LAEP NewsBlast Week of 2/4/14

State of the Union: more of the same

In The Huffington Post, Joy Resmovits writes that President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address for 2014 “ran short on fresh education policy ideas.” Instead of new initiatives, the president mostly expanded on proposals announced during and since last year’s address, tying them to his theme of fighting poverty and pushing the country forward despite legislative inaction. Mr. Obama promoted a competition to redesign high school, plans to boost internet connectivity, and college affordability and accessibility — all ideas already proposed. In his 2013 speech, President Obama proposed a federal-state partnership that would fund preschool for all 4-year-olds whose families make below 200 percent of the poverty line, at an estimated $100 billion cost. He now seems resigned to smaller versions of the plan: “We’ll invest in new partnerships with states and communities across the country in a Race to the Top for our youngest children… As Congress decides what it’s going to do, I’m going to pull together a coalition of elected officials, business leaders, and philanthropists willing to help more kids access the high-quality pre-K they need.” The president also promoted a previously announced plan to spur innovation in high schools that strengthens connections to college and career, and his continuing efforts to make college more accessible and to increase university completion rates. More

Since 2009

An analysis by the New America Foundation gauges indicators since 2009 across the birth-through-eight age span regarding student achievement, family well being, and education funding. It finds that the financial crash from subprime lending has led to subprime learning for too many kids in America. School funding has fluctuated wildly, millions lack access to quality programs, the K-3 grades have received scant attention, dual-language learners are underserved, and achievement gaps in reading and math have widened between family-income levels. Child poverty rates have shot up. In 2009, Congress helped newly sworn-in President Obama make good on a $10-billion pledge, but since then the federal government has barely maintained its baseline investment year after year. The report found progress in home-visiting programs, infrastructure-building, standards, and accountability across states and federal policies, as well as PreK-3rd alignment within a small but growing number of places. Yet with years of reduced state funding, sequestered federal funding, lackluster access to good public pre-K and full-day kindergarten, and neglect of K-3 teacher preparation, the past five years have not favored children who need a strong start in school and life. The report urges lawmakers, policymakers, and philanthropists to become more strategic about policies and investments that address the income gap so as to immerse more children in better learning experiences over the next five years. More

4th-grade reading, across the nation

A new brief from the Annie E. Casey Foundation updates its earlier reports on the status of 4th-grade reading across the nation and in each state. Despite improvement in the past decade, reading proficiency remains low. All demographic groups improved, but proficiency increased significantly more for higher-income students (17 percent) than for lower-income (6 percent). The gap in proficiency based on family income widened by nearly 20 percent and worsened in nearly every state. Eighty percent of low-income children are below proficiency, compared with 49 percent of higher-income children. The likelihood of proficiency varies dramatically by location. In 2013, 79 percent of fourth-grade students in New Mexico and Mississippi were not proficient, compared with 53 percent in Massachusetts. Maryland, the District of Columbia, and Rhode Island saw the biggest gains; only West Virginia, Michigan, Alaska, and South Dakota saw rates get slightly worse. The gap based on socioeconomic status is highest in the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. The brief calls for policies that ensure the physical health of children so they can be present and learning every day, and socially and emotionally on track. We must encourage and support parents, families, and caregivers to be co-producers of good outcomes for children, and hold schools and policymakers accountable for results-driven solutions that transform low-performing schools into high-quality learning environments. More

Have we been a Great Society?

In Education Week, Sarah Sparks examines the legacy and outcomes of Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty, 50 years later. The campaign ushered in Medicaid; community health centers and school immunization and screening; predecessors to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Section 8 housing vouchers; and Head Start and the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, among others. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 16 million children under 18 — 23 percent of all American youth — lived in poverty in 1964. Child poverty dropped precipitously through the 1960s and ’70s, then rose, dropped, and rose again. By 2012, 16 million children lived in poverty, 22 percent of all American kids — little change. Yet analysis by Columbia University finds that without Great Society-related government supports like housing aid, food stamps, and school meals, the proportion of Americans in poverty in 2012 would have been 31 percent. The proportion of Americans in deep poverty — living on less than half the federal poverty line — would have more than tripled. Still, social mobility has stagnated and achievement gaps between wealthy and poor children remain wide. As policymakers consider the next steps — including reauthorization of many laws born of the War on Poverty — many urge consistent support and sensible accountability: both, not one or the other.  More

De Blasio aims at afterschool 
Mayor Bill de Blasio is hoping to offer a city-run after-school program to every middle-schooler in New York, writes Sarah Butrymowicz in The Hechinger Report. If successful, the initiative would be the largest after-school expansion in the city’s history and would solidify it as a national leader in a movement to give young people more time to learn. In theory, it would also help close the gap between low-income students and more affluent peers, since kids from wealthier homes are more likely to participate in after-school activities already. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed $720 million to go to after-school programs statewide over five years beginning in 2015-2016, to forestall a city tax increase that would also fund universal pre-K. De Blasio wants after-school expansion sooner and argues his proposal provides a funding guarantee the state budget cannot. Since 2008, the number of available city seats in after-school has declined and costs increased, thanks to a 2012 shift to run programs year-round and a focus on academics and quality enrichment activities. If the mayor is successful in getting the state legislature to sign off on a tax on the wealthy, it would bring in $530 million for New York City annually, about $190 million of which would go to middle school after-school. More

All eyes on California tenure

Nine public school students are challenging California’s tenure system, arguing their right to a good education is violated by job protections that make it too difficult to fire bad instructors, reports Jennifer Medina in The New York Times. At issue is a set of rules that grant permanent employment status to California teachers after 18 months, require a lengthy procedure for dismissal, and require that teachers most recently hired are first to lose jobs during layoffs. The month-long trial promises to be a national test case on one of the most contentious debates in education. For the past decade, many attempts at similar legislative changes have been made, with mixed success. Teacher tenure has been eliminated in three states and in Washington, D.C., and a handful of states prohibit seniority as a factor in layoffs. But in many large states with urban districts, including California and New York, efforts have repeatedly failed. The California case is the most sweeping legal challenge to claim that students are hurt by employment laws for teachers. The case also relies on a civil rights argument so far untested: that poor and minority students are denied equal access to education since they are more likely to have “grossly ineffective” teachers. Judge Rolf Michael Treu of Los Angeles County Superior Court will decide the nonjury trial. His ruling will almost certainly be appealed to the State Supreme Court.  More

A truer accounting for foster kids

Perhaps no aspect of California’s new funding and accountability program for schools delivers more anxiety than mandates surrounding foster youth, writes Tom Chorneau for The Cabinet Report. Districts are required for the first time to file detailed, public reports on the academic progress of foster children, and administrators must also develop plans outlining specific goals and activities to improve performance. As such, there’s new emphasis on the process for measuring, awarding, and accepting partial credits earned by foster kids. Grades now cannot be lowered due to absences or gaps in enrollment caused by changes in school or home placements, attendance at court hearings, or participation in any court-related activity. Upon receiving notification of transfer, the sending school must issue check-out grades and calculate and send credits earned on an official transcript to the receiving school within two business days. The receiving school must accept all credits, apply them to the same courses, and enroll foster youth in the same or equivalent classes as at the sending school. Foster youth who transfer schools after their second year of high school may opt to graduate by completing only state requirements if they cannot reasonably complete additional local graduation requirements. Alternatively, they have a right to remain in high school for a 5th year. More

Unchartered territory

A new report from Bellwether Education Partners offers four key policy recommendations for states with significant rural populations with regard to charter schools, which the author feels could greatly benefit rural education. To facilitate creation of rural charters, state leaders should craft flexible policies that enable communities, districts, state officials, and school operators to jointly determine when and where charters might be a useful reform. The author feels too many states have in place policies that explicitly or implicitly limit growth of rural charters. Since many rural areas struggle to recruit and retain highly effective educators, the accountability-autonomy bargain of charter schooling offers new opportunities to solve this problem, and policies should give charters additional flexibility related to teacher and administrator credentialing — either through school-wide waivers from certification requirements or flexible but rigorous alternative routes to certification. Policymakers should also ensure that rural charters have equitable access to funding, including funding for transportation and facilities, and policies should enable rural charters to access unutilized and underutilized public assets, including buildings, municipal facilities, and land. Finally, policies should allow rural charters to pilot innovative uses of technology, both to bridge the distance between students and their schools and to increase student access to highly effective teachers.  More

BRIEFLY NOTED CALIFORNIA
OversellAccording to figures released this month by Gov. Jerry Brown’s Department of Finance, the state is expecting to receive about $700 million annually from the Proposition 39 initiative — far less than the $1 billion-a-year anticipated when the measure was sold to voters last November. More

Half measures

Of the 135,000 children served by California’s subsidized preschool program for low-income families, 95,000 go to half-day programs. More

But we’ve all got iPads

Los Angeles Unified School District officials said they don’t have a complete accounting of computers at schools because they stopped counting during budget cuts — and a new survey meant to get an accurate accounting is incomplete, according to records, statements at public meetings, and interviews. More

Make that 667

Of LAUSD’s approximately 13,000 buildings, 667 have been deemed to need some form of seismic safety evaluation and possible repairs. More

BRIEFLY NOTED 
Booster shotPregnant women, infants, and children up to age 3 could end up being particular beneficiaries of the $1 billion boost that early-childhood education received in the recently approved federal spending bill, signed into law by President Barack Obama on January 17. More

Change of heart

The U.S. Education Department has reversed a long-standing policy and will now allow public charter schools that receive federal grants to give ­admissions preference to low-income children, minorities, and other disadvantaged students. More

Attrition

Delaware, Massachusetts, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio all have had some local districts or charter schools bail out of their Race to the Top program. More

Fuel on the fire

Changes to Indiana’s voucher program in 2013 helped fuel dramatic growth and allowed a growing share of wealthier families to access tax dollars to pay private school tuition. More

A welcome low

Massachusetts recorded its lowest high school dropout rate in decades last school year amid substantial declines in such cities as Boston, Lawrence, and Springfield, state education officials have announced. More

Sound move

After four years of deliberation, the Maryland school board has passed new disciplinary regulations that will end a zero-tolerance policy that sent home large numbers of boys, special education students, and African Americans for minor infractions. More

The long view

The New York State Education Department is in the final stages of creating a system to share student data with colleges and a half-dozen other state agencies so that New Yorkers can be tracked from preschool to college to the workforce and, potentially, “throughout their lives.” More

In with the new

Following orders from state lawmakers in 2013, the Nevada State Board of Education is phasing out the four high school proficiency exams in reading, writing, math, and science required to graduate. More

Can’t hurt

Alaska Gov. Sean Parnell has submitted an education bill that would increase per-pupil funding in the state by $201 over the next three years. More

Teachers dig it

Approximately 75 percent of educators support the Common Core, according to poll after poll. More

Outside his purview, unfortunately

Education Secretary Arne Duncan says schools are doing “fantastic” work to improve safety but easy access to guns is contributing to school violence. More

GRANTS AND FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES

National Book Foundation: Innovations in Reading Prize

NBF’s Innovations in Reading Prize recognizes exceptional initiatives and programs that have created and sustained a lifelong love of reading: thoughtful, groundbreaking projects that generate excitement and passion for literature and books. Maximum award: $2,500. Eligibility: All U.S. citizens and American institutions. Deadline: February 19, 2014.

NABT: Kim Foglia AP Biology Service Award

The National Association of Biology Teachers Kim Foglia AP Biology Service Award recognizes an AP Biology teacher who displays a willingness to share materials, serves as a mentor to both students and professional colleagues, creates an innovative and student-centered classroom environment, and exemplifies a personal philosophy that encourages professional growth as an AP biology teacher and member of that community. Maximum award: $1,000 honorarium, recognition plaque to be presented at the NABT Professional Development Conference, and one year of complimentary membership to NABT. Eligibility: teachers of AP Biology. Deadline: March 15, 2014.

GenerationOn: Hasbro Community Action Hero

A Hasbro Community Action Hero is a young person who makes an extraordinary mark on the world through service. The nominee’s achievements must demonstrate one or more of the following characteristics: outstanding service to one’s local, national, or global community; extraordinary effort in creating innovative solutions to community needs; and leadership of an exceptional service or advocacy activity. Maximum award: $1,000. Eligibility: kids enrolled in school (grades K-12) and ages 5 to 18 at time of nomination who are residents of the 50 United States or District of Columbia and are available to travel on Thursday, May 8 and Friday, May 9, 2014 (tentative) for an expense-paid event in New York City. Deadline: February 25, 2014.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

“Very often a lack of jobs and money is not the cause of poverty, but the symptom. The cause may lie deeper in our failure to give our fellow citizens a fair chance to develop their own capacities.” —President Lyndon B. Johnson in his January 8, 1964 State of the Union address.