LAEP NewsBlast Week of 1/6/14

Urban districts advance

On the Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA), a specially collected and analyzed data set of the NAEP, reading and mathematics achievement since 2011 rose notably in a few big-city districts, particularly the District of Columbia and Los Angeles, reports Lesli Maxwell for Education Week. In math, four out of 21 urban districts saw statistically significant gains in the 4th grade from 2011 to 2013; three did so in the 8th grade. On the reading exam, five out of 21 participating districts posted significant gains for at least one grade level from 2011 to 2013, an improvement from two years ago when Charlotte-Mecklenburg alone did. Houston, winner of the Broad Prize for Urban Education for this year, was the one TUDA participant to decline in reading achievement, with 4th graders there posting scores five points lower than in 2011. In the decade since TUDA results in reading and math were first reported, nine out of the 10 originally participating districts posted greater score gains than the nation in both subjects. That said, racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps remain stubbornly large in most urban districts, including those that demonstrated progress. The urban assessment program incorporates results for charter schools in a handful of TUDA districts including Los Angeles, but not the District of Columbia. More. Related

Missing from those Shanghai scores

In an article on the Education Next website, Tom Loveless writes that the ranking of Shanghai at the top of the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scores is misleading. Shanghai’s school system excludes most migrant students who have moved from rural areas of China. Shanghai’s population today is about 24 million people, with 13 million native residents and 11 million migrants. Exclusionary enrollment practices are rooted in China’s hukou system, centuries-old but created in its current form by Mao Zedong in 1958 to control internal mobility. Part domestic passport and part municipal license, rural hukous bar those holding them from a host city’s services like social welfare programs, healthcare, and much of the school system. Hukous are also hereditary. PISA publications portray Shanghai as a paragon of equity. The data indicate officials in Shanghai only count children with Shanghai hukous as its population of 15 year-olds, and the OECD accepts those numbers. PISA officials are not shy about offering policy advice to countries, Loveless writes, especially those they believe will promote equity: delaying tracking and ability grouping, reforming immigration, redistributing resources to poorer schools, and expanding early childhood education, for example. Yet they are silent on a discriminatory policy affecting millions of Chinese children. More

The failing schools that suddenly aren’t

A report from the New America Foundation finds that 4,500 — or 65 percent — of schools tagged for improvement under NCLB were eased from interventions under waivers, since states now employ accountability systems based on relative, rather than absolute, measures of performance. Two in three schools identified under NCLB as low-performing were not deemed so under the new systems. In ten states (DE, IN, MN, MS, MO, NJ, OK, OR, TN, VA), most schools undergoing improvement were in their first two years. But in five states (AZ, MA, NV, RI, SC), at least half of schools eased from interventions had been in corrective action or restructuring for five or more consecutive years. The dramatic change is the result of a new federal approach: At least 15 percent of Title I schools must now be designated priority or focus. Eleven states (AZ, DE, FL, MA, MN, MO, NV, NJ, RI, SC, VA) classified fewer priority or focus schools in 2012-13 than under NCLB in 2011-12. The report posits waivers as an opportunity for states to rethink how they identify and improve their lowest-performing schools, and recommends an ambitious federal and state research agenda for waiver implementation, especially as the U.S. Department of Education begins renewing waivers during 2013-14. More

SEAs: The time is now

A new report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education explores obstacles that inhibit state education agencies (SEAs) from better supporting school and district improvement. Federal and state initiatives like the Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants, and the Common Core State Standards pose challenges most SEAs are unprepared to meet. To transform from compliance monitors into effective drivers of reform, SEAs must leverage their authority and funding. Few SEAs engage in budget analysis around whether investments align with priorities or are successful, and many fail to hold districts accountable for implementation of federal programs, instead deferring to “local control.” SEAs are also challenged in finding talent to drive and sustain transformation: Some are unwilling to replace staff, some change staff too often based on leadership shifts or disruptive reorganization. The study recommends that reform-minded chiefs find ways to repurpose existing resources, improve internal communication, and cede control to districts and schools already doing good work. Agencies should be transparent about financial resources, and look for opportunities to redirect funds and staff in support of school improvement, seeking state and federal waivers when needed. Most SEAs can act now to improve student performance, rather than waiting for greater funding or legal authority, and must identify the sweet spot where will, authority, and resources come together. More

ELLs and the policies around them

A new brief from the Education Commission of the States examines reform issues around English Language Learners (ELLs), who as of 2010-11 were one in every 10 public school students in the United States. More than 25 percent of ELLs speak a language other than Spanish, and 10 percent speak a language that is not in the top ten; in some states, a majority of ELLs don’t speak top-ten languages. The brief reports that ELLs’ academic performance significantly lags non-ELL peers, a situation that more rigorous state standards and assessments may exacerbate. Students in ELL programs over a number of years — “long-term English learners” — fare the worst; many drop out. The means to demonstrate English proficiency — and thereby exit an ELL program — vary from state to state and district to district. And many classroom teachers lack the specific knowledge and skills to bring ELLs to proficiency in the four domains of language acquisition: speaking, listening, reading, and writing. The brief recommends that ELL intervention and training be extended to early childhood programs to encourage English acquisition as early as possible. Teachers need specific knowledge and skills (not necessarily knowledge of a student’s native language) to bring ELLs to proficiency. Pull-out programs should be minimized, and ELL access to core standards and the general curriculum be ensured. More

Toward a (truly) universal pre-K in NYC

Mayor Bill de Blasio has unveiled a campaign to win a tax on high-earning New Yorkers to vastly improve the city’s pre-kindergarten and after-school programs, reports Al Baker in The New York Times. De Blasio has assembled a high-powered taskforce and media campaign to apply political pressure in Albany, where he needs state leaders’ approval to raise the city’s tax rate to 4.41 percent, from 3.87 percent, on income over $500,000, a difference of about $530 for every $100,000 above that threshold. There will be hurdles. Democrats in the Legislature support the plan but face re-election next year, as do Republican counterparts and Gov. Andrew Cuomo. The Republicans, who have partial control of the State Senate, have opposed tax increases and can effectively block any legislation in the chamber. Cuomo, a Democrat who wants to reduce taxes, has found allies among them, though he also said he supports de Blasio’s ultimate goal; he and legislators could possibly seek alternative ways to pay for pre-kindergarten expansion, but this would almost certainly require expanded pre-k across the entire state. The city media campaign includes a website,, and an accompanying video of children in school, narrated by de Blasio’s wife Chirlane McCray. The video has been sent to tens of thousands of city residents. More

The impact of tablets (elsewhere)

A new study of mobile learning among fifth graders at a Chicago public school where 94 percent of students receive free and reduced-price lunch looks at how teachers and their students used tablets both in class and at home, reports Katrina Schwartz for KQED. The study, by Project Tomorrow and Kajeet for Education, found students used tablets more than anticipated. Though only 56 percent of students envisioned using tablets for internet research before the study, 93 percent did. Only six percent of students thought they might use the tablet to create videos; in fact, 39 percent completed video projects. Other uses included project work, educational games, homework, checking grades, communicating with teachers and classmates, receiving reminders, and organizing schoolwork. Home internet access improved greatly when students were allowed to bring a device home: At the end of the school year, 53 percent of students reported having access to high-speed internet, up from 39 percent, perhaps indicating that parents were prompted to invest in high-speed connectivity for the entire family. The study also indicates that teachers can’t be expected to immediately achieve integration with tablets, and need professional development to understand how to formulate effective lessons as well as time to experiment and discover value in mobile devices. More

Hurdles for teacher leaders

Why must teacher leadership be so difficult? asks José Luis Vilson in a post on the Center for Teaching Quality website. Encouraging teachers in leadership roles helps all involved: Teachers can demonstrate professional growth over time and help fill voids in their school, principals can cultivate leaders in their buildings and work with them on mentoring new teachers, and students get a teacher with a macro-view of their school and access to expertise. Yet leadership of this kind also often requires a level of honesty that our education system doesn’t value. It is also true that sometimes a person who wants her voice heard isn’t trying to be part of the solution, perhaps one reason why some assuming leadership roles may fear being shut down. The most effective of us know that our voices come with a responsibility, Vilson writes: Speaking up means providing more than, “See, the problem is …” So teacher leadership is any number of things: creating, facilitating, and helping matters that directly influence student learning. Curriculum development? Yes. Data creation? Perhaps. Disciplinarian work? Possibly. Mentoring other teachers? Absolutely. “Little revolutions” won’t go anywhere if teacher-leadership advocates don’t clearly define the goals. More

Urban districts step aheadL.A., Fresno, and San Diego Unified showed gains among urban districts on the NAEP. MoreThink globally, legislate locallyGov. Brown blasted the notion of government-imposed standards for public schools in a speech to technology business leaders, saying he opposed efforts from Washington and Sacramento to dictate education policy. More

Follow the money

California’s average teacher salary is the fifth highest in the nation this year, but its per-pupil spending is 12th lowest, indicating the state is committing an extraordinarily high proportion of each school dollar to salaries, and relatively little on administration and other school expenses. More

An ever-expanding price tag

L.A. Unified School District is planning to spend more than $700 million to upgrade servers, pull wires, and connect antiquated schools to a data grid — a necessary part of its massive effort to get every student and teacher on wi-fi. More

Not public, not welcome

New eligibility requirements for participating in the California Public Employees’ Retirement System exclude private operators of charter schools, officials at the California Charter Schools Association say. More

Rural systems to the foreFive winners — Houston Independent Schools and several rural districts — will share $120 million in the second Race to the Top district competition from the U.S. Department of Education, which again asked districts to come up with their best education-improvement ideas focusing on personalized learning. MoreFast and looseLouisiana’s controversial school voucher program has too few safeguards to ensure that participating private schools spend public money properly and educate the students they admit, a legislative auditor has found. More

More early-learning largesse

Six states — Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and Vermont — will receive $280 million in federal grants in the third round of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge. More

For a total of nine

The D.C. State Board of Education has voted to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards. More

Trial run

Seventeen school districts in Minnesota are testing a new type of evaluation for teachers that includes pre-evaluation discussions, chats about educators’ strengths and weaknesses, and the establishment of performance goals. More

All together

Members of 11 school boards from urban, rural, and suburban districts in New Jersey have joined with education and community leaders to help local boards identify strategies to improve student performance and close the economic achievement gap. More

Meet the new boss

Mayor Bill de Blasio has appointed Carmen Fariña, a former top official of the New York City Education Department, to be New York City Schools Chancellor. More

So that was the problem

North Carolina State Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson said that where education results have fallen short of goals, state application writers for the Race to the Top were “too aspirational.” More

Make way for burgers

The U.S.D.A. says it’s making permanent rules that allow schools to serve larger portions of lean meat and whole grains in school lunches and other meals. More


National Summer Learning Association: Excellence in Summer Learning Award

The Excellence in Summer Learning Award recognizes an outstanding summer program that demonstrates excellence in accelerating academic achievement and promoting positive development for young people between kindergarten and 12th grade. Award: national recognition, increased press opportunities, conference presentations and complimentary registrations, professional development opportunities for staff, and increased publishing opportunities. Eligibility: public or private organization or agency (schools, community-based organizations, libraries, universities, faith-based organizations, etc.) serving young people between the ages of kindergarten and 12th grade over the summer months. Deadline: February 14, 2014.

Bezos Family Foundation: Bezos Scholars Program at the Aspen Institute
The Bezos Scholars Program at the Aspen Institute seeks students who are independent thinkers, demonstrated leaders, and engaged community members. Participants meet one another and engage in seminars and informal meetings with the international leaders, acclaimed thinkers, and creative artists who participate in the annual Aspen Ideas Festival. Following attendance at the Aspen Ideas Festival, the student/educator scholar teams will return home and create Local Ideas Festivals in their schools. Maximum award: participation in the Aspen Ideas Festival, June 26 – July 2, 2014. Eligibility: applicants’ schools must be public high schools (including charter and magnet schools) where at least 25 percent of students are eligible for the free/reduced lunch program. Potential scholars must be legal U.S. citizens or Permanent Residents in their junior year with a GPA of 3.5 or higher and be taking Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate classes. Scholar applicants should demonstrate leadership in school and the community and have scored exceptionally well on PSAT/SAT/or ACT. Deadline: February 18, 2014.


“It’s a misconception that urban school students are not capable of self-discipline. Anyway, I don’t discipline; I harness passion and curiosity. When things look like they could get out of hand, I notice it quickly and don’t let it escalate. That said, it helps to set boundaries early on. My first year out of school, I decided I should be as “scary” as possible, then after that I’d have a “reputation.” In truth, I am not that scary.” — East Oakland teacher Elizabeth Solis.