LAEP NewsBlast Week of 3/18/14

A tale of two implementations

New York and California have taken opposite approaches to implementing the Common Core Standards, write the editorial board of The Los Angeles Times. New York jumped feet-first into the standards, administering aligned tests that, among other things, were supposed to be used in teacher evaluations. But New York’s teachers hadn’t been trained properly and lacked instructional materials that reflected the new curriculum. Resulting test scores were predictably abysmal. The New York State Board of Regents is now delaying some aspects of the Common Core, and state legislation calls for further delays and an investigative panel. California, by contrast, began instruction this school year. Gov. Jerry Brown set aside $1 billion for implementation, including teacher training, and plans to invest at least as much again next year. And schools and teachers will not be held accountable for results on new standardized tests this year and possibly next while they’re field-tested. The lesson? Federal education officials should worry less about rushing standards into schools and more about giving schools time to build robust new teaching methods with supports in place. A recent review of public-school textbooks concluded that none are fully aligned with the Common Core, despite claims. And no one should expect dramatic shifts in learning for the first few years. More

The search for effective pre-k

A study underway in Brooklyn hopes to gauge whether a certain math curriculum can create lasting improvement in students’ math and language skills, as well as their likelihood to persevere, reports Kate Taylor in The New York Times. The study, which is costly and labor-intensive, will track roughly 4,000 children entering prekindergarten in 69 schools and community-based organizations next fall, and continue following them through at least the third grade. Half will get a curriculum called Building Blocks, half will not. To ensure teachers in the study are using the curriculum correctly, they are being trained now, with weekly visits from coaches. The study’s investigators will look over time at children’s test scores and grades, grade retention, special-education placement, and executive function. Students will be tracked through the third grade because most studies have found academic gains from prekindergarten fade by then, either because other children catch up or because the quality of elementary education is so variable. Building Blocks is currently used in all Boston’s prekindergarten classes. In New York City, where prekindergarten classes are based in a combination of public schools and community organizations, there is no mandatory curriculum, although all are supposed to be “evidence-based” and to advance the Common Core standards. More

Opting-out, gaining traction

Once considered a rarity, the opt-out movement — in which parents refuse to let their children take state-mandated tests — has prompted high-profile boycott efforts and meetings in large districts and led parents nationwide to join forces with anti-testing advocates, reports Tara Scoon Reid for Education Week. The movement argues that mandated assessments are unnecessary, excessive, and harmful to students. Their efforts come at a time when states are field-testing exams aligned with the Common Core State Standards, whose own controversy has reignited debates in many statehouses around testing overload. Rallies promoting parents’ rights to refuse testing are planned from Denver to Port Jefferson Station, N.Y., and a new national coalition called the Testing Resistance & Reform Spring, which officially launched in February, hopes to coordinate local efforts to form a substantial assault for reforming and scaling back high-stakes testing. But opting-out can be a murky and messy process in most states, since few specific guidelines exist. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Education advises that while parents may have the right to opt out of state tests, such a decision could hurt schools’ ability to meet mandated testing-participation rates under NCLB, which in turn could trigger academic interventions. More

The Newark imbroglio

Three years after Mark Zuckerberg committed $100 million toward remaking Newark’s struggling schools, a dispute over large-scale teacher layoffs may derail wider reform efforts, writes Samantha Henry for the Associated Press. Nearly half of Zuckerberg’s gift was invested in a 2012 teacher contract hailed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and the NEA as an example of adversaries collaborating; it allowed for teacher merit pay and peer reviews. But its implementation, including an emphasis on performance in determining layoffs, has devolved into a bitter fight. The district projects that 30 percent of Newark’s 3,200 teachers must be laid off over the next three years to close a projected $100 million budget gap, a consequence of bringing staffing levels in line with enrollment, which has declined almost by half since 2003. A recent request by Superintendent Cami Anderson for a waiver to circumvent state tenure rules has provoked outrage; Anderson contends that performance-based layoffs are the only way to ensure the lowest-performing teachers are let go. Complicating the dispute is the fact that the district is working to replace traditional enrollment with universal enrollment, which would allow families to use a central online gateway to research school options, and submit applications with ranked preferences for both public and charter schools. More

No thank you to Gates

The American Federation of Teachers has ended a five-year relationship with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation after rank-and-file union members expressed deep distrust of the foundation’s approach to education reform, report Caitlin Emma and Stephanie Simon for Politico.com. AFT President Randi Weingarten told reporters the union will no longer accept Gates money for its Innovation Fund, which was has received up to $1 million a year in Gates grants since 2009 and has sponsored AFT efforts to help teachers implement the Common Core, among other initiatives. Weingarten said she didn’t believe Gates funding influenced the Innovation Fund’s direction, but still had to sever the relationship “based on the distrust she was seeing.” She plans to ask members to vote this summer on a dues hike of 5 cents per month, which she said would raise $500,000 a year for the Innovation Fund. Since 2010, the AFT has received more than $10 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The union’s executive council hasn’t formally voted to reject Gates funding for other projects, but Weingarten said she would be very cautious about taking such grants. Vicki Phillips, who runs the foundation’s education division, said her team is “disappointed by Randi’s decision,” calling the AFT “an important thought partner” for the foundation. More

TFA retools

Teach for America (TFA) is rethinking its training program in light of complaints from its own members that they need more preparation for the classroom, reports Lyndsey Layton for The Washington Post. The organization announced last week it will launch a pilot program to offer recruits a year of classes in educational theory and pedagogy, along with hands-on classroom experience, while still in college and before they begin teaching full-time. Since its founding in 1990, TFA has given its recruits five weeks of training in the summer before assignment, a model attacked as insufficient by both outside critics and TFA members. TFA intends to offer the pilot program to 500 college juniors who have applied early to TFA and been accepted. The college juniors who will teach in the 2015-2016 school year will be offered education classes in their senior year and the opportunity to practice skills in actual classrooms. TFA has not decided whether those courses will be online or through participating universities near students. The changes at TFA come when applications are below projections and the organization is unlikely to meet its target of 6,300 new corps members for the next school year. More

Some problems with pensions

A new report from Bellweather Education looks at current approaches to teacher pensions in the context of broader retirement security issues. Using state pension data to estimate how many teachers will qualify for at least a minimal pension benefit, the report finds that overall, fewer than one in five teachers will stay teaching long enough to reach normal retirement age, though this varies by state. Savings penalties for mobility are large. An individual teacher could forfeit up to 6.5 percent of her annual salary for one year, or, due to compound interest, 22.6 percent of her annual salary after three years, according to the report’s analysis. In dollar terms, a teacher earning $40,000 a year could face a penalty of $2,601 for teaching only one year and $9,035 if s/he left after three years. Teachers are also penalized if they stay teaching but build a 30-year career across multiple states or cities. States are addressing pension fiscal problems by making plans worse for new and future teachers, and the debate is too often framed as the status quo versus 401(k)-style plans modeled on the private sector. In fact, the authors write, there are options between these two approaches: The federal government, for instance, has phased out its traditional pension plan in favor of a hybrid retirement system that combines a less-generous pension, enrollment in Social Security, and a defined contribution plan. More

Discipline disparities

A report from the Discipline Disparities Research to Practice Collaborative describes the ways in which schools and communities across the country are reducing disparities in discipline for particular subgroups of students. The report urges schools to see discipline through an “equity lens,” with reducing disparities as an explicit goal that undergirds design, implementation, and outcomes of reform. Discipline reform connects with the rest of schooling: All students must have access to quality teaching, a rigorous and meaningful curriculum, funding, and other factors related to positive student outcomes. Effective schools move away from blaming individual educators and consider the conditions for learning and school climate more broadly. Schools can prevent or reduce disparities in discipline through climates that establish supportive relationships, promote academic rigor and support for all students, provide high-level learning opportunities, connect teaching to students’ lives, and create inclusive and fair classrooms. Finally, when conflict among students or between students and staff occurs, schools must move beyond merely applying consequences. Effective schools seek to identify the root cause of conflicts and disruption; engage in collective problem-solving; intentionally engage students, communities, and their families in identifying causes and solutions; and implement effective re-integration efforts for students. More

BRIEFLY NOTED CALIFORNIA
Phew

Federal education officials have approved California’s plan to roll out new computer-based standardized tests this spring, ending a months-long dispute that put the state at risk of sacrificing $1.5 billion in federal funding. More

Crisis

Warning that elementary-school truancy in California has reached a crisis level, state Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris and lawmakers have proposed a package of bills aimed at improving the tracking of absenteeism and the evaluation and use of measures to keep kids in school. More

Must be going around

More than half the teachers at a Compton high school called in sick on March 11, leaving students unattended and forcing district officials to scramble to bring order to the campus. More

Time to roll up his sleeves

Los Angeles Unified Schools Supt. John Deasy has a newly modified contract that includes an annual buyout of unused vacation days and new performance measures that require him to bring in revenue and enroll more students. More

 

BRIEFLY NOTED

So stop saying otherwise

Head Start preschool programs make a difference for children who get little academic stimulation at home, a new study finds. More

Tightening up

Wisconsin lawmakers have passed a bill making it harder for new private and religious schools to join Wisconsin’s taxpayer-funded school voucher programs. More

Somewhat decisive

After months of buildup, the Kansas Supreme Court has handed down a mixed decision that ordered more money for poor schools but dodged a larger question about overall education funding. More

Messy

After five hours of debate, the New York State Assembly passed its bill to delay some aspects of the Common Core, after first defeating a Republican amendment that would have withdrawn New York from the standards altogether. More

Well, it’s a billion, at any rate

A preliminary revenue blueprint released by lawmakers last month showed Illinois schools face a nearly $1 billion drop in funding beginning July 1, rather than the nearly $1 billion increase sought by the Illinois State Board of Education. More

Moving ahead

A program to help cover the cost of preschool programs for low-income Utah families has cleared its final hurdle in the state legislature. More

Time on task

As part of the Washington D.C.’s 2015 budget, Mayor Vincent Gray and D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson want to dramatically expand a pilot program that allows low-performing schools to extend their school days. More

GRANTS AND FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES

Grammy Foundation: Music Educator Award

The Grammy Foundation: Music Educator Award recognizes music teachers for their extraordinary impact. Maximum award: $10,000. Eligibility: Current educators in the U.S. who teach music in public or private schools, kindergarten through college. Deadline: March 31, 2014.

Entertainment Software Association: Grants for Youth Programs

The ESA Foundation is dedicated to supporting geographically diverse projects and programs that benefit American youth of all races and denominations and make a difference in the quality of their life, health and welfare. The Foundation seeks to harness the collective power of the interactive entertainment industry to create positive social impact in our communities, and supports. Maximum award: $50,000. Eligibility: 501(c)(3) organizations with programs that serve youths ages 7-18. Deadline: May 28, 2014.

PTO Today: Parent Group of the Year Contest

PTO Today’s Parent Group of the Year Contest is an excellent opportunity to showcase your hard work while giving your school the chance to win cash and prizes. Maximum award: $3,000, plus a free DIRECTV system for the school, installed in up to eight rooms (valued at $3,500). Eligibility: all parent groups — PTO, PTA, HSA, PTC, etc.; public and private schools; rural, suburban, and urban schools. Deadline: June 2, 2014.

MetLife/NASSP: Breakthrough Schools

The National Association of Secondary School Principals and the MetLife Foundation are calling for entries in the search for the nation’s top Breakthrough Schools. Applicants should be high-achieving middle or high schools, or schools that are making dramatic improvements in student achievement, whose best practices and outstanding results can inform other schools as they further their own improvement efforts. Honorees will be chosen based upon documented success in implementing strategies aligned with the three core areas of NASSP’s Breaking Ranks II publication: collaborative leadership; personalization; and curriculum, instruction, and assessment. Maximum award: $5,000 recognition in the association’s monthly magazine, Principal Leadership. Eligibility: high-achieving middle and high schools with 40 percent or more students eligible for free and reduced priced meals. Deadline: June 30, 2014.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

“The business community is by far the biggest consumer of the product created by our education system. That’s why we’re all fighting in this direction.” — Billy Canary, president of the Business Council of Alabama, regarding political pushback from Big Business at opponents of the Common Core.