Thursday, September 20, 2012

JCPS student-assignment plan upheld

State high court upholds Jefferson Co. student assignment plan
Reverses court of appeals decision that children can attend nearest school
This from the Courier-Journal (video):
The Kentucky Supreme Court on Thursday upheld Jefferson County Public Schools’ ability to decide where to assign students to school, rejecting a legal challenge by parents who argued that state law gives their children the right to attend the nearest school.
The 5-2 ruling marks a defeat for advocates of neighborhood schools, who hoped that the court would toss out a controversial student-assignment system that aims to integrate schools by race, income and education levels in part by requiring some students to attend more distant schools.
“Kentucky public school students have no statutory right to attend a particular school,” the majority opinion said. “Student assignment within a school district in Kentucky is a matter that the legislature has committed to the sound discretion of the local school board.”
At issue was 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.” Passed in the 1970s as an attempt to sidestep a federal desegregation order, it was ruled unconstitutional while the order was place. But that order has since been lifted.
The parents suing the district contended that the term “enroll” also means their children have the right to attend the closest neighborhood school.
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 plaintiffs had contended, to clean up redundant language.

“We are certainly grateful for Kentucky's highest court confirming that the trial court was absolutely correct in dismissing this lawsuit,” Leet said.
The ruling ends the latest skirmish in a long-running battle over student assignment.
Critics of the district’s plan, including attorney Teddy Gordon, who has represented legal challengers in most court cases, argue it requires unnecessarily long and expensive bus rides and hasn’t reduced racial achievement gaps.
“All the parents in this case were courageous to take on the school system, and even though they did not win this round, they have made JCPS turn the corner, away from the outdated social experiment of busing,” Gordon said, referring to recent changes the district has made to reduce bus-ride times.
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, a ruling giving children the right to attend their nearest school would resegregate schools in a way that could create inequities.
The battle over student assignment dates back 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 it into their campaigns, including last year's Republican gubernatorial candidate, Sen. David Williams.
A new version of the district's student assignment plan took 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.
 More from the Herald-Leader:
The high court's ruling upholds the plan currently in use by Louisville's school district about how students are assigned to schools across the county. Justice Lisabeth Hughes Abramson wrote that state law is clear that school districts across Kentucky have the authority to distribute students throughout the district based on what the school board sees as the best method...

"Indeed, every single school board has to know its district and make decisions that are best suited to its student population," Abramson wrote for the five-member majority of the court.

Abramson wrote that the plaintiffs in the case may use the ballot box to change the plans...

Justice Bill Cunningham, joined by Justice David Venters, dissented, saying the state law that requires enrolling a student in a school also gives the student the right to attend the school of their choice.

"As hard as I try, I cannot read the statute in any way other than in its plain meaning," Cunningham wrote. "And, if we ask a thousand people what is meant by the term 'enroll in,' I vouch that every single person would say it includes the right to attend."

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Chicago teachers vote to return to classroom

This from USA Today:

Chicago's 350,000 public school kids will return to classes Wednesday following agreement by striking teachers to end their walkout after seven days.

Teacher union delegates voted in a private meeting Tuesday to suspend the strike after considering details of a tentative contract presented over the weekend. The contract still awaits approval from the full 25,000-member union, but teachers will return to work immediately, union President Karen Lewis said.

She said the union's more than 700 delegates voted 98% to 2% to return to work.

The move heads off a confrontation with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, a former chief of staff to President Obama who on Monday tried to force an end to the strike in the nation's third largest school district. Emanuel called the agreement "an honest compromise."

The walkout had halted classes for students just after they had wrapped up summer vacation and started their academic year.

The strike focused attention on teacher complaints about evaluations and job security, echoing a larger national debate over public education, as well as pay...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Teach for America comes to Appalachia and Kentucky

This from John James Snidow at the Rural Blog:
When schools reopened last month, some in Eastern Kentucky began the second year of a grand education experiment that has been going on in underprivileged school districts across the nation for 20 years but which came to Appalachia only a year ago.

Teach for America recruits talented college seniors from highly ranked universities, gives them their first training as teachers, and makes them available to schools that are willing to hire them. This year it has 36 teachers in 20 schools in 11 Eastern Kentucky districts.

In Appalachian Kentucky, the coming of TFA teachers has stirred hope that their sharp minds, youthful energy, diverse backgrounds and fresh perspectives are invigorating rural schools where most teachers are natives who went to the nearest college – and giving fresh promise to the idea that education is the key to economic progress in the region.

“Any time you challenge the status quo – ‘the man’ – any time you challenge the man, you’re gonna put pressure on the whole system to do better,” said Terry Holliday, the state commissioner of education.

But TFA has its critics, and to some, it is just the most recent incarnation in a long series of well-intentioned but naive outsiders who try to help Appalachians who never asked for it; privileged, bored, 20-somethings who want to fight a war without dodging bullets.

Morehead State University Education Dean Cathy Gunn, who doesn’t support TFA, said some of its teachers might think “It will look good on my resume, and I want to take a break, and it’s like the Peace Corps.”

Lois Combs Weinberg and Alix Smith
People in the region have seen similar programs since the War on Poverty began in the mid-1960s; while some volunteers from outside the region stayed, most left. “People would say that they ‘popped in, popped off, and popped out’,” says Lois Combs Weinberg, who was a VISTA (Volunteer In Service To America) and whose father, Bert Combs, was governor from 1969-73.

But unlike some such programs, TFAers don’t organize. They don’t picket. In fact, they’re media-shy: Getting interviews with some of them was a challenge. They’re here to teach, and they want to make clear that TFA – at least as an organization – is here to stay for the long term.

“It’s basically been a boom and bust cycle of people coming in and leaving,” says TFA corps member Alix Smith, who teaches in Lynn Camp High School at Corbin. “Our goal here with TFA is to get the boom without the bust.”

TFA’s careful efforts at community integration seem to be working, based on interviews with some Eastern Kentucky citizens. “At first we were skeptical, but they won us over in the end,” one said. “Every one of them would have faced down hell with a water pistol if they thought it would help their kids.”

Principal Robbie Fletcher of Sheldon Clark High School in Inez shared a similar story about a TFA teacher. Several students’ parents “called me and wanted their kids out of her class,” he said. And inside that class, some students were equally irate, saying things like “I don’t know how things work wherever it is you came from, but this is just not the way we do things around here.” But in the end, Fletcher said, the teacher won them over, parents included –“except one,” he says, “and the pope himself couldn’t have converted that one.”

Another reason for TFA’s success is that it is meeting real needs. Many schools in Appalachia don’t have qualified teachers in foreign languages, special education or the sciences. TFA is filling desks that would otherwise be vacant or filled with long-term substitutes.

There’s another difference between TFA and past programs, too: 50 years of academic research. “TFA is specific. It’s much more targeted work,” says Weinberg. “With VISTA, we really didn’t know what [the volunteers] were doing,” she says. “We sent them there to ‘do good’ and gave them no training.” TFA now has a much more “sophisticated conceptual framework,” she says, “We now know that education equals economic development.”

Even if TFA members don’t see themselves as directly fighting poverty, they still are very much part of the poverty war, says University of Kentucky economist Ken Troske, who runs the Kentucky Center for Business and Economic Research.

“If you can just raise education levels in Eastern Kentucky,” Troske says, “you could eliminate almost all of the region’s problems because low education levels are responsible for poverty, poor health, smoking, obesity, crime, drug use.” Troske says TFA doesn’t have to work miracles: “Even if you can raise these kids’ achievement by just 1 or 2 years of quality-adjusted education, you can start to see some real results in these other metrics.”

There was skepticism that TFA could get the political support needed to open a region in Appalachia and start placing teachers. A starting teacher in Eastern Kentucky makes upward of $30,000 a year in a region where the per capita income is approximately half that, so local demand for teaching jobs is strong. But the need for qualified teachers overcame the politics.

“Right now TFA is very targeted in rural settings where they just can’t find the teachers,” Holliday said. He hopes to broaden the impact by making it a catalyst for better teacher quality throughout the state.

While TFA is a national program, its teachers are employed locally, at the same salary locals would have been paid. “None of the hiring/firing processes were taken away,” said Phil Rogers, who was executive director of the state Education Professional Standards Board until he retired this summer. “They still have to be hired by the site-based council” at a school, Rogers noted; the only difference is that schools get an added benefit from having a bigger pool of applicants.

Regardless of how much like normal, local teachers the TFA corps members may feel, they are still part of a national service organization and their career tracks are different. Many are delaying six-figure salaries. Altruism is at work here, to some extent, and the students respect that.

“They know that the other jobs we had are higher paying, salary-wise,” said Smith, who teaches Spanish at Lynn Camp. But they also wonder about motives. Senorita Smith said one of her students confronted her in class, saying: “I heard that Teach for America teachers are only here because they think that we’re poor and think we’re stupid and think we’re don’t wear shoes.”

Smith said she replied, “Do you really believe that I think you guys are stupid?” Smith’s eyes went glittery with tears for a moment in the retelling. She says the class murmured back, “No,” and finally one found the right words: “You wouldn’t work us so hard if you thought we were that stupid.”

Liz Selden teaches math in Leslie County
But for many of the TFAers, the question comes up over and over. “My kids think I’m certifiably insane for coming here,” says TFA teacher Liz Selden of Leslie County.

Her colleague, Tom Mitchell, tells me that his students thought his very presence in Eastern Kentucky was a sure sign that he couldn’t get a job anywhere else. “You must have done something really wrong to end up here,” he says they told him.

The students can play the Appalachia card another way, too. TFA teacher Marie Giezendanner said her students started out saying, “We’re from Martin County. You can’t expect us to always do our homework. I got so sick and tired of hearing about Martin County this, and Martin County that, that eventually I came down pretty hard on them about it. They don’t try that excuse so much anymore.”

When asked what causes low educational achievement in the region, TFA teachers say it is not so much poverty as “low expectations,” and this isn’t just armchair sociology. UK education and sociology Professor Alan DeYoung says this is deeply rooted in the history of education in Appalachia.

“Up until about 1960, the point of the high-school teacher in Eastern Kentucky was to keep kids in the area, to prepare them for local jobs. Now, it’s the opposite – it’s to equip kids to leave for college,” DeYoung said, and he thinks the schools have been slow to catch up.

The most common question TFA teachers in Appalachia get is “Are you going to stay?” It is often used as a “polite way to express doubts about TFA,” says Smith. Gunn, the Morehead dean, said confidently, “They’re not coming to Appalachia to stay, that’s for sure.”

TFA is a two-year commitment, but the hope is that many will stay longer. “Coming into the corps, only 10 percent of corps members say they want education to be their career,” says UK graduate Will Nash, executive director of TFA’s Appalachia region, but “Two-thirds of all TFA alumni who have gone through the program are currently in education, broadly defined,” some in school administration.

Coming in, some Kentucky TFAers couldn’t imagine staying. “Now,” says Smith, “I can’t imagine leaving.” Already, some of the corps members are making plans for the long haul. “I’d stay at Leslie County for the next 30 years, Lord willing,” says Selden, who is from Georgia and says she is now “queen of [her] very own single wide” mobile home.

The short-term commitment is a common criticism, and it’s an even bigger problem in Appalachia, Lynn Camp Principal Amy Bays said. “In our area, kids are used to people leaving them,” she says, “so they were especially wary of these people who would only stay for two years.”

Mitchell said likewise. “A lot of my boys don’t have stable male role models in their life,” he says, “so they’re often looking to me to provide guidance. I’m concerned about what happens when I’m gone.”

TFA teachers try to get their students to focus on their own futures. They say there is one topic that is “daily conversation” in their classes: college. But in high school and especially the middle grades, this can seem a far-off and distant goal. TFA teachers talk about their own experiences to make college more attractive, and administrators like that.

Bays says students are “star struck” by the TFAers’ experiences, which broaden their conception of what is possible. “They don’t get out of the county much,” she said, so this is important.

Holliday agrees. “One of the things that excites me most about TFA,” he said, “is that since TFA recruits from the top 10 percent of the top 10 percent, they’re great role models for these kids.”

But it may be more elemental than that.

It’s the last day of school in Barbourville and I’m on the bus with Stephanie Tanner’s Spanish class. I ask them what they think of their TFA teachers, Ms. Tanner and Mr. Roach, and I can barely hear for the shouting.

“They’re awesome,” they tell me. “Best teachers we have,” says one. When asked why, they tell me in gritty detail, pulling no punches, often giving me quotes about the shortcomings of non-TFA teachers that prudence makes unprintable here.

“She’s the first Spanish teacher to stay with us for more than a year,” says Chandler Smith, a ninth grader at Knox County High. “Only one of them that knew how to teach, too,” another kid interjects.

At lunch, I get 20 versions of the same response: TFA teachers just know how to connect. The same point is made more and more colorfully as I talk to more of the students.

“They’re basically really, really, really smart teenagers who know how to teach,” says one. “No, no, no,” another corrects him. “They just get what we like because they like those things too,” says another. And then, finally, “They’re great teachers for us kids because they’re really just kids themselves.”

The teachers seem to know what they’re doing: every piece of role-modeling is intentional, every allusion calculated. They know the value of a good pop-culture reference and they’re not above leveraging that if it works.

They’re scrappy educators – and scrappy is a good way of describing their feelings about TFA’s mission, too. Over and over again in interviews, the corps members tell me that “humility goes a long way.” They don’t think they’re here to save Appalachia or to end poverty in the state of Kentucky. For them, it’s much simpler than that: get the students to learn the material – by any means necessary. That’s hard enough. But if you can do it, TFA and its supporters believe, day after day after day, we might just be able to close the achievement gap in Appalachia.

Hat tip to KSBA.

State education commissioner says teacher quality in Appalachian schools must be improved

This from John James Snidow at the Rural Blog:
State Education Commissioner Terry Holliday is concerned about the quality of classroom instruction, especially in Appalachian Kentucky, and he’s ready to shake things up, challenging teachers’ colleges and local education leaders.
Comm. Terry Holliday
Eastern Kentucky colleges are producing too many teachers, and the region’s districts are hiring too many of them, perpetuating low expectations he says too many educators have for their students, Holliday said in an interview.

“Admissions standards are too low” for would-be teachers, he said, citing a report from the global consultancy McKinsey & Co., which found that the world’s best school systems “recruit 100 percent of their teacher corps from the top third of the academic cohort." Holliday says, “We recruit from the bottom third right now.”

Cathy Gunn, dean of education at Morehead State University, says she agrees that the teacher pipeline needs to be “improved and narrowed,” but denies Morehead is recruiting from the bottom third – at least intentionally. She says Morehead recruits “any student who is interested in becoming a teacher, no matter where they are in their graduate ranking,” as long as they meet the minimum requirements.

Before Holliday came to Kentucky three years ago, he was a district superintendent in North Carolina. He said there were colleges in that state “that we just wouldn’t hire from because they just weren’t prepared. That’s happening to some degree in Kentucky.”

If graduates continue to perform poorly or cannot meet the new, tougher requirements of the state Educational Professional Standards Board, he said some of the education schools will likely have to be closed.

Teaching has changed. Decades ago, it was a primary job choice for many talented women and minorities who lacked other opportunities. Today, lucrative and prestigious fields such as law and medicine have opened up their doors, while teaching has lagged behind both in pay and prestige.

The McKinsey report found low admission standards make it difficult for teaching to be seen as prestigious, and “McKinsey is right on target there,” Holliday said.

Encouraging better students to become teachers may be most urgent in Appalachian Kentucky. A recent study by Dr. Eugenia Toma at the University of Kentucky’s Martin School of Public Policy showed that Kentucky teachers who choose to work in Appalachian schools for their first jobs are less academically qualified than their peers who choose to teach in other parts of the state. Toma’s paper is based on data collected by the Educational Professional Standards Board that tracked more than 21,000 Kentucky teachers from 1987 to the present.

Holliday’s worry is that the low quality of teachers exacerbates some Appalachian educators’ low expectations for their students – or even their desires for them.

“I’ve heard this more than once now, that you might not want these kids to get a good education because then they’ll leave,” creating “less ability to fund the local county government,” he says. That kind of thinking “leads to low expectations for education,” he says, creating a “vicious cycle.”

Holliday said some eastern districts “only hire from certain universities and they only hire people from Eastern Kentucky backgrounds.” A joint report by his Department of Education and other state education authorities found that 43 percent of Kentucky districts employed more than half of their teachers from the same teacher-preparation institution, usually one nearby. (Click on map for larger image)
“People are sometimes afraid of hiring outsiders,” Holliday said, but in doing so they miss out on many qualified candidates and diversity in the classroom, which can help prepare students for the wider world.

These issues are most important in rural areas, which Holliday says lack many of the amenities needed to attract talented teachers: “In urban areas, you have places for these young, upwardly mobile teachers to live. In rural areas, you don’t have anywhere for them to live, you don’t have social activities, or any of the things that these young 20-somethings apparently really like,” Holliday says, playfully acknowledging his middle age.

Holliday says reforming teacher education won’t be easy because colleges have a financial interest in keeping class sizes high and admissions standards low. “The highest profit margin for universities is teacher education,” he said. “You’ve got large class sizes, very low cost for professors.” As the state’s public universities deal with budget cuts, “we’re gonna be pushing the presidents and the deans on this to improve candidate quality going into these programs.”

Eastern Kentucky University’s education dean, Bill Phillips, says he “completely agrees with Dr. Holliday” that standards need to be raised, but says state funding cuts force EKU to be “tuition-driven.” Raising standards lowers enrollment, and with it, tuition revenue, but Phillips says EKU has “made the decision to raise standards and to just take the hit on tuition.”

Holliday was interviewed for a report on the entry of Teach for America into Appalachian Kentucky. He said TFA, which he says recruits from the “top 10 percent of the top 10 percent” of college students, is putting pressure on the traditional teacher preparation and certification programs in the state: “Any time you challenge the status quo – ‘the man’ – any time you challenge the man, you’re gonna put pressure on them and get pushback.”

Hat tip to KSBA.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Presidential Nominees Serve Up Sharp Differences on Education

This from Education Week:
During the recently concluded presidential nominating conventions, President Barack Obama and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney offered stark choices on K-12 policy while downplaying areas of agreement between their two parties—and the tensions within each party on education issues.
In Charlotte, N.C., last week, the Democrats put a relentless focus on Mr. Obama's record of making education a federal funding priority. They cited the billions of dollars his administration steered into saving teachers' jobs and broadening college access.

And convention speakers, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, highlighted the president's role in encouraging states to adopt rigorous standards and warned that Republicans would slash education spending.

In Tampa, Fla., the week before, Republicans picked Mr. Romney as their standard-bearer. They pointed to Mr. Obama's lack of support for private school choice and hammered teachers' unions as an obstruction to the GOP vision for education reform.

But the focus on those politically charged issues, which got most of the education airtime at each party's convention, belies the areas of agreement between many Democrats and Republicans on policies such as charter schools and performance pay for teachers.

And it ignores intraparty fissures that were evident behind the scenes in both cities on such issues as common academic standards, a topic that has split the GOP, and teacher evaluation, which has divided Democrats.

In Charlotte, for example, Democrats gave little prime-time attention to the politically prickly policies at the heart of President Obama's agenda, including aggressive school turnarounds, teacher evaluations based in part on student test scores, and charter school expansion.
Instead, in his Sept. 6 acceptance speech, Mr. Obama declared: "Now we have a choice—we can gut education, or we can decide that in the United States of America, no child should have her dreams deferred because of a crowded classroom or a crumbling school. No family should have to set aside a college-acceptance letter because they don't have the money."

In Tampa, the speakers who mentioned education tended to focus primarily on school choice and what they pitched as the pernicious influence of teachers' unions, while side-stepping politically dicey questions such as whether there should even be a U.S. Department of Education—an agency long opposed by many in the party.

School choice was the only K-12 issue that made its way into Mr. Romney's Aug. 30 acceptance speech.

"When it comes to the school your child should attend, every parent should have a choice, and every child should have a chance," said Mr. Romney, whose positions include a voucher-like proposal involving federal special education aid and money for disadvantaged students.
  • Declare they are committed to working with states and communities so they have flexibility and resources to improve elementary and secondary education.
  • Support college- and career-ready standards.
  • Embrace public school options for low-income youths, including magnet schools, charter schools, teacher-led schools, and career academies.
  • Believe in “carefully crafted evaluation systems that give struggling teachers a chance to succeed and protect due process if another teacher has to be put in the classroom.”
  • Call for raising standards for the programs that prepare teachers, recognizing and rewarding good teaching, and retaining good teachers.
  • Encourage colleges to keep costs down by reducing federal aid for those that do not.
  • Support school choice programs so students can attend private or out-of-district schools; back expansion of the D.C.
  • Opportunity Scholarship Program; support charter schools, open enrollment policies, virtual schools, home-schooling, and local innovations such as single-sex classes, full-day school hours, and year-round schools.
  • Push accountability on the part of administrators, parents, and teachers; back programs that support the development of character and financial literacy; support periodic testing in math, science, reading, history, and geography.
  • Affirm rigorous academic standards and “reject the crippling bigotry of low expectations.”
  • Support English immersion rather than bilingual education for students learning English.
  • Favor abstinence education.
  • Support legislation that changes the “highly qualified” teacher designation, created under the No Child Left Behind Act, so that teachers are not defined just by their degrees to the exclusion of results in the classroom.
  • Say the federal government “should not be in the business of originating student loans.” Private-sector student financing, however, is welcome.

Political Danger Zones

The focus by Democrats in Charlotte on school funding and college access—rather than on such contentious Obama administration policies as using student test scores as a factor in teacher evaluations—came as no surprise to Michelle A. Rhee, the former chancellor of the District of Columbia schools. She attended both conventions as the founder and chief executive officer of StudentsFirst, a Sacramento, Calif.-based advocacy organization.

For Democrats, "the safer things during campaign season to talk about are Pell Grants, early childhood, that sort of stuff," she said in an interview last week.

But Ms. Rhee, who is considered one of the pre-eminent voices in the self-styled education "reformer" wing of the Democratic Party, wasn't disheartened by the dearth of talk about charters and teacher quality.

Mr. Obama "has raised those issues on the national stage" in the past, including in State of the Union addresses, she said."I don't think anybody is confused on where the president and the [education] secretary stand," Ms. Rhee said.

President Obama steered some $100 billion to education through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic-stimulus package passed in 2009. That legislation also created the administration's signature K-12 initiative, the Race to the Top grant competition, which rewarded states for embracing certain education redesign principles, such as expanding charters, turning around low-performing schools, and raising standards. It gave states credit for adopting new educator-evaluation systems that take student achievement into account.

Mr. Romney, for his part, proposes allowing parents to take federal Title I money for disadvantaged children and aid for students in special education that now flows to districts to any school they choose, including a private school. And the former governor and business executive has sought to use transparency for student results as the main lever in school improvement—rather than requiring schools to set achievement goals, as the Obama administration has done.

But Mr. Romney has stopped short of calling for dismantling the federal Education Department, and he hasn't spoken out against the Common Core State Standards, which are a thorn in the side of many conservatives.

'Being a Leader'

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Mr. Romney's most visible surrogate on education—he made education the theme of his speech to the Tampa delegates—brushed off the notion that the Republican nominee, if elected, will be hampered on K-12 issues by the more conservative wing of the party.

"I think he can just be president. That's part of being a leader," Mr. Bush said in an interview. "You're never going to satisfy every person on every issue; you can earn people's respect and support."
Mr. Bush, who has praised Mr. Obama's pick for education secretary, cited Mr. Romney's support for school choice as the key difference between the two candidates when it comes to K-12. He said during a panel discussion on education in Tampa that there aren't as many distinctions between the two candidates on school policy as there are on most other issues.

"We're in this climate of negativity, and there may be more agreement here than people want to admit," he said.

Mr. Bush even had kind words for the Race to the Top, which was only a bit player in Charlotte and isn't mentioned in the Democrats' official platform. The former Florida governor didn't mention the program by name, but praised the Obama administration's "incentives for nonreform-minded states."

Highlighting Differences

But Jon Schnur, an education adviser to the Obama campaign, threw cold water on the idea that Mr. Romney and Mr. Obama would govern similarly on K-12 issues.
Dueling Policy Positions
As Democrats and Republicans gathered to nominate their presidential candidates, each party also adopted a platform of policy priorities. Among their education positions:
"They represent dramatically different visions and priorities," Mr. Schnur said in an email. "When you look at Romney's education and budget proposals, they just represent a dramatically smaller focus on education—with reduced access to college, reduced funding for our schools, and reduced accountability and reform to improve our schools."

In fact, much of the education rhetoric on the Democratic convention floor was devoted to warnings of cuts to education programs if voters elect Mr. Romney and his running mate, U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin and the author of an austere budget blueprint.

The cuts in the Ryan budget, which have been highlighted in a number of Obama campaign commercials airing in swing states, were a big focus of Secretary Duncan's convention speech.
"In order to cut taxes for millionaires and billionaires, Governor Romney will cut education for our children," Mr. Duncan told the crowd. "That's the difference in this election. They see education as an expense. President Obama sees it as an investment."

But Republicans note that the Ryan budget proposal, which has been passed by the U.S. House of Representatives, isn't specific on spending levels for individual K-12 programs. Instead, it calls for a 20 percent reduction in domestic discretionary spending, the broad category that includes education. That cut would likely put major pressure on federal spending for schools.

Still, the Romney team has sought to distance the GOP nominee from the proposal.

"The Ryan plan is not Romney's plan," Phil Handy, one of Mr. Romney's education co-chairs, said in an interview. "We certainly didn't specify anything like that in our plan."

Mr. Ryan's own speech to his party's convention called for a major slimming-down of government spending. But the House Budget Committee chairman was silent on just how his plan would affect education.

And while he chastised the Obama administration for its economic policies, he didn't single out the president's record of steering significant aid to K-12 education.
Secretary Duncan, like other speakers in Charlotte, including former President Bill Clinton, also drew attention to President Obama's record on higher education access, a clear nod to the pivotal role that college students and their parents could play in the Nov. 6 election. During his term, Mr. Obama has revamped the student-lending program so that all loans originate through the U.S. Treasury, instead of through subsidized private lenders. And the administration greatly expanded the Pell Grant program, which helps low-income students attend college.

By contrast, Rep. Ryan's budget blueprint says that federal expansion of student aid may actually have an adverse impact on college costs, since it does nothing to encourage universities to keep tuition low. His budget seeks to curb the Pell Grant program and refocus the grants on the neediest students.

Rallying Their Bases

Both presidential nominees have had difficulty leveraging their positions on K-12 to rally their respective party bases.

Many teachers' union members in Charlotte, for example, voiced disappointment in Mr. Obama's support for tying teacher evaluations partly to student test scores. But they still were planning to provide him with get-out-the-vote muscle, partly because they think they'd be much worse off under a Romney administration.

"It's a mixed bag," Linda Myers, who recently retired from her work with the Michigan Education Association, an affiliate of the National Education Association, said of the Obama education record. "But he's willing to listen [to unions]. With our options, he's the best guy for the job."
The party faithful in Tampa were also able to rally to Mr. Romney's defense, even if they wished he'd take a bolder stance on K-12 issues.

South Carolina state Sen. Mike Fair would have liked to see Mr. Romney's campaign propose the elimination of the federal department, and he would have liked the candidate to come out against the common-core standards. But, on balance, he thinks the Republican would be much better for the nation than Mr. Obama.

"Am I disappointed that [Mr. Romney] didn't come out blasting against common core? No. We need jobs," said Mr. Fair, an alternate delegate.

Jefferson Co School board races demand attention

This from The Courier-Journal:
If people in Jefferson County aren’t paying attention to the upcoming school board election, the time to start was yesterday.

Actually, make that Sunday — when The Courier-Journal provided a detailed look at 15 candidates running for three open seats. The report should serve as a jarring wake-up call for anyone feeling complacent about public education in this community.

At least six of the candidates are running with a goal of scrapping the current student diversity plan and returning to neighborhood schools, guaranteeing students the right to attend the public school closest to their homes. Five of the 15 candidates support a diversity plan, which considers factors such as race, income and educational levels in making student assignments.

The remaining four are undecided or did not respond for the Sunday piece by Courier-Journal reporter Antoinette Konz.

With three of the seven school board seats on the ballot, it’s apparent that this election will influence whether the community moves ahead with a diversity plan that offers students a fair shot at success and achievement or whether Jefferson County returns to an insular and segregated school system of the past.

Voters who live in the districts up for grabs, need to start taking a close look at the candidates, and not just vote for whichever names they see on yard signs. Many of the 15 bear closer scrutiny.
For example, do voters in the mid-county’s 2nd District really want to elect a guy who was such a rabid opponent of court-ordered busing that he changed his name to George “Stop the Bus” Tolhurst — and who also wants to end fluoridation of public water?

Do they want people with longstanding past ties to the school system and possibly past baggage, such as former high school principal James Sexton, or former school system administrator Martin Bell, both running in southeast Jefferson County’s 7th District?

Do voters in southwestern Jefferson County’s 4th District understand they have six candidates running for school board and that just a very few votes could determine the outcome of that race?
And do voters realize that each of the three districts has candidates who glibly endorse a return to the neighborhood schools of yesteryear although — philosophical objections aside — yesteryear no longer exists because of major population shifts?

Several members who remain on the board — Debbie Wesslund, Linda Duncan and Carol Ann Haddad — traveled to Frankfort last year to offer compelling arguments against an ill-advised Senate bill that would have forced Jefferson County to return to a neighborhood school system.

(They, along with board Chairwoman Diane Porter, support the district diversity plan.)

Foremost was their concern that the bill, which failed, would return Jefferson County to a system of segregated schools. But a practical and compelling argument is that because of major population changes of the past several decades, there simply aren’t enough schools in some areas and too many in others.

A sudden return to neighborhood schools could result in the absurd outcome of closing schools in some neighborhoods and forcing costly construction or expansion of schools in others. Some people are grousing about a recent tax hike by the school system. How do they think Jefferson County would finance an abrupt school construction boom?

School board members also must confront other controversial issues. Should the evaluation of the superintendent be public or private? What should be done about failing schools? How can the school system improve student achievement and should teacher pay be tied to student success?

All of these are serious questions that deserve significant voter attention.

Most of the candidates appear to have strong opinions on these and other issues. Voters may find them online at or at other sites, such as candidate web pages or Facebook pages.

Aspiring board members will be invited to appear at candidate forums within their districts as the Nov. 6 election approaches, forums which are open to the public.

Yet, school board races tend to be ho-hum events, not high on the public radar.

It is very important that voters figure out whether they live in the 2nd, 4th or 7th District and, if so, which candidate they prefer and why.

And we’re not just talking public school parents here. Public education affects nearly every facet of the community, including the workforce, business recruitment, prosperity and independence from social services and public assistance.

Voters need to get involved, get informed and vote on Nov. 6 for a school board candidate who reflects what they want this community to become.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Studies Show More Students Cheat

This from the NY Times:
Large-scale cheating has been uncovered over the last year at some of the nation's most competitive schools, like Stuyvesant High School in Manhattan, the Air Force Academy and, most recently, Harvard.

Studies of student behavior and attitudes show that a majority of students violate standards of academic integrity to some degree, and that high achievers are just as likely to do it as others. Moreover, there is evidence that the problem has worsened over the last few decades.

Experts say the reasons are relatively simple: Cheating has become easier and more widely tolerated, and both schools and parents have failed to give students strong, repetitive messages about what is allowed and what is prohibited.

"I don't think there's any question that students have become more competitive, under more pressure, and, as a result, tend to excuse more from themselves and other students, and that's abetted by the adults around them," said Donald L. McCabe, a professor at the Rutgers University Business School, and a leading researcher on cheating.

"There have always been struggling students who cheat to survive," he said. "But more and more, there are students at the top who cheat to thrive." 

Internet access has made cheating easier, enabling students to connect instantly with answers, friends to consult and works to plagiarize. And generations of research has shown that a major factor in unethical behavior is simply how easy or hard it is.

A recent study by Jeffrey A. Roberts and David M. Wasieleski at Duquesne University found that the more online tools college students were allowed to use to complete an assignment, the more likely they were to copy the work of others.

The Internet has changed attitudes, as a world of instant downloading, searching, cutting and pasting has loosened some ideas of ownership and authorship. An increased emphasis on having students work in teams may also have played a role.

"Students are surprisingly unclear about what constitutes plagiarism or cheating," said Mr. Wasieleski, an associate professor of management.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Gardner Raises Crimson Alarm

"Market ways of thinking" a Moral Concern at Harvard

Found "hollowness at the core" of elite college students.

"A classic case of the ends justify the means."  
-- Howard Gardner

This from Teaching Now:
Is the Culture of Achievement Impairing Students' Moral Sense?
Responding to a cheating scandal at Harvard, renowned developmental psychologist Howard Gardner worries that elite students' relentless drive for success, fueled by what he refers to as "market ways of thinking," has crippled their moral sense. He reports on a study on career ambitions he and colleagues conducted through interviews with top students:
Over and over again, students told us that they admired good work and wanted to be good workers. But they also told us they wanted—ardently—to be successful. They feared that their peers were cutting corners and that if they themselves behaved ethically, they would be bested. And so, they told us in effect, "Let us cut corners now and one day, when we have achieved fame and fortune, we'll be good workers and set a good example." A classic case of the ends justify the means.
Gardner elaborated in his Washington Post Op Ed, "When Ambition Trumps Ethics":
  • In discussing the firing of a dean who lied about her academic qualifications, no student supported the firing. The most common responses were “She’s doing a good job, what’s the problem?” and “Everyone lies on their résumé.” 
  • In a discussion of the documentary “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room,” students were asked what they thought of the company traders who manipulated the price of energy. No student condemned the traders; responses varied from caveat emptor to saying it’s the job of the governor or the state assembly to monitor the situation.
One clue to the troubling state of affairs came from a Harvard classmate who asked me: “Howard, don’t you realize that Harvard has always been primarily about one thing — success?” The students admitted to Harvard these days have watched their every step, lest they fail in their goal of admission to an elite school. But once admitted, they begin to look for new goals, and being a successful scholar is usually not high on the list. What is admired is success on Wall Street, Silicon Valley, Hollywood — a lavish lifestyle that, among other things, allows you to support your alma mater and get the recognition that follows.

As for those students who do have the scholarly bent, all too often they see professors cut corners — in their class attendance, their attention to student work and, most flagrantly, their use of others to do research. Most embarrassingly, when professors are caught — whether in financial misdealings or even plagiarizing others’ work — there are frequently no clear punishments. If punishments ensue, they are kept quiet, and no one learns the lessons that need to be learned.

Whatever happens to those guilty of cheating, many admirable people are likely to be tarred by their association with Harvard. That’s the cost of being a flagship institution. Yet this scandal can have a positive outcome if leaders begin a searching examination of the messages being conveyed to our precious young people and then do whatever it takes to make those messages ones that lead to lives genuinely worthy of admiration.
Meanwhile, across campus the Psych Department is inviting you to make a few moral choices of your own.

And a business guy asks, Would you fire me?

Murray St. changes guns on campus policy after Lexington court decision

This from the Herald-Leader:
Murray State University has changed its policy for guns on campus to require everyone but uniformed personnel to leave weapons inside their cars.

The move made last week came in the wake of a Kentucky Supreme Court decision in April saying the University of Kentucky improperly fired student from an on-campus job for having a gun in his car. The high court allowed guns in vehicles, but said universities may still regulate deadly weapons elsewhere on campus.

Murray State University General Counsel John Rall told The Murray Ledger & Times that if a person does not have a permit to carry a concealed weapon, the weapon must be placed somewhere in the vehicle where it is visible.

Read more here:

Saturday, September 08, 2012

On Ed Policy: It's Romney for me, Obama for us

Here's one analysis of Obama/Romney Education policies. It's pretty good except for that one big glaring exception: the analysis fails to point out the biggest difference between the two. Romney favors vouchers which would seriously undermine public school budgets. Obama does not. Still, viewing the policies from the micro and macro levels is helpful.

If we elect a president to look out for the interests of all students, one direction is strongly suggested.

If we prefer a president who would look out for individual interests, another choice is indicated.

This from PolicyMic:
The last two weeks have been the Democrats’ and Republicans’ opportunity to explain to the nation how our country would operate under two very different schools of political thought... 

As each party’s candidates and supporters laid out their respective party’s positions on the economy, health care, international relations, and women’s rights, we were offered the choice between President Barack Obama and Governor Mitt Romney.

But one issue, however, that was not extensively discussed was Obama’s and Romney’s education priorities. Each candidate – and, subsequently, each party – has a very different view of education and what our nation’s policies should be moving forward to make our education system stronger and more robust.

Romney, on one hand, takes a more conservative, micro-level approach to education while his presidential counterpart has a more "bigger-government-is-better" approach to dealing with our educational crisis.

If given control of the White House, whose policies would be better for our country? ...

Mitt Romney's Micro Conservatism

Mitt Romney takes a very classic conservative and business-like approach to education.  Competition and innovative would probably be the best words to describe his thinking around education and his key education positions include charter schools, school choice, and vouchers...

The argument for Mitt Romney:

At the most micro of levels (students and families), charter schools, school choice, and vouchers are absolutely wonderful. For a family with very limited options for good schools in their local district, offering any alternative is very much welcomed. There are many communities in our nation suffering from sub-par public schools, and giving that student, that family, that community a sense of hope and the option to choose something different (and hopefully better) is sound policy.

An Argument against Mitt Romney:

As stated above, charter schools, school choice, and vouchers operate at the most micro of levels, meaning that if our priority as a nation is to overhaul and change an entire education system, these tenets do not nearly go far enough. Offering an alternative to public schools – which unfortunately, many times, means closing down schools that have been staples in communities for decades – without paying particular attention to how poverty, unemployment, hopelessness, discrimination, and segregation all interact with each other to create conditions where public schools are doomed to fail is pure folly.

And specifically with charter schools, one problem is that they are all vastly different. All charters are not uniform in quality, and that reality dramatically plays itself out in communities that are yearning for high-quality schools. Some charters are doing extremely well, while others, unfortunately, are not doing so well.

Barack Obama's Macro Liberalism

President Obama has made it perfectly clear that investing in community colleges is a key component of his education platform. He has also implemented the hugely controversial federal initiative/competition, "Race to the Top," where the federal government has challenged states (with the enticement of some very generous federal dollars) to outline their education reform efforts in an attempt to spark innovation and a renewed focus on education reform at the state level.

The Argument for Barack Obama:

Not many people can argue with the statistics that show the correlation between one’s education level and increase in earnings. With this new 21st century, post-industrial age that we are currently privileged to be living in, increased educational attainment is paramount for anyone in this country that is serious about his or her economic well-being  (not to mention staying employed).  RTTT, as Race to the Top is affectionately abbreviated, has placed education reform at the forefront of states’ priorities.

An Argument against Barack Obama and His Thinking around Education:

A big argument against RTTT is that the federal government is grossly overstepping its boundaries when it comes to states’ rights. Traditionally, federal dollars have provided only a small portion of states’ overall education budgets (typically less than 10%). So for the federal government to demand schools to conform to the federal government’s idea of education reform – including the expansion of charter schools, which hasn’t proven to be the panacea, yet, that many were hoping for – and to tie federal dollars to that definition, some feel that the amount of money given to states does not necessarily add up to the amount of influence they should have on states’ affairs, which is a particularly thorny issue for many.

So, Who Offers a Better Plan?

Overall, Obama’s guiding principles are better for our nation’s future if we are thinking about education reform from a more macro level. With RTTT and investments in postsecondary education, he offers a plan focused more on moving our entire educational system forward.  Conversely, Romney, with his guiding principles being competition and school choice, his reform efforts will only go so far in effecting change at a broad level. 

The credit hour causes many of higher education's problems, report finds

This from Inside Higher Ed:
A philanthropist, one of America’s wealthiest men, was worried about faculty pensions. The solution he successfully pushed, with the largesse of his foundation, led to the creation of the credit hour, which has become higher education’s de facto standard unit of measuring academic work.

Andrew Carnegie never intended for the time-based credit hour to be used to measure student learning, according to a new report from the New America Foundation and Education Sector, which tracks the standard’s history. But it has become a measure and a proxy for what students are supposedly learning.

An over-reliance on the credit hour, which links the awarding of academic credit to hours of contact between professors and students, has led to many of higher education’s problems, according to the report.

“There is pretty compelling evidence that what we have right now isn’t working,” said Amy Laitinen, deputy director for higher education at the New America Foundation and the report’s author.
One obvious concern is that colleges often reject transfer credits, wasting students’ money and time, in part because they don’t trust what constitutes a credit hour at another institution, according to the report.

The credit hour can also stymie innovation. For example, it is difficult to apply the "seat-time" standard to online classes, which are typically less tied to class time but are an important and rapidly growing element of higher education, the report says. Competency-based education, in which students learn at their own pace, is also a bad fit with the credit hour. So, too, is prior-learning assessment, where students can earn credit for learning outside of college, like training on the job or in the military.

The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching warned about the inadequacy of the credit hour back in 1906, shortly after the standard was established.

After all, Carnegie’s original motivation had nothing to do with college-level learning, according to the report. He wanted to create a free pension plan for underpaid professors, so they could retire at a reasonable age. In order to opt in, the foundation required colleges to sign on to a time-based standard to address another issue: college admissions requirements. More high school graduates were applying to colleges, and the new “Carnegie Unit” was an easy way to measure how much time high school students spent in each subject.

Colleges followed suit by converting their own course offerings into time-based units, and ignored the foundation’s warnings about the credit hour’s utility. The result is a standard of one credit hour for each hour of faculty-student contact time per week over a 15-week semester, with most bachelor degrees weighing in at 120 credits.

That standard falls short, according to the report, because the credit hour does not measure learning...

Parents Agree: Funding Shortfalls Shortchange Students, Families, and Communities

This from Betsy Landers, President of the National PTA in Transforming Learning:

Much has been made of the divisions pointed out in the 2012 PDK/Gallup Poll of the Public's Attitudes toward the Public Schools released recently. Public perception varies widely on issues from the college-readiness of all students to school vouchers.

Perhaps more revealing are the issues on which our nation agrees. We agree we need to close the achievement gap, support schools in urban areas, and do something about the lack of financial support plaguing our schools.

In fact, the poll showed lack of funding for education as the No. 1 concern of parents, outdistancing the top response from 10 years ago, drugs and violence in schools. Nationally, 35 percent of responses cited lack of funding as the biggest challenge facing their schools. Among public school parents, 43 percent cited funding as the biggest challenge. Regretfully, the challenge will loom even larger if the $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts Congress agreed to in last summer's debt limit deal materialize this coming January. "Sequestration" would have a potentially devastating impact on public education funding, and would disproportionately affect high need districts already struggling to do much more with far less. Our public education system is facing a very frightening and very real reality.

What's worse is that lack of funding contributes to so many of the other issues affecting student achievement, whether it's the achievement gap, the dropout rate or even the nutritional value of school lunches. It's no wonder that 70 percent of respondents support giving parents whose children attend a failing school the option of mounting a petition drive to request removal of the teachers and principal.

Enrollment is up. Need is up. Resources are down. With so many struggles, parents and communities must be empowered to drive change, but until education funding becomes a top priority in state capitals and on Capitol Hill, parents need to think beyond their individual communities and advocate for all children in every district, across their state and across the nation. The challenges that parents face are shared, as should be fighting for the solutions...

Florida Schools In Session, But Teachers Absent

This from NPR:
Schools have been open for a couple of weeks across much of Florida, but not all of the students know who their teachers are yet. There's typically a lot of teacher turnover during the summer break, and schools can't always get vacant teaching positions filled by the time school starts.
NPR Audio:
At DeSoto County High School in southern Florida, math tutor Ronnie Padilla is filling in as the French teacher. There's only one problem: He doesn't speak any French. Across from his classroom, Alma Cendejas — the school's front-desk receptionist — is filling in as the Spanish teacher until the school can find one.

Principals across Florida say the summer break just isn't enough time to fill every open teaching position. Miami-Dade County Schools, for example, started about 100 teachers short. School officials say that's not unusual for large school districts with tens of thousands of teachers — Miami-Dade has 22,000.

Still, the vacancies mean that thousands of students are starting the school year without permanent teachers. In a school year that is only 180 days long and filled with high-stakes tests, these students are getting a late start...

Green is the Color of Today's Teachers

This from USA Today:
With three years of teaching under her belt, Allison Frieze nearly qualifies as a grizzled veteran. The 28-year-old special education teacher at E.L. Haynes Public Charter School here already has more experience than the typical U.S. teacher.

She remembers her first year and says no new teacher really wants to relive that. "You have so many pressures on you and you're kind of swimming, trying to keep your head above water with all of the things you have to do," Frieze says.

Research suggests that parents this fall are more likely than ever to find that their child's teachers are relatively new to the profession, and possibly very young.

Recent findings by Richard Ingersoll at the University of Pennsylvania show that as teacher attrition rates have risen, from about 10% to 13% for first-year teachers, schools are having to hire large numbers of new teachers. Between 40% to 50% of those entering the profession now leave within five years in what Ingersoll calls a "constant replenishment of beginners."

The end result: a more than threefold increase in the sheer number of inexperienced teachers in U.S. schools. In the 1987-88 school year, Ingersoll estimates, there were about 65,000 first-year teachers; by 2007-08, the number had grown to more than 200,000. In the 1987-88 school year, he found, the biggest group of teachers had 15 years of experience. By the 2007-08 school year, the most recent data available, the biggest group of teachers had one year experience....

Cardinal Valley principal, academic dean are placed on administrative leave

Ivonne Beegle became the first Hispanic female principal in Fayette County, in 2007, when the former Spanish teacher and specialist in English as a second language was named Principal at Cardinal Valley Elementary.  Beegle told the Herald-Leader she hoped to create a plan of checks and balances for the school that was systemic, "so that we can ensure that every child reaches proficiency."

This from The Herald-Leader:
The principal and the academic dean at Lexington's Cardinal Valley Elementary School have been placed on paid administrative leave as a result of allegations of misconduct, the Fayette Public Schools said Tuesday.

School district spokeswoman Lisa Deffendall said that an investigation is under way, and that she could provide few other details.

Tuesday was the first day that Principal Ivonne Beegle and Academic Dean Suzanne Ray have been off work, Deffendall said.

Cardinal Valley has been one of the Fayette Schools' brightest spots on state tests over the past few years, recording significant gains in student achievement.

Defendall said Tuesday that she couldn't discuss the type of misconduct alleged. But in answer to questions, she said the allegations do not involve individual students or school finances.

"We just started the investigation," Deffendall said. "All we know at this point is what I have shared with you."

Barbara Albaugh, a retired former principal, will fill in at Cardinal Valley starting Wednesday, Deffendall said. The district also will provide other administrative support at the school if needed.
Faculty and staffers at Cardinal Valley were notified of the situation in a meeting Tuesday morning, Deffendall said. Letters also were sent home to parents on Tuesday.

It is unclear how long the investigation might continue.

Deffendall said the school district normally places people on administrative leave for up to 20 days, although it can extend that period or cut it short.
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