LAEP NewsBlast Week of 4.1.14

Vergara wraps up

The closing arguments of Vergara vs. California painted two vastly different pictures of whether students are harmed by job protections enjoyed by public school teachers, reports Adolfo Guzman-Lopez for Southern California Public Radio. Ted Boutrous, one of the lawyers representing nine California public school students who alleged their exposure to ineffective teachers denied them an adequate education, reminded presiding Judge Rolf Treu that his side questioned 30 witnesses over two months, including public school superintendents, teachers, parents, researchers, and student plaintiffs, and their testimony showed that bad teachers aren’t fired early in their careers because the state’s seniority-based layoffs allow them to stay on the job. Deputy California Attorney General Susan Carson, defending the state’s laws against the suit, questioned the validity of using student test scores to measure whether a teacher is doing a good job and argued that well-managed districts are already able to identify and fire bad teachers under the current system of teacher job protections. Judge Treu has up to 90 days after April 10 to make a ruling. The trial has been closely watched and widely viewed as a bellwether case for public education reform efforts nationwide. More

Claims and counter-claims about RttT

A new study from the Obama administration credits its signature K-12 education program, the Race to the Top, for “enormous positive change” in public school classrooms across the country, reports Lyndsey Layton for The Washington Post. The study is significantly more positive about the competitive program than progress reports from the Education Department, which have indicated some states improved but others had trouble spending funds and lacked capacity to implement promised changes. The program has drawn fire from a range of players: Teacher unions, school administrators, and members of Congress have argued it’s unfair to give money to only some states. Others say the policies promoted are unproven. Cecilia Muñoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council for the White House, pointed out that high school graduation rates are at a record high — 80 percent — and in 2013, students recorded the highest math and reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress since that test was first given in the early 1990s. But federal researchers have also suggested the high graduation rate stems from a soft economy, since students stay in school when they lack job opportunities. And while NAEP scores are the highest in 20 years, they’ve been incrementally increasing since 2005. More

The truth about skills and employment

A new report from the Economic Policy Institute finds persistent unemployment in the manufacturing sector is likely driven by inadequate demand rather than a shortage of skilled workers as is often contended. While skills required of the manufacturing workforce have increased over time, they’re well within the reach of most Americans, according to the report. For instance, while 38 percent of manufacturing firms require math beyond simple addition, subtraction, and multiplication, the level of math expected is at the level of a good high school or community college education. Further, a minority of manufacturers report difficulty recruiting employees. Nearly 65 percent of establishments report no vacancies whatsoever, and 76.3 percent report no long-term vacancies (in which jobs remained unfilled for three months or more). Only 16 percent of respondents — typically plant managers — responded affirmatively when asked if access to skilled workers were a major obstacle to increasing financial success. Employers with the very highest skill demands — those classified by the Bureau of Labor Statistics as high-technology — actually had significantly lower long-term vacancies as a percentage of total core workers. The current impact of technology does not condemn most people holding unskilled jobs who have not obtained high levels of education and training. More

Through student eyes

A movement to systematically incorporate student feedback into the formal teacher-evaluation process is growing nationally, reports Scott LaFee in School Administrator Magazine. Based on the work of Ronald Ferguson of Harvard, “finely tuned” student-perception surveys can reveal what’s happening inside classrooms and augment principal observations and student test scores. In his work, Ferguson found that regardless of race, socioeconomic status, or other demographics, student-survey answers were serious and remarkably consistent. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Measures of Effective Teaching study concluded that students were better than trained adult observers at evaluating teachers, clearly identifying teacher strengths and areas for improvement. Student observations also had predictive validity, forecasting with reliable consistency how students would fare on standardized tests and other measures of achievement. Scores of districts, mostly large, have launched high-profile pilots to survey student perceptions, though none as yet are making student feedback a significant factor in teacher accountability. Ross Wilson, an assistant superintendent for the Boston Public Schools, “was surprised last year by the pilot results. Kids from all grades took the survey and they all took it seriously… We learned a lot about what was happening in classrooms and, more broadly, in schools. We learned how teachers engage their students and how students themselves think about the learning process and what it means to them.”  More

Managing the managers

A new report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute looks at capacity of local school board members to lead their districts, finding that that officials who focus on academic improvement are likelier to govern districts that outperform others with similar demographics and funding. It also finds board members by and large possess accurate information about their districts regarding finance, teacher pay, collective bargaining, and class size, but such knowledge is not uniformly distributed. Members who were never educators themselves are more accurately informed than their peers who once were (or still are) educators. Likewise, political moderates appear to have more accurate knowledge than liberal or conservative counterparts. Though a district’s success academically appears related to board-member focus on improvement of academics, some board members prefer a broader approach, such as developing the “whole child.” Board members elected during on-cycle, at-large elections are more likely to serve in districts performing well academically than those chosen by voters off-cycle or by ward. In some localities, how board members are elected may deter the best and brightest from taking on key roles. The report also offers “commonsense board-level advice”: 1) hire well; 2) hold senior managers accountable for running the system effectively and efficiently, in accord with board-set priorities; and 3) provide responsible oversight without micromanaging. More

New York: America’s most segregated
A new report from the Civil Rights Project at UCLA finds New York state has the most segregated schools in the country. In 2009, New York black and Latino students had the highest concentrations in intensely segregated public schools, the lowest exposure to white students, and the most uneven distribution across schools. New York City, the largest and one of the most segregated systems in the nation, heavily impacts state data, with school-choice programs and policies exacerbating racial isolation. A growing diversity of enrollment in schools and districts across the state and metropolitan areas, accompanied by a lack of diversity-focused policies over the last two decades, has resulted in persisting and in some cases increased segregation patterns. The study also explored associations between race and class, finding an overexposure to low-income students for black and Latinos across geographical levels. It found high racial isolation for the average charter school, and lower segregation for the average magnet school across New York City, although there was substantial variation within magnets. Finally, due to the lack of voluntary metropolitan or inter-district policies across upstate New York, as well as the proliferation of small, fragmented districts, close to 90 percent of segregation is occurring among rather than within upstate districts.  More

Strong Start is just a start

A new report from the Center for American Progress looks at whether new federal investment in early childhood education would be duplicative of existing programs, and finds the answer “a resounding no.” Less than a third of low-income children have access to publicly funded or subsidized preschool. The Strong Start for America’s Children Act would improve access to high-quality programs, but still leave 60 percent of low-income children under age 5 without access. The federal government currently has just two major investments in early childhood education: Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG). Only half of eligible children have access to Head Start, with many on waiting lists. CCDBG serves only a quarter of those eligible; 19 states had waiting lists or frozen intake as of February 2013. State preschool programs reach 28 percent of 4-year-olds and 4 percent of 3-year-olds, with a low per-child spending rate. The Strong Start Act would implement evidence-based standards and offer states assistance in improving existing programs. Teachers would be required to have a bachelor’s degree and training or demonstrated competency in early childhood education. They would be paid the same rates as K-12 teachers, reducing turnover and improving retention. Small class sizes, a research-based curriculum, and comprehensive services to families would be part of the initiative. More

Failing ESLs in New Orleans

While many districts nationwide struggle to serve non-English-speaking families, the situation in New Orleans is unique, writes Katy Reckdahl for The Hechinger Report. Between 2000 and 2010, the Latino population in New Orleans increased by 57 percent, drawn largely by hurricane-recovery work. Dozens of charter schools opened after 2005, most with little expertise in or infrastructure for working with families not fluent in English, and without the economies of scale that can be realized by sharing interpreters or bilingual teachers system-wide. In 2011, the Louisiana Language Access Coalition prompted some systemic reforms when it got Vietnamese and Spanish interpreters to be placed in school registration centers. But within a couple of years, interpretation service grew erratic. As a result of gaps in services, the Vietnamese American Young Leaders Association has partnered with the national Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund to file a federal complaint on behalf of 35 Spanish- or Vietnamese-speaking parents, alleging that the Orleans Parish School District and the state-run Recovery School District routinely fall short of federally mandated translation services for parents who speak little or no English. A spokesman for the Louisiana Department of Education said the state monitors charters to ensure their services for non-English-speaking families are in compliance with federal mandates, but most of the monitoring is limited to paperwork reviews. More

(Smarter) Balanced feedback

The Smarter Balanced field tests got underway in California and 21 other states, with officials receiving positive feedback from participating schools. More

More ambivalent

The Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford has now released a report on charter outcomes for California as a whole, and the results are mixed. More

Title IX in the mix

In a significant departure from how school performance has been judged in the past, legislation introduced would add to the matrix an assessment of how well California schools ensure that boys and girls have equal access to all programs and services. More

Waiver issue

The U.S. Department of Education’s sweeping decision to let California avoid making new school accountability decisions until 2016 worries civil rights officials, who argue it could jeopardize everything from who gets special education services in the state to how English-learners are classified. More


The U.S. Dept of Education is looking to reinstate a requirement — which a federal judge struck down in 2012 for procedural reasons — that providers of online education obtain approval from state regulators in each and every state in which they enroll students. More

It’s never too early

A 50-state database on kindergarten policies compiled by the Education Commission of the States shows that more than half of states and the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to administer kindergarten entrance assessments as policymakers continue their emphasis on school readiness.More

Sure to measure original thought

A computer program will grade student essays on the writing portion of the standardized test set to replace the FCAT, according to bid documents released by the Florida Department of Education.More

Smart money

A smattering of Mississippi districts, child care centers, and Head Start programs will all benefit from the addition of $3 million in state grants to serve nearly two-dozen districts and reach an estimated 2,400 4-year-olds during the next two and a half years. More

First in, first out

Less than four years after Indiana became an early adopter of the Common Core education standards, Gov. Mike Pence has signed legislation making Indiana the first state to opt out of the K-12 guidelines. More

Or maybe it’s just them

Some Texas lawmakers are complaining that new high school curriculum and standardized-testing rules are too complicated to understand for even those who approved them — much less students, parents, or academic counselors. More

Personal belief and medical fact

The Colorado House has passed a bill that would require parents who want to opt children out of immunizations for reasons of “personal belief” to obtain a note from a doctor or medical professional certifying they have been briefed on the benefits and risks of vaccinations, or to complete a state online training about those risks and benefits. More

Emergency measures

Philadelphia Superintendent William Hite will institute new work rules that allow principals to take factors other than seniority into consideration when selecting and assigning teachers. More

Seeing double

Federal and Texas officials are in talks to work out a conflict between testing requirements under the state’s new high school graduation standards and federal education law that could force students to take two sets of standardized tests in math. More


Tennessee’s teacher union has filed a federal lawsuit calling the portion of the state’s teacher-evaluation system based on test scores arbitrary, flawed, and in violation of teachers’ constitutional rights. More

Get with the program

The Education Law Center has filed a motion with the New Jersey Supreme Court, under the landmark Abbott v. Burke ruling, taking Gov. Chris Christie to task for failing to use the School Funding Reform Act’s formula in determining school aid for fiscal 2015. More

Can’t lose

Former first lady and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has launched a campaign aimed at improving early childhood education, Too Small to Fail. More

More nuanced recognition

A new licensing field from the Hawaii Teacher Standards Board has been created to recognize teachers who serve in a leadership capacity other than school administration. More


Having teachers read aloud a reading-comprehension test to students with disabilities and English-language learners offers a boost in scores without altering what the test is trying to measure, according to a study of about 2,000 California 4th and 8th graders who were given the NAEP in 2013.More


Institute for Global Environmental Strategies: Thacher Environmental Research Contest

The 2014 Thacher Environmental Research Contest, sponsored by the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies, challenges high school students to conduct innovative research on our changing planet using the latest geospatial tools and data. Eligible geospatial tools and data include satellite remote sensing, aerial photography, geographic information systems (GIS) and Global Positioning System (GPS). The main focus of the project must be on the application of the geospatial tool(s) or data to study a problem related to Earth’s environment. Maximum award: $2,000. Eligibility: any student attending high school (grades 9-12 – public, private, parochial, Native American reservation, or home school) in the United States or U.S. territories; or any student who is a United States citizen and enrolled in a high school (grades 9-12) attending a Department of Defense Dependents’ Overseas School or an accredited overseas American or International School; or foreign school as an exchange student; or a foreign school because his/her parent(s) are temporarily working and living abroad. Deadline: May 5, 2014.

NSTA: New Science Teacher Academy

The NSTA New Science Teacher Academy Foundation is a professional development initiative created to promote quality science teaching, enhance teacher confidence and classroom excellence, and improve teacher content knowledge. Maximum award: program expenses. Eligibility: middle or high school science teachers entering their second or third year of teaching, working a schedule with 51 percent of their classes in science. Deadline: July 1, 2014.

Brown Rudnick Center for the Public Interest: Community Grant Program

The Brown Rudnick Center Community Grant Program recognizes, encourages, and collaborates with front-line workers within the educational system who often do not have a voice in funding decisions; and provides funding to assist with small, concrete projects or needs that will make an improvement in inner-city education in Boston, Hartford, New York City, Providence, and Washington, D.C. within a year of the award. Maximum award: $2,000. Eligibility: “front line educational workers” involved in the education field or a related field in Boston, Hartford, New York City, Providence, or Washington, D.C. partnered with a non-profit organization or tax-exempt organization (e.g. a public school) that is willing to accept the grant and use it in the required manner. Deadline: rolling.


“When Hillary Clinton runs around trying to close the word gap, it’s like fine, vocabulary is good. But there is a deeper commitment to literacy and conversation around the dinner table and talking to kids about ideas and political controversies that is the more colorful fabric of literacy and conversation.” —Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley.