Thursday, August 30, 2012

From the convention: Education and the first night’s speakers

This from the Hechinger Ed Blog:
The theme Tuesday night for the Republican National Convention was “We Built It,” and speakers stuck to a script focused on jobs, the economy and the importance of small business—with very little mention of education. When the topic was broached, it was to draw a clear line between Republicans and Democrats, who often share more common ground in education policy than in other issues.

But as Nick Kristof pointed out in the Times
The Republican National Convention opened by smacking President Obama with the theme “We Built it.”  To pound that message, Republicans turned to a Delaware businesswoman, Sher Valenzuela, who is also a candidate for lieutenant governor. Valenzuela and her husband built an upholstery business that now employs dozens of workers. Valenzuela presumably was picked to speak so that she could thunder at Obama for disdaining capitalism. Oops. It turns out that Valenzuela relied not only on her entrepreneurial skills but also on — yes, government help. Media Matters for America, a liberal watchdog group, documented $2 million in loans from the Small Business Administration for Valenzuela’s company, plus $15 million in government contracts (mostly noncompetitive ones). In a presentation earlier this year, Valenzuela described government assistance as an entrepreneur’s “biggest ‘secret weapon.’ ”
 Back to Hechringer:
Governor Chris Christie (R- N.J.) argued for a simple distinction between the parties in his highly anticipated keynote address.

“They believe in teachers’ unions. We believe in teachers,” said Christie, echoing a common critique of the Obama administration made even by Republicans who agree with the basics of the President’s policies but maintain he has bowed to union pressure.

Christie touted his record of taking on teachers’ unions; he has had bitter feuds with them in New Jersey over tenure and education spending.

“We believe that the majority of teachers in America know our system must be reformed to put students first so that America can compete,” Christie said in his speech. “Teachers don’t teach to become rich or famous. They teach because they love children.”

Democrats, he said, “believe that the educational establishment will always put itself ahead of children.”

Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.) also addressed education directly, saying it should be “the second rung on the ladder to success,” following stable marriages and families.

“President Obama’s solution has been to deny parents’ choice, attack private schools, and nationalize curriculum and student loans,” Santorum said. “Mitt Romney believes that parents and the local community must be in charge—not the Department of Education.”

Although Obama has been criticized by Republicans for not refinancing the Washington, D.C., voucher scholarship program, he has been a staunch supporter of charter schools. In his signature Race to the Top initiative, states were rewarded for raising charter school caps.

Obama is also often accused of being responsible for the Common Core State Standards, which lay out K-12 standards in English and Math; 48 states and the District of Columbia have adopted them. Although Obama’s administration supported the Common Core, in part through Race to the Top, the standards were developed by a nongovernmental group.

When Romney’s wife, Ann, touched on education in her speech, she had this to add: “Under Mitt, Massachusetts schools were the best in the nation. The best.”

Atlanta Math Teacher, Allegedly Helped Students Cheat On State Exam Because They Were 'Dumb As Hell'

Atlanta math teacher Shayla Smith is accused of giving students answers to state exams because they were "dumb as hell."

A tribunal hired to investigate a widespread cheating scandal among Atlanta Public School teachers and administrators is recommending that the school board fire Smith by not renewing her contract. She was a fifth-grade teacher at Dobbs Elementary School, and is one of about 180 Atlanta educators accused of various improprieties related to the administration of state exams -- including erasing wrong answers on students' multiple choice exams and replacing them with correct ones.

Dobbs fourth grade teacher Schajuan Jones taught in a classroom across from Smith, the Atlanta Journal Constitution reports. Jones testified during the hearing that she had overheard Smith speaking with a teacher in the hallway about administering a test for her students.

"The words were, 'I had to give your kids, or your students, the answers because they're dumb as hell,'" Jones said.

A now-eighth-grade student testified that Smith administered her a re-test of the state math exam in 2010 and offered assistance, CBS Atlanta reports.

"She would walk around and tell people the answer," the student said. "She would just come to our desks and read the question and say the answer."

Smith denied allegations of cheating and called Jones "a liar."

With 21 pending tribunal hearings, the school board has yet to vote on the panel's recommendation to terminate Smith. Superintendent Erroll Davis said during the hearing that erasure analyses showed that tests administered by Smith had high numbers of wrong-to-right erasures, WSBTV reports.

"This district has lost complete and utter confidence in her ability to remain in the classroom," Davis said of Smith. "I have absolutely no confidence that [this] teacher could, in fact, administer future exams with integrity."

So far, of the educators implicated in Atlanta's cheating scandal, 17 have been fired, 16 have been reinstated and 110 have either resigned or retired.

The investigations and pending punitive actions come from a two-year investigation released last summer that found widespread cheating among educators in at least 44 Atlanta schools. The findings shook the country and "stunned" U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

The district spent about $600,000 monthly on the teachers on leave, and the entire scandal could cost taxpayers in the neighborhood of $9 million.

An Ap for Helicopter Parents

This from Inside Higher Education:
About half of the students who fail to graduate college in six years never even make it to their second year, according to Department of Education data. Now, a new app is aiming to help make that college transition more successful for students — by involving their parents.

Launched this fall by a team based in Washington,  csMentor – the “cs” stands for “college survival and success” – is a web-based program that combines video mentoring with regular check-ins to promote better communication between students and parents.

When families sign up for the program and pay the monthly $29.95 subscription fee, the student gets access to a series of Mentoring Interactive Programs, or MIPs, which can be accessed online or from a mobile phone. Each MIP consists of a short video on a topic such as "Coping With Homesickness" or "How to Ask for Help in College." At the end of each MIP, students are asked a series of multiple-choice questions about their health, social adjustment, academic behavior and academic goals.

After the student completes the week’s 10 multiple-choice questions, the data are analyzed by the csMentor technology and a report is generated for the student and the parents. The report doesn’t list the students’ answers, but instead provides a summary of how the student is doing in the four key areas, each of which is coded green, yellow or red. Because the reports are solely based on data provided by the student, not the school, the program does not violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which prevents colleges from disclosing certain information about students to their parents.

“We see the service as a way of enhancing communication between parent and students,” said Steve Wattenmaker, CEO of csMentor. “We think it will enrich the conversations. It can go beyond the typical, ‘How’s everything this week?' "

Wattenmaker and the rest of the csMentor team, which is made up of educational psychologists, counselors and university administrators, hope the program will help students and parents spot potential problems earlier, so they can deal with them before they escalate.

But Marjorie Savage, parent program director at the University of Minnesota and author of the book You're on Your Own (But I'm Here If You Need Me), wonders if parents should be involved so early in the problem-solving process.

“It feels to me like it’s going further than what a typical college student should need,” Savage said. “There’s a level of trust that parents need to be giving to their students at this point, and is this allowing that to happen? If the student is getting that information, it seems to me like that should be sufficient. For parents to be monitoring that closely is going beyond what’s desirable.”

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Groups Ask Districts to Stop Using Out-of-School Suspensions

Time was....teachers were expected to whoop the tar out of recalcitrant youngins so they didn't grow up wrong. Corporal punishment was replaced by the "more humane" act of punishing the student by denying them some part of their education - thus making the child's problem in school, the parents problem at home. This worked better in some situations than others.

Among old school administrators, including those who did not abuse children (alas, some did), the loss of paddling took an arrow out of the quiver.

Now suspension is in the crosshairs. Regardless of one's point of view, disciplanary actions are the only administrative response I can think of, that were designed to change unproductive behaviors, yet a person can get "into trouble" for using them.

If one grants that most suspensions are legitimately deserved as a direct result of some bad act by a student, then what's the alternative?

This from District Dossier:
Several national groups are asking school districts to stop suspending students out of school and replace this form of discipline with what they consider to be "more constructive" approaches that benefit students, teachers, and communities.

The New York-based Dignity in Schools Campaign launched its call for a moratorium on out-of-school suspension at a gathering in Los Angeles on Tuesday, joined by more than 50 other groups.
They cited a growing body of research and data that shows the disproportionate use of suspension, in which black and Latino students and students with disabilities are more likely to be suspended and more likely to be punished harshly compared to other students for the same infractions. The research also shows the connection between school punishment and students entering the juvenile justice system. The groups said students who need to spend the most time in class are losing it at an alarming rate.

"At a time when we should be expanding learning opportunities for all young people, we are cutting classroom time for those who need it most," said Jermaine Banks, a student organizer with Power U Center for Social Change in Miami, in a statement. "The harsh discipline policies now in place around the country do not make schools safer nor improve academic achievement, but instead feed the school-to-prison pipeline."

Some researchers argue that discipline data is incorrectly used as a measure of school safety and doesn't actually contribute to the security of a school campus.

The groups have created a website,, which asks district leaders to sign a pledge for a year not to suspend students out of school.

At the same time, Dignity in Schools launched a "Model Code on Education and Dignity" that they hope schools will adopt as an alternative to zero-tolerance discipline policies that rely heavily on out-of-school suspensions and expulsions to address student behavior.

"If we know there are alternatives out there, ... we would be foolish to not try them," said Tina Dove, the director of programs for the National Opportunity to Learn Campaign, which is endorsing the moratorium. "Ultimately the goal should be... keeping kids in the school house and not in the jailhouse. It's just that simple."

She pointed a case this month in which the federal Department of Justice found that the Meridian school district in Mississippi had contributed to the "school-to-prison pipeline" because the city police agency arrests all students referred to it by the district. "The children arrested by [the Meridian Police Department]are then sent to the county juvenile justice system, where existing due process protections are illusory and inadequate. The Youth Court places children on probation, and the terms of the probation set by the Youth Court and [the Mississippi Division of Youth Services] require children on probation to serve any suspensions from school incarcerated in the juvenile detention center," the DOJ wrote in a letter to the agencies.

"No one could dare look me in the face and say 'That's acceptable,'" said Dove, a former high school teacher. "It truly says we have gone off the edge. It's an indicator of how far gone this is in some places."

At a recent conference hosted by the Office of Safe and Healthy Students, Lafayette Parish, La., Superintendent Patrick Cooper said that his district has eliminated essentially all out-of-school suspensions and expulsions in his 30,500-student district.

"We're not going to put you out there," Cooper said. "Everything the research is saying is about connections with people."

In a statement today, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said her organization supports the initiative and will establish a leadership committee to lead the union's response.

"Many of our affiliates are already engaged in this work," she said. To support their efforts, the AFT will establish a leadership committee to lead the union's response, survey affiliates to gain a greater understanding of their school and community needs to target support, and collaborate with Solutions Not Suspensions and other stakeholders on policy decisions regarding discipline, among other things.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

No JCPS neighborhood school ruling today

This from The Courier-Journal:
There will be no ruling today in the Jefferson County Public Schools lawsuit to determine whether parents have a guaranteed right to send their children to the school closest to their home.

The Kentucky Supreme Court didn’t include the lawsuit among its batch of opinions released at 10 a.m. The next ruling date is set for Sept. 20.

Several parents have filed suit against the JCPS student-assignment plan after they said their children were denied admittance into their neighborhood school.

The Kentucky appeals court has already sided with the parents, and if the Kentucky Supreme Court concurs, it could mean the end of JCPS’ desegregation plan, which includes busing kids to keep classrooms integrated.

At issue is a state law that says "within the appropriate school district attendance area, parents or legal guardians shall be permitted to enroll their children in the public school nearest their home." The parents suing the district contend that the term “enroll” also means their children have the right to attend the closest neighborhood school.

But Byron Leet, an attorney for the district, has argued that the legislature removed the word "attend" from the statute in 1990 to ensure that districts were allowed to make assignment decisions — not, as Gordon has contended, to clean up redundant language.

There is no legislative record detailing the intent of the change.

But attorneys for both sides have agreed that the original law was passed in the 1970s as an attempt to thwart federal desegregation in Jefferson County. It was ruled unconstitutional while a decree was in place, but that decree was lifted in 2000.

After the suit was brought in 2010, Jefferson Circuit Judge Irv Maze dismissed it, ruling that state law allows children to register with the district at the nearest school but doesn't guarantee that they can attend it. Maze said state law clearly reserves for school boards the right to "determine what schools the students within the district attend."

But a 2-1 appellate court decision last year overturned Maze's decision, holding that the law does entitle the student to attend that school. The ruling — which came after harsh questioning of the district, during which one judge derided voluntary integration as a failed "social experiment" — also ordered the district to develop a new assignment system for the 2012-13 school year.
When the case was argued before the state’s highest court in April, the district argued that a right to attend the nearest school would be difficult, if not impossible, to implement, with Leet saying that “because of where buildings are and populations aren't, everyone can't attend the closest school."
The Jefferson County Teachers Association, the League of Women Voters, the Kentucky School Boards Association, Fayette County Schools and a handful of parents all joined amicus briefs on behalf of the school system,.

They argued that giving parents a right to attend the closest school would put unreasonable burdens on districts. They said elected school boards should be able to make assignment decisions.

And some groups like the NAACP of Louisville argued that because local housing patterns remain economically and racially segregated in many areas, such a ruling would resegregate schools.

The impending high court decision marks the latest skirmish in a long-running battle over student assignment that dates back for decades.

The school board has been making changes and adjustments to its student assignment plan since 2007, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the district's decades-old desegregation policy, saying it relied too heavily on individual students' race when assigning them to schools.

The board adopted a new plan in 2008 that looked at race, income and education levels of students' neighborhoods when assigning children to schools. But it has spent the past four years making changes to that plan after hearing numerous complaints from parents over long bus rides and the lack of access to neighborhood schools.

Student assignment has become an increasingly polarizing issue, as well as a political one. Several state politicians have incorporated into their campaigns, including last year's Republican gubernatorial candidate, Sen. David Williams.

A new version of the district's student assignment plan takes effect in elementary schools this fall. The new system classifies the district's 570 census areas using three categories based on income, minority population and average adult education.

Earlier this year, the board changed the plan again, voting to shake up the elementary clusters to further reduce the time students spend on buses. The latest change raises the number of elementary clusters for the 2013-14 school year from six to 13, but it also curtails the number of schools parents can choose from — from roughly 14 schools per cluster to six each.

Some desegregation advocates fear that could undermine the district's integration efforts, particularly in western Louisville, by giving minority and low-income families fewer school choices.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Obama Takes Ryan Budget Criticism On the Road

This from Politics K-12:
President Barack Obama will make education spending a major focus of his next two campaign stops, when he visits the swing states of Ohio and Nevada this week.

Campaign 2012
The campaign is starting to highlight education cuts in a federal budget plan developed recently by Rep. Paul Ryan, who in addition to being former Gov. Mitt Romney's running mate in the presidential election is also the chairman of the House Budget Committee. The Ryan budget plan proposes to change Pell Grant eligibility rules to focus the grants only on the neediest students. The Obama camp also claims that the Ryan budget would produce devastating cuts in federal spending on K-12 and early childhood education, since the budget seeks big reductions in domestic discretionary spending. But the budget plan from Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican, isn't specific about whether those cuts would be in education. More here.

Obama this week is expected to emphasize his own record on improving schools—which hasn't gotten a lot of attention so far in the race. He'll be talking about Race to the Top, which the campaign credits with encouraging states to raise academic standards in reading and math.

"I am only standing before you today because of the chance my education gave me," Obama said in prepared remarks for a forthcoming speech in Columbus. "So I can tell you with some experience that making higher education more affordable for our young people is something I've got a personal stake in. It's something I've made a top priority of my presidency. And Ohio, it's something that is very much at stake in this election."

Obama is also planning to point to Romney's assertion earlier on the campaign trail this year that kids can just "borrow money if you have to from your parents" in order to attend college.

"That's his plan," Obama said, according to prepared remarks. "That's his answer for a young person hoping to go to college, shop around, borrow money from your parents if you have to - but if they don't have it, you're on your own."

And Obama intends to attack one of Romney's crowning education achievements on education—the John and Abigail Adams Scholarship program—which provides merit scholarships to the top students in the state. The program, which Romney touted in his most significant education policy speech, was criticized for only covering a small portion of students' college costs and for not focusing on the students most in need. (More from the Huffington Post here.)

The speeches come on the heels of a new report from the White House, detailing the still-shaky state of school finances as states struggle to get out of the recession.

And the Obama campaign has begun airing radio ads on the impact of the Ryan budget on education spending, in two key swing states: New Hampshire and Ohio.

Here's a snippet from the Ohio ad, which you can listen to here.
What does it say about Mitt Romney that he chose Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate, the architect of a budget so extreme it could slash education funding by 20 percent. That means larger class sizes, fewer teachers in the classroom, less money for technology to help our kids learn. And Ryan's budget could cut Pell Grants for up to 356,000 Ohio students.
In response, the Romney campaign pivoted the conversation back to President's Obama economic record.

"Under this president, too many young Americans are suffering from higher college costs, more debt, and a lack of good jobs when they graduate," said Amanda Hennenberg, a spokeswoman for the Romney campaign, in a statement. "Today's policies are just more of the same from a president who hasn't fixed the economy or kept his promises to the young people who supported him four years ago. The Romney-Ryan plan will deliver 12 million new jobs to help recent graduates - and all Americans - enjoy a more prosperous future."

UPDATE [3:15 P.M]: Several Republican governors also came to Romney's defense. Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal said Romney would "fix our broken system by tying federal funds to success, expanding parental choice, and rewarding talented teachers." Virginia Gov. Bob McConnell emphasized that Romney would provide more school choices to students. And Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin plays the union card.

Court Rejects Alabama's School Immigration Checks

"The state officials concede that the data collected through Section 28
[of the Alabama Immigration Law] is inaccurate, and they have not otherwise suggested 
that the relevant data cannot be obtained in other ways..." 
"In short, we do not find these justifications, 
which fit into the general category of 'because we want to know,' 
substantial enough to justify the significant interference 
with the children's right to education under Plyler [v Doe]."
We therefore conclude that section 28 violates the Equal Protection Clause." 
--U.S. Circuit Judge Charles R. Wilson

This from The School Law Blog:
A federal appeals court has blocked Alabama's requirement that schools check the immigration and citizenship status of new students, ruling that the provision violates the 14th Amendment's equal-protection clause.

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, in Atlanta, unanimously embraced the broader argument against the school immigration checks put forth by a civil rights coalition rather than the more limited reasoning advanced by President Obama's administration that the provision was pre-empted by federal immigration law.

The schools provision, known as Section 28, "imposes a substantial burden on the right of undocumented school children to receive an education," U.S. Circuit Judge Charles R. Wilson wrote for the panel on Aug. 20 in Hispanic Interest Coalition of Alabama v. Governor of Alabama. "Section 28 operates to place undocumented children, and their families, in an impossible dilemma: either admit your unlawful status outright or concede it through silence."

The 11th Circuit court panel also ruled on several other provisions of the Alabama immigration law, blocking some but upholding a provision of Alabama's law, along with a similar provision in a Georgia statute, that authorizes the police to check the immigration status of people they have detained. Those rulings comport with a June decision by the U.S. Supreme Court upholding under a facial challenge the "show me your papers" provision of Arizona's immigration law. The high court struck down other provisions of that state's law in Arizona v. United States.

My Education Week colleague Lesli A. Maxwell, who visited Alabama for a story earlier this year about the schools provision, also covers the 11th Circuit decision in her Learning the Language blog.
Section 28 requires Alabama schools to determine upon enrollment whether the enrolling child "was born outside the jurisdiction of the United States or is the child of an alien not lawfully present in the United States."

The measure calls on schools to check the birth certificates of students, and if no birth certificate is available, the child's parent or guardian must notify the school within 30 days of the child's citizenship or immigration status. If the procedures aren't met, schools are to presume that the child is an "alien unlawfully present" in the United States.

The court rejected Alabama's argument that the provision treats every student equally because schools are required to check the documentation of all new students.

"Clearly, the law contemplates no interest in the birthplace of any child who is lawfully present, and the blanket requirement that all students show a birth certificate is simply a necessary means by which Section 28 forces unlawfully present aliens to divulge their unlawful status," Judge Wilson said.

He compared the Alabama provision to a tuition requirement for undocumented immigrants seeking to enroll in Texas schools that was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court in its landmark 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe.

"Section 28 imposes similar obstacles to the ability of an undocumented child to obtain an education—it mandates disclosure of the child's unlawful status as a prerequisite to enrollment in public school," Wilson said.

The court went on to reject the state's justifications for the law, which include a need to gather data about undocumented alien children.

"The state officials concede that the data collected through Section 28 is inaccurate, and they have not otherwise suggested that the relevant data cannot be obtained in other ways," Judge Wilson said. "In short, we do not find these justifications, which fit into the general category of 'because we want to know,' substantial enough to justify the significant interference with the children's right to education under Plyler. We therefore conclude that section 28 violates the Equal Protection Clause."

Court Upholds N.Y. Bar on 'Aversive Interventions' for Students

KSN&C Backstory: B F Skinner: The Next Generation

This from The School Law Blog:
A federal appeals court has upheld a New York state prohibition on the use of "aversive interventions" such as electric shock, food limitations, and restraints in schools, including for children with disabilities being served in out-of-state schools that have permitted such practices.
The New York regulation was challenged by parents who believe such interventions are proper for their children, who commit self-injurious behaviors such as banging their heads on walls and pulling out their own teeth. The parents send their children to the Judge Rotenberg Center, a Canton, Mass., facility that until recently used shock therapy and continues to use other aversive methods. (Many New York state students are served at the residential facility.)

The parents contend that the New York state education regulation undermines their children's right to a free, appropriate public education under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. The parents also raise claims under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (I blogged about an earlier ruling in the case here.)

In its Aug. 20 decision in Bryant v. New York State Education Department, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, in New York City, ruled 2-1 that the state's prohibition of one possible method of dealing with behavioral disorders, such as aversive interventions, does not undermine a child's right to a free, appropriate public education under the federal special education law.

As a preliminary matter, the appeals court noted that Massachusetts recently adopted a regulation that bars some of the interventions used at the Judge Rotenberg Center, including spanking, hitting, and skin shock. The Massachusetts rule allows certain others, such as loud noises, bad odor and taste stimuli, and short delays for students' meals.

The 2nd Circuit court said the change did not make the parents' challenge to the New York regulation moot, because New York's prohibition on aversive interventions is broad and a successful challenge could permit families to seek certain therapies elsewhere.

However, the court rejected the parents' arguments that the New York regulation prevented them from getting a truly individualized education plan under the IDEA that was most appropriate for their children...

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Fayette students return to school without significant problems, officials say

ThisRead more here:
I first met Michael Price as a sixth grader at Meadowthorpe Elementary in Lexington, somewhere around 1986. As a newly-appointed principal (the first from outside Fayette County since...well...Guy Potts) in those days before KERA, I was still able to perform the duties of an instructional leader by actually instructing. So I volunteered to take the school's top reading group to lower the class sizes our sixth grade faculty were dealing with - and there sat Michael Price. The class was big fun and able to be challenged. As I recall, we may have even dabbled in a little Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

Now, to see him taking the helm at Breckinridge not only warms my heart but makes me reflect on the one of the most enduring truths of life: God, I'm getting old!

Good luck Michael. Do well.

This from the Herald-Leader:

Michael Price began his opening day as principal of Lexington's Breckinridge Elementary School just after 7 a.m. Wednesday by greeting the first students arriving for the reopening of classes.

"Hi, and welcome back," he exclaimed. "I'm Principal Price, and it's great to see you."

For the next two hours, Price was a blur of motion around the school, exchanging fist bumps and high fives with students, directing kids to their classrooms, comforting youngsters (and a few parents) struggling with separation anxiety, and giving pep talks to teachers.

Price, 37, was an assistant principal at Tates Creek Middle School before recently taking over at Breckinridge. He says he's always excited on the first day of school.

"It's like Christmas for me," he said, watching Breckinridge come to life again after the summer break. "I can't think of another profession where you get a new start every year and a new chance to make a difference in people's lives." ...

At Breckinridge, Price spent a good part of his morning apologizing to people for problems in getting around the school. Students and parents had to follow circuitous routes to avoid a fenced-off area of bare ground, construction equipment and stacked steel girders next to the school.

Breckinridge is one of several Fayette schools under renovation. It's getting a new administration area, some new classrooms and major improvements to its cafeteria and gym.

The work won't be complete until the fall of 2013, when Breckinridge will be celebrating its 50th anniversary.

With construction continuing, about two-thirds of Breckinridge's 550 students will be learning in portable classrooms this year.

"I know it's inconvenient, but we'll make it work for us," Price said. "And it will be worth it in the end, because we'll have a totally new school."

Meanwhile, Whitney Moffett and other Breckinridge teachers were getting their students settled. Moffett, who teaches first grade, outlined classroom etiquette — "raise your hand before speaking" — and praised kids when they quickly caught on. "You guys are awesome," she said.
Price smiled as he talked of hard work ahead.

"You know, it's amazing," he said. "We have the Class of 2024 coming in this morning. Some of these kids actually will be graduating in 2024. What is the world going to be like then, and how are we going to help them prepare for it? It's going to be a challenge."

Read more here:

Read more here:

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

GOP lawmakers question standards for teaching evolution in Kentucky

Do State Senator David Givens, (R-Greensburg) and State Representative Ben Waide (R-Madisonville) mean what they say, or is this just more theocratic ranting from the Christian right?

They say they want Kentucky students to be good critical thinkers and the way to do that is to present them with competing "theories" of creation. But if that is true, why do they limit their considerations to Biblical creationism as the only counter to Darwin's Theory of Evolution? 

Why leave out the Hopi Indians theory of Four Creations, or the Cherokee story of Corn and Medicine, or the Hawaiian theory of Birth in the Dawn, or the Wichita theory of the Moon and the Morning Star, or the Pottawatomie Story of creation, or the Seneca's Two Brothers and their Grandmother, or the Jicarilla Apache theory of Creation and the Emergence? They are all very American, by the way, but sadly, not Christian.

If it's critical thinking we're interested in, let's make the studies more catholic and include the Norse Theory of Odin and Ymir, and the Babylonian Theory that Marduk created the world from the spoils of a great battle.

But if Kentucky's science alternatives are to be Christian only, as I suspect is the true interest of the legislators, then we've got some curriculum problems to sort out. Do we go with the Yahweh story or Elohim? Were humans created before animals (Gen 2:4-25) or after (Gen 1:1-2:3) Was man created first (Gen 2:18-22) or were man and woman created at the same time (Gen 1:27)? And just for fun, perhaps the legislators would like our high school juniors to speculate on Cain's wife and whether we should teach incest as a Biblically acceptable practice.

My apologies if my questions seem harsh. We Christians have been challenged by them over the years. And I don't mean to disrespect religion. But I don't mind rejecting religious bigotry.

As humans there is much we don't know. Both science and religion have much to offer the human race in that regard. In the public schools, science should be science, and religion should be religion - each in their proper place.

This nonsense from the Herald-Leader:

Kentucky's Senate Republicans pushed successfully in 2009 to tie the state's testing program to national education standards, but three years later, they're questioning the results.

Several GOP lawmakers questioned new proposed student standards and tests that delve deeply into biological evolution during a Monday meeting of the Interim Joint Committee on Education.

In an exchange with officials from ACT, the company that prepares Kentucky's new state testing program, those lawmakers discussed whether evolution was a fact and whether the biblical account of creationism also should be taught in Kentucky classrooms.

"I would hope that creationism is presented as a theory in the classroom, in a science classroom, alongside evolution," Sen. David Givens, R-Greensburg, said Tuesday in an interview.

The new requirements — college-readiness testing, end-of-course exams and more national norms — are part of Senate Bill 1, a 2009 bill developed and pushed by Senate Republicans to marry Kentucky's testing program to national standards for better comparisons of student success.

"Republicans did want the end-of-course tests tied to national norms; now they're upset because when ACT surveyed biology professors across the nation, they said students have to have a thorough knowledge of evolution to do well in college biology courses," said Rep. Carl Rollins, D-Midway, chairman of the House Education Committee.

Givens said he and other legislators have been contacted by a number of educators with concerns about Kentucky's proposed new science standards, which are tied to ACT testing and are scheduled to be adopted this fall.

"I think we are very committed to being able to take Kentucky students and put them on a report card beside students across the nation," Givens said. "We're simply saying to the ACT people we don't want what is a theory to be taught as a fact in such a way it may damage students' ability to do critical thinking."

Givens said he asked the ACT representatives about possibly returning to a test personalized for Kentucky, but he was told that option was very expensive and time-consuming.

ACT vice president Ginger Hopkins, who appeared at Monday's meeting, did not immediately return calls seeking comment Tuesday.

Another committee member, Rep. Ben Waide, R-Madisonville, said he had a problem with evolution being an important part of biology standards.

"The theory of evolution is a theory, and essentially the theory of evolution is not science — Darwin made it up," Waide said. "My objection is they should ensure whatever scientific material is being put forth as a standard should at least stand up to scientific method. Under the most rudimentary, basic scientific examination, the theory of evolution has never stood up to scientific scrutiny."

Givens said he was satisfied with the response by ACT officials and state Education Commissioner Terry Holliday that evolution was being taught as a theory.

State and federal courts have ruled that creationism is a belief, not science, and therefore should not be taught in science classrooms, but instead in comparative religion classes, Holliday said.

"I think the key is we could debate the science of this forever, but we hope our kids understand the theories behind evolution," he said. "We think our kids need to be critical thinkers to be able to reason between the two."

Last year, Holliday wrote a much-publicized letter to Hart County school superintendent Ricky Line, who complained that the new standards did not identify evolution as a theory.

"Referring to biological evolution as a theory for the purpose of contesting it would be counterproductive, since scientists only grant the status of theory to well-tested ideas," Holliday wrote.

Line said Tuesday that he still hadn't seen any change to the standards.

"When it says evolution as if there is no other option, then over time our students are going to assume that is the only option when there are other options out there," Line said.

The proposed science standards would require students to complete such tasks as:
■ Explain the biological definition of evolution.
■ Differentiate among chemical evolution, organic evolution and the evolutionary steps along the way to aerobic heterotrophs and photosynthetic autotrophs.
■ Discuss Darwin's principle of survival of the fittest and explain what Darwin meant by natural selection.
Vincent Cassone, chairman of the University of Kentucky biology department, served on the committee that developed the standards.

"The theory of evolution is the fundamental backbone of all biological research," he said. "There is more evidence for evolution than there is for the theory of gravity, than the idea that things are made up of atoms, or Einstein's theory of relativity. It is the finest scientific theory ever devised."

David Helm, president of the Kentucky Science Teachers Association, declined to comment, other than the official statement of the national group, which says:

"The National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) strongly supports the position that evolution is a major unifying concept in science and should be included in the K-12 science education frameworks and curricula ... NSTA also recognizes that evolution has not been emphasized in science curricula in a manner commensurate to its importance because of official policies, intimidation of science teachers, the general public's misunderstanding of evolutionary theory, and a century of controversy. In addition, teachers are being pressured to introduce creationism, 'creation science,' and other nonscientific views, which are intended to weaken or eliminate the teaching of evolution."
ad more here:

Read more here:

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Romney's VP Pick of Paul Ryan Puts Spending Debate in the Spotlight

This from Politics K-12:
Gov. Mitt Romney [yesterday] announced that he's tapping Rep. Paul Ryan , R-Wis., for vice president, a move that puts the debate over how best to put the nation's fiscal house in order front-and-center in the presidential campaign.

Ryan's controversial budget blueprint, which has been passed by the GOP-controlled House of Representatives, would seek big cuts to discretionary spending (which includes most education programs). In fact, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said the budget could have "disastrous consequences for America's children."

The Obama campaign has already blasted the pick, citing the potential impact of the Ryan budget on education spending.

"In naming Congressman Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney has chosen a leader of the House Republicans who shares his commitment to the flawed theory that new budget-busting tax cuts for the wealthy, while placing greater burdens on the middle class and seniors, will somehow deliver a stronger economy," said Jim Messina, an Obama campaign manager, in a statement. "The architect of the radical Republican House budget, Ryan, like Romney, proposed an additional $250,000 tax cut for millionaires, and deep cuts in education from Head Start to college aid."

Back in March, Duncan told the House Appropriations panel that oversees education spending that the Ryan budget could cut Title I grants to districts, which right now total $14.5 billion, by as much as $2.7 billion, while special education could be cut by as much as $2.2 billion. Special education state grants are currently funded at $11.6 billion.

Republicans have pointed out that Democrats can't really make those claims, since the Ryan budget doesn't spell out exactly what the magnitude of the cuts to individual programs would be—it just seeks big, overall cuts to discretionary spending (the broad category that funds education, as well as many other domestic programs).

Ryan's budget, which hasn't advanced very far in the Democratic-controlled Senate, also seeks big changes to the Pell Grant program, which offers grants to help low-income students attend college. The program has gotten pricier in recent years, thanks in part to very high demand for the grants as more students enroll in post-secondary education. The Ryan budget would seek to put Pell Grants on sounder fiscal ground through a series of programmatic changes that have gotten some higher education advocates very upset. But Ryan argues that increased federal student aid has had some unintended consequences, giving cover for colleges who want to jack-up their tuition prices.

Ryan's selection is sure to have big implications for a debate over the future of education spending currently underway in Congress. Right now, lawmakers are trying to figure out what to do about a set of across-the-board trigger cuts, estimated to be about 7.8 percent, that are set to hit a broad swath of domestic and military programs—including most programs in the U.S. Department of Education—early next year unless Congress acts to avert them.

Romney has said that if he's elected, he'd like Congress to come up with a short-term deal on the cuts so that he can help lawmakers come up with a long-term plan for the nation's fiscal future once he takes office in January. Romney had already endorsed Ryan's budget before picking him as his running mate. But by making Ryan his veep choice, Romney is sending a major signal about where he'd like those budget talks to go.

When it comes to K-12 policy, Ryan, like most GOP lawmakers, favors a big step back from the current federal accountability system at the center of the No Child Left Behind Act. In fact, he's a co-sponsor of the A-Plus Act, which would allow states to opt out of many of the mandates of the NCLB law, as long as they agree to show student achievement gains.

And one of Ryan's early gigs was working as a speech writer for Bill Bennett, who served as Secretary of Education under President Ronald Reagan. Bennett was a big supporter of school choice and rigorous standards. He often clashed with the teachers' unions and others —but back in 1988, Bennett won praise from then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton for his support of accountability.
The National Education Association, a 3-million-member union, is none-too-happy with Romney's choice.

"By selecting Ryan, Romney has doubled down on his view that opportunity is only for those who can afford it or are willing to game the system," said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel in a statement released this morning.

But Frederick Hess, the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute, applauded the pick. He said in an interview this morning that throughout the campaign, Romney has gotten flack from conservatives for simply being the anti-Obama and not being specific enough about what he would do. But picking Ryan as a vice-presidential nominee represents "a forceful embrace of principled conservative [positions] on fiscal responsibility, spending cuts and tax reform," said Hess, who blogs for at Rick Hess Straight Up.

Here are some of Ryan’s education votes and views from the Answer Sheet:

* Voted in 2012 for a measure that sought to stop the Education Department from implementing regulations intended to stop deceptive marketing by for-profit colleges, the focus of a 2010 Government Accountability Office investigation.
* Voted repeatedly against increasing Pell Grants, which provide need-based grants to low-income undergraduate and certain post-baccalaureate students to promote access to post-secondary education.
* Voted in 2011 to extend federal funding for the D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program, a voucher system that gives low-income students federal money to attend private schools.
Critics say that vouchers are essentially part of a campaign to privatize public education. Here’s what Robert J. Samuelson wrote about vouchers, in a different context, in a Post column in March:
One long-standing proposal to overhaul Medicare would transform it into a voucher program. Eligible seniors would receive a fixed amount of money (the voucher) that could be used to buy insurance coverage; they could choose among many different insurance plans. The theory is that competition among plans would lower costs and raise quality because Medicare beneficiaries would select plans that offered the best value for money. Vouchers are popular among Republicans, though some Democratic politicians and economists also support them. For example, a voucher proposal is a centerpiece of the budget plans offered by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., chairman of the House Budget Committee.... Vouchers wouldn’t “privatize Medicare.” The reason is simple: Medicare has always been “privatized.”
* Voted against the conference report of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which included billions of dollars to help prevent widespread teacher layoffs and included $1 billion to support the early childhood program Head Start.
 This from the Huffington Post:
It remains uncertain whether Ryan on the ticket will influence the state-by-state race to reach the 270 Electoral Votes needed to claim the White House.

Democrats say Romney's embrace of Ryan, the architect of a controversial long-term budget plan remaking Medicare and cutting trillions in federal spending, could open the door for Obama with older voters in battleground states like Florida, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Republicans say Ryan could help put Wisconsin, which traditionally has voted Democratic in presidential campaigns, in play and that the Catholic Midwesterner also could appeal to blue-collar voters that Romney, a Mormon and multimillionaire, has struggled to reach in Iowa and elsewhere.
The campaigners have three months to make their case, with the national party conventions coming in just weeks and the series of presidential debates scheduled for October.
 This from Inside Higher Education:
Ryan has spoken (well before being considered for vice president) against more spending on student aid. In a video interview with Reason magazine, he said that Obama's spending on student aid imposed unreasonable costs on the public, and represented "new unfunded liabilities."
Romney had spoken in the past of his support for Ryan’s budget plan -- at one point calling it “marvelous.” But his choice of the Wisconsin Republican as a running mate indicates an endorsement of education cuts deeper than those Romney himself has proposed so far. In a recent appearance at the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators, one of Romney's education advisers said the candidate would eliminate or consolidate several grant programs and supported a return to bank-based student lending, which would actually cost the federal government money.

And at least so far, Romney has deviated occasionally from the Ryan plan, including agreeing with President Obama that interest rates on subsidized student loans should not increase to 6.8 percent this year, as the plan prescribed. (Ryan, too, eventually went along with a bipartisan proposal to stop the interest rate from doubling.)

But the presumptive nominee has not called for anything like Ryan’s wholesale restructuring of federal financial aid programs. In addition to tightening eligibility for the Pell Grant and setting a “sustainable” maximum for the program, Ryan’s proposal would undo the recent expansion of income-based repayment on student loans and eliminate subsidized loans for undergraduates -- transforming the federal financial aid programs into a Pell Grant aimed at a smaller number of needy students and offering unsubsidized loans (which have an interest rate of 6.8 percent) to everyone else.

Ryan’s budget proposal would also cut off federal funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities. And much of the nation’s funding for scientific research, including the National Institutes of Health, would come in for cuts as well as part of broader cuts in discretionary spending. Those cuts, as well as cuts to Medicaid and a transformation of Medicare into a voucher program, raised alarms at the Association of American Medical Colleges last spring.

Though Ryan’s budget could have far-reaching consequences for higher education, and his 14 years in Congress have included plenty of votes affecting the sector, he’s rarely spoken on his views on colleges and universities. Early in his career, during the Reagan administration, Ryan worked as a speechwriter for Education Secretary William J. Bennett -- who frequently and publicly criticized colleges and universities -- and now subscribes to Bennett’s argument that federal financial aid leads to higher tuition costs.

Still, he has never overseen a state system of higher education (as Romney did in Massachusetts) or emphasized the role colleges play in society (as did Republican presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich, who spoke frequently of the value of scientific research, and Rick Santorum, who accused Obama of being a "snob" for encouraging college attendance). Ryan's district, a slice of southern Wisconsin, includes relatively few of the state’s 85 colleges, and Ryan did not pursue federal earmarks for those institutions even before the House put a moratorium on the practice. And Ryan, who graduated from Miami University in Ohio, has spent less time in academe than anyone else in the presidential race: Obama and Vice President Joe Biden both have law degrees; Romney has both a law degree and an M.B.A. An article in The Cincinnati Enquirer quoted friends and former professors of Ryan's as saying that he was a serious undergraduate with a strong interest in economics.

Ryan does hold strong views on at least one legislative issue (other than the budget) with consequences for higher education: stem-cell research. He’s voted several times to block federal funding for research involving embryonic stem cells.

In 2010, Ryan and other members of the Wisconsin Congressional delegation sent a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, raising pointed questions about the “gainful employment” regulation, which ties for-profit colleges' eligibility for financial aid programs to their students’ ability to pay back loans. On Sunday, his first full day of campaigning for the office, Ryan will join Romney at rallies in North Carolina -- including one at a for-profit college, the NASCAR Technical Institute.
Paul Ryan's Education votes from On The Issues:
And Civil Rights Votes:

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Ravitch v. Rhee Fills Summer Lull

This from the SchoolBook:
In the quiet days of August, after summer school ends and before principals return to work, followers of education issues and news found it a good time to re-hash ongoing debates, ourselves included.
WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show re-aired interviews from leaders of different schools of thought regarding education reform. First up, former Washington, D.C. schools chancellor and the founder of Students First, Michelle Rhee, on the occasion of launching a New York chapter, studentsfirstNY. You can hear the interview here:

Next, the show aired a taped interview with Diane Ravitch, a research professor of education at New York University and author. The discussion focuses on school performance and the frustration some teachers feel about standardized testing. You can hear it here:
The Rhee versus Ravitch showdown also appeared on CNN this week. In an interview, Ms. Rhee decried the results of a study that ranked the U.S. 25th in education internationally and said one of the most important fixes to education is to improve teacher quality.
But, in an online rebuttal, Ms. Ravitch argued that the rankings do not take into account the most serious factor affecting performance.
Why are our international rankings low? Our test scores are dragged down by poverty. On the latest international test, called PISA, our schools with low poverty had scores higher than those of Japan, Finland, and other high-scoring nations. American schools in which as many as 25% of the students are poor had scores equivalent to the top-scoring nations. As the poverty level in the school rises, the scores fall.
Rhee ignores the one statistic where the United States is number one. We have the highest child poverty rate of any advanced nation in the world. Nearly 25% of our children live in poverty.
This is a scandal. Family poverty is the most reliable predictor of low test scores. How can we compare ourselves to nations like Finland where less than 5% of the children live in poverty?

Friday, August 10, 2012

Why teachers quit—and why we can’t fire our way to excellence

This from Aaron Pallas at A Sociological Eye  on Education:
In the past few weeks, two major reports on teacher turnover and retention have been released. One was rolled out with extensive media coverage, and has been the subject of much discussion among policymakers and education commentators. The other was written by me, along with Teachers College doctoral student Clare Buckley.

The first report, “The Irreplaceables: Understanding the Real Retention Crisis in America’s Urban Schools,” was prepared by TNTP, an organization formerly known as The New Teacher Project that prepares and provides support for teachers in urban districts, and that advocates for changes in teacher policy.

The second, “Thoughts of Leaving: An Exploration of Why New York City Middle School Teachers Consider Leaving Their Classrooms,” was released by the Research Alliance for New York City Schools (RANYCS), a nonprofit research group based at New York University. (RANYCS published a report by Will Marinell in February 2011 that examined detailed patterns of teacher turnover in New York City middle schools apparent through the district’s human-resources office.)

There are some important similarities between the two new reports. Both surveyed teachers in large urban districts about their plans to stay in their current schools or to depart either for other schools, other districts or other careers. Both also sought to understand the features of teachers’ work on the job that were influential in their plans to stay or leave. The study of New York City relied on a large, anonymous sample of middle-school teachers: roughly 80 percent of the full-time teachers in 125 middle schools across the city. In contrast, the TNTP study surveyed smaller numbers of teachers in four urban districts (one of which appears to be New York City), and the surveys were not anonymous, because TNTP wanted to link teachers’ survey responses to what the authors viewed as measures of teachers’ performance, such as value-added scores or summary teacher evaluations.

The headlines from the two studies aren’t that different: In any given school, many teachers think about leaving, and it’s not easy to predict why some teachers are more poised to move than others.

The NYC study suggested that the rhythms of teachers’ lives matter, including their pathways into teaching and the positioning of teaching in a life with adult family responsibilities. The teachers prepared through alternate routes such as the NYC Teaching Fellows and Teach For America—26 percent of those surveyed—were more likely to consider leaving their classrooms and schools, even when other teacher characteristics were taken into account. And teachers who were separated, widowed or divorced, and those with responsibilities for raising children, were less likely to think about leaving, perhaps because of the financial risks. Commuting, too, takes a toll, with teachers who commute an hour or more each way to their jobs more likely than those with shorter commutes to think of leaving their current schools—but not more likely to think about leaving teaching altogether.
But regardless of teachers’ biographies, administrative leadership and support—and student behavior and discipline—matter a great deal. Teachers are more likely to consider leaving their classrooms if they believe they aren’t getting adequate support from their principals, and if they believe the school doesn’t function well as an organization. Good leadership is not randomly distributed among schools; on average, NYC teachers report less satisfaction with the leadership in schools serving high concentrations of low-achieving, high-need students.

The key divergence between the two studies is that the TNTP report sought to identify high-performing teachers—whom the authors labeled “irreplaceables”—and low-performers. These groups, the TNTP authors believe, are stable; a teacher identified as a high-performer early in his or her career is likely to stay that way, and low-performers, although they may work just as hard, unfortunately rarely get better. Rather than try to provide extensive support to struggling teachers early in their careers, TNTP argues, it’s more efficient to invest in retaining the “irreplaceables,” and to counsel out—or move more aggressively to push out—low-performers who may well be replaced by teachers who will be “better.” To date, the authors suggest, principals have not been this strategic, leaving who stays and who leaves pretty much up to chance.

I’m less sanguine than the TNTP authors about the ability to easily identify those teachers who are “irreplaceable” and those who are—what? Expendable? Disposable? Unsalvageable? Superfluous? The terms are so jarring that it’s hard to know how a principal might treat such a teacher with compassion and respect. Given what we know about the instability from year to year in teachers’ value-added scores as well as the learning curve of novice professionals, a reliance on a rigid classification of teachers into these two boxes seems unrealistic.

I don’t doubt that there are some individuals who are natural-born teachers, just as Michael Phelps has shown himself to be a natural-born swimmer, and perhaps their talents are revealed on Day One. But there are thousands and thousands of children and youth around the world who are competitive swimmers, and none of them is Michael Phelps. For these children and youth, as for most teachers—and there are approximately 3.5 million full-time K-12 teachers in the United States—technique and practice can yield great improvements in performance. This is perhaps even more true in teaching than in swimming, as there are many goals to which teachers must attend simultaneously, rather than just swimming fast to touch the wall as soon as possible.

Principals must, it seems, strike a delicate balance, seeking to cultivate a professional community of successful teachers through a mix of selection, “de-selection” and professional development. But even in systems that view principals as “mini-CEOs” of their schools, knowledge of teaching practice is distributed throughout the school and district.

It’s true that teacher professional development is often weak and ineffective, and, particularly in the early career, probably requires a more coherent strategy and division of labor than currently exists in most school districts. But that’s not a convincing rationale for giving up on professional development for all teachers in favor of the quick termination of those teachers who don’t hit the ground running.

There’s a reason revolving doors are frequently out of order.

Arne Duncan famously said, “You can’t fire your way to the top.” TNTP apparently disagrees. For once, I agree with Arne—mark the date.

State school board to regulate restraint of unruly students

This from H-L:
The state Board of Education on Thursday approved a regulation restricting the use of restraint or seclusion of students behaving inappropriately in public schools.

The regulation, which could go into effect for the 2013-14 school year, said public school officials cannot use restraint and seclusion except when a child's behavior poses "imminent danger of serious physical harm" to the child or others.

Lisa Gross, education department spokeswoman, said Kentucky has previously had no rules on restraint or seclusion of students. The regulation will bring the state into compliance with federal guidelines, she said.

Kentucky's lack of regulation had led to concern from state education officials, advocates and parents such as Katie Bentley, who told board members that her son who has disabilities has been too anxious to attend school for three years because a teacher restrained him.

The regulation will require school districts to report incidents of seclusion and restraint to the state education department and report certain serious incidents to law enforcement. Parents would have to be notified when restraint or seclusion was used...
"The regulation should allow a student to be carried into a room for seclusion purposes when the student is causing significant disruption, such as when a student removes his/her clothing," a letter to the Board from Bill Scott, executive director of the Kentucky School Boards Association said.

After the board meeting, Scott said, "We want to seek further clarification" on some changes to the regulation before taking a position.

[Fayette Superintendent Tom Shelton] said, "I'm basically in agreement with the concept" of a regulation on restraint and seclusion.

Read more here:

Ed Schools

This from School Finance 101:

Ed schools seem to make an easy target in public policy debates over the quality of American public schooling and the American teacher workforce.

In many recent lopsided “ed school as the root of all evil” presentations, “Ed Schools,” are treated as some easily defined, static entity over time. In the book of reformyness (chapter 7, verse 2), “Ed Schools” necessarily consist of some static set of traditional higher education institutions – 4 year teachers colleges including regional state colleges and flagship universities – where a bunch of crusty old education professors spew meaningless theory at wide-eyed undergrads (who graduated at the bottom of their high school class) seeking that golden ticket to a job for life – with summers off.
In order to craft a clearly understandable (albeit entirely false) dichotomy of policy alternatives, pundits then present teachers who have obtained alternative certification as a group of individuals, nearly all of whom necessarily attended highly selective colleges and majored in something really, really rigorous and then received their certification through some more expeditious and clearly much more practical and useful fast-tracked option.

This was certainly the theme of a discussion (hashtag #edschools) at Thomas B. Fordham Institute actively tweeted the other day by Mike Petrilli and a few others.  What I found most interesting was that no-one really challenged the assumptions that “ed schools” are some easily definable group of traditional higher education institutions – that this has been unchanged over decades – and that teacher training is some consistent, exclusive domain of traditional public higher education institutions – specifically as an undergraduate degree granting enterprise? That there are and have always been, oh… about a thousand or so ed schools… that well… keep on doing the same damn thing over and over again (for the past 50 years, one participant tweeted) … and well… no one ever shuts down the bad Ed Schools… and that’s why we’re in such bad shape! It’s really that simple.
Because this characterization is simply assumed to be true, the obvious way to crack this broken and declining system is to expand alt. certification and allow more non-traditional, for profit and entrepreneurial organizations – especially non-university organizations to grant teaching credentials – heck – let’s let them actually grant degrees. Who needs brick-and-mortar colleges anyway? Given the assumed static nature of the declining and antiquated system of “Ed Schools” that has brought us to our knees, this is the only answer!!!!!

One of my favorite tweets from the event was from Mike Petrilli, relaying a comment by Kate Walsh:
Walsh: There are 1410 Ed schools in the country. NCTQ spent 5 years determining that number.
You know what Kate, by the time you were done figuring that out (however you did), the number had already changed. Also, FYI, there are actually some data sources out there that might have been helpful for tabulating the existing degree granting programs and the numbers of degrees conferred by those programs.

So, let’s take a look at some of the data on degrees conferred across all education fields in 1990, 2000 and 2010.

Let’s start with a quick look at the total degrees conferred in “education” as defined by degree classification codes (CIP Codes), across all institutions granting such degrees nationally. The interesting twist here is that bachelor’s degree production of education degrees has been relatively constant over time for about 20 years and perhaps longer. Doctoral degree production increased from 1990 to 2000, but stagnated after that. On the other hand, Master’s degree production has skyrocketed.

Now, one might try to argue that what that’s really about is all of those currently practicing teachers who are just accumulating those worthless master’s degrees to get that salary bump. I will write more on this topic at a later point, but that’s not likely the dominant scenario. Yes, many of the master’s degrees are obtained to broaden fields of certification in order to give current teachers more options – either assignment options in their current districts, or other job opportunities. AND, many of the masters degrees these days are initial credentials granted to individuals who did not receive their teaching credential as an undergraduate. Many initial teaching credentials are granted at the master’s, not bachelor’s level. A substantial amount of teacher training goes on at the master’s, not undergraduate level. No matter the case, the master’s degrees – of which there are so many – and so many more being granted than bachelors degrees – are the interesting story here.

Is it really that the same old traditional higher education institutions with crusty old, out of date professors, are now just spewing out masters degrees? Or is something else at work here?

Well, here are the top 25 MA producers in education back in 199o. Even at that time, the largest master’s degree granting institutions were not the top universities – or even the top teachers colleges. But, some of those schools were at least in the mix. Teachers College of Columbia University, Ohio State, Michigan State and Harvard all appear in the top 25 in 1990.

Here are the top 25 master’s producers in 2000. Here, the tide begins to shift a bit. Schools like NOVA Southeastern with their online programs, and National-Louis grow even bigger than they had been a decade earlier. Teachers College retains a top 25 spot, as does Ohio State, and University of Minnesota makes the list. Harvard is gone.

By 2009, “Ed Schools” are a substantially different mix. Not only that, but look at the volume of degree production. Back in 1990, Ed Schools at respectable major universities were putting out about 600 master’s degrees in education related fields per year. They held on to similar rates in 2000 and still in 2009. But by 2009, Walden University and U. of Phoenix were each cranking out 4,500+ master’s degrees per year. Grand Canyon U. comes in next in line. These are the entrepreneurial up-starts that are the product of minimized regulation of teaching credentials.

If there truly has been a decline in the quality of the teacher workforce, and if pundits truly believe that this supposed decline is related somehow to “Ed Schools,” then it might behoove those same pundits to explore the dramatic changes that have, in fact, already occurred in the “Ed School” marketplace.

If there has been a dramatic decline in teacher preparation, and in specialized training, it may be worth taking a look at those institutions that have emerged to dominate the production of education degrees and credentials in recent years. After all, Walden and Phoenix each produce 5 to 10 times the master’s degree credentials in education of major public universities. And, production of education master’s degrees is now nearly double the level of production of education bachelor’s degrees. And many of these entrepreneurial start-ups specifically frame their master’s programs as an option for individuals with a bachelor’s degree in “something else” to obtain a teaching credential.

Is even more deregulation and entrepreneurial teacher preparation what we really need? Can one really blame the traditional higher education institutions, whose share of production has declined steadily for decades, for declining teacher quality? Only if you ignore these trends, which I expect these pundits will continue to do.

Kindergarten Class of 2011: A Snapshot

This from Early Years:
In the 2010-11 school year, 3.5 million children were first-time kindergartners in the United States.
Fifty-three percent were white, 24 percent were Hispanic, 13 percent were African-American, 4 percent were Asian, 4 percent were two or more races, 1 percent were American Indian or Alaska Native, and less than 0.5 percent were Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander.

Twenty-five percent came from households below the federal poverty level. Eighty-four percent lived in homes where English is the primary language.

That demographic snapshot of American kindergartners was released by the research arm of U.S. Department of Education as "first findings" from an early childhood longitudinal study that will track these kids through Spring 2016 when they should be finishing the 5th grade.

The study—being done by researchers at the National Center for Education Statistics—is one of three that is examining child development, school readiness, and early school experiences. According to NCES, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Studies (ECLS) program, which started more than a decade ago, and provides national data on early childhood development and education in the United States.

The two other studies include a cohort of children born in 2001 and were followed from birth through kindergarten entry, and a cohort of children who entered kindergarten in 1998-99 and were followed through the 8th grade.

More than 18,000 parents and children are participating in the kindergarten class of 2011 cohort, across nearly 1,000 schools, according to NCES.

The early findings—which will surprise no one in this field—demonstrate how early achievement gaps between racial and ethnic groups, as well as varying socioeconomic groups, show up.

For example, Asian first-time kindergartners had higher reading and math scores than first-time kindergartners of other races and ethnicities. Whites outscored blacks, Hispanics, American Indian/Native Alaskans, and Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islanders on reading and math.

Kindergartners in households below the federal poverty level had the lowest scores on reading and math, while students who came from homes at or above 200 percent of the federal poverty level had the highest scores. And, as you would expect, assessment scores increased with parental education level.

Of course, kindergartners from homes where English is the primary language scored better in reading and math than their peers from homes where English was not the primary language.

NCES reported on one health indicator as well among the kindergartners: Body Mass Index, or BMI. And here again, there are no findings that go against the grain. Asians and whites were more likely to have a lower BMI than students of other races and ethnicities, while those who came from households below the poverty level had higher BMI.