LAEP NewsBlast Week of 3/11/14

The White House’s education wish list

The president’s FY 2015 budget includes level funding for key formula programs and introduces several new competitive initiatives, reports Alyson Klein for Education Week. Overall, the White House is requesting $68.6 billion for the Department of Education, a $1.3 billion increase over FY 2014. A new $300 million Race to the Top would help states and districts create data systems that track characteristics like teacher and principal experience and effectiveness, academic achievement, and student coursework. It includes school grants to attract and retain effective teachers, extend learning time, bolster school culture, and help students with non-cognitive skills. The White House is also seeking $200 million to bolster professional development around use of technology, including student data systems to improve instruction. It’s requesting $150 million to redesign high schools and help them partner with employers and institutions of higher education. Title I and special ed grants would stay at last year’s level, roughly $14.4 billion and $11.5 billion respectively. Charter schools would get $240 million and the School Improvement Grant program would get $505 million, last year’s levels. Investing in Innovation would be raised to $165 million. The administration is again seeking $75 billion over 10 years to help states expand prekindergarten programs, and wants $500 million for preschool development grants to help states improve early-childhood education. More

SAT changes, yet stays the same

Saying its college-admission exams do not focus enough on important academic skills, the College Board has announced a fundamental rethinking of the SAT, ending the longstanding penalty for guessing wrong, cutting obscure vocabulary words, and making the essay optional, reports Tamar Lewin in The New York Times. The changes are extensive: Vocabulary challenges will feature words more common in college courses, like “empirical” and “synthesis.” Math questions will focus more narrowly on linear equations, functions, and proportional thinking. Calculators will no longer be allowed on some math sections. The new exam will be available on paper and computer, and scoring will revert to the old 1,600-point scale — from 2,400 — with top scores of 800 on math and 800 on what will now be called “evidence-based reading and writing.” The optional essay will have a separate score. The new SAT will not quell all criticism of standardized tests, since critics have long pointed out that high school grades are a better predictor of college success than standardized test scores. Accordingly, more colleges have become “test optional,” allowing students to forgo exams and submit grades, transcripts, and perhaps a graded paper. Test-preparation companies say the SAT is moving in the right direction, but changes are unlikely to diminish demand for their services. More

Nothing “soft” about social-emotional skills

A randomized, controlled trial examining the technique known as Responsive Classroom that helps elementary students develop emotional and social skills finds it also leads to academic achievement, reports Lyndsey Layton of The Washington Post. Researchers found that children in classrooms where the technique was fully used scored significantly higher in math and reading tests than students in classrooms where it wasn’t — meaningful in an era when teacher evaluations and school performance are increasingly judged by student test scores, and educators feel limited classroom time is better spent on academics than “soft” skills. The technique is designed to create positive classroom relationships between teachers and students and among students, aiming to teach young children to cooperate with each other and feel part of a community. Teachers set expectations for behavior and learning so children internalize those goals over time and can regulate their own behavior. The Responsive Classroom method also dovetails with the Common Core, in that the standards assume students possess a range of social skills such as taking turns, listening to each other talk in front of a group, and the courage to make mistakes in front of peers. “There is a real synergy between these new standards and social and emotional learning practices,” said Sara Rimm-Kaufman, the study’s lead author. More

Early-adopters and the Common Core

A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute examines four districts that have already implemented the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The report looks at district-level, school-level, and classroom-level implementation, and finds Common Core implementation works best when district and school leaders make the standards the linchpin of instruction, professional learning, and accountability. Absent externally vetted, high-quality Common Core materials, districts are striving with mixed success to devise their own, as well as scrambling to deliver CCSS-aligned professional development to all who need it. The lack of aligned assessments makes effective implementation challenging for at least another year. The report recommends that districts avoid a political tug-of-war and get on with the hard work of helping parents understand the substance of the standards and how schools are helping kids meet them. Well-aligned curricula are essential, and require time and effort to devise. Professional development must focus on teacher understanding and application, with PD structures supporting this focus. “The road ahead requires not only persistence with the new standards, but also a fundamental rethinking of our education status quo, particularly when it comes to instructional materials, assessments, and professional development. The success of the Common Core — and the promise of college- and career-readiness for all students — demand it,” according to the report. More

A sea change in student enrollment

New projections on student enrollment from the federal government hint at the financial pressures many states will face as student populations rise considerably in the next decade, writes Mikhail Zinshsteyn in The Atlantic Magazine. The data, released last week by the National Center on Education Statistics, forecast that the number of public school students from prekindergarten through high school will grow nationally by 7 percent between 2011 and 2022, especially in Western and Southern states. School populations in Nevada and Arizona are expected to swell by more than 20 percent. Utah should grow by 19 percent, and Texas by more than 15 percent. Florida anticipates 14 percent growth. These states are in the bottom 10 for state expenditures per pupil, according to data, and will have to ramp up spending just to stay flat. Younger students account for the bulk of expansion figures: K-8 students are expected to increase by 8 percent, high school students just 1 percent. Whether projections will spur policymakers to tweak funding formulas is an open question. Elsewhere in the data, researchers indicate private schools will continue to see enrollments dip: After losing over a tenth of their students between 1997 and 2011, these schools will slouch by another 5 percent in the coming decade. More

Virtual schools: much growth, little analysis

A new study by the National Education Policy Center finds that full-time virtual schools continue to have serious problems with respect to education quality, diversity, accountability, and funding. Virtual schools enroll 248,000 elementary and secondary students in 39 states and the District of Columbia, up 21.7 percent from 2011-2012. A single, for-profit virtual-school provider, K12 Inc., accounts for 82 schools enrolling 87,808 students in 2013, more than one-third of the nation’s full-time virtual-school students. Student diversity still lags in the online classroom: Three out of four full-time virtual-school students are white/non-Hispanic; that same group accounts for 54 percent of public school students. Percentages of African American and Hispanic students are far below their respective shares of the public school population. Virtual schools also serve a smaller percentage of low-income students, students with disabilities, and English Language Learners than do other public schools, and compare less favorably to traditional public schools in student achievement and school performance. The report recommends greater efforts to require virtual schools to report more data on student and teacher performance, in part because so little high-quality research exists to justify the sector’s rapid growth. It also recommends that policymakers enforce higher quality standards and require greater transparency and accountability on the part of the sector. More

Florida VAM veers into absurdity

In a post on the Education by the Numbers blog in The Hechinger Report, Jill Barshay analyzes recently released value-added scores of Florida teachers and say they show how “messy and absurd” the new teacher data are. The metric uses a complicated formula that predicts how much each student is expected to learn during the year. Barshay isn’t clear how the formula factors where a student starts, and notes it’s generally easier to show larger gains from a low starting point, and much harder to show gains from a high starting bar. She says one illustration of the data’s quality is indicated by a look at the top ten teachers in the state, according to this assessment. She sorted the entire database of teacher names by value-added measure, and found that eight of the top 10 don’t even teach courses measured by the state’s math and reading tests, which are used to calculate value-added rank. Teachers that don’t teach a subject measured on the test are still gauged by student verbal and math test scores, despite the fact that other teachers taught those subjects to these students. Moreover, she found one of the top teachers is indeed a math teacher, but the state used her students’ English scores to measure her. More

De Blasio vs. Moskowitz: coming to a district near you

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is waging an internecine battle over education that could spill into the 2016 Democratic presidential primary, write Andrew Rotherham and Richard Whitmire in USA TODAY. The issues range from how to pay for preschool to how fast to pursue the Common Core, but the most revealing clash, they write, involves charters. De Blasio has singled out fellow Democrat Eva Moskowitz, who runs 22 Success Academy charter schools that educate 6,700 students. The mayor cites Moskowitz as the kind of charter operator who needs reining in, and classroom and office space that Success Academy receives from the city enrage him: “There’s no way in hell that Eva Moskowitz should get free rent,” he has said. Success Academy students, predominantly low-income and minority, have excelled on recent standardized tests, a result critics attribute to only accepting the best students. The de Blasio-Moskowitz confrontation neatly sums up the growing national Democrat vs. Democrat battle, in the authors’ view. The “de Blasio wing” of the party sees teacher unions as important institutions standing up for the average guy; the reform wing sees them as just another special interest. The de Blasio faction sees school testing as a scheme to discredit public schools; the reform wing sees testing as a tool to protect poor and minority students from “slipping into education oblivion.” If this battle hasn’t come to your city, Rotherham and Whitmire write, it will. More

Not happy

UTLA President Warren Fletcher has lashed out at the LAUSD for its handling of teachers accused of misconduct, vowing to file federal and state age-discrimination complaints. More


Thousands of California’s most severely disabled students face a double-testing dilemma this spring, a result of the state’s complex transition to the Common Core curriculum and a problem lawmakers are scrambling to fix. More

Good or bad, depending on your vantage

From 2008 to 2013, California saw a 40 percent drop in teachers with less than six years’ experience, according to a Sacramento Bee review of state data. More

Not even close

Representatives of the Education Coalition told a California Senate budget subcommittee that despite increases in school spending in the current state budget and promises of more in the next one, California must spend much more on education. More

Take note

California State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson has issued new guidelines to help parents and guardians report suspected child abuse at schools. More



The majority minority

White students are predicted to be in the minority in U.S. public schools by fall 2014. More

The new frontier

English language curricula built entirely on a digital platform — replacing written textbooks, worksheets, or printed study guides — are about to enter the market from several companies, with promises they’ll change the nature of classroom learning across the country. More

Yet another test

ETS is offering a new teacher-performance exam that purports to measure many of the same competencies as the edTPA. More

On second thought

Indiana is close to terminating its use of Common Core educational standards, which 45 other states have adopted as the basis by which local schools set their curriculum. More

Strengthening paths?

A proposal to remake Louisiana’s career and technical education offerings envisions districts, two-year colleges, and private firms forming regional teams to offer course and workplace training for high school juniors and seniors. More


Target: Early Childhood Reading Grants

Target Early Childhood Reading Grants promote a love of reading and encourages young children to read together with their families by supporting programs such as after-school reading events and weekend book clubs. Maximum award: $2,000. Eligibility: schools, libraries, and nonprofit organizations. Deadline: April 30, 2014.

Target: Arts and Culture in Schools Grants

Target Arts and Culture in Schools Grants help schools and nonprofits to bring arts and cultural experiences directly to K-12 students. These programs must have a curriculum component. Maximum award: $2,000. Eligibility: schools and nonprofit organizations. Deadline: April 30, 2014.

ING: Unsung Heroes

The ING Unsung Heroes awards program recognizes innovative and progressive thinking in education through monetary awards. Maximum award: $25,000. Eligibility: full-time educators, teachers, principals, paraprofessionals, or classified staff members with effective projects that improve student learning at an accredited K-12 public or private school. Deadline: April 30, 2014.

American Honda Foundation: Grants for Education

The American Honda Foundation makes grants to K-12 schools, colleges, universities, trade schools, and other youth-focused nonprofit organizations for programs that benefit youth and scientific education. Maximum award: $60,000. Eligibility: schools and youth-focused nonprofit organizations. Deadline: May 1, 2014.


“I’ve never gotten an email from a boss saying: ‘Is failure necessary for success? Get back to me in 25 minutes?’ But that’s what the SAT does.” — Les Perelman, former director of the writing program at MIT, regarding the essay portion of the SAT.