LAEP NewsBlast Week of 1/14/14

The shifting structure of school governance

In her overview for Education Week’s Quality Counts 2014, Jaclyn Zubrzycki writes that most of the nation’s 13,000 districts retain a familiar structure even as they evolve in response to economic, demographic, and educational pressures. Schools are clustered into administrative groups based on geographic boundaries; hiring, curriculum, and infrastructure are overseen by a central office; and entities are run by a superintendent and governed by an elected or appointed school board. But structures are shifting. Budget crises, state and federal demands for academic improvement, and the rise of market-based approaches to running schools are spurring new models of governance and internal administration. Radical changes have occurred in big districts with deep and long-standing challenges: Chicago, Memphis, New Orleans, and New York City. Yet administrators in long-stable districts, whether suburban, small-town, or rural, are not immune from the push for common academic standards, teacher evaluations and school accountability tied to test scores, and state and federal budget cuts. Even in stable districts where the traditional structure remains intact, momentum continues toward reducing the role of the central office — shifting responsibility toward principals to hire teachers, for instance. At the same time, districts are struggling to cope with a burgeoning charter school sector, which siphons off students and per-pupil dollars in ways that profoundly effect district coffers and educational programs. More

The status of school choice, nationally

The Brookings Institution has released its annual Education Choice and Competition Index (ECCI), a guide to conditions of K-12 school choice in the nation’s largest districts. The ECCI examines district-level choice using objective scoring of thirteen categories of policy and practice. Based on these, the Recovery School District in New Orleans and New York City Public Schools occupy the highest rankings, the same as in 2012, which illustrates a larger trend: little year-to-year change in district commitment to or design of school choice. Despite high rankings, both districts, along with all other top-scoring districts, need improvements. And, as demonstrated by the 34 districts receiving an “F,” zip-code assignment and other policies antithetical to choice are still standard operating procedure nationally. The authors write that districts, states, and the nation must invest in approaches that lift all boats. These include identifying effective instructional materials; developing and implementing professional development programs that work; and deploying accountability systems that motivate and inform. Ideally, systems should encourage schools to compete to be the very best while assuring a minimal standard of service so all students can advance. This requires attention to the parameters of choice and competition, as well as to the knowledge base for learning and instruction that is the foundation of improving schools under any governance arrangement. More

Charters in funding only

In California (and other states), schools are increasingly converting to charters for financial reasons, writes Sarah Butrymowicz in The Hechinger Report. California has suffered drastic budget cuts, with per-pupil spending among the lowest in the nation. Dozens of its schools converted to charters in the 1990s and 2000s for a funding boost. Charters can access hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal startup grants, and in California until this year, charters received the state’s average per-pupil allotment, so schools in districts with below-average funding got additional money by chartering. Two years ago, LAUSD increased the percentage of low-income students a school must have to qualify for Title I, prompting further conversions, since charters keep access to Title I funds even with lower low-income percentages. Experts say many of these charters have not changed day-to-day operations, prompting some to question whether schools should be allowed to charter solely for financial gain. Many “dependent” charters retain close ties to their districts. In some cases, parents don’t realize kids attend a charter, since the schools don’t have “charter” in their name, and students don’t enter a lottery to attend. These schools still have a traditional central office and school board overseeing them. That said, over time, some conversion schools have found that even if they chartered for mundane — and financial — reasons, they are more willing try new things. More

A new direction in NYC

New York City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña, a 40-year veteran of the city’s public schools, is likely to steer an agenda that could sharply pivot the nation’s largest district from policies that have dominated it for over a decade, writes Lesli Maxwell in Education Week. Her appointment is the clearest signal yet that Mayor Bill de Blasio will shift from rapid expansion of charter schools, the closing of underperforming schools, and an increased use of student test scores for high-stakes decisions. Ms. Fariña also brings a firsthand understanding of learning English as a second language: She was an English-learner herself in her early years of education in a parochial school in Brooklyn. The city’s charter sector — with more than 180 schools and 70,000 students — could face a very different climate, since de Blasio wants a moratorium on proposals to “co-locate” charter schools with regular district schools, and feels those in co-location should pay rent. Other challenges Fariña must tackle her first year include negotiating a new contract with the United Federation of Teachers. The mayor has also unequivocally pledged to scrap the grading system that uses various metrics — including standardized-test scores — to assign letter grades to schools. MoreRelated

The better way to prepare teachers

Although new teachers receive tens of thousands of dollars worth of training, few learn skills that help them become better teachers, write William Eger and Michael Zuckerman in the Atlantic Monthly. Studies show that despite hundreds of millions of dollars spent training 200,000 new teachers each year, we suffer a shortage of teachers of sufficient quality or quantity. A better, less expensive way to train teachers is the apprenticeship model. It takes many forms, but at its core pairs a beginner teacher with an experienced “master teacher” who can demonstrate effective teaching techniques — a good transition between a lesson and independent practice, for example — then help the beginner adopt these techniques, reflect on them, and forge his or her own unique style. Interaction is the essence of well-structured teacher apprenticeship: nuanced feedback aimed at specific situations. And the feedback must be inscribed within a reflective dialogue — as Katherine Merseth of the Harvard Graduate School of Education puts it: “You want the observer to have the awareness that [the master teacher] chose A instead of B, C, D, and E, and to understand why. Because next time, when I’m all by myself and I haven’t seen the lesson taught before, and I have A, B, C, D, E — how do I know which one to do?” More

Target: The Common Core and beyond

National advocacy groups powered by the Koch brothers and other conservative megadonors have found a new cause: bringing down the Common Core, writes Stephanie Simon for Politco.com. A draft action plan by the advocacy group FreedomWorks lays out the effort as a series of stepping stones: First, mobilize to strike down the Common Core. Then push to expand school choice by offering parents tax credits or vouchers to help pay tuition at private and religious schools. Next, rally the troops to abolish the U.S. Department of Education. Finally, eliminate teacher tenure. Picking up the mantle of parental rights “casts a passionate and caring light on our activists — different from the image currently portrayed by media,” the draft states. The campaign also offers a chance to attract new members — “especially minority communities.” Conservative organizations have dedicated the most resources to fighting the standards, but liberals have also been highly active on social media and at public hearings and are not happy that conservative strategists are looking to harness the opposition to their own ends. The politics of the debate are so tangled that policy analyst Frederick Hess said he doubts groups like FreedomWorks will be able to mold the opposition into an effective lobbying force for bold goals like expanding vouchers. More

Advocates for voc ed

People who advocate for vocational tracking and training are usually well-educated, upper middle-class professionals, Angela Romans writes on the Quartz website. They are well-intentioned, she thinks, wanting the best for the US economy and to increase opportunities for other people’s kids, but therein lies the problem — they’re other people’s kids. For their own children, they want the most selective college possible. A growing body of research indicates pervasive college “under-matching” of low-income and minority students, who on the basis of grades and test scores are qualified to attend selective colleges but enroll in less- or non-selective schools, or don’t attend at all, despite the fact that selective colleges have more financial aid and higher graduation rates. Unemployment in the US is 10.9 percent for adults with high school degrees only, 8.7 percent for adults with some college or an associate’s degree, and 4.5 percent for bachelor’s-degree holders. Romans acknowledges that the traditional liberal arts education is not for everyone, nor will all young people want to attend college immediately after high school. But we must ensure everyone has the academic, social, and financial tools to get to college eventually. Otherwise, we risk sorting students onto a path of limited options based subtly and not-so-subtly on where they live, where they were born, and how much money their parents make. More

Central Falls, four years on

In the wake of mass firings that received national media coverage, the high school in Central Falls, RI has made a number of changes that seem to be helping, reports Elizabeth Harrison for NPR. The school has overhauled its curriculum and added special programs to bring dropouts back, and its graduation rate is up from 52 percent to 70 percent. About half of the original faculty remains. Long-time English teacher Richard Kinslow sees the firings as a setback: Teachers have struggled to regain morale, and Kinslow says problems with discipline persist. School administrators report they’re working on discipline and on giving students a better education. In math, for example, test scores nearly doubled last year, though they’re still among the lowest in Rhode Island. Maria Ferguson from the Center for Education Policy says high schools face a special challenge, since students have personal issues, but the improvement is encouraging given the complexity of teaching math to kids who probably didn’t have those skills at an early level. The question now is whether improvement can continue as the district faces cuts in state and federal funding; Central Falls no longer receives extra federal funding for its turnaround effort. More

BRIEFLY NOTED CALIFORNIA
Advancing school healthThe California School Health Centers Association invites you to join hundreds of school officials, educators, community school partners, and children’s health stakeholders in downtown Oakland March 6,7 2014 for Advancing School Health in a Time of Reform. More

About that surplus

California Gov. Jerry Brown has released a budget proposal calling for a $1.9 billion rainy day fund, cuts to the prison population, and funds restored to the state’s higher education system. More

Potential assist

Having largely steered clear of education grants in California over the last half-decade, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is weighing whether to invest substantially in helping California’s teachers successfully put the Common Core standards into practice. More

(Good) resumes welcome

After an extended period of layoffs and hiring freezes, the LAUSD has resumed bringing on new teachers, while also being more selective about quality than in the past. More

Heavy lifting

The California State Teachers’ Retirement System estimates that the cost to fully fund the teachers’ pension debt will be almost $4.5 billion in the coming year, $4.6 billion the year after that, and more in each subsequent year. More

Overhaul

By fall, traditional math textbooks mostly will be put aside in California classrooms, with what’s taught in each grade getting shuffled around and, often, merged. More

Freedom to choose

A new California law allows transgender students to choose restrooms and sport teams based on the gender they with which they identify. More

BRIEFLY NOTED 
Necessary directiveLeaders of the U.S. departments of Education and Justice have issued new guidance on how school leaders can ensure that discipline policies are drafted and applied in a manner that does not discriminate against racial or ethnic groups. More

Opening the floodgates

The North Carolina Board of Education has given final approval for 26 new charter schools to open this fall — the largest expansion of the program in the state since the late 1990s. More

A worthy expense

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley wants the state to spend about $160 million in mostly new money to educate students living in poverty, hire reading coaches, and expand classroom technology. More

Continuing fallout

Six Atlanta principals pleaded guilty in a Fulton County courtroom for their part in what has been described as the largest cheating scandal in the nation’s history, bringing to 17 the number of educators who have already pleaded guilty, with a handful more in active negotiations. More

Weingarten reverses her reversal

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten has announced that she’ll call for the end of using “value-added” measures as a component in teacher-evaluation systems. More

Because the House doesn’t have any other concerns

Calling school choice the best route out of poverty, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor in a speech at the Brookings Institution took aim at New York City’s new mayor for his cooler stance toward public charter schools, warning that Republicans may hold congressional hearings on the education policies of Democrat Bill de Blasio’s administration. More

Long suspected

A new study from the Independent Budget Office of New York City finds that in general, city charter students are not more likely to transfer out than their counterparts in traditional public schools; the exception is special education students. More

Minority majority

New enrollment numbers show that Illinois’s public school system for the first time does not have a white majority, with Latino, black, Asian, and other racial groups combined eclipsing white students across the state’s classrooms. More

GRANTS AND FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES

White House K-12 Film Festival

The White House is looking for videos that highlight the power of technology in schools. Films should address how kids currently use technology in classrooms or schools, and/or the role technology will play in education in the future. Maximum award: Finalists will have their short films shown at the White House; finalist videos may also be featured on the White House website, YouTube channel, and social media pages. Eligibility: students K-12. Deadline: January 29, 2014.

Caring Institute: 2014 Caring Awards

The Caring Institute is now accepting nominations for its annual Caring Awards. Nominees should exemplify caring and serve as worthy role models for others.Award criteria include length of service, scope and impact of work, challenges overcome, and imagination and innovation. Maximum award: All winners are honored at a special ceremony, and young adult winners receive funds for college. Eligibility: individuals from nine to 99 years old. Deadline: March 1, 2014.

Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes

The Gloria Barron Prize for Young Heroes honors outstanding young leaders who have focused on helping their communities and fellow beings and/or on protecting the health and sustainability of the environment. Maximum award: $2,500. Eligibility: youth 8-18. Deadline: April 15, 2014.

Ezra Jack Keats Foundation: Minigrants

The Ezra Jack Keats Foundation offers Minigrants to public and school libraries for programs that encourage literacy and creativity in children.  Programs relating to the work of Ezra Jack Keats are welcome, but not required. Maximum award: $500. Eligibility: public and school libraries. Deadline: March 15, 2014.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

Kids like my grandchildren who are born and have two college-educated parents, they’re doing better than ever. But out there someplace in America, each of my grandchildren has a counterpart who’s just as smart and just as eager to go ahead and so on but who made a mistake of being born to parents who didn’t get past high school. And the chances for kids like that have sharply declined over the last 30 years. — Robert Putnam of Harvard University.