Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Ed Week's ESEA Reauthorization Cheat Sheet

More great work from Politics K-12:

The newest proposed version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act—is almost over the congressional finish line, with votes in both chambers of Congress imminent.

So how would accountability work under the ESSA, if approved? And how does it compare to No Child Left Behind Act, Classic Edition, and the Obama administration's waivers?

Your cheat sheet here. Top-line stuff on accountability first, then some early reaction. Scroll down further if you want the nitty-gritty details on accountability.

And scroll down even further if you want more details on other aspects of the deal (an update of past Politics K-12 cheat sheets, including some new information on which programs made it into the agreement and which are on the chopping block, thanks to this helpful fact sheet from the Committee for Education Funding).

The top-line stuff: The ESSA is in many ways a U-turn from the current, much-maligned version of the ESEA law, the No Child Left Behind Act.
•States would still have to test students in reading and math in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, and break out the data for whole schools, plus different "subgroups" of students (English-learners, students in special education, racial minorities, those in poverty.)
But beyond that, states get wide discretion in setting goals, figuring out just what to hold schools and districts accountable for, and deciding how to intervene in low-performing schools. And while tests still have to be a part of state accountability systems, states must incorporate other factors that get at students' opportunity to learn, like school-climate and teacher engagement, or access to and success in advanced coursework. 

And, in a big switch from the waivers, there would be no role for the feds whatsoever in teacher evaluation. 
• States and districts will have to use locally-developed, evidence-based interventions though, in the bottom 5 percent of schools and in schools where less than two-thirds of students graduate. States must also flag for districts schools where subgroup students are chronically struggling. The School Improvement Grant program is gone, but there are resources in the bill states can use for turnarounds.

The deal goes further on accountability than either the House- or Senate-passed legislation. And, in a win for civil rights groups, it appears there are no more so-called supersubgroups. That's a statistical technique in the waivers that allowed states to combine different categories of students for accountability purposes.

There are definitely some "guardrails" as one of the bill's sponsors, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would say. (More on just what those are below.) But the education secretary's authority is also very limited, especially when it comes to interfering with state decisionmaking on testing, standards, school turnarounds, and more.

So there's some real ambiguity here. That will be something to watch going forward.
It's still unclear just how the accountability or "guardrails" provisions of the bill vs. limits on secretarial authority dynamic will play out in regulation, implementation, and any federal monitoring. But it's possible lawyers and lobbyists may have walked away as big winners here. (Even Democratic and Republican aides see certain aspects of the bill differently.)

Put another way, there are definitely provisions in this deal that state and district leaders and civil rights advocates can cite to show that states and schools will have to continue to ensure equity. But, it will be hard for the U.S. Department of Education to implement those provisions with a very heavy hand, without at least the threat of lawsuits. 

So what happens from here will be largely up to states. (More on the potential regulatory fights, and lawsuits, ahead in this story from Friday.) 

"What can the secretary do and not do? I think that's where the lawsuits will be," said Chad Aldeman, an associate partner at Bellwether Education, who served in the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama.

Early Reaction 

Civil rights groups say they're waiting for real, live legislative language, not just a framework, before weighing in.

But, already, other accountability hawks are not happy campers.

"States are being given license to create systems that are significantly not based on student learning. That's a problem," said Sandy Kress, an original architect of the NCLB law. "This pretty much eliminates any kind of expectation for closing the achievement gap." (Another take from Chad Aldeman at Bellwether Education Partner's blog Ahead of the Heard.) 

But some state chiefs say there's no way that's happening. After all, it didn't under the NCLB waivers.
"I'm bothered when I hear people say that school chiefs won't hold schools accountable," said Brenda Cassellius, Minnesota's education chief. "That's not been evident with the waivers. ... We've supported our schools and we've held them accountable. I hope America can see that."
The nitty-gritty details on accountability, based on an analysis of a late-stage version of the framework:

Plans: States would still have to submit accountability plans to the education department. These new ESSA plans would start in the 2017-18 school year. And a state could get a hearing if the department turned down its plan. 

  • No more expectation that states get all students to proficiency by the 2013-14 school year, as under NCLB Classic. (That ship has sailed, anyway). And no more menu of goals, largely cooked up by the department, as under the waivers. 
  • Instead, states can pick their own goals, both a big long-term goal, and smaller, interim goals. These goals must address: proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency, and graduation rates.
  • Goals have to set an expectation that groups that are furthest behind close gaps.
What kinds of schools will states have to focus on? 
  • States have to identify and intervene in the bottom 5 percent of performers, an idea borrowed from waivers. These schools have to be identified at least once every three years. (That's something many states already do under waivers. And some, like Massachusetts, do it every single year.)
  • States have to identify and intervene in high schools where the graduation rate is 67 percent or less.
  • States, with districts, have to identify schools where subgroup students are struggling. 
What do these accountability systems have to consider? The list of "indicators" is a little different for elementary and middle schools vs. high schools.
  • Systems for Elementary and Middle Schools:
  • States need to incorporate a jumble of five indicators into their accountability systems. 
  • That includes three academic indicators: proficiency on state tests, English-language proficiency, plus some other academic factor that can be broken out by subgroup. (That could be growth on state tests, so that states would have a mix of both in their systems, as many already do under waivers.)
  • States also have to somehow figure in participation rates on state tests (schools with less than 95 percent participation are supposed to have that factored in, somehow.) 
  • And, in a big new twist, states must add at least one, fifth indicator of a very different kind into the mix. Possibilities include: student engagement, educator engagement, access to and completion of advanced coursework, post-secondary readiness, school climate/safety, or whatever else the state thinks makes sense. Importantly, though, this indicator has to be disaggregated by subgroup. States are already experimenting with these kinds of indicators under the waivers, especially a cadre of districts in California (the CORE districts). Still, this is new territory when it comes to accountability.
  • Systems for high schools:
  • Basically the same set of indicators, except that graduation rates have to be part of the mix.
  • So to recap, that means for high schools: proficiency on tests, English-language proficiency, graduation rates, plus some other indicator that focuses a little more on whether students have the opportunity to learn, or are ready for post-secondary work. And also, test participation has to be incorporated in some way.
How much do each of these indicators have to count? It depends on who you ask. Everyone agrees that those academic indicators (tests, grad rates, English-language proficiency) have to weigh more, as a group, than that non-traditional indicator that gets at a students' opportunity to learn (school climate, etc.)

From there, Democratic and Republicans aides have different takes.  A Republican aide said the academic stuff just has to be at least 51 percent of the system, and the other factor, or factors, can be up to 49 percent. A Democratic aide said the regulations might turn out differently, when all's said and done. (In this aide's view, the department could set a range for each individual indicator, ultimately giving the academic factors as a group significantly greater weight than the other factors.) More here. It's also unclear whether the test participation indicator, which states can weigh however they want, will throw a monkey wrench into all of this. More here

How do interventions work? 
  • For the bottom 5 percent of schools and for high schools with really high dropout rates:
  • Districts work with teachers and school staff to come up with an evidence-based plan.
  • States monitor the turnaround effort.
  • If schools continue to founder for years (no more than four) the state is supposed to step in with its own plan. That means states could take over the school if they wanted, or fire the principal, or turn the school into a charter, just like they do under NCLB waivers now. (But, importantly, unlike under waivers, there aren't any musts—states get to decide what kind of action to take.)
  • Districts could also allow for public school choice out of seriously low-performing schools, but they have to give priority to the students who need it most.  
  • For schools where subgroups students are struggling:
  • Most of these schools  have to come up with an evidence-based plan to help the particular group of kids who are falling behind. For example, a school that's having trouble with students in special education could decide to try out a new curriculum with evidence to back it up and hire a very experienced coach to help train teachers on it. 
  • Districts monitor these plans. If the school continues to fall short, the district steps in. The district decides just when that kind of action is necessary, though; there's no specified timeline in the deal.
  • Importantly, there's also a provision in the deal calling for a "comprehensive improvement plan." States and districts to take more-aggressive action in schools where subgroups are chronically underperforming, despite local interventions. Their performance has to look really bad though, as bad as the performance of students in the bottom 5 percent of schools over time.
What kind of resources are there for these interventions? The School Improvement Grant program, which is funded at around $500 million currently, has been consolidated into the bigger Title I pot, which helps districts educate students in poverty. But states would be able to set aside up to 7 percent of all their Title I funds for school turnarounds, up from 4 percent in current law. (That would give states virtually the same amount of resources for school improvement as they get now, through SIG.) However, the bulk of those dollars would be sent out to districts for "innovation", which could include turnarounds. (More in this cheat sheet from AASA, the School Administrator's Association, which has been updated on this issue.) Bottom line: There are resources in the bill for school turnarounds. But some of the money could also be used for other purposes, if that's what districts and states want. 

What about the tests? The testing schedule would be the same as under NCLB. But in a twist, a handful of states could apply to try out local tests, with the permission of the U.S. Department of Education. And importantly, these local tests aren't supposed to be used forever—the point is for districts to experiment with new forms of assessment (as New Hampshire is doing with performance tasks) that could eventually go statewide and be used by everyone. That way states don't get stuck with the same old assessment for years on end.

What's more, the framework allows for the use of local, nationally-recognized tests at the high school level, with state permission. So a district could, in theory, use the SAT or ACT as its high school test, instead of the traditional state exam.

Also, computer adaptive testing would be easier. More here

What about that supersubgroup thing mentioned higher up? Supersubgroups are a statistical technique used in the waivers that call for states to combine different groups of students (say, students in special education, English-language learners, and minorities) for accountability purposes. By my reading of the bill, it would seem that's a no-no. States now have to consider accountability for each subgroup separately. States liked the flexibility of supersubgroups. But former Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and civil rights groups said they masked gaps. The deal appears to eliminate the use of supersubgroups.

What about the rest of the bill?
Scroll down for information on English-Language Learners, students in special education, school choice, teachers, and funding provisions.

English-Language Learners

Where does deal land when it comes to when newly arrived English-language learners must be tested? (Background on this issue here). States would have two choices.
  • Option A) Include English-language learners' test scores after they have been in the country a year, just like under current law.
  • Option B) During the first year, test scores wouldn't count towards a school's rating, but ELLs would need to take both of the assessments, and publicly report the results. (That's a switch from current law. Right now, they only need to take math in the first year). In the second year, the state would have to incorporate ELLs' results for both reading and math, using some measure of growth. And in their third year in the country, the proficiency scores of newly arrived ELLs are treated just like any other students'. (Sound familiar? It's very similar to the waiver Florida received.)
The compromise would shift accountability for English-language learners from Title III (the English-language acquistion section of the ESEA) to Title I (where everyone else's accountability is). The idea is to make accountability for those students a priority.

Students in Special Education 

The legislation mirrors a recent federal regulation when it comes to assessments for students in special education, saying, essentially, that only 1 percent of students overall can be given alternative tests. (That's about 10 percent of students in special education.)


The bill largely sticks with the Senate language, which would allow states to create their own testing opt-out laws (as Oregon has). But it would maintain the federal requirement for 95 percent participation in tests. However, unlike under the NCLB law, in which schools with lower-than-95 percent participation rates were automatically seen as failures, local districts and states would get to decide what should happen in schools that miss targets. States would have to take low testing participation into consideration in their accountability systems. Just how to do that would be up to them.

For a deeper look at this particular topic, check out this blog post on opt-outs in the ESEA reauthorization deal.

On Programs

There's more consolidation of federal education in the compromise than there was in the Senate bill.
  • The legislation creates a $1.6 billion block grant that consolidates a bunch of programs, including some involving physical education, Advanced Placement, school counseling, and education technology. (Some of these programs haven't federal funding in years.)
  • Districts that get more than $30,000 will have to spend at least 20 percent of their funding on at least one activity that helps students become well-rounded, and another 20 percent on at least one activity that helps kids be safe and healthy. And part of the money could be spent on technology. (But no more than 15 percent can go to technology infastructure.)
  • Some programs would live on as separate line items, including the 21st Century Community schools program, which pays for after-school programs and has a lot support on both sides of the aisle in Congress.
  • Other survivors: a wrap-around service program that shares DNA with both Promise Neighborhoods and a full-service community schools program.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. got the early-childhood investment she wanted—the bill enshrines an existing program "Preschool Development Grants" in law, and focuses it on program coordination, quality, and broadening access to early childhood education. But the program would be housed at the Department of Health and Human Services, not the Education Department as some Democrats had initially hoped. The Education Department would jointly administer the program, however. (The reason: HHS already has some early-education programs, like Head Start. Expanding the education department's portfolio was a big no-no for conservatives.)

That new research and innovation program that some folks were describing as sort of a next-generation "Investing in Innovation" program made it into the bill. (Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Michael Bennet, D-Colo., are big fans, as is the administration.)

On School Choice

No Title I portability: That means that federal funds won't be able to follow the child to the school of their choice.

But the bill does include a pilot project allowing districts to try out a weighted student funding formula, which would also essentially function as a backpack of funds for kids. The program would allow 50 districts to combine state, local, and federal funds into a single pot that could follow a child to the school of their choice. It is said to be a more workable alternative to Title I portability, which looked more dramatic on paper, but which few states would likely have taken advantage of because of its complexity, experts said. Importantly with this pilot, participation would be entirely up to district officials. And the language would give them a chance to better target funds to individual school needs.


The headline here is that states would no longer have to do teacher evaluation through student outcomes, as they did under waivers.And NCLB's "highly qualified teacher" requirement would be officially a thing of the past.

There's also language allowing for continued spending on the Teacher Incentive Fund—now called the Teacher and School Leader Innovation Program—which doles out grants to districts that want to try out performance pay and other teacher quality improvement measures. And there are resources for helping train teachers on literacy and STEM. Much more from Teacher Beat.

Funding and Other Issues

No changes to the Title I funding formula along the lines of what the Senate passed that would steer a greater share of the funds to districts with high concentrations of students in poverty. But there were some changes to the Title II formula (which funds teacher quality) that would be a boon to rural states.

The agreement would keep in place maintenance of effort, a wonky issue we wrote about recently, with some new flexibility added for states. (Quick tutorial: Maintenance of effort basically requires states to keep up their own spending at a particular level in order to tap federal funds.)
There was some chatter that the bill would also incorporate changes to the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. That's not part of the agreement.

The framework would only "authorize" ESEA for four more years, as opposed to the typical five. That gives lawmakers a chance to revisit the policy under the next president, should they choose to do so. And its overall authorization levels are largely consistent with the most recent budget deal.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Berea College students, residents demonstrate against harassment incidents

It was important that the town and the college together make a statement 
against the hateful acts that we have occasionally experienced here.

-- Lyle Roelofs, president of Berea College

This from the Herald Leader:
Students and citizens lined Chestnut Street Monday to affirm their unity in the wake of racial and homophobic slurs and harassment directed toward Berea College students during homecoming weekend earlier this month.

The demonstration continued Berea College’s history “of standing up against racial inequality and seeking social justice for all,” said Virgil Burnside, a college administrator and former Berea city councilman. The college was founded as an integrated school in the 1800s by abolitionist John G. Fee.

Demonstrators held “Love over hate” signs, chanted “This is what democracy looks like!” and sang the civil rights anthem “We Shall Overcome” as well as Bill Withers’ 1972 pop song “Lean On Me.” Passing motorists honked horns to express their support for the crowd.

About 500 demonstrators participated in the event, said Lavoyed Hudgins, director of the college’s public safety department. The college has an enrollment of 1,600.

An administrative committee for the college said incidents of “drive-by racism and homophobia” were directed to students from roads on campus during the Nov. 13-14 homecoming weekend. Some students took their concerns to the Nov. 17 meeting of Berea City Council.

Lyle Roelofs, the college’s ninth president, encouraged students and residents to protest together.
“It was important that the town and the college together make a statement against the hateful acts that we have occasionally experienced here,” Roelofs said. “We think possibly this will deter that kind of thing but more importantly develop a sense of solidarity among ourselves.”
Asked how the demonstration could be a deterrent, Roelofs said: “There’s something about shame, and when a whole community rises up and says ‘We reject this,’ we hope that has an influence. Of course, one can’t be sure. We don’t even know the people we’re dealing with.”

Formal complaints about the harassment have been filed with the Madison County attorney’s office, said Sgt. Jake Reed, spokesman for the Berea Police Department. He did not know if any alleged offender has been served a complaint.

While Monday’s demonstration was in response to recent incidents, slurs are nothing new.
“We know of incidents every year that happen with our students,” said Sarah Broomfield, executive administrative assistant in the academic vice president’s office.

Students who took part in the demonstration told of incidents that have happened to them.

Tamia Ware, 19, said in an interview that a truck revved its engine as she crossed at a pedestrian crosswalk. Another time, a truck sped by and a person yelled out a racial epithet to a group of people standing at the crosswalk.

“I’m from Alabama, so I’ve had things like this happen before,” Ware said. “But I wasn’t expecting it here because when I came to Berea, I was told it was inclusive and that it was diverse. ...Hopefully, it will change.”

Neidy Rodriguez-Hernandez, 19, said she was surprised by the anti-Hispanic remarks directed to her. She said that on at least three occasions, while she was working at the student craft center, comments like “You shouldn’t be here” and “You don’t belong here” have been directed to her.

Despite these incidents, “I love Kentucky as a whole. I’m happy to be here,” Rodriguez-Hernandez said. “There are a lot of flaws everywhere.”

Fortunately, the college community “has been very supportive and that’s the best thing we can do, is stick together,” Rodriguez-Hernandez said.

Dayzaughn Graves, 18, of Richmond, said the incidents in Berea are not comparable to the racial tensions at the University of Missouri, where the football team boycotted activities and forced President Tim Wolfe to resign earlier this month.

“I think that’s stretching it because that had a lot of racial things happen specifically with that president,” Graves said. “I think that is what our president was trying not to do, but to try to say, “I see you all, I do care for you all’ so it doesn’t escalate to that.”

That Roelofs took a public position to rally the campus and community “makes me excited and secure in my choice as a freshman that I chose Berea College,” Graves said. “I’m at a place where I don’t have to be afraid to go to the administration if I need something. That’s terribly important.”

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/news/local/counties/madison-county/article46100075.html#storylink=cpy

Caulk's $600,000 Lynchpin

5 External Audits 

District to go under the Microscope

If hiring a bunch of folks to tell the Fayette County Board of Education how messed up things are is a "huge step forward," then things must have been a lot worse downtown than I thought. The huge step forward will come - I truly hope - when the performance of district personnel is back up where it belongs.  It just seems a bit early for celebration to me.  

That said, Caulk and the board are correct to get to the bottom of all of this. Now the question is: Will the board of education get its moneys worth? That would be a monumental day.

This from the Fayette County Public Schools Press Release.

Progress Continues on Superintendent’s Entry Plan:
School Board Selects Firms for District Reviews

In a huge step forward for the Fayette County Public School, board members voted this evening to hire national experts to review school district operations and services. A series of five external audits are a key lynchpin in Superintendent Manny Caulk’s “Listening, Learning, and Leading” entry plan, which outlines his first 100 days.
“This is a monumental day for the Fayette County Public Schools,” Caulk said. “I applaud the board and district leaders for embracing these objective external reviews of how the school system is functioning. Transforming the district requires us to start from a shared understanding of our strengths and challenges.”
As part of his plan to assess the state of the district, Caulk asked the board to invest $600,000 in an overall organizational and structural review of the district across 10 domains, as well as audits of the district’s career and technical education program and services offered for students who have special needs, are learning English as a second language, or are identified as gifted and talented.
The Kentucky Department of Education agreed to do the review of district career and technical offerings at no cost. That review began earlier this month with School Director Jack Hayes and Program Manager Kim Lyons coordinating the work with KDE. Contracts were awarded this evening to Cross & Joftus for a Comprehensive District Diagnostic, Review and Action Plan, and to Curriculum Management Solutions, Inc. for audits of the English as a Second Language program and Gifted and Talented program. Contract costs are still under negotiation, but the district review will be no more than $198,000, and the ESL and GT audits will be less than $84,500 each. The special education audit will be brought to the board for action on December 3.
To help with the selection of firms, Caulk gathered input from a wide variety of stakeholders. More than 45 principals, teachers, district administrators, parents, and community representatives served on panels to evaluate the 17 proposals received by companies interested in conducting the reviews.
“Collaboration is more than a catch phrase for me,” Caulk said. “The input from so many different voices strengthened our decision making process and they should be very proud of their work. If we want people to take ownership in our schools, we have to include them every step of the way.”
Reviews will begin in January. In addition to an equity audit, the Cross & Joftus review will include an evaluation of the district across 10 domains: operations, finance, human resources, school management, academics, vision, strategy and culture, organizational structure and policy, external affairs, data, accountability, research and evaluation, and central services.
The firm has identified experts in each area to take the lead on that section of the review and is also partnering with UPD Consulting, a minority-owned firm that has received national recognition for its work in public sector management consulting. Also augmenting the work will be Class Measures, an internationally focused organization that specializes in data analytics and school performance reviews.
Caulk’s entry plan also includes quantitative and qualitative data collection through school and program visits, one-on-one meetings, listening sessions and surveys.  His entry work has continued in earnest while Caulk has been undergoing treatment following an 18-hour surgery to remove a malignant tumor from his sinuses.
He has conducted listening sessions with community advocates in Cardinal Valley and West-End, and surveys of principals and employees in district support services have been completed. A comprehensive survey of students, employees, families and community members will be conducted in January. Caulk will also launch his listening tour in schools and community centers then.
“I’m anxious to be done with my treatments so that I can get back out into schools and classrooms,” Caulk said. “I’m still engaged in the daily operations of the district, but I miss being able to interact with students, teachers, school staff, families and our community.”
Here is the list of stakeholders involved in selecting the audit firms:
  • Batool Al Hasan, parent
  • Natasha Al-Suud, teacher
  • Heather Bell, principal
  • Gerry Brooks, principal
  • Adrielle Camuel, executive assistant
  • Manny Caulk, superintendent
  • Shelley Chatfield, staff attorney
  • Penny Christiansen, parent
  • Marilyn Clark, manager of economic development
  • Emily Cripps, ELL teacher
  • Michael Dailey, associate director
  • Amanda Dennis, acting director
  • Lisa Deffendall, spokesperson
  • Anne DeMott, principal
  • Keri Duncan, special education teacher
  • Jennifer Dyar, human resources director
  • Levi Evans, teacher
  • Hazel Forsythe, Equity Council representative
  • Jessica Frye, parent member of special education advisory council and task force
  • Marlene Helm, acting senior director
  • Jessica Hiler, FCEA representative
  • Lisa Hillenbrand, district ELL specialist
  • Dave Hoskins, principal
  • Rodney Jackson, finance director
  • Deena Jones, district GT specialists
  • Twanjua Jones, principal
  • Kate McAnelly, principal
  • Jimmy Meadows, school director
  • Sam Meaux, principal
  • Sandy Mefford, principal
  • Matt Moore, purchasing technician
  • Julane Mullins, budget director
  • Sharon Mofield-Boswell, parent
  • Schuronda Morton, acting school director
  • Leisa Pickering, University of Kentucky agency representative on the special education advisory council and task force
  • Randy Peffer, school director
  • Greg Quenon, principal
  • Meredith Ramage, principal
  • Beth Randolph, principal
  • Vicki Ritchie, school director
  • William Saunders, NAACP representative
  • Edwina Smith, principal
  • Johnnie Sparks, KAPE representative
  • Alan Stein, Commerce Lexington representative
  • Julie Stone, parent
  • Isabel Taylor, Equity Council representative
  • Myron Thompson, acting senior director
  • Darryl Thompson, acting senior director
  • Meagan Weiss, teacher
  • Roy Woods, Equity Council representative

No Child Left Behind & Every Student Succeeds

Bold Promises - Weak Results

What an interesting confluence of events we have. 

The Obama administration recently discovered that high-stakes assessment (the same assessment promoted by the Bush (43) and Obama administrations since Day 1) leads to all kinds of abuses, not the least of which is the ridiculous amount of time schools spend on test prep. The feds say that must be severely limited to no more than two percent of instructional time.

NCLB contained tough mandates for how to turn around underperforming schools but very few turned around and achievement gaps persist. So after the failure (to put it in terms familiar to school reformers) of one Republican and one Democratic administration to deliver on its over inflated promises a new bill promises much of the same, but not by 2014 this time.

Then a conference committee passes an NCLB rewrite that appears to limit federal intervention and reinforce state control over accountability. The Every Child Succeeds Act would still come with standardized tests, but instead of the feds holding the thumbscrews, it will be the states...and they are free to do what they have always done.

Ed Trust and others said they still favor annual testing and accountability but distanced themselves from the inevitable fall out. They were not in favor of that mess. ...just the thing that caused the mess.

Last week the Council of Chief State School Officers pledged to continue their focus on accountability.

So, if things continue along this path the feds will not be responsible for too much testing. It will be the states. 

This approach gives up on the (mostly Republican, circa 2005-07) notion of comparing performance among the states. Fifty states. Fifty different accountability systems. Of course it has pretty much been that way anyhow. There is now an even better argument that we should not be comparing the performance of American students with other countries. Rather, we should  be comparing Finland and Hong Kong to Georgia and Kentucky....

Apparently the new ESSA is going to function much like the old NCLB. But the feds will blame the states instead of the next president. 

It's hard to see how anything changes for teachers. 

This from Commissioner Stephen Pruitt: 

Every Child Achieves

On Thursday, November 19, a potentially historic event occurred. A bipartisan conference committee made up of members of the U.S. House and Senate, including Congressman Brent Guthrie from Kentucky’s 2nd District, agreed on a framework for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), most recently known as No Child Left Behind.

This is a big deal for so many reasons. In fact, I was doubtful it could happen this year. But, if things go as planned, the actual bill, known as the Every Child Achieves Act, will be filed by the end of the month, with a House vote the first week of December and a Senate vote shortly thereafter.

Another reason this is a big deal is that, if passed, it will give a lot of accountability control back to the states. The framework includes some significant changes and some things that will hold steady. Annual assessment in English/language arts and mathematics for students in grades 3-8 and once in high school remains the same as the old law. So does testing once per grade band [sic] in science along with a few more items. However, determining big pieces of accountability – including how we determine our lowest five percent of schools – will be left in large part to the states. This is both exciting and scary. We, and when I say “we” I mean all shareholders in Kentucky, have a moral obligation to develop a system that represents a quality education for all students.

We do not yet know the timeline for implementation, but it will be my intent to take our time and take deliberate steps to gather feedback before, during, and after development of the system. I am not saying I know how we will do this – that is why shareholder engagement and guidance is so important.

However, there are a few things that I think are non-negotiables. First, we cannot back away from disaggregating the data to ensure all students, including our at-risk and struggling students as well as our gifted and talented students, are getting a quality education. This cannot only be just in mathematics and reading. Another non-negotiable for me is that the system must not narrow the curriculum in a way that does not support the whole child or a student pursuing his or her interest. If our goal is to ensure that every student has the opportunity to choose his or her own direction after high school, we must provide them with all the opportunities we can including the arts, career-technical education, science and social studies, just to name a few.

As I said in last week’s blog, the opportunity gap is a major issue that must be addressed if we hope to close the achievement gap. I do not believe we should develop a system that looks only at outputs (state assessments) and does not look at inputs. So, we have to consider how we will evaluate the quality of the student experience. This means we will need to find ways to leverage collected data and evaluation at the school level in a way that supports good decision making for students.

Finally, I think it is critical that we create a system that holds districts and schools accountable, but also it should celebrate schools that are innovative and are finding creative ways to meeting their students’ needs.

Again, I am not saying I know how to do all of this. I have some ideas, but we as an education community have a moral imperative to ensure a quality education for ALL students. For me, that means that every child that walks across the stage at graduation has the choice of where their life will take them. I believe we have the intellectual and compassionate capital to do this.

In my first month on the job, I have been validated in my reasons for wanting to be a part of the Kentucky education community. I do not know of another state with a group of educators and partners who are more committed to the welfare of our students than we have in Kentucky. I am looking forward to all of us uniting and working together for all of our children and the good of the Commonwealth.

New JCTA letter to JCPS teachers: What to do if injured at school

Interpretation:  Let's jack up worker's comp claims and see if that gets the superintendent's attention.

This from WDRB:
Less than a week after issuing a letter encouraging JCPS teachers to call police if they feel threatened by or are attacked by students, the Jefferson County Teachers Association has released a second letter explaining how to respond if they are physically attacked and injured.

The article, titled "Injured at School," is a follow up to last week's letter, "Attacked at School," which explained teachers' rights if they are attacked at school. This week's article covers how to claim workers compensation benefits and other benefits for teachers injured in an assault or another incident on school property.

The letter was placed in the mailboxes of the district's 6,000 teachers over the weekend, according to several teachers who provided a copy of the letter to WDRB News on Monday morning.

In the article, teachers are instructed not to use sick time due to injuries sustained on the job, whether they were the result of an attack or a workplace accident. Instead, teachers are encouraged to file a workers compensation claim. According to the article, teachers may have the legal right to additional compensation if their injury is the result of being attacked by a student or the parent of a student.

The article goes on to describe the types of legal assistance available to teachers who are injured on the job.

The articles were issued not long after WDRB investigation showed many teachers don't feel safe in the classroom -- and that disruptive behavior from students and a lack of support from the administration is causing some to resign and leave JCPS and the profession altogether.

Texas Votes Against Fact-Checking Its Terrible Textbooks

More shameful textbook BS from TX.

This from Gawker:
In what should by no means be a viable arrangement of words, Texas has decided not to let experts fact-check its consistently misleading if not blatantly fictional textbooks. Because as we all know, facts have a notoriously liberal bias.

Texas Board of Education Vice Chairman Thomas Ratliff, center
According to ABC News, a mother recently complained that her child’s ninth grade geography book referred to African slaves simply as “workers.” And how does something like that possibly get omitted from an educational text? Easily: The Texas Board of Education, which approves its own textbooks, relies “on citizen review panels — often teachers, parents, business leaders or other experts — whose members are nominated by board members.”

And of course, should any Texan see something in a textbook that rubs them the wrong way (like absolutely any reference to the KKK or Jim Crow laws, for instance), they are welcome and encouraged to bring the issue to the attention of the board themselves.

To remedy this clear oversight, board member Thomas Ratliff suggested getting actual academics to fact-check the textbooks. This was, of course, rejected.

Instead, the board voted to “tweak” its system by demanding that a majority of the already-existing review panel be made up of people with “sufficient content expertise and experience.” This expertise, however, is judged by none other than the education commissioner himself.

From ABC News:
Ratliff had noted that some conservative board members have long stocked review panels with people more concerned with ideology than subject matter expertise. That gave rise to controversies over how textbooks handle climate change and evolution, or how they describe the influence biblical figures such as Moses had on America’s Founding Fathers.
While some people, like Kathy Miller of the watchdog group Texas Freedom Network, have blasted the board for its wildly biased decisions, others, like Roy White, a retired Air Force pilot and head of a conservative group called Truth in Texas Textbooks, had a different view of the issue. Namely that the textbooks didn’t do enough to tie Islamic extremism to the attacks on September 11.

But fortunately for Roy, Texas makes rewriting history to your personal tastes a breeze.

Gates Foundation Puts New Focus on Transforming Teacher Prep

Do you ever wonder who is really driving education policy in America?

This from Ed Week:
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will invest some $34 million in cooperative initiatives designed to improve teacher-preparation programs’ overall effectiveness.

The Seattle-based philanthropy announced the three-year grants Nov. 18. Gates awarded the funds to five consortia through a competitive process—a change from its former strategy of one-off grants to individual teaching programs.

The winners will use the funding to create “transformation centers” based on four driving principles: developing strong partnerships with school districts; giving teacher-candidates opportunities to refine a specific set of teaching skills; using data for improvement and accountability; and ensuring that faculty and mentors are effective at guiding novices into the profession.
The grantees include:
  • TeacherSquared, a center that currently consists mainly of nontraditional preparation programs, including the campuses of the Relay Graduate School of Education; Urban Teachers, which operates programs in the District of Columbia and Baltimore; Boston-based Match Teacher Residency; and the teaching programs offered by the Yes Prep and Aspire charter-management organizations;

  • Texas Tech University, which will head the University-School Partnerships for the Renewal of Educator Preparation National Center, or U.S. PREP, a consortium of six universities located in Southern states;

  • The Massachusetts Department of Education, which will lead the Elevate Preparation, Impact Children (EPIC) center, an effort that will involve all 71 providers in that state; and

  • The National Center for Teacher Residencies, which will expand its network of providers using a residency model of preparation that couples a full year of student teaching with slimmed-down coursework.
The fifth grant, to TeachingWorks at the University of Michigan, differs from the others. The group will serve as a clearinghouse for the other grantees to share best practices, provide technical support to each center, and supply teacher performance assessments.

Each grantee save EPIC won about $7 million; EPIC received about $4 million. The philanthropy received about 40 applications representing some 500 programs in all.

The Gates Foundation has also contracted with the a nonprofit called Teacher Prep Inspection U.S., to visit each program annually and provide feedback on progress. The group is headed by longtime teacher-preparation analyst Edward Crowe. (The nonprofit that publishes Education Week receives support from the Gates Foundation for the coverage of college- and career-ready standards.)

Changing Practices

Gates officials said that their renewed focus on teacher preparation builds on the foundation's philanthropy in two other areas: teacher evaluation and academic standards.

“The timing is great because of having great consistent, high standards in the country and more meaningful, actionable teacher-feedback systems and some clear definitions about what excellence in teaching looks like,” said Vicki Phillips, the Gates Foundation’s director of college-ready programs. “Districts and prep programs can work in ways that are just much more powerful, stronger, and more targeted than three years ago, when we might have been doing more shooting in the dark.”

Some of the centers plan to expand and deepen work already under way. That’s the goal for the National Center for Teacher Residencies, which will expand from 17 to 37 providers, five of which will be demonstration sites that best embody the four principles around which the new grants are oriented.

Others, such as U.S. PREP, will work to scale up practices that have been successful elsewhere. Each of the participating universities in that center will begin by piloting a yearlong model for student teaching and a common tool for assessing teacher-candidate skills—initiatives first introduced at Arizona State University.

Of the grants, potentially the most wide-reaching is Massachusetts’. That state was selected partly because of the work it’s done to strengthen and make more transparent its quality-control process for teacher-preparation programs. (An Education Week investigation earlier this year found deficiencies in most states’ review systems.)

Now, under the Gates grant, Massachusetts will aim to make its first-year teachers as good as those in their third year of teaching. It plans to encourage its providers to use new techniques, such as simulations to help candidates practice teaching skills in low-stakes settings, and to help districts and programs better mentor novice teachers.

“Teaching is a learning profession. It should be a steep climb. But we don’t accept that a teacher can’t be ready to make an impact on students on the first day he or she enters the classroom,” said Heather Peske, the state’s associate commissioner for educator effectiveness.

Challenges for Faculty

That doesn’t mean the work will be easy. For one, Gates wants each of the centers to be able to produce up to 2,500 teachers a year, a figure that would put each of them among the largest producers of teachers in the country.

And some of the overriding expectations, the grantees said, will challenge longstanding ways of doing things. Many singled out as a difficult hurdle the requirement that grantee programs do a better job ensuring that the faculty and mentors who train the new teachers are effective.

“Historically, the clinical faculty have not been prepared or given professional development to work with emerging teachers in this field. The idea you have to be really selective about who those teacher educators are is a game changer for teacher prep,” said Anissa Listak, the executive director of the National Center for Teacher Residencies.

“When you look across at how teacher educators are evaluated, the primary form is student course evaluations. ... We haven’t looked at other ways to really examine their effectiveness,” said Sarah Beal, who will be one of the co-directors of the U.S. PREP center.

It’s an area the foundation agrees will present some tough choices.

“It really asks grantees to think very deliberately and carefully and with data about who’s doing the work of preparing teachers,” said Tom Stritikus, a deputy director in Gates’ college-ready division. “In a system that has heavy faculty governance and rules around academic freedom, those are sometimes difficult decisions and difficult moves for deans to make.”

Field Reaction

The Gates Foundation's latest work comes atop of some $900 million it has put into teacher-quality efforts since 2008, giving way to criticism that it has too much leverage in the K-12 policy arena for one organization.

But the president of the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education said that her members welcomed the new investment.

“I certainly did not hear anyone shrink from the challenge of competing,” said AACTE President Sharon P. Robinson. “I would hope this round of founding will permit the Gates Foundation to be more explicit that the traditional industry is ready for change, rather than promote what has been a pejorative narrative about traditional providers being impossible to change.”

As for broader impact on the teacher-prep field, that could depend on how Gates shares what it’s learned and how flexible it is with grantees, observers said.

“I think the idea of encouraging partnerships is good, but it’s also important to recognize that these are often delicate endeavors,” said David H. Monk, the dean of the college of education at Penn State University. “Anything Gates and others can do to signal an awareness of the complexity of measuring impact without backing away from recognizing its importance would be a great help to the field.”

Friday, November 20, 2015

Late Jitters from the White House on NCLB

Just a couple of days ago it was all hugs and kisses over the Congressional conference committee's agreement on a revamping of NCLB.

This from Politico's Morning Education:
<span class='image-component__caption' itemprop="caption">Sen. Elizabeth Warren talks with Rep. Katherine Clark on Wednesday, Nov. 18, as House and Senate negotiators try to resolve competing versions of a rewrite to the No Child Left Behind education law.</span>

  Sen. Elizabeth Warren with Rep. Katherine Clark
It’s not just conservatives in Congress who still have to be sold on the No Child Left Behind rewrite. There is still major anxiety from the left — including the White House — about whether the compromise bill will do enough for poor and minority kids. During a 30-minute break from the public conference negotiations Thursday morning, negotiators worked in private to smooth over concerns from the White House that the bill would strip too much authority from the Education secretary, Rep. Bobby Scott and others said. Roberto Rodriguez, deputy assistant for education to President Barack Obama, came to the Capitol to discuss the issue and was standing outside the conference room. "Some of us were surprised the controversy erupted because we were working with people" throughout the process, Scott said. But it was eventually resolved in a way critics, including the White House, were satisfied with, he said.

The deal gives states wide berth when it comes to one of the most contentious issues in education policy: the extent to which test scores should be used in measuring a school's quality.
Under the new framework, states will have new leeway in deciding how to measure a school's performance: Schools have to be measured in part by test scores, graduation rates and English-language proficiency. But there are also other factors that states can use to rate schools, such as student and parent engagement and school climate. Those other measures could account for as much as 49 percent of a school's rating under the new law, a senior GOP aide confirmed, with measures like test scores and graduation rates combined counting for 51 percent.

This from the Huffington Post:

What You Need To Know About The No Child Left Behind Rewrite


After years of trying, Congress is finally on the verge of rewriting the 2002 law.

The Bush-era No Child Left Behind education law has long been criticized as unworkable, too punitive and in need of repair. After years of trying, Congress is finally on the verge of rewriting the 2002 law.
House and Senate negotiators approved a compromise framework Thursday that merges two different education bills that cleared the House and Senate in July. Votes in the full House and Senate are expected early next month.

The Senate bill passed this summer with overwhelming support. The House measure was more conservative, and narrowly passed.

What you need to know about the compromise measure:

No Child Left Behind was approved with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2002.

It had lofty goals - to get all children up to par in reading and math by 2014. But when it became clear that the goal was unattainable, the Obama administration began to issue waivers to states. In exchange, the states had to submit federally approved plans to raise student performance.
Republicans and other critics accused the administration of overreach.

The law has been up for renewal since 2007, but contentious disagreement over such things as the role of the federal government in education stymied passage of an updated bill.

No Child Left Behind required annual testing of children in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. The compromise measure would continue that testing requirement.

However, the bill would let states decide whether or how to use students' performance on tests to assess teachers, students and schools - ending federal efforts to tie those scores to teacher evaluations.
There have been complaints for years from teachers, parents, students, lawmakers and others about too much testing in the nation's schools. Even the White House has suggested capping standardized testing at 2 percent of classroom time.

While the new conference bill doesn't have a mandate about testing caps, it does encourage them.

An amendment from Sen. Michael Bennet, a Democrat from Colorado, says states should set caps on the total amount of time kids spend taking tests. He said federal testing requirements have resulted in additional layers of state and district level tests, and some of those may be redundant or unnecessary.
"We ought to think differently about each test. Testing for teaching and learning needs to be continuous, ongoing, and inform a teacher's instruction and the principal's leadership," said Bennett. "It's the testing done for accountability purposes that needs serious re-evaluation." 

The compromise sharply reduces the federal role in education, giving the states the authority to determine a school's performance. There would no longer be federal sanctions for schools judged to be underperforming. However, states would be required to intervene in the nation's lowest-performing 5 percent of schools, high school dropout factories and schools with persistent achievement gaps.

The Education Department also would be barred from mandating or giving states incentives to adopt or maintain any particular set of standards, such as the college and career-ready curriculum guidelines known as Common Core.

Common Core has become a lightning rod for those who sought a reduced federal role in education, even though the standards were created by the states. The Obama administration, however, dangled grants through its Race to the Top program for states that adopted strong academic standards for its students.

Republicans had pushed the concept of portability - allowing money to follow low-income students to public schools of their choice. Now, those dollars remain at the struggling schools.

Democrats had fought against the concept and the compromise bill includes only a pilot program that would allow federal money to move with students in some school districts.

The White House had threatened to veto the bill passed by the House in July and also expressed dissatisfaction with the Senate's version of the bill.

After the compromise was approved on Thursday, it struck a more optimistic tone.

An administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the measure that emerged from the conference committee was an improvement over the versions that passed the House and Senate this summer. But the official, who could not speak publicly because details of the bill were still under review, stopped short of saying whether President Barack Obama would sign in it.

-"Today's conference committee vote is another encouraging step in the process to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and on behalf of state chiefs, I applaud the work of the committee," said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. "The framework maintains annual assessments and gives states additional flexibility in how to design better accountability systems."

-"We are on our way to a new environment in public education. The Senate-House conference report resets education policy with a focus on student learning rather than student testing, while maintaining resources to students with the most needs," said American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten. "It creates the potential to bring back the joy of teaching and learning and to really prepare our kids for their future."

The conference committee will have the full bill ready for lawmakers to read by Nov. 30.
The House would vote sometime that week, as early as Dec. 2. Republican Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, who sponsored the original Senate bill with Democrat Patty Murray of Washington, said he wants senators to have a full week to read the bill before a vote.
 And from Flypaper:


Thursday, November 19, 2015

The Worst Are Full of Passionate Intensity

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity,

"The Second Coming"
William Butler Yeats

This from Mike Benson in the Huffington Post:
In the past two weeks, our community in central Kentucky has witnessed the worst our world has to offer. In the early hours of an otherwise peaceful and beautiful fall morning, a seven-year veteran of our local police department was fatally shot by a convicted felon while investigating an attempted robbery. He died two days later and left behind a school teacher-wife and 3 year-old son. Both Daniel and Katie Ellis are proud graduates of Eastern Kentucky University.

The outpouring of grief and sympathy, yes - from everyone in our community - but really from across the country and world has been absolutely astounding. Never before has a police officer in Richmond, Kentucky, been killed in the line of duty and I have heard residents of our fair city say that they feel as if a portion of the innocence of our community has been lost forever. But the tide of grief and pain was stemmed by the even more powerful response to this senseless tragedy.

The sorrow at the loss of Office Ellis has been overwhelming for many to bear, but the show of support and good has been equally unfathomable. People who did not know Officer Ellis personally stood in line for hours to pass respects at the visitation. Flowers and messages of condolence and support streamed in from all over, including a beautiful arrangement and card from the New York Yankees. Officer Ellis' squad car, parked in front of the Richmond Police department, had an enormous American flag hanging overhead from a fire truck ladder while flowers and notes of sympathy were placed atop and all around the vehicle.

The memorial service - held at our Alumni Coliseum on campus - was attended by over 7,000 people and broadcast live on local television. Following the service, the procession of police vehicles behind the hearse stretched for over twelve miles as it wound its way to Officer Ellis' final resting place in south central Kentucky. Common citizens, safety personnel, school children - thousands of people - lined the highway and state roads to pay their respects as this line of traffic passed in solemn silence. I have never witnessed anything quite like it in my life.

Days later, the news and horror broke upon the world of the carefully-planned and meticulously-executed attacks on innocent civilians in Paris leaving hundreds dead and wounded in the City of Lights. As details emerged from the orchestrated massacres, we recoiled at the "passionate intensity" unleashed by those whose motivation to do such acts will forever escape me.

As was the case with Officer Ellis and the public response, I have marveled as the world has risen together in support of France and her people. My older brother, Steve Benson, is a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist for the Arizona Republic. His pen captured the moment perfectly as he portrayed our own Statue of Liberty - a gift from France to celebrate America's independence - descending from her perch and wading into the Atlantic to come to France's defense as the Paris skyline is engulfed in flames and smoke.

Yeats wrote his famous "The Second Coming" poem in 1920, just as the world, still reeling from the War to End All Wars, arose from a conflict unlike anything anyone had ever experienced. Technology had far surpassed the military stratagems and techniques still utilized from the 19th century. The resulting carnage wiped out entire generations of young and promising citizens from both sides of the global struggle. From Yeats' view, the ceremony of innocence had been completely drowned, ushering in an age where the best lack all conviction.

What is so difficult to understand is why it takes unthinkable tragedy to galvanize communities and countries against the anarchy "loosed upon the world" at moments such as these.

This need not be the case. If the events in Richmond, Kentucky, and Paris, France, have served any purpose for those who have witnessed them, it is to compel all of us to remember the words of Edmund Burke: "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing."

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

JCTA encouraging JCPS teachers to call police if they feel unsafe

This from WDRB (video):
A special edition action letter about threatening and violent behavior by students in Jefferson County Public Schools is being sent out to all of the district's teachers by the Jefferson County Teachers Association.

The letter, which started arriving in teacher mailboxes Tuesday, is entitled "Attacked at School" and is part one of two parts written by Don Meade and Tom Schulz, two attorneys who represent JCTA and its members.

"There is nothing more frightening to a classroom teacher than to be trapped in a situation with a student who has become threatening or violent against the teacher or other students," the letter reads. "Teachers can be injured while managing disruptive behavior or when aggression is directed against them."

The letter comes a week after a WDRB investigation showed many teachers don't feel safe in the classroom -- and that disruptive behavior from students and a lack of support from the administration is causing some to resign and leave JCPS and the profession altogether.

JCTA president Brent McKim told WDRB News on Wednesday the purpose of this article is to explain the rights, responsibilities and options that "all teacher need to know in order to protect themselves."

In the letter, JCTA says "experience has shown that teachers must be assertive about their rights to be protected in assault situations, to counter the natural tendency of principals and the district to not involve law enforcement and often the media."

Teachers are advised to follow the district's procedures by handling the situation first with the principal whenever possible. It then describes what to do if the teacher isn't satisfied with the principal's response:

"In emergency situations or where the principal has demonstrated a disregard for teacher protection, you have the legal right to call 911 and ask for police assistance if under attack or injured by the assault of a student." 

The letter states that teachers have the right to call police even if the principal refuses to do so and goes on to say they can press charges against the student.

Last week Superintendent Donna Hargens wrote an editorial piece saying the district supports its teachers and has implemented a Positive Behavioral Intervention and Support System (PBIS), which is taking the most positive approach to addressing problem behaviors. She also said the district surveyed its teachers, and 92 percent of them said they felt safe and secure in the classroom.
Hargens could not be reached for immediate comment about the JCTA letter on Wednesday.

This Voter Measure Wasn’t Just About School Funding. It Was About Segregation and Racism in a White, Wealthy Dallas Enclave.

This from Slate:
[A recent] Tuesday was Election Day in Dallas, and one of the most contentious issues citywide involved an ostensibly boring topic: school bonds. Things got particularly heated in the wealthy enclave of Highland Park, where the vote over a $361 million bond has provoked a big debate over the future of Dallas. It wasn’t just about the enormous price tag on the bond package, which supporters said was necessary to raze and rebuild three of the 7,000-student district’s elementary schools, renovate a fourth, and buy land to add a fifth elementary school to the at-capacity district, as well as renovating the schools for the upper grades.

At the moment, Highland Park’s popular schools are perilously overcrowded, with many classes in the district exceeding the state limit for number of students per class. The new construction, in addition to adding more classrooms, would preserve much-needed green space and bring more parking to the landlocked schools, as well as update their technological infrastructure. (Two of the elementary schools were built in the 1920s, another in 1949. The fourth was built in 1914 and reopened in 1951. So—a long time ago.)

The bond passed by 10 points—55 to 45 percent, a difference of about 800 votes. But a dark specter loomed over the run-up to the vote, and what appeared to be these totally reasonable expansion proposals.

According to anonymous emails that circulated in advance of the election, if the bond passed and the schools increased in size, Section 8 housing could spring up in the sliver of Dallas that’s part of the Highland Park Independent School District. And if that happens (spoiler alert: it won’t), who even knows what type of riffraff will crawl into the high-performing, affluent, and overwhelmingly white, schools: “non-English-speaking” students from all over Latin America, Middle Eastern refugees, assorted other low-income scum. As one of the emails put it, “Diversity is an innocuous sounding method of diluting excellence.”

“What has captured people’s attention is that the Highland Park School District overlays Highland Park,” Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University, told me, “but it extends just a little bit into Dallas, so the scare tactic is that in that little bit of Dallas, there will be low-income apartments with all kinds of people we don’t know, including potentially Syrian jihadis, people crawling out of Mexico across the border all the way to Dallas with their automatic weapons slung over their shoulders, going into those apartments and sending their kids into these schools. This is ludicrous on its face, but in a campaign it raises all sorts of concerns about the dilution of the Highland Park School District.”

To understand the context of this bond election requires some background on Highland Park and University Park (where SMU and the George W. Bush Library are located), the two adjacent minicities within Dallas that are collectively known as the Park Cities. The Park Cities are two things above all else: rich and white. Really, really white: As of the last census, Highland Park, the more exclusive of the Park Cities, was 94 percent white and .5 percent black. The city surrounding it, meanwhile, is 42 percent Hispanic and 25 percent black. As for Highland Park, well, it welcomed its first black homeowner in 2003. (It is worth clicking on this link just for the incredible lede from one local article marking the milestone: “Guess who’s coming to dinner … and staying for a while?”)
Illustrious residents of Highland Park, where the average home sale in 2013 was $1.65 million, include Ross Perot Jr., Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, real estate developer Harlan Crow (a prominent Marco Rubio supporter who owns two original paintings by Adolf Hitler and a signed copy of Mein Kampf), and Gold’s Gym and Omni Hotels founder Robert Rowling, another heavy-hitting Republican donor. These last two residents are not outliers in this extremely Republican area. From a Mother Jones piece on the inner-city garden suburb:
Among the two-dozen zip codes that donated the most money to candidates and political parties [in 2010], 75205 [Highland Park] gave the highest share—77 percent—to Republicans. … It also gave Republicans more hard cash, $2.4 million, than all but four other zips nationwide.
The Park Cities are superattractive to the super-rich because, while wealthy and elitist, they’re not suburbs in the traditional sense. They’re smack in the middle of the city, just three miles north of downtown Dallas (and for any non-Texans out there, that’s nothing), surrounded on all four sides by the big, dirty, diverse city.

“If you look at a map of Dallas, the Park Cities are cut right out of the middle,” Jillson, the SMU professor, told me. They were part of Dallas’ “first wave of suburbanization, a move out away from the center of the city with all of its diverse population, to provide a near-in exclusive bigger-lot kind of platting for the elite.”

“Highland Park is kind of like a castle with a moat,” said Michael Phillips, the author of White Metropolis: Race, Ethnicity, and Religion in Dallas, 1841–2001. “The Park Cities were where the wealthiest of Dallas retreated in the beginning of the 20th century, when you saw the first actual immigration in Dallas. It wasn’t at all comparable to what you have in the Northeast, but for the first time you begin to have a noticeable Jewish population, Italian residents, Eastern Europeans. This was 20 years before the Ku Klux Klan took over the city, and all that nativist anxiety was just beginning to brew when Highland Park was founded” in 1907.

Another big attraction of the Park Cities has always been its separate-but-superior school district, which is 85 percent white, 6 percent Asian, 4 percent Hispanic, 2 percent multirace, and 3 percent other and consists of four (possibly soon-to-be five) elementary schools, one intermediate school, one middle school, and one high school. Highland Park High School has an estimable 99 percent graduation rate. And, not coincidentally, while 130,780 out of the 159,487 students in Dallas Independent School District qualified as economically disadvantaged in the 2013–14 school year, zero of the 7,012 students in HPISD did.

But, as Countess LuAnn de Lesseps is fond of singing, “Money Can’t Buy You Class.”
In 2005, Highland Park High School was written up the Dallas Morning News for a storied dress-up tradition known as “Thug Day”:
Students … dressed as gang members, rap stars, maids and yard workers this month during homecoming week—a tradition one Dallas civil-rights leader says is racially insensitive.

On senior Thug Day, students wore Afro wigs, fake gold teeth and baggy jeans. On Fiesta Day, which was to honor Hispanic heritage, one student brought a leaf blower to school.
Highland Park students are still making headlines for racist antics; the lead singer in the shocking University of Oklahoma fraternity chant that provoked worldwide outrage earlier this year was a graduate of Highland Park High School.

But if Highland Park largely remains, according to White Metropolis, "a refuge from an increasingly diverse city," the Dallas that surrounds the Park Cities on all four sides is changing at a dizzying pace. The Dallas–Fort Worth metroplex is one of the fastest-growing regions in the country. Between 2000 and 2010, the Asian population of the metroplex and near-in suburbs more than doubled; it’s no accident of history that Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for his clock-bomb in Irving, about a 20-minute drive from central Dallas.

All these demographic drifts came to the forefront of the vote over school-improvement costs.
The anti-bond emails did a fine job of ratcheting up fears of the certain apocalypse that would follow the bond’s passage: “Most people think the bond is just about building new schools but there is MUCH more to it, including section 8 housing” [emphasis theirs]. What follows is a complicated scheme in which the already overcrowded schools of HPISD become bigger, poorer, and—scariest of all—darker. And you’ll never guess who is ultimately engineering this takeover: Barack Obama himself! “The Obama administration is determined to move low-income families into affluent cities and suburbs at virtually any cost,” reads one email.

Foundations for the Future, the pro-bond political action committee—yes, a PAC for a school-bond election—debunked these claims not with ridicule but with the logic of the market.
Affordable housing is typically built where land costs between $10-20 per square foot. In HPISD, land costs more than $100 per square foot. No government subsidies can make it profitable to pay the high land costs notable in HPISD, construct housing, and then rent to low-income tenants. There are no Section 8 apartments in Texas on land that costs even a quarter of what the North Park Gardens is worth.
So don’t fear jihadis taking over our elementary schools; it’s economic forces that will keep our kids safe!

Despite the scare tactics, the bond was always likely to pass because, as Phillips put it, “The people in Highland Park tend to be very pragmatic, and they want the best schools for their kids. The behavior of their kids in these schools may show a lack of sophistication in some ways, but everyone there is very commercially oriented, very bottom line-oriented.”
Jillson at SMU agreed. Texas historically underfunds its public schools—“they were 49th in the nation in per-capita student funding in 2012, and while it’s kicked up a little bit to 38th, that’s sort of its natural position,” just a hair above the Deep South—and the parents of HPISD knew that the district needed the money: “The wealthier the district, the more likely you are to be sure your schools have everything, and a bond is an opportunity to do that without having your excess funds creamed off for other districts.”

Laura Moser, a writer for Slate's Schooled project, has written for the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and Washingtonian.