 14, and the U.S. Department of Education will review applications in December. As of October 20, 42 states have indicated that they will request flexibility.

States can request waivers of 10 provisions of NCLB, including determining Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP), implementing school improvement requirements, allocation of federal improvement funding and more. States must address four principles in their requests for flexibility:

· college- and career-ready expectations for all students

· recognition, accountability and support for schools and districts

· support for effective instruction and leadership

· reduction of duplication and unnecessary reporting requirements

See more details on the flexibility opportunity here.

SOURCE: KDE Press release

Ky Rep. Dewayne Bunch steps down from office

This from WBIR:

A Kentucky state representative, who was seriously injured after trying to stop a fight a Whitley County high school, will resign.

Dewayne Bunch was injured in April at Whitley County High School.  Bunch, who served as a math and science teacher at the school, was immediately flown to University of Kentucky Medical Center after the incident.  After that, he was flown to Atlanta for more treatment.

His wife, Regina, did not disclose what Bunch's current condition is or where he is located Thursday.  However she did release this statement.

"I wish to take this opportunity to express my appreciation to all of those who have expressed their support to my husband and our family over the last several months.  The prayers and encouragement shown us will forever be cherished."

"After much soul searching and prayer, we as a family decided it is in the best interest of his constituency if he resigned as State Representative.  This will allow for his replacement to hopefully be sworn in prior to the 2012 session of the General Assembly."

"I know there are many qualified and capable people in this district and my desire is that whomever the people choose to fill his vacancy will be as committed and dedicated to serving the people of the 82nd District," said Regina Bunch...

According to the Kentucky Republican Caucus, Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear has 60 days to call a special election.  After that, local parties will be able to announce replacement candidates.

JCPS asks Kentucky high court to review student assignment ruling

This from the Courier-Journal:
Nearly a month after a Kentucky Appeals Court struck down Jefferson County Public Schools student assignment plan, the district on Thursday asked the state Supreme Court to take up the case.
Making good on its vow to appeal, the district argued in a motion for review that the appeals court’s ruling was flawed. Its appeal asks the high court to decide a “critically important question that will determine the assignment of students to every public school in the Commonwealth.”
On Sept. 30, a three-judge panel of the Kentucky Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 to strike down Jefferson County's new assignment plan. The judges ruled that state law guarantees students the right to attend their nearest school, and they ordered the district to redesign its plan for the 2012-13 school year.

The high court could take six months to a year to decide whether to take the case, said Byron Leet, one of the district’s lawyers. Leet had argued that such a guarantee is a misreading of state law and threatens to increase school segregation...

Monday, October 24, 2011

Pearson and Google Jump Into Learning Management With a New, Free System

One of the world’s biggest education publishers has joined with one of the most dominant and iconic software companies on the planet to bring colleges a new—and free—learning-management system with the hopes of upending services that affect just about every instructor, student, and college in the country. 

Today Pearson, the publishing and learning technology group, has teamed up with the software giant Google to launch OpenClass, a free LMS that combines standard course-management tools with advanced social networking and community-building, and an open architecture that allows instructors to import whatever material they want, from e-books to YouTube videos. The program will launch through Google Apps for Education, a very popular e-mail, calendar, and document-sharing service that has more than 1,000 higher-education customers, and it will be hosted by Pearson with the intent of freeing institutions from the burden of providing resources to run it. It enters a market that has been dominated by costly institution-anchored services like Blackboard, and open-source but labor-intensive systems like Moodle.

“Anytime Pearson and Google are used in the same sentence, it’s going to get people’s attention,” says Don Smithmier, chief executive and founder of Sophia, another community-based learning system that is backed by Capella Education, the corporation behind the online educator Capella University. “I believe the world will be shifting away from a classic LMS approach defined by the institution. Openness and social education is a very powerful idea.” ...

Education Commissioner Criticized for Trip to Brazil, But Is that the Real Story?

This from Neal Hutchens at EdJurist:
The Kentucky Commissioner of Education is taking some political heat for going on trips to locations that include Brazil that were financed by NCS Pearson Inc., which has a contract with the state to develop standardized tests for Kentucky students. Critics are suggesting that it wasn't appropriate for the commissioner to take such trips on the company's dime.

In reading the story what amazed me, however, was that the state has a contract with the Pearson to pay the company a guaranteed $7.6 million thus far and the amount could reach $64.6 million to provide testing services through 2018, according to news accounts.  In terms of educational policy, I just can't help but wonder if we may have reached a certain level of accountability obsession.  If the state is spending this much on one set of tests, how much does the rest of the state's education budget go to accountability measures and systems? At what point do we actually get more bang for our education bucks by spending those funds elsewhere, such as towards classroom instruction?

Harkin's No Child Left Behind Bill No Longer Mandates Teacher Evaluations

This from the Huffington Post:
Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) shifted a major teacher evaluation requirement out of his rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act -- known as No Child Left Behind -- over the weekend, shifting the dynamics of the debate over the bill's passage.
The initial sweeping education law called the Elementary and Secondary Education Act was enacted in 1965, and a 2001 reauthorization under George W. Bush took on the name, "No Child Left Behind." The law has been up for reauthorization since 2007. Harkin's rewrite, the first comprehensive reform to the legislation, came out of negotiations with Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), ranking member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions committee that Harkin chairs.
Harkin released a draft of the bill last week that required school districts and states which receive educator development funding to create teacher evaluation systems that would take student performance into account. But changes over the weekend through a manager's amendment removed the requirement from the bill, instead shifting the teacher evaluation component to a competitive grant program called the Teacher Incentive Fund.
A Harkin staffer told The Huffington Post that the changes resulted from conversations with teachers, teachers' unions, and HELP committee members. Harkin reluctantly shifted the language in search of a bipartisan path forward, the staffer explained on background because she wasn't authorized to speak on the record about the issue.
The changes resulted in Enzi's first public showing of enthusiastic support for the bill. "This is not a perfect bill, nor does it solve every education issue," Enzi said Monday in a statement. "But it will make a huge, positive difference to our nation's young people."
The move led to increased support from teachers' unions, but the withdrawal of support from data-driven education reform groups. It also led to U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan's criticism of Harkin's capitulation...

NCLB Waivers: Part of Obama's Re-Election Strategy

This from Politics K-12:
With President Obama's jobs plan stalled in Congress and his re-election campaign saddled by low approval numbers and high unemployment, his administration plans to roll out a series of policy initiatives that show action in the face of deadlock.

This week, he plans to announce efforts to help underwater mortgage holders and struggling student-loan borrowers, according to the New York Times and Politico's Playbook.

And an important part of this "we can't wait" narrative: Since Congress couldn't get the job done on rewriting No Child Left Behind, his administration took action to give states and districts relief.

Mike Allen, in today's Playbook, quotes a White House official who was explaining the new message: "[W]e decided to stop waiting for Congress to fix No Child Left Behind, and decided to give states the flexibility they need to help our children meet higher standards."

And the Times writes as an example of several steps Obama officials have already undertaken: "[The administration] announced waivers for states with schools falling short of the proficiency standards of the 2002 No Child Left Behind education law—a move that prompted some senators to compromise on an alternative rewrite of the law." ...

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Reforming NCLB Requires Flexibility and Accountability

This from Arne Duncan at the blog:

Fixing No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is four years overdue. In March of 2010, the Administration unveiled its Blueprint for Reform. Since then we’ve worked on a bipartisan basis to craft a comprehensive reform bill that would help give our children the world-class education they need and deserve. Today marks an important step forward.

Senator Tom Harkin and Senator Mike Enzi — Chairman and Ranking Member respectively of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee — introduced a bipartisan bill to officially overhaul NCLB. I deeply appreciate the efforts of Senators Harkin and Enzi to build in more flexibility for states and districts, and focus on the goal of building a world-class education system that prepares all students for college and careers. Increased flexibility at the state and local level is consistent with the administration’s policy on waivers and our Blueprint for Reform.

However, it is equally important that we maintain a strong commitment to accountability for the success of all students, and I am concerned that the Senate bill does not go far enough. Parents, teachers, and state leaders across the country understand that in order to prepare all of our young people to compete in the global economy, we must hold ourselves and each other accountable at every level of the education system– from the classroom to the school district, from the states to the federal government. In addition, I am concerned the Senate bill lacks a comprehensive evaluation and support system to guide teachers and principals in continuing to improve their practice.

America cannot retreat from reform. We must ensure that every classroom in every school is a place of high expectations and high performance. The fact that we have a bipartisan bill in the Senate is an important and positive development, but it’s only a beginning. I look forward to working with Congress in the weeks and months ahead to advance this bipartisan effort, address these and other concerns and build a world-class education system that strengthens America’s economy and secures America’s future.

High Court Declines Moment of Silence, Other School Cases

This from Mark Walsh in the School Law blog:

Opening its new term on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up a case challenging an Illinois law requiring a daily period of silent prayer or reflection.

The appeal was one of hundreds that the justices turned away as their summer recess formally ended. Other education cases the court declined to take up involved the outsourcing of public school services to a private religious school, and discipline of students with disabilities.

On Oct. 5, the court will hear arguments in the lone case that it has agreed to review this term involving schools, at least so far. In Hosanna-Tabor Lutheran Church and School v. Perich, the court will examine whether there is a "ministerial exception" to anti-discrimination laws that covers teachers at religious schools. I have a preview story in this week's issue of Education Week under the headline, "Court Case Puts Focus on Parochial School Teachers."

In the moment-of-silence case turned down Monday, a federal appeals court had upheld the Illinois law requiring schools to observe a daily period for "silent prayer or for silent reflection on the anticipated activities of the day."

The state in 2007 made mandatory a previously voluntary daily reflection period in the public schools. The law was challenged by Robert S. Sherman and his daughter, Dawn I. Sherman, as a violation of the First Amendment's prohibition against government establishment of religion.

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, in Chicago, last year ruled 2-1 to uphold the law, saying there was a secular purpose behind the daily reflection period, specifically of calming students and preparing them for learning.

In their appeal to the Supreme Court, the Shermans argued that there were split decisions among the federal appeals courts about the constitutionality of moment-of-silence laws. The appeal, prepared by California atheist and attorney Michael A. Newdow, said the case would give the justices a chance to weigh the rights of atheists and their children to be free of religious influences in the public schools.

The Supreme Court expressed some interest in the case, requesting the state of Illinois to file a response to the appeal. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan told the court that there were several procedural problems with the case that would make it a poor candidate for full review, including the fact that Dawn Sherman was no longer a public high school student in Illinois.

The justices declined without comment to hear the appeal in Sherman v. Koch (Case No. 10-1191).

In another establishment-clause case, the justices declined to hear the appeal of a Tennessee school district in a case in which three former school employees challenged the district's decision to outsource its alternative school to a private Christian program.

The question in Jefferson County Board of School Commissioners v. Smith (No. 10-1402) was whether the former principal and two former teachers, who lost their jobs when the public alternative school closed, had legal standing to sue over the decision to hire the Kingswood School, a private institution offering "a Christian environment of love and encourgagement."

The full U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled 11-4 earlier this year that the educators had standing as municipal taxpayers to challenge the school district's outsourcing plan on establishment-clause grounds.

Finally, in a special education case, the justices refused to take up the appeal on behalf of a South Dakota high school student with learning disabilities who was placed in an alternative school for 38 days without a formal hearing.

The student, identified in court papers as Jonathan Doe, was suspended for fighting and for possessing a pocket knife. His lawyers and other advocates contended that under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, Doe was entitled to a formal hearing for a change in placement that lasted longer than 10 days.

But a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, in St. Louis, ruled unanimously last year that the decision to place the student in an alternative program was made by his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team and that the civil rights suit filed on his behalf amounted to a failure to exhaust administrative remedies under the IDEA. The school district made similar arguments in its brief in opposition to the appeal.

The justices declined without comment to to hear the appeal in Doe v. Todd County School District (No. 10-1411).

"Continuous Improvement" Doesn't Work

This from Richard Rothstein in the National Journal:

[M]any supporters of No Child Left Behind are complaining that Senator Harkin’s proposal weakens the NCLB benchmarks by substituting “continuous improvement” for “adequate yearly progress” towards a fixed proficiency goal.

But as I wrote in my Economic Policy Institute blog last week, there is less here than meets the eye. “Continuous improvement” continues the poorly conceived NCLB approach, seeking an unrealizable national whip that will somehow transform American schools for the better. The effort ignores both evidence and common sense.

The proposal developed by Senate Democrats will relieve states of having to meet federally specified achievement goals in math and reading. Instead of requiring all students to be “proficient” in these basic skills by 2014 (as NCLB demands), or to be “college ready” by 2020 (as the Obama Administration proposes), the Harkin bill will require only that schools show "continuous improvement" for all students, and for students from low-income families, those who don’t speak English, minority students, and students with disabilities (see page 52 of the draft bill).

According to a report in Education Week, “state and local officials likely will be exchanging high-fives, since that would give them much of the flexibility they're looking for.”

They are in for a shock. “Continuous improvement” is no more reasonable or achievable than “proficiency for all,” or universal college readiness.

Of course, citizens should expect every public school to strive for its peak level of performance, but some schools have much farther to go to reach this level than others. Unlike present policy, a well-designed accountability system could judge how far each school can and should go, and whether it is on the right track to get there for the several populations it may serve. In each case, this is a difficult judgment to make, and a slogan is no substitute. In this regard, a single one-size-fits-all metric such as “continuous improvement” is no better than “proficiency for all.” The Broader, Bolder, Approach to Education campaign has described the outlines of a more reasonable accountability system, and a book, Grading Education, goes into more detail.

NCLB’s attempt to require all students to be proficient at a challenging level led to the absurd result that nearly every school in the nation was on a path to be deemed failing by the 2014 deadline. The demand ignored an obvious reality of human nature - there is a distribution of ability among children regardless of background, and no single standard can be challenging for children at all points in that distribution.

Expecting all children to be college-ready suffers from the same problem, and more. In a nation where 32% of all young adults now earn bachelor’s degrees, and where the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that only 30% of job openings by 2018, even in a healthy economy, would require a bachelor’s degree or more, the notion that 100% of students would be able to succeed in an academic college by 2020 is even more fanciful.

So why not “continuous improvement” instead? It’s a nice slogan, borrowed from a management fad promoted by W. Edwards Deming and others who thought this was the key to Japanese auto manufacturing success. But while consistent attention to small improvements makes sense as a management tool, no company has ever continuously improved, overall, indefinitely. There are spurts of improvement, and plateaus, and then the most successful companies fade, to be overtaken by others. No management expert would recommend that firms be dismantled if they are consistently profitable, but just not more profitable year after year after year.

But continuous improvement will now, if Senate Democrats have their way, be the trajectory for every school in the country, by law.

Today, some students and schools already perform at their peak capacities. Many high-performing students and schools should be praised for maintaining high levels of performance, not condemned for not improving further. Imagine a parent with two children of high natural ability, one of whom is an “A” and the other a “C” student – should the parent have equal expectations of both for improvement? I’m certain that Sen. Harkin and his staff have not made a study of schools and students nationwide to determine that there nowhere exist schools for whom maintenance of quality, rather than improvement, should be our expectation. If there are such schools, they will be the first to be labeled failing under a continuous improvement standard.

More importantly, many “C”-performing schools and students are now achieving at their peak capacities, in view of the external constraints over which public education has no control. Many disadvantaged students, and schools serving them, are low-performing not because of inadequate school efforts, but because children come to school unable to focus because they are hungry or suffer from untreated minor illnesses such as asthma or tooth decay, or with inadequate early childhood literacy preparation because their parents are poorly educated, or with interrupted instruction because of homelessness or displacement from housing instability, or stressed because of parental unemployment shocks, home foreclosure, or neighborhood crime.

It is easy for Senators to issue fiats that schools serving such children should “continuously improve” their math and reading test scores, but many of these schools are already performing gargantuan feats, given their social and economic contexts. Indeed, many (not all) schools with low test scores serving disadvantaged children are having more positive impacts on their students than typical “high-performing” schools serving affluent children who would test well even with the poorest instruction. A Congressional proposal that both types of schools should “continuously improve” is based on no empirical examination of what is possible in different types of schools, and how what is possible might vary.

A new Russell Sage Foundation book edited by economists Greg Duncan and Richard Murnane, Whither Opportunity? Rising Inequality, Schools and Children's Life Chances, notes that growing income inequality in America has been accompanied by a widening gap between the achievement of students from rich and poor families. In a Chicago Tribune op-ed, Duncan and Murnane explain why they (and one of their co-authors, Stanford economist Sean Reardon) think this has occurred:

Growing economic inequality contributes in a multitude of ways to a widening gulf between the educational outcomes of rich and poor children. In the early 1970s, the gap between what parents in the top and bottom quintiles spent on enrichment activities such as music lessons, travel and summer camps was approximately $2,700 per year (in 2008 dollars). By 2005-2006, the difference had increased to $7,500. Between birth and age 6, children from high-income families spend an average of 1,300 more hours than children from low-income families in "novel" places — other than at home or school, or in the care of another parent or a day care facility. This matters, because when children are asked to read science and social studies texts in the upper elementary school grades, background knowledge is critical to comprehension and academic success.

With unemployment now stuck at unacceptably high levels, especially for the parents of minority children, the ranks of students without family-provided enrichment activities can only grow, and the isolation and concentration of such students in schools serving peers without such activities can also only grow. National legislative demands that schools show “continuous improvement,” without any amelioration of the economic hardship faced by parents, would be laughable were it not so tragic.

And then there are the reductions in resources available to schools, a result both of the faltering economy and Republican attacks in many states on public education. Last month alone, 24,000 jobs were eliminated from public schools. Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute has calculated that since the recession began in December 2007, nearly 278,000 public school jobs have been eliminated; another 48,000 necessary to keep up with growing enrollment were not created, for a total loss of educators and other public school workers of 326,000. Such reductions will continue until the economy stabilizes.

Some who are hostile to public education cheer this development, seeing it as the shedding of inefficiency. But I’d guess that the Senate Democrats who are drafting the ESEA re-authorization are not among them. Sen. Harkin and his colleagues probably think that counselors, reading specialists, librarians, classroom aides, parent coordinators and teachers whose jobs are being cut make a positive contribution to student achievement. Yet if so, how can Senate Democrats demand that student achievement show “continuous improvement” when these Senators can do nothing to prevent the resources on which that improvement depends from being eliminated?

Some schools, of course, should improve, and dramatically so. Some schools serving low-income students and some schools serving affluent students operate at far below their potential. But those that are doing as much as we should expect cannot be distinguished from those that are doing far less, simply by looking at student test scores or how those scores grow or don’t grow over time. Making such distinctions requires holistic evaluation of school curriculum, leadership, and teacher quality that is expensive, requires trained experts, and is nested in broader community social and economic contexts. States now have no resources or capacity to implement such accountability systems, and proposals for a new Elementary and Secondary Education Act are noticeably silent when it comes to addressing this shortcoming.

If ESEA is re-authorized with a simple requirement that all schools and students show “continuous improvement,” we’ll be back for the next re-authorization in five years with new demands for wholesale waivers from Congressional expectations that had no basis in reality.

Holliday Reflects on the Achievement Gap

This from the Commissioner: Fears and Challenges
Almost two years ago, I revitalized the Commissioners Raising Achievement and Closing Gaps Council (CRACGC). This council recently published recommendations to ensure equity in access and outcomes. The recommendations from the council will become a required component for a new group of schools and districts that will be identified as part of our No Child Left Behind (NCLB) waiver request.

This new group of schools will be called “focus schools.” The Kentucky Department of Education will identify those schools that have the largest achievement gaps. These schools will be required to address achievement gap issues through school and district plans. Targeted interventions will increase with each year that the school or district does not meet targets to close achievement gaps.

My biggest fear is that, even with our best efforts through state accountability, a commissioner of education will be writing an article in another 40 years documenting that not much progress has been made ensuring equity of access and outcomes for ALL children.

What will the collective WE do differently over the next 5-10 years? The collective WE must involve communities in addressing poverty and access. The collective WE must address early childhood education, since that is where the gap can best be closed. The collective WE must address jobs and hope in our most challenged communities. We cannot rely solely on teachers and schools to make a difference (we tried that with No Child Left Behind). We cannot mandate equity. Equity must be a belief that a community holds dear and then takes action to accomplish.

You are part of the collective WE. What will YOU do?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

My Letter to AOL

I clicked on a bad link one day and some Canadian Medical outfit apparently put a kind of bot, I suspect, on my machine. I've tried everything... including contacting AOL, twice I believe, begging y'all to shut down this account. But my wife and I can't remember the security question....and there is no customer service on free accounts. So it sits there spewing trash. Do us a favor, please. Please, shut down our account. We're begging you once again.

Thanks, in advance.


Colorado School board Mom Accused of Sexting a 14-Year-Old Student

This from the Huffington Post:

Arrested Again For Sexual Assault Of A Child

Stefanie Dickinson, 37, a former Ellicot School District treasurer and mother of two accused of sexting a 14-year-old student, was arrested again Wednesday, this time for sexual assault on a minor, Fox31 reports. This second arrest comes just one month after her arrest for charges that she sexted her son's friend.

According to the arrest affidavit, during the sexting investigation, sheriffs received multiple tips that there was another victim of sexual assault from 2008, KRDO reports. Just last week, a 17-year-old male student admitted to having sex with Dickinson on at least five occasions during the summer of 2008 as well as during his senior year of high school.

The victim said that he regularly spent time at Dickinson's house -- his own father was a single parent and Dickinson helped take care of the victim and his younger brother. Later, the victim occasionally spent the night after baby-sitting Dickinson's own children.

The affidavit goes on to state that the pair had sex in Dickinson's car in a parking lot as well as in a children's "playhouse" at her home where, according to 7News, Dickinson gave the victim oral sex before engaging in sexual intercourse. The former student also told authorities that he received explicit text messages and pictures from Dickinson during that period. Dickinson asked the victim to not tell anyone about their relationship because it could ruin her marriage and relationship with her children.

If convicted of sexual assault on a child by a person in a position of trust, a Class 3 felony, Dickinson could spend the rest of her life in prison, according to The Gazette.

Police first arrested Dickinson back in September for sexting a 14-year-old student, a friend of her son.

The sexts were discovered by the victim's sister, who became suspicious after witnessing Dickinson hugging her brother multiple times. At the time, Dickinson was a sitting board member and treasurer of Ellicot School District-22, near Colorado Springs...

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)

Saturday, October 15, 2011

At Long Last?

HELP Committee to Move Forward
on Bill to Reauthorize the
Elementary and Secondary Education Act

Next week’s Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee mark up of legislation to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) will begin on WEDNESDAY at 10 A.M. The comprehensive bill will reflect 10 months of bipartisan negotiations between Chairman Harkin and Ranking Member Mike Enzi (R-WY), and will address many of the problems created by ESEA’s most recent reauthorization, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB), while advancing America’s commitment to helping all children succeed.

EXECUTIVE SESSION: Legislation to Reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act

DATE: Wednesday, October 19th

TIME: 10:00 A.M.

PLACE:106 Dirksen Senate Office Building

SOURCE: Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Press Release

This from Eduflack:
The day has finally come. This afternoon, Senate HELP Chairman Tom Harkin (IA) officially unveiled his draft of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The bill offers the sexy title "Elementary and Secondary Education Reauthorization Act of 2011."

The highlights: Adequate Yearly Progress is history. Race to the Top and i3 are woven into the tapestry of ESEA. HQT is gone, replaced by a plan to better evaluate teachers.

Alyson Klein over at EdWeek's Politics K-12 has a great summary of the bill and why we were offered what was released today.

Even in advance of the release, civil rights organizations expressed concern about the ESEA draft, worried that the death of AYP provides the potential for turning back recent accountability measures and expanding some already dreadful achievement gaps. You can see the full letter sent by six civil rights orgs today to Senator Harkin here. That drumbeat is likely only going to get louder as the language is further sliced and diced.

One big question remains — Is it necessary? At this stage of the game, NCLB is known mostly for its testing provisions, and most of those remain in the draft. Replacing AYP with another tool and funding RttT and i3 on an annual basis are steps the EdSec can take, with or without a new ESEA (as long as he has a congressional checkbook to support the latter). And we won't even raise the issue of how this fits with House Education Chairman John Kline (MN)'s piecemeal approach to reauth.

So while this finally puts a flag in the edu-ground for Harkin and Senate Democrats, no one should be rushing to schedule a bill signing any time soon. And if we truly want to get it on the calendar now, there are probably some lovely openings in the spring of 2013 just waiting to be booked. That sounds about right for an ESEA reauth signing.

But we have to start somewhere, don't we?

This from Sherman Dorn:
The fundamental dilemma with...hard targets is that while they may be necessary in the short term, they are very difficult to sustain politically in the long term. Scold fatigue sets in after a few years of suburban schools’ being told most of them suck. The reality is that while this year’s high school sophomores might not be learning everything you or I might like, many suburban parents are happy with the schools their children are attending.

That fact does not mean suburban schools are doing well by all their students, but rather that we’re in a particularly bad policy place if a “you mostly suck” strategy is the best we can do. It also happens to be a particularly bad political place (see Carter, James).

41 Applicants Lining Up for NCLB Waivers

This from Politics K-12:

[This week] was the deadline for states to give the U.S. Department of Education a heads-up that they want to apply for a waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act, and 37 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico say they plan to go ahead.

These notices of "intent" to apply aren't binding—and would-be applicants can change their minds and decide to apply, or not to apply. But the list, which the department released this morning, gives an early indication of the status of waiver interest across the country.

The waivers would offer added flexibility under the law, in exchange for adopting certain education-reform conditions. The rest of the states didn't file a notice of intent, which is merely a courtesy for the department.

In addition to saying if they plan to apply, those filing a notice also indicated when they plan to apply: by the first-round Nov. 14 deadline, in mid-February, or some other time.

These are the 17 early-birds that say they plan to apply by Nov. 14: Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Vermont and Wisconsin.

NY Times Questions Holliday "Junkets"

No Child Left Behind once included a promising reading program called Reading First - that is - it was promising until corporate greed and backroom deals ruined it by locking school districts into programs favored by federal administrators. In the Reading First case, federal officials violated prohibitions in the law against endorsing, specific curricula and overlooked conflicts of interest among contractors, that in some instances, even wrote reading programs competing for the money, and stood to collect royalties if their programs were chosen. Since that time more federal funds have come to states in the form of block grants.  So when Pearson began cozying up to the Council of Chief State School Officers and offering what have been termed "junkets" to state commissioners, it raised concerns.

According to the Texas Observer, Pearson is a London-based mega-corporation that owns everything from the Financial Times to Penguin Books, and also dominates the business of educating American children.
Pearson, one of the giants of the for-profit industry that looms over public education, produces just about every product a student, teacher or school administrator in Texas might need. From textbooks to data management, professional development programs to testing systems, Pearson has it all—and all of it has a price. For statewide testing in Texas alone, the company holds a five-year contract worth nearly $500 million to create and administer exams. If students should fail those tests, Pearson offers a series of remedial-learning products to help them pass.
Meanwhile, kids are likely to use textbooks from Pearson-owned publishing houses like Prentice Hall and Pearson Longman. Students who want to take virtual classes may well find themselves in a course subcontracted to Pearson. And if the student drops out, Pearson partners with the American Council on Education to offer the GED exam for a profit. “Pearson basically becomes a complete service provider to the education system,” says David Anderson, an Austin education lobbyist whose clients include some of Pearson’s competitors.
With the prevalence of companies like Pearson operating in Texas and many other states, the U.S. education system has become increasingly privatized. In some cases, the only part of education that remains public is the school itself. Nearly every other aspect of educating children—exams, textbooks, online classes, even teacher certification—is now provided by for-profit companies. Public education has always offered big contracts to for-profit companies in areas like construction and textbooks. But in the past two decades, an education-reform movement has swept the country, pushing for more standardized testing and accountability and for more alternatives to the traditional classroom—most of it supplied by private companies. The movement has been supported by business communities and non-profits like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and often takes a free market approach to public education. Reformers litter their arguments about education policy with corporate rhetoric and business-school buzzwords. They talk of the need for “efficiency,” “innovation” and “assessment” in the classroom.
Last week the New York Times reported on the close relationship forming between Pearson and the CCSSO headed by former Kentucky Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit. Kentucky Education Commissioner Terry Holliday serves on the CCSSO board.
Since 2008, the Pearson Foundation, the nonprofit arm of one of the nation’s largest educational publishers, has financed free international trips — some have called them junkets — for education commissioners whose states do business with the company. When the state commissioners are asked about these trips — to Rio de Janeiro; London; Singapore; and Helsinki, Finland — they emphasize the time they spend with educators from around the world to get ideas for improving American public schools.
Rarely do they mention that they also meet with top executives of the Pearson company.
The foundation’s officials say the free trips are solely educational and have no business purpose. On the foundation’s tax forms for the last two years, the line for listing “payments of travel or entertainment expenses for any federal, state or local public officials” has been left blank. That may be a problem. Experts in tax law say that Pearson appears to be using its foundation to push its business interests, which would be a violation of the federal tax code.
“The Pearson conferences fit the same fact pattern as the influence-buying junkets that the convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff arranged for members of Congress,” said Marcus S. Owens, a lawyer who was director of the Exempt Organizations Division of the Internal Revenue Service for 10 years and is a former board member of the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. “Those junkets were paid for by private charities.”
Both Pearson and the CCSSO deny that any funny business is going on - or indeed, any business at all. Which begs the question, If Pearson's motives are not profit-minded, why didn't they invite a bunch of teachers from Pikeville or some other travelers who don't have state contract dollars at their disposal? Why did Pearson contribute $100,000 to the CCSSO according to their last tax statement?
In an e-mail, Mark Nieker, president of the Pearson Foundation, wrote, “We once again categorically refute any suggestion that the events are in any way unethical or designed to enable Pearson to win contracts.” Kate Dando, a spokeswoman for the Council of Chief State School Officers, the nonprofit group that represents education commissioners, said by e-mail, “We do believe that understanding the range of successful education work around the world can make our members more thoughtful and effective.” She did not respond to questions about the ethics of accepting gifts from Pearson... “Any attempt to draw a connection between states that attend and customers of Pearson is based on a false premise,” Mr. Nieker said, because the company’s business operations and its foundation are separate.
Raise your hand if you believe that one.

Neiker has busied himself responding to blog posts about the Times story on the web with comments like this:
This is so disappointing. As the Foundation has said over and over, we categorically refute any suggestion that our relationship with CCSSO is improper, or intended to promote sales for Pearson, the commercial company. Have you seen the positive results of the Summits? See here and here. Check out CCSSO’s reports, review the critical lessons learned during the meetings, and judge for yourself.
It doesn't help that Michigan Education Commissioner, Michael P. Flanagan stopped attending Pearson's "conferences" because of his own ethics concerns.

The Times article specifically cited the awarding of contracts to Pearson in Kentucky to illustrate the problem.
In April, CTB/McGraw Hill submitted the lowest bid to run Kentucky’s testing program, but Pearson, whose bid was $2 million higher, was selected. In May, the state’s commissioner, Terry Holliday, wrote on his blog that he recently “had the honor” of taking a trip to China sponsored by the council, the Asia Society and the Pearson Foundation, and in September he went to Brazil, too. [Lisa Gross, a] spokeswoman for Dr. Holliday said the state’s decision “was based on best value and not simply a low bid.” She said a committee of local and state officials ran the selection process, and Dr. Holliday had no role in it.
The problem is that Holliday's influence inside KDE is undisputed and the Pearson company controls the Pearson Foundation’s board of directors. The appearance is bad and replication of the Abramoff M.O. doesn't help.

The Herald-Leader concluded that Holliday's travel should have been paid for by the state.
It is probably true that Holliday broke no laws nor violated any state ethics regulations by taking trips to China and Brazil paid for by the Pearson Foundation.

Still, this just doesn't pass the smell test. As even the youngest students of economics learn, there is no free lunch and certainly it follows that there's no free trip...
The bottom line is that if Holiday, or another public-education executive, can justify attending a conference based on the value it will bring to Kentucky's education system, then the taxpayers should foot the bill.
If it can't be justified at taxpayer expense, then it can't be justified.
They are correct of course.  But given KDE's decimated budget, I doubt, if it relied on state funds, that any Kentucky official would ever travel anywhere - least of all, not out of the country.