LAEP NewsBlast Week of 3/25/14

Federal data confirm the obvious 

In the first analysis in nearly 15 years of information from the country’s 97,000 public schools, the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights has found a pattern of inequality along racial lines, reports Motoko Rich in The New York Times. Black students are suspended and expelled at three times the rate of white students. A quarter of high schools with the highest percentage of black and Latino students do not offer Algebra II courses, and a third of those schools do not offer chemistry. Black students are four times as likely as white students — and Latino students are twice as likely — to attend schools where one out of every five teachers does not meet all state teaching requirements. Even as early as preschool, close to half of all children suspended more than once are African-American. The Education Department’s report found that black, Latino, American Indian, and Native Alaskan students are three times as likely as white students to attend schools with higher concentrations of first-year teachers. And in nearly a quarter of school districts with at least two high schools, the teacher-salary gap between schools with the highest concentrations of black and Latino students and those with the lowest is more than $5,000 a year. More

True grit

Around the nation, schools are beginning to see grit as key to student success, reports Tovia Smith for NPR. The idea is to get kids comfortable with struggle as a normal part of learning. To get parents and kids on board, educators say, they need to have a “growth mindset,” in the words of Stanford University professor Carol Dweck — the belief that success comes from effort — and not a “fixed mindset” — the notion that people succeed because they are born with intelligence or talent. Kids with fixed mindsets who think they lack the “gift” don’t bother applying themselves. Kids with fixed mindsets who always were told they were “gifted” and skated through school tend to crumble when they hit their first challenge. Teachers must change the way they see and speak to students, but adjustment isn’t easy for teachers trained to focus on high scores on standardized tests. Education writer Alfie Kohn sees the focus on grit as the latest fad, and doesn’t believe kids today are any less gritty than before. He feels research showing gritty people are more successful is “a pure circular assumption, like ‘persistent people persist.'” The onus should be on schools to get better at how they teach — not on getting kids to endure more of the same. More

Preschool: a good bet all around

An innovative financing model is catching the attention of government officials and lawmakers across the country as a way to fund preschool, reports Adrienne Lu for Stateline. Under “results-based financing,” also known as “pay-for-success” or “social impact bonds,” private investors or philanthropists provide the initial funding for social programs expected to save taxpayer dollars down the road. If policy goals are met and savings materialize (according to third-party evaluators), investors receive their money back with interest, although the government doesn’t have to pay out more than it saves. The Rockefeller Foundation, which has spent about $9 million in grants and program-related investments since 2009 to support pay-for-success financing, was among the earliest promoters of the idea in the U.S. But it also appeals to private investors such as Goldman Sachs, which has invested $23 million of firm and client capital in New York City, Massachusetts, and Utah projects and is considering others, reporting strong interest from clients to make investments that offer a financial return but also help improve communities. According to the Center for American Progress, pay-for-success financing is in use or under consideration in more than a dozen states. To help pay for programs, the Obama administration is giving grants of about $12 million each to Massachusetts and New York state. More

Charter lotteries are neutral as a process, but not as a system 

Something that’s become clearer to Conor Williams as his family works through the charter-school application process in D.C. is the degree to which school choice is much less about “choice” than it looks on paper, he writes in The Atlantic. Since demand for quality charter seats far outstrips supply, D.C.’s system is, in the words of one parent, more school “chance” than school choice. Charter lotteries respond to zip-code inequity in public education by randomizing a school’s enrollment; as a process, they don’t favor wealth or other privilege, and are neutral. But lotteries don’t exist in a vacuum. A system of lotteries can still tilt in favor of families with sufficient resources and free time to get around town and apply to as many schools as possible. Lotteries also reward families who can afford to live close to high-performing charters, since there are practical limits to how far a student can commute, especially young students. This is particularly pressing in D.C., where rapid gentrification is overrunning charters in neighborhoods once filled with a majority of low-income families. So at best, Williams writes, charters are a mild corrective to inequity. Even if a lottery removes privilege from the process at one school, it can’t eliminate it from the broader charter sector and does nothing to address effects after the fact. More

Robust outcomes for LA charters

A new study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) finds students in charter schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District significantly outperform similar students in traditional schools there, reports John Fensterwald in EdSource. Forty-eight percent of charters had significantly larger gains in reading than traditional school counterparts, and 44 percent did much better in math, while 13 percent fared significantly worse in reading and 22 percent worse in math. LAUSD had 195 charters serving 82,000 of the district’s 670,000 students in 2010-11, making it the largest charter authorizer in California and one of the largest in the nation. Charters served slightly fewer low-income students (70 versus 75 percent in the district), English learners (21 versus 29 percent) and special education students (7 percent versus 11 percent) but more African-American students (15 percent versus 9 percent) and white students (14 percent versus 8 percent). Charters run by Aspire and Alliance of College Ready Public Schools did best: 65 additional learning days in reading and 122 days in math, double and triple the gains of non-affiliated charters. Low-income charter students gained 14 more days of learning in reading and 43 more days of learning in math. Gains for low-income Hispanic students were largest: 58 days in reading and 115 days in math. More

Teachers have seen the future, and they want training
Rather than the latest gadget or app, many teachers want training in using new technology to facilitate what they do best: teach, writes Liz Willen for The Hechinger Report. In a new nationwide survey by digedu of more than 600 K-12 teachers, 50 percent reported inadequate assistance when using technology in the classroom. Many also reported feeling left out of the debate around the role of technology to improve teaching and learning. At the South by (SXSW) festival, Willen spoke with teachers and attended panels, looking at how teachers are dealing with “convergence” — the transition to digitally focused classrooms — as well as new devices and techniques like blended learning aimed at giving students more control over where, how, and when they learn. Some schools offer incentives for teachers, others offer “blended learning coaches” to help. But what happens if teachers are resistant? Some suggest teachers who use technology will simply replace those who don’t. But in Baltimore County, where Superintendent S. Dallas Dance is pushing the district of 174 schools toward a digital conversion, he told Willen it helps when transitioning to keep the focus on curriculum and training: “Curriculum drives it; not the device.” More

The homework crisis that isn’t
A new report from the Brookings Institution finds reports of American students overwhelmed with homework to be overblown. In fact, homework loads have been stable over the past 30 years, and the “homework wars” themselves are a century old. While today’s younger students have more homework than in the past — NAEP data for age 9 indicate those with no homework declined from 35 percent in 1984 to 22 percent in 2012 — 13-year-olds reporting one to two hours of work per night declined from 29 percent in 1984 to 23 percent in 2012. Those with less than an hour of homework per night increased from 36 to 44 percent. Seventeen-year-olds reporting no homework grew from 22 percent in 1984 to 27 percent in 2012, and 11 percent reported not doing homework at all. Different data show only 38.4 percent of college freshmen surveyed by UCLA in 2012 reported six hours per week of studying when high school seniors. And the MetLife annual survey of teachers, which in 1987 and 2007 included questions on homework and sampled opinions of parents, found little change over two decades in parental attitudes. Sixty percent of parents rated the amount of homework good or excellent, and two-thirds gave high ratings to quality. Those giving poor ratings to either quantity or quality of homework did not exceed 10 percent in either year. Loveless concludes that “homework horror stories… seem to originate from the very personal discontents of a small group of parents.” More


Washington state may stand as a first test case on what happens when states lose NCLB waiver status, writes Alyson Klein in Education Week. Washington was placed on “high-risk status” back in August because the state’s teacher-evaluation system didn’t require districts to use state assessments in gauging educator performance and allowed local tests. The federal waiver system insists on state exams. Washington state lawmakers tried and failed to remedy this. The challenge now for the Education Department is ensuring appropriate punishment without disrupting the state’s strong work in its lowest-performing schools. A major issue is exactly where a state with a revoked waiver must start on NCLB’s timetable. Should Washington state put every school back at square one (which would mean no sanctions at all for at least a year), or should the feds pretend Washington never got a waiver in the first place, which would mean more schools subject to serious sanctions? Money is at stake. Depending on where the waiver clock is set, districts with schools not making AYP could be compelled to set aside money for school choice, tutoring, and professional development, which in Washington state could total $40 million. A spokeswoman for the federal agency said it is not necessarily ready to revoke Washington’s waiver and is still working with the state. More

Pay to go

A teacher retirement-incentive package approved by the San Diego school board has the potential to reshape California’s second-largest school district and shave millions off its looming multiyear budget deficit. More


A recent decision by the L.A. Unified School District to relocate the Roosevelt Academy to Lincoln High for the coming school year, quietly made without input from students or parents, is escalating into a bitter furor. More

They want tech

More than half the California school districts surveyed by an education advocacy group said they’ve spent all or most of the funds set aside to implement Common Core State Standards, but still have more to do to prepare for the new academic standards, including offering PD in technology to teachers. More

So do they

Half a dozen bills before the California Legislature address the growing concern that California students don’t have the computer science skills necessary to thrive in the modern workforce. More

Time to deal

The longer California’s leaders delay shoring up the cash-strapped teacher pension fund, the more money it will cost taxpayers in the long run, according to an analysis presented to lawmakers. More

Paras, not police

Two California groups have released a policy brief that asks districts in the state to use new funding to lessen the gap in spending between school security versus student support and engagement initiatives. More

How they’re doing

Annual progress reports have been released from the U.S. Department of Education that show how far the 12 state-level Race to the Top grant winners have come as they seek to deliver on the promises that won them funds. More

Starting small

Indiana Gov. Mike Pence is expected to sign legislation that creates a small-scale voucher-style pre-K program for low-income kids in the state. More

Everyone’s a critic

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is the latest to criticize New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s education policies, using a New York Post op-ed to declare them those of a “petulant tyrant.” More

Ad hominem

Nineteen parents of students from a Harlem charter school have filed a federal lawsuit against New York City, claiming Mayor de Blasio hurt their children by picking on Success Academy Charter Schools CEO Eva Moskowitz. More

Piling on

A pro-charter school group has spent $3.6 million on TV ads over the past three weeks attacking Mayor de Blasio, an insider with knowledge of the ad buy revealed. More


A footnote in Wyoming’s budget bill bars the state board of education from adopting or even continuing to review the Next Generation Science Standards, based in part on the fact that they teach evolution and that climate change is driven by humans. More

Shorting out

For three years, Portland Public Schools has failed to offer high school students the minimum amount of class time required by the state, Oregon Department of Education officials have ruled. More

Reinventing the wheel

The American Institutes for Research has been awarded a $220 million, six-year contract to develop and administer new Florida statewide exams. More

Oregon is Next

Oregon has adopted the Next Generation Science Standards. More

How uncharacteristic

Of the 12 jurisdictions that won the earliest grants under the Obama administration’s Race to the Top program, the District of Columbia has come under extra scrutiny by federal officials concerned about its ability to manage the money. More


AIAA Foundation: Grants for Excellence in Math, Science, Technology, and Engineering

American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics Foundation Classroom Grants encourage excellence in educating students about math, science, technology, and engineering. Eligibility: current AIAA Educator Associate or AIAA Professional members actively engaged as K-12 classroom educators. Maximum award: $200. Deadline: March 31, 2014.

Snapdragon Book Foundation: Grants to Libraries

The Snapdragon Book Foundation provides funds to improve school libraries for disadvantaged children. Maximum award: $20,000. Eligibility: public, private, and experimental schools. Deadline: April 15, 2014.

Earth Island Institute: Brower Youth Award

The Earth Island Institute Brower Youth Award recognizes young people for their outstanding activism and achievements in the fields of environmental and social justice advocacy.  Maximum Award: $3,000, a trip to California for the awards ceremony, and a wilderness camping trip. Eligibility: youth ages 13-22. Deadline: May 12, 2014.


“We don’t need more data to tell us we need action.” — Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, regarding new federal data on educational inequities.