LAEP NewsBlast Week of 3/4/14

Will earlier demands lead to earlier (false) diagnoses?
In an op-ed in The New York Times, researchers Stephen Hinshaw and Richard Scheffler write they welcome the new national emphasis on early childhood education, but caution that “today’s preschool bandwagon could lead to an epidemic of 4- and 5-year-olds wrongfully being told they have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” (ADHD). Introducing millions of 3- to 5-year-olds to classrooms and pre-academic demands means many more distracted kids will catch the attention of teachers, while making preschool universal and embedding transitional-K programs in public schools is bound to increase diagnostic pressure. The American Academy of Pediatrics now endorses a diagnosis of ADHD at age 4. Adderall and other stimulants are approved for treatment of children as young as 3. Millions of American children have been labeled with ADHD when they don’t have it. Hinshaw and Scheffler have found a worrisome parallel between the push for academic achievement and for increased accountability and skyrocketing ADHD diagnoses, particularly for poor children. Many kids are identified and treated after a pediatric visit of 20 minutes or less. Accurate diagnosis requires reports of impairment from home and school, and a thorough history of the child and family to rule out abuse or unrelated disorders. Just like investing in preschool, spending more on careful diagnosis and treatment of ADHD will lead to lifetimes of savings. More

The critical social-emotional component

Schools in San Francisco, Oakland, and a handful of districts across California are adding social-emotional learning to their curricula, redefining what students need to know, writes Jill Tucker for The San Francisco Chronicle. Some students show up to kindergarten knowing how to play nice in the sandbox, more likely to share shovels and collaborate on building castles and less likely to throw sand in someone’s face. Others are unable to navigate the social mores of the playground or classroom as easily, and kids who lack these skills often lag in school. Forty-eight of San Francisco’s 107 elementary and middle schools are incorporating a program called Second Step, which teaches a range of skills in each grade, kindergarten through eighth, including how to listen, how to manage stress, how to be empathetic, and how to deal with conflict. Eventually, all K-8 students in the district will participate in Second Step as part of their regular schooling, learning self-management, self- and social awareness, and relationship skills. And while it means setting aside class time, it’s worth it when students are more focused, stay on task, and listen for the rest of the day. The eight California districts incorporating social-emotional learning jointly received a federal waiver from many of the requirements of NCLB. More

Common Core: Proceeding with care and caution

The idea of ‘less is more’ has permeated West Defuniak Elementary in the Florida panhandle since 2011, writes Jackie Mader in The Hechinger Report. That’s when the school began phasing in the Common Core with its youngest students, who now read more non-fiction and must use evidence to back up written responses. In math, students must learn more than one way to solve the same problem, and must explain their methods. Although teachers are optimistic about the standards, they’re also cautious about rolling out too much too soon. This spring, grades 3 through 12 will be tested on the old standards, so their teachers are teaching a hybrid, and the district has carefully planned when each concept is taught. The community has mostly welcomed the Common Core, but West Defuniak Principal Darlene Paul says parents worry that test scores and grades will drop. Paul herself is concerned because the new tests will be on computers, a technology many stuents lack at home (West Defuniak serves about 650 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, of which more than 70 percent qualify for free or reduced-price lunch). Next year, more challenges could arise even as teachers become familiar with the standards: The state Board of Education recently approved nearly 100 changes to them. More

Facilitating FAFSA

A policy brief by the College Board proposes four changes to the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) process, which many students don’t complete because of its perceived complexity, despite a new online application and an IRS Data Retrieval Tool. The brief recommends creating a more transparent federal eligibility determination by limiting required financial data to two elements: Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and number of exemptions (family size) — information readily available from the IRS. Second, it recommends the process allow applicants whose parents or who themselves are not required to file a federal tax form to qualify for the maximum Pell Grant award without submitting financial data on the FAFSA. Third, eligibility should be based on “prior prior” year (PPY) tax data (data from the year before the year currently used). Finally, students who have experienced unusual changes in family circumstances — for example, the death of a parent or working spouse — should be able to appeal an earlier eligibility determination. These proposals would go some way toward eliminating barriers so that students are aware at an early age of the financial aid available to them and can follow a simple, transparent path to access it. More

What college is worth

A new brief from the Urban Institute highlights the complexities that underlie the return on investment for postsecondary education, as well as the variation in outcomes that lead to uncertainty about its value. The brief argues that disappointing outcomes for some are not inconsistent with a high average payoff and significant benefits for most. Some have suggested that certain students forgo college and instead seek vocational training, but most of this training takes place in community colleges or for-profit postsecondary institutions that are included in most metrics relating to college enrollment. A broader definition of college could ease confusion and encourage more students to pursue postsecondary education, highlighting options and pathways available. The brief also calls attention to the wide variation in earnings of people with similar levels of education, which can be explained by academic preparation, gender, race or ethnicity, age, degree-granting institutions, and geography, as well as personal choices and chance. There are significant differences in both earnings levels and earnings premiums across occupations. And many rewards of postsecondary education are nonmonetary: College graduates are healthier, more engaged citizens, and have more opportunities. Making earnings the dominant criterion for guiding students could lead them into fields where they would be unlikely to succeed or find satisfaction. More

Co-locating charters: the weak argument for rent-free

A review by the National Education Policy Center of a new report from the Manhattan Institute finds it consists of “a handful of poorly documented tables and graphs listing potential budget deficits, speculative layoffs, and average proficiency rates of co-located and non-co-located charters.” The report criticizes a plan to charge rent to co-locating charter schools in NYC, and its premise, according to the reviewer, is that support for charters increases high-quality schooling options for children in New York City; charters would run budget deficits on the order of 10 percent if charged rent for their current space in city-owned buildings. This reduction in available funds, the report argues, would necessarily lead to staffing cuts that compromise future growth or even current levels of high-performing charters. The reviewer takes issue with the paper’s central assumption “that providing these subsidies benefits charters and harms no one, and that not providing these subsidies harms charters and benefits no one.” Given finite resources, shifting these from city schools to charters or vice versa has both winners and losers. Because the brief ignores broader and more complex policy questions about managing a balanced and equitable portfolio of schooling options, and because of its poor documentation of fundamental calculations, the reviewer finds it to have little policy value. More

What price virtual charters?
A new brief from the Education Commission of the States looks at funding of virtual charter schools, noting that in the last ten years, their enrollment has grown to 310,000 students in 30 states. Virtual charters differ in significant ways from traditional public schools and brick-and-mortar charters and have forced states to re-evaluate school-finance formulas. Four issues make funding virtual charters different: student-enrollment areas, potential school size, how students are counted, and cost of providing educational services. The first two issues in combination alter funding predictability for traditional K-12 schools and brick-and-mortar charters, since traditional schools that lose students to charters not only lose state and federal funding for each child, but often must send that child’s local funding to the charter as well. Also, when home-schooled or private-school students transfer to virtual charters, they become the financial responsibility of their home district. Because virtual-school students often learn at their own pace at home, attendance can’t be measured by seat time, so some states use course enrollment as their measure for funding — but not all students complete courses. Finally, there is the clear fact that virtual schools have lower costs because they don’t pay for transportation or facilities maintenance. No studies to date have pinpointed the exact cost difference between virtual and brick-and-mortar schools. More

A few recommendations about data stewardship

The U.S. Department of Education has released new guidance on proper use, storage, and security of data generated by online educational resources, reports Benjamin Herold in Education Week. The guidelines are non-binding and contain no new regulations, but encourage “self-policing” by the industry and better policies and practices by districts. Much of the 14-page document focuses on the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), while emphasizing that FERPA and a companion statute, the Protection of Pupil Rights Amendment, are limited in power. Among the practices recommended are awareness of relevant federal, state, tribal, or local laws, particularly the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act; awareness of which online educational services are in use in a district; and explicit policies and procedures to evaluate and approve proposed online educational services, both those with formal contracts, and no-cost software requiring only click-through consent. It also suggests provisions for security and data stewardship; the collection of data; the use, retention, disclosure, and destruction of data; and the right of parents and students to access and modify their data. A trade association for the software and digital-content industries said the guidance “affirms and reinforces the strong safeguards in current law,” while a leading parent advocate said it “completely misses the point when it comes to parental concerns about children’s privacy and security.” More

Communication breakdownCalifornia districts with high concentrations of English-learners are facing a new challenge in ensuring that parents who need language translation are informed of their role under the new funding formula for schools. MoreTolerance prevails

Efforts to overturn a law shielding transgender students has stalled, with advocates of the repeal failing to gather enough signatures to qualify for the statewide ballot. More

A different tone

Administrators in San Francisco Unified will no longer be able to use “willful defiance” as a reason to suspend or expel a student, beginning in the 2014-15 school year. More

A different approach

The Oakland Unified School District has taken up Instructional Rounds, based on the Medical Rounds model. More

Budget fallout

School nurses, speech pathologists, counselors and psychologists throughout California face pink slips this spring as districts struggle to close a $600 million gap created by a withholding of federal funds. More

What’s wrong with this picture?

A new study out from listing site Redfin shows that only 8.7 percent of the residences on the market in Los Angeles are affordable for working teachers in the city. More

Take three

Picking up pieces from two failed attempts to rewrite the law on teacher dismissals, the California School Boards Association will lead this year’s attempt to make it easier and less expensive to fire teachers accused of serious misconduct and sex crimes against children. More

Challenges continueThe U.S. Department of Education has released waiver monitoring reports for Kansas, Oklahoma, and South Dakota that show continued struggles with low-performing schools and new tests aligned to the Common Core. MoreNot so fast

A judge blocked a new law that would have allowed North Carolina taxpayer money to go for tuition at private or religious schools, days before a lottery to determine its first 2,400 students. More

New metric

The D.C. Public Charter School Board has adopted a new way to define “alternative schools” and judge their performance. More

VAM time

After a protracted legal battle, Florida’s education department has released for the first time data showing how well most teachers scored on the value-added model, or VAM. More

The power of persuasion

A meeting with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has apparently convinced Gov. Jay Inslee that Washington state must act to require teacher evaluations that take into account student scores on statewide tests. More

So long, Doritos

The Obama administration is moving to phase out junk-food advertising on football scoreboards and elsewhere on school grounds, part of a broad effort to combat child obesity and create what Michelle Obama calls “a new norm” for today’s schoolchildren and future generations. More

Angling for exposure

The Christie administration has released proposed school-aid figures that include additional per-pupil funding in discretionary spending and technology — about $20 per child — and a $5 million innovation fund to explore initiatives such as longer school days. More

Trouble on the horizon

As it prepares to lay off more than 1,000 teachers over the next three years, the Newark school system has asked the state for permission to base the job reductions primarily on classroom effectiveness instead of seniority, an unprecedented move union officials vowed to fight. More


Parents and teachers are demanding the ouster of Christie’s appointed superintendent of the Newark schools Cami Anderson, who is fending off accusations that she orchestrated political payback against opponents of a district reform plan. 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. More

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


Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics/General Mills:

The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the General Mills Foundations are asking schools and nonprofits to offer their proposals for innovative, science-backed healthy eating/exercise programs for students. Maximum award: $20,000. Eligibility: schools serving kids 2-18 working with a registered dietitian. Deadline: March 14, 2014.

Wish You Well Foundation: Grants for Literacy

The Wish You Well Foundation’s mission is to foster and promote the development and expansion of new and existing literacy and educational programs. Maximum award: $10,000. Eligibility: 501(c)3 organizations. Deadline: rolling.

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.


“Teenagers have been committing pranks and doing foolish things forever, and blacks will be out of their minds if they were planning on going to Ole Miss and let this distraction turn them away,”James Meredith, regarding a statue of him on the campus of the University of Mississippi that was found with a noose around its neck and a Confederate flag.