LAEP NewsBlast Week of 2/25/14

Tackling teacher distribution

The U.S. Department of Education is developing a 50-state strategy that could finally address inequitable distribution of the nation’s best teachers, reports Michele McNeil for Education Week. Under NCLB, states were required to ensure all teachers were “highly qualified” by 2005-06, using as proof a teacher’s years of experience, certification, and education. But another NCLB provision, largely ignored, required that poor and minority students not be taught by unqualified teachers at higher rates than their peers. Fewer than half of states have equity plans for teacher-distribution issues, with most plans several years old. Just five states have updated teacher-quality plans since President Obama took office in 2009. The Department of Education has tried to modernize NCLB teacher-quality language by shifting emphasis from qualifications to effectiveness, and linking efforts to NCLB waiver renewal, but many states have balked at these provisions. For a new strategy, federal officials will use a mix of enforcement and bureaucratic levers that include investigation of districts and schools by the Office for Civil Rights (OCR); new state teacher-equity plans; and new rules for waiver renewals. A logistical challenge is that inequitable distribution can occur between districts, between schools within the same district, within an individual school, or within a single grade level. More

The higher cost of higher standards

Across the country, litigation is pending against 11 states over inadequate or inequitable school funding, with higher standards at the heart of arguments, writes Adrienne Lu for Stateline.org. More states are demanding students be ready for college and careers by high school graduation, holding teachers and schools accountable. Plaintiffs argue that educating children at higher standards is costly, and that states must more accurately gauge cost. Extra money could be used to shrink class sizes, offer preschool to low-income students, or strengthen instruction for students with special needs who are held to the tougher standards along with their classmates. Yet Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution thinks there’s too much focus on what states spend, and too little on how they spend it. He argues school spending is largely driven by class size and teacher salaries, and asserts neither is closely related to student achievement. A common thread in the lawsuits is that states have failed to comply with prior court rulings. Often states have argued they lack funds, particularly during the recession. But Michael Rebell of Columbia University, who filed the recent lawsuit on behalf of New Yorkers for Students’ Educational Rights, says courts have consistently ruled that “fiscal constraints by the state are not an acceptable excuse.” More

Lessons from Singapore

On a recent visit to Singapore in search of lessons from its high-performing public education system, Sarah Butrymowicz of The Hechinger Report found no big secret the U.S. could copy tomorrow. But some of Singapore’s strategies challenge the most popular ideas for improving American schools, she found. Singapore is looking to revamp its standards, for instance, but is focused on introducing skills like collaboration and creativity into the curriculum. Butrymowicz noted many Singaporean students are stressed, and the country is therefore seeking to decrease its emphasis on grades and test scores. And the country’s small size, plus the fact that schools are run by a centralized authority, allows the Ministry of Education, the National Institute of Education (which trains every teacher in the country), and schools to closely communicate around research and strategies. Programs are implemented quickly, and outcomes are readily tracked and tweaked when needed. Half a million students attend the island’s schools, but most school populations are more than a thousand, even at the primary level; classes of 35 to 40 are typical. So a great deal of what Singapore does wouldn’t apply to our much larger, decentralized system. But we should try, as they do, to get more high-performing students to become teachers, and be more explicit in the character qualities we want students to develop (without obsessing over how to measure them). More

The challenge with DC middle schools

The District of Columbia’s long-struggling middle schools continue to prompt an exodus to charter, private, and suburban schools, write Emma Brown and Scott Clement in The Washington Post. Students who leave after elementary grades generally have the most educated and engaged parents, who cite poor academic results; concerns about safety, discipline, and culture; and a lack of course variety and extracurricular activities as reasons for leaving. And while District elementary schools are increasingly diverse, poor and African-American students are the majority in all but one of the city’s stand-alone middle schools. Officials claim strides in middle-grades improvement, and middle-school enrollment is up 12 percent this year over last. Middle-schoolers have also made some of the largest math and reading gains in recent years, and strong principals and teachers are leading a culture change. Still, among DCPS parents, only 31percent would send a child to a DCPS middle school, 30 percent would seek a charter middle school, and the rest say they’ll look to private schools or leave the city. The challenge arises as the first cohort to grow up with high-profile D.C. education reforms, including universal pre-kindergarten and mayoral control of the schools, reaches the end of elementary school and a decision about what comes next. More

Magnet alternatives
Five decades ago, magnet schools were introduced as an alternative to court-ordered busing, to slow white flight and to offer alternatives to low-performing zoned schools, writes Motoko Rich for The New York Times. They never quite delivered, but in urban districts like Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, Newark, and Washington, they’ve resurfaced in response to charters and private-school vouchers. Children in Miami-Dade County attending magnets have increased by 35 percent in the past four years, with similar patterns across the country. About 2.8 million students attend magnet schools nationally — more than the 2.6 million enrolled in charters. Magnets are fully part of public systems — their teachers are unionized and they follow district rules — so their revival is seen as part of an effort to save public schools. Still, critics worry that magnets, like charters and vouchers, could drain neighborhood schools of the most motivated students, increasing racial segregation. The federal government awards grants to open or expand magnet schools with the explicit aim of increasing diversity, but charters receive about four times as much federal money and are not required to meet integration goals. Magnet supporters say that to increase diversity, districts must inform parents of options. Teacher unions would prioritize community-based schools. More

A stumble in Vergara

In the landmark case Vergara vs. California, defendants called Dr. Susan Moore Johnson of the Harvard Graduate School of Education to support their argument that well-managed schools and districts can handle ineffective teachers. Johnson testified against many of the plaintiffs’ key points, including that administrators lack time to identify ineffective teachers. She said “there is no question” that trained administrators can identify poorly performing teachers within a year. Several witnesses for the plaintiffs had testified that requiring tenure decisions after 16 months is too short a time. Johnson also told the court that effective Peer & Assistance Review programs (PAR), which most districts have, contribute to efficient and effective dismissal processes, ensure due-process rights of teachers, and “didn’t lead to expensive arbitration process[es].” But under intense cross-examination by Marcellus McRae, the plaintiffs’ lead lawyer, Johnson became uncomfortable as McRae fired off a series of questions about the extent of her research and knowledge of California districts. He pointed out that Johnson’s work was limited to studying just one California system. When asked if she had specific knowledge of how California dismissal and tenure statutes benefit students, she replied no; for seniority laws, also no. Did Johnson know the average cost associated with the dismissal statute in California? Again, she said she did not. The case continues this week.  More

Early Childhood data, how we track it, what we do with it

A new report from the Early Childhood Data Collaborative (ECDC) assesses early-childhood data systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Education, health, and social-services staff were surveyed around states’ capacity to securely link child-level Early Childhood Education (ECE) data and collect screening and assessment data. Since data are often housed in different databases, states struggle to get an unduplicated count of children served and to assess program quality. Of all states, only Pennsylvania links data across programs. Twenty-six states securely link child-level data across publicly funded early-care programs, generally for state pre-kindergarten and preschool special education rather than Head Start or subsidized childcare programs. Thirty states link child-level data to K-12 data, 20 states link child-level data to social-services data, and 12 states link child-level data to health data. Thirty-six states collect child-development data, and 29 states capture kindergarten entry-assessment data. Thirty-two states have a dedicated entity overseeing state-coordinated longitudinal ECE data systems. The ECDC recommends that policymakers and practitioners strengthen state capacity to securely link data on young children across all state and federal programs; develop strategies to incorporate data from Head Start and subsidized childcare; expand state efforts to collect, link, and use screening and child-assessment data; create and strengthen state ECE data governance entities; and convene stakeholders to inform ECE policies, safeguard privacy, and build coordinated longitudinal ECE data systems. More

Toward comprehensive policies for ASD

A new report from the Education Commission of the States examines state responses to children with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), the fastest-growing developmental disability in the United States. Recognizing needs of ASD children, as well as financial implications for local governments, some states are reassessing support systems and looking for more efficient ways to serve ASD students and families. Minnesota has established a special-education license for teachers of students with ASD, and Virginia requires aides working with autistic students to demonstrate competency in student behavioral management. Maine’s Department of Education and the University of Maine are collaborating as the state’s primary resource for leadership, training, and technical assistance for educators and schools working with ASD students. Missouri has established a scholarship tax credit for children with ASD, and Ohio requires notification to parents of ASD students about the state’s autism scholarship program. The report offers five questions for state policymakers: Does your state have standards for early diagnosis of ASD and subsequent intervention? Does your state require insurers to cover treatment? Does your state provide options for kids to attend programs specifically targeted to the disability, and if so, how are costs handled? What competencies do staff with oversight of students with autism need to demonstrate? And what standards determine when ASD students can and should be included in mainstream classrooms? More

BRIEFLY NOTED CALIFORNIA
Justice servedSetting a clear expectation that schools be a place of safety and fairness, California’s Commission on Teacher Credentialing has adopted new standards for school principals that embrace restorative justice practices. More

A different tack

After withdrawing an aggressive plan to enhance online learning in K-12 classrooms last year, Gov. Jerry Brown has returned with a less ambitious proposal, to streamline how schools convert student independent-study work into seat time and thus state funding. More

How’s that work?

A look at each freshman class each year at the California State University system in the last decade reveals a paradox: all the students have met CSU’s class and grade requirements to gain acceptance, yet every year a significant portion test unable to do college-level math and English. More

The return of bilingual?

Sixteen years after California voters approved an initiative requiring public school instruction in English, state Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) has introduced a measure to repeal the requirement of Proposition 227. More

Not hopeful

A Los Angeles Unified school board committee has found a backlog of 50,000 neglected repairs at campuses, a number that is only expected to grow, since the budget for repairs has been slashed by more than 65 percent since 2008. More

Further unrest

Teachers in the Alpine Union School District in San Diego County are striking, the latest chapter in a more than year-long conflict over how to balance the district’s budget. More

BRIEFLY NOTED 
Botched!Dennis Van Roekel of the National Education Association said the rollout of the new Common Core academic standards has been “completely botched” in many states and that wholesale changes taking place in U.S. classrooms need an immediate “course correction.” More

No dice

The U.S. Department of Education has rejected, at least for now, Arkansas’s and Utah’s requests for a one-year delay in implementing the final phase of their teacher-evaluation systems. More

Excellent move

The Utah House of Legislature has voted to create a state program to award grants to schools, families, and day-care centers to implement quality preschool curriculum for at-risk kids. More

Not so hot

Among young Texans who started eighth grade in 2001, less than one-fifth went on to earn a higher education credential within six years of their high school graduation. More

Pricey

Proposals to create a state voucher worth more than $6,000 for parents who withdraw their special education student from a Mississippi public school are making progress in the state House and Senate.More

Cursive prevails

The Florida Board of Education has unanimously approved changes to the Common Core that include the addition of new standards related to calculus, and a new basic requirement for cursive writing.More

Reprieve

North Carolina is the first Race to the Top state to be allowed an extra year to tie teacher evaluations to personnel decisions — a measure of flexibility the U.S. Department of Education has offered to all waiver states but was reluctant to grant RttT winners. More

UPCOMING EVENTS

The 2014 Community Schools Forum will have a theme of “Community Schools: Engines of Opportunity” and will take place in Cincinnati from April 9-11, 2014. More

The 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 for Advancing School Health in a Time of Reform. Learn more

GRANTS AND FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES

Dominion Foundation: Education Partnership Grants

The Dominion Foundation is currently accepting applications for grants to encourage the development of new programs to strengthen math and science education in kindergarten through grade 12. Maximum award: $10,000. Eligibility: accredited public and private elementary and secondary schools and public school divisions in North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. Deadline: May 1, 2014.

Libri Foundation: Books for Children Grants

The Libri Foundation Books for Children Grants donate new, quality, hardcover children’s books for small, rural, public libraries across the country. Maximum award: varies. Eligibility: Libraries should be in a rural area, have a limited operating budget, and an active children’s department. The average total operating budget of a Books for Children grant recipient must be less than $40,000. Deadline: May 15, 2014.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

“Kids come in with diabetes, major seizure disorders, psychological problems, problems whether it’s mental, physical, emotional, and we see them all. We are the front line for many, many things.” —Debbie Aloshen, head nurse of Cleveland Public Schools and nurse at Mound STEM Elementary school, where a doctor is on hand once a week at its MetroHealth Clinic to help kids and their parents manage chronic health problems like asthma and diabetes.