LAEP NewsBlast Week of 2/11/14

Getting it together for SPED

Wide gaps in graduation rates between students with disabilities and those in general education raise the stakes for next year’s first-ever federal evaluation of state special education, writes Christina Samuels in Education Week. U.S. Department of Education data show a four-year graduation-rate gap that ranges from a high of 43 percentage points in Mississippi to a low of 3 percentage points in Montana. Nationally, the largest proportion of students with disabilities — 41 percent — are classified as having “specific learning disabilities,” including dyslexia or auditory processing disorders. The second-largest group, 18.5 percent, have speech and language impairments. Most of these students are expected, with appropriate supports, to achieve at grade-level standards. Since the reauthorization of the IDEA in 2004, states have been required to collect various special-education indicators and submit those data federally. These indicators do not relate to student results, but to factors such as how quickly individualized education plan (IEP) meetings are scheduled, or whether high school-aged students have postsecondary goals in their IEPs. By next year, states will be asked to create “systemic improvement plans” that comprehensively address how they’ll improve outcomes for students with disabilities. States that fall short of federal requirements — a standard still under development — risk having federal funds reallocated to problem areas, or even withheld. More

Alternate diplomas, dead ends

The alternate diploma that many Mississippi special-education students choose if they can’t meet academic requirements for a regular diploma is a roadblock to higher education and a career, write Jackie Mader and Sarah Butrymowicz in The Hechinger Report. Students in the state are much less likely to graduate with a regular diploma after classification with a disability. The Clarion-Ledger of Jackson, Mississippi found the majority of state special-education students receive an occupational diploma or a certificate of completion, and as a result, thousands of capable students leave high school with few career and educational options, even if wrongly placed in special education or having minor or highly specific learning disabilities. This is particularly common when students are black or Hispanic: Most states, including Mississippi, diagnose twice as many African-American students as having emotional or intellectual disabilities as white students, according to the Equity Alliance. In the 12 years since its “occupational track” was developed, Mississippi’s 15 community colleges have wavered on admitting alternate diploma graduates. Only seven accept alternate diploma students into academic programs. No universities in Mississippi accept occupational diplomas — nor do four-year colleges. More

The realities of pre-K expansion in NYC

In an op-ed on NPR’s WNYC, Elizabeth Hartline argues that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed universal high-quality preschool agenda will fail. The reason is simple, she says. Most of the proposed expansion will take place at community-based organizations (CBOs), rather than at public schools. Public schools give a week off at Christmas, a week in February, a week in April, and two months in summer, as well as excellent insurance and a pension. CBOs offer four weeks paid vacation throughout the year at a school that rarely closes, with mediocre insurance and pension. CBOs have a longer day and fewer programmatic supports; maximum salaries, even for those who teach 30 years, are lower than starting salaries in public school pre-K. Importantly, CBOs pay rent. Allocating the same amount of money to pre-k programs at CBOs as to public schools gives CBOs less to work with, leading to lower salaries and staffing challenges. Assistant teachers, who typically have less training, stay, while head teachers turn over. The projected new pre-k sites will not be replicas of the highly lauded Perry Preschool Project or even similar to those in New Jersey’s Abbott districts, Hartline says. They will merely be childcare. Some CBOs do it brilliantly, most will not. MoreRelated

Seismic ideological shift toward preschool

Republican governors and lawmakers who control state capitols have been pushing aggressively to cut spending and shrink government, but with one notable exception, writes David Lieb for the Associated Press. Many are pumping money into preschool at a rate equal to or exceeding Democratic counterparts. The push reflects a widespread determination among conservatives that this part of the social safety net deserves more governmental help, a trend that could mean creation of a new educational entitlement at a time when both parties are concerned about entitlement program costs. For the GOP, preschool spending will likely have positive political consequences: Research indicates preschool help appeals to the blue-collar voters important to broadening the party’s base of support. State funding to help families afford preschool plunged during the recession but has surged back and is now $400 million higher than before the downturn, according to the Education Commission for the States. James Heckman, a Nobel Prize-winner in economics at the University of Chicago (home to Milton Friedman), has calculated that money spent on quality preschool for disadvantaged children generates an annual 7 to 10 percent return by boosting their eventual wages and reducing likelihood of their ending up in prison or in costly social welfare programs. Fewer than half of the nation’s 3- and 4-year-olds attend publicly funded preschool. More

The evolution of public kindergarten

A new study from EdPolicyWorks examines how kindergarten changed between 1998 and 2006, in what way kindergarten in 2006 resembled first grade of the late ’90s, and whether changes over this period were systematically different in schools with high proportions of non-white students or students eligible for free and reduced-price lunch (FRPL). Using two nationally representative data sets, the paper found that today’s kindergarten classrooms focus on more-advanced academic content, are more literacy-focused, and rely more heavily on teacher-directed whole-group instruction. Yet the changes are not a wholesale shifting of the first grade curriculum down by a year. Kindergarten in 2006 is distinct from both kindergarten and first grade in the late ’90s in that students are exposed to much less physical education, science, and social studies, and much more standardized testing. Results also suggest that while time per week spent on reading and language arts increased in all schools, in schools serving the most students eligible for FRPL, the increase was 18 minutes more per week. The overall effect of these changes for young children is an important open question, the authors write. Critics of academically focused kindergarten caution that heavy academic content is not “developmentally appropriate.” At the same time, research suggests that advanced content can improve the learning trajectories of young children. More

High-test vs. low-test

A new report from Teach Plus finds that across 12 urban districts, time students spend on state and district tests equals 1.7 percent of the school year in third and seventh grade, and substantially less in kindergarten. Variation across districts is large, with high-test districts spending five times as many hours on testing. After nine school years, this amounts to 22 instructional days. Teachers calculated test-administration time as more than double the length reported in district calendars in elementary grades, three times as much in kindergarten. In seventh grade, reported time-on-testing was closer to district calculations. The study recommends that districts evaluate their testing regimes in light of knowledge that no uniformity of “testing in America” exists; there are wide-ranging expectations that vary considerably. Teacher comments make clear that when tests are aligned with the curriculum and standards, and are part of a teacher’s regular instructional practice, time allocated for testing is less important for student outcomes. Assessments associated with the Common Core, which aims to measure higher-order skills, may take more time than bubble tests, but should provide meaningful data on student progress. District leaders should listen to teachers about which tests are worthwhile, and work with teachers to streamline testing in high-test districts. More

Not just new assessments; new philosophy

An article on the NAESP website by Linda Darling-Hammond calls for Common Core-aligned assessments to be much broader than standardized tests of the NCLB era, measuring a full range of higher-order thinking skills and education outcomes, including critical thinking, communication, collaboration, social-emotional competence, moral responsibility, and citizenship. They must also be part of a framework that considers multiple measures of valued outcomes in all decisions about students, educators, and schools. Decisions about student promotion, placement, and graduation — as well as teacher, principal, and school evaluation — should not be based on a single test, but on a combination of classroom and school measures appropriate to the students, curriculum, and context of the decision. The new assessments must also become part of an accountability system that replaces the old test-and-punish philosophy with one that aims to assess, support, and improve. Tests should be used not to place sanctions, but to provide information, and in conjunction with other indicators, to guide educational improvement. If used wisely, performance assessments can potentially address multiple education goals through a concerted investment. Not only will pedagogical capacity be enhanced, assessment will remain focused on its central purpose: learning for all involved. More

Second line of attack in Vergara

The potentially game-changing Vergara v. California lawsuit has been accompanied by an aggressive public-relations campaign, writes Louis Freedberg in EdSource. The efforts seem to ensure that the suit has impact far beyond Los Angeles. This one-sided communications war flows from a single person — David Welch — and is a case study in the impact an individual can have with resources to back up his beliefs. The sophisticated campaign from communications firm Griffin|Schein vastly amplifies the voice of Students Matter, founded in 2010 by Welch. Students Matter has no staff, or even office, but instead is run out of Griffin|Schein. The organization’s sole purpose, as described on its website, is “sponsoring impact litigation to promote access to quality public education.” In weeks leading up to the trial, media outlets received a stream of emails and announcements about pending proceedings. No significant communications counterattack has come from the State of California or the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers. The Los Angeles Times has run reports each day on the trial during its opening week, but most outlets haven’t covered beyond the first day. Those in the media and elsewhere who want summaries of the proceedings may have as their main source of information the daily bulletins put out by the plaintiffs. More

Ultra-transparentCalifornia State Controller John Chiang has asked every public district in the state to provide salary and benfit information for all employees and elected officials so that it can be posted on the web and shared with the public. MoreSurcharge

Still struggling to find a fiscal footing in the wake of the recession, California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing would have authority to impose fees on educator-preparation programs under a proposal from the Brown administration. More

The Waltons heart LA charters

Los Angeles charter schools have been the largest recipients of funding from the foundation associated with the family that started Wal-Mart, according to newly released figures. More

For shame

LAUSD staff have taken to Facebook to put a spotlight on crumbling school infrastructure and neglected repairs — and to shame officials. More

YikesA statewide screening found that 51 percent of Kentucky students were not prepared to start kindergarten this past fall. MoreEntering the fold

Seattle will be home to the first charter to open in Washington — a privately funded elementary school for homeless children that will become a publicly funded K-5 charter next fall. More

Flex time

The Department of Education announced that it has awarded more NCLB flexibility in testing to Connecticut, Mississippi, South Dakota, and Vermont so the states won’t have to offer their own state tests along with new Common Core assessments during the same year. More

They’re getting wired

The Federal Communications Commission plans to double a fund to $2 billion to bring broadband internet to schools and libraries, bolstering a White House push to wire all U.S. schools with faster speeds. More

An intelligent design

The Texas Board of Education, which has long been an ideological battleground for the teaching of evolution, will limit the use of citizen review panels and instead give priority to teachers in determining science and history curricula. More

Leave no child behind

The National Federation of the Blind and the parents of a blind high school student have filed suit in federal court against PARCC because assessment tests created by PARCC, Inc. will be field-tested at the student’s school and other locations this spring and are not accessible to students who are blind. More

No complaints

Early education — a continuing element of President Barack Obama’s education agenda — appears to be maintaining legislative momentum at the state level this year, where lawmakers around the country will deal with healthier budgets. More


A bill being considered by South Carolina lawmakers would allow the state’s education department to take over a district that is mismanaged or needs to improve its schools if a majority of parents call for reform. More


A proposal to overhaul Illinois’ education funding system to streamline how state funding flows to districts would provide weighted funding for “at-risk” students and provide minimum state funding levels for districts. More


Together Counts: Smart from the Start

The Smart from the Start Awards are designed to reward preschools (including Head Start programs) that develop plans for creating practical, long-term improvements in nutrition and physical activity at their school. As a preschool teacher, you are encouraged to identify your school’s Energy In and Energy Out needs, to write a goal statement that addresses these needs, and to create a simple action plan that incorporates support from your community in order to meet this goal. Maximum award: $20,000. Eligibility: U.S. residents over the age of 21 employed at an early childhood education center or elementary school in the United States that offers a Pre-K program or Head Start program. Deadline: February 28, 2014.

Kohl’s Cares

Kohl’s is seeking nominations for its Kohl’s Cares Program of young people who have made a difference in their communities. Maximum award: $10,000 in scholarships. Eligibility: Students between the ages of 6 and 18 as of March 15, 2014, and not yet high school graduates; each must be nominated by someone 21 years or older. Deadline: March 15, 2014.

Yamaha: Young Performing Artists program

The Yamaha Young Performing Artists Program (YYPA) recognizes outstanding young musicians from the world of classical, jazz and contemporary music.  Each year, the YYPA Finalists are invited to perform at the Music for All Summer Symposium held in late June. Maximum award: $5,000 in retail credit towards a professional model Yamaha instrument, as well as a series of clinics and master classes with renowned artists, designed to help winners launch their music career. Finalists will also receive a professional recording of their performances and national press coverage. Eligibility: musicians ages 16-21. Deadline: March 31, 2014

Jamba Juice: It’s All About the Fruit

The Jamba Juice It’s All About the Fruit grant program provides schools with fruit trees to create engaging nutrition and gardening experiences. Observing and exploring fruit production gives a deeper understanding and appreciation for this essential element of our diet. Recipients will be selected based on plans to promote nutrition education, ideas for incorporating fruit tree activities into the curriculum, and ability to sustain the program over multiple years. Maximum award: fruit trees valued at $500 and the Jamba Juice It’s All About the Fruit Youth Garden Guide; trees will be selected based on recommended varieties for each area. Eligibility: schools and community garden programs in the United States gardening with at least 15 children between the ages of 3 and 18. Deadline: March 10, 2014.


“If you want quality, you have to pay for it.” – Sen Tom Harkin, sponsor of a multibillion-dollar bill that seeks to dramatically expand the federal role in early-childhood education.