LAEP NewsBlast Week of 4/8/14

Mediocre problem-solving by U.S. teens

American 15-year-olds are barely above the average of 44 countries and economies in problem-solving skills, and far behind teens in Asia, reports Joy Resmovits for The Huffington Post. U.S. teens on average earned a score of 508 on the Programme for International Student Assessment Creative Problem Solving test, between top-ranked Singapore’s 562 and bottom-ranked Colombia’s 399. The PISA results put U.S. students in the middle of the pack, hardly reflecting the American workforce’s reputation for creativity. The Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development administered the computer-based problem-solving test for the first time in 2012 in response to a job market that increasingly demands what the group called “non-routine analytic” and “non-routine personal tasks.” American students fared particularly well on “interactive” questions that “require students to uncover useful information by exploring the problem situation and gathering feedback on the effect of their actions,” according to test results. This indicates that U.S. students can “tolerate doubt and uncertainty, and dare to use intuitions to initiate a solution.” The United States performed higher than 28 countries, with results close to Austria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, and Italy. Singapore, Korea, and Japan came out on top, followed by China, Finland, Canada, and Australia. Colombia and Bulgaria were lowest. More

Aiming too low in kindergarten

A spate of new research suggests that Americans may be underestimating students, especially the youngest, in terms of ability to think about numbers, writes Annie Murphy Paul in The New York Times. A study published this month in the American Educational Research Journal finds that kindergarten students learn more when exposed to challenging content such as advanced number concepts, and even addition and subtraction; this is true regardless of economic background or initial skill level. Elementary school students who were taught more sophisticated math as kindergarteners made bigger gains in mathematics later on. Another study published last year found the “vast majority” of kindergarteners have already mastered counting numbers and recognizing shapes before setting foot in the classroom, yet kindergarten teachers report spending much of their math teaching time on these skills. Increasing the introduction of advanced math concepts in kindergarten may be a simpler and more cost-effective way to boost learning. And time for social interaction and play could easily be preserved by replacing instruction on basic math concepts with more sophisticated ones, which might free up time for the blocks corner and the dress-up closet, Paul suggests. More

Don’t opt out yet
In an article in The Hechinger Report that looks at the pros and cons of standardized testing, Sarah Garland spoke with parents of kids who are opting out, and with Sandi Jacobs of the National Council on Teacher Quality, who advocates having kids participate in the testing process. Three complaints surface most often with opting-out parents. First, that tests don’t actually measure the skills they want students to learn, such as critical thinking, creativity, and complex problem-solving. Second, standardized tests aren’t reliable measures of how much students know and how well teachers can teach. Third, schools spend too much time prepping for the exams, especially at struggling schools where students could benefit from more enrichment. Yet Sandi Jacobs counters that the tests are about to get a lot better, now that Common Core-aligned exams are rolling out next year in many states. The new tests will have problems that ask students to do more than pick an answer from a list of four choices. Second, while tests may not reveal everything about how much a student has learned, they’re an important element of a more holistic picture of student performance. Finally, the tests show how unequal the school system is, and identify which schools need more help and resources because their students are falling behind. More

How it all fell apart in Indiana

Four years ago, “Common Core standards” did not signal federal overreach or limits on teacher autonomy, writes Eric Weddle for the Indianapolis Star. Back in 2010, then-Gov. Mitch Daniels and Tony Bennett, superintendent of public instruction, persuaded lawmakers, educators, and others that Indiana should adopt the standards to improve student performance, take advantage of federal incentives, and raise the competitiveness of Indiana’s workforce. Yet when Daniels left office and Bennett fell from power, grass-roots opponents — many fueled by the president’s endorsement of the Common Core — turned key lawmakers from supporters to foes. Gov. Mike Pence recently signed a bill that voided adoption of the Common Core and required new K-12 math and English standards by July 1. Contributing factors were quick adoption of the standards without consensus-building to guarantee long-term support; Bennett’s 2012 re-election loss to Democrat Glenda Ritz, who favored a review of the Common Core but doesn’t agree with its conservative opponents; opposition by a dedicated network of tea party conservatives; and a smaller but growing number of liberals who view the Common Core as an attack on teacher autonomy. Indiana is the first to officially shed the standards, but some 100 bills have been introduced in state legislatures nationally to slow or halt implementation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. More

Diane, Bill, and Eva
In a post on The New York Review of Books blog, Diane Ravitch chides New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio for his recent conciliatory tone toward the charter sector in NYC public schools. “How did a privately managed school franchise that serves a tiny portion of New York’s students manage to hijack the education reforms of a new mayor with a huge popular mandate?” Ravitch asks. While de Blasio was pressing for universal pre-kindergarten, Ravitch explains, he was faced with a decision about dozens of co-locations and new charters that had been hurriedly endorsed by Bloomberg’s Panel on Education Policy in the last months of that mayor’s term. The three charter proposals de Blasio rejected were part of Eva Moskowitz’s Success Academy network. She had asked for eight new schools, the mayor allowed five. According to Ravitch, Moskowitz’s “friends on Wall Street and the far-right Walton Family Foundation” funded television ads attacking de Blasio as heartless, ruthless, and possibly racist. “Somehow this man who had run a brilliant campaign to change the city was left speechless by the charter lobby. His poll numbers took a steep dive. He never called a press conference to explain his criteria for approving or rejecting charters, each of which made sense.” De Blasio caved, Ravitch suggests, and the charter lobby triumphed. More

Child wellness and race
The latest Kids Count report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation introduces the Race for Results index, comparing how children are progressing on key milestones across racial and ethnic groups at the national and state level. The index uses 12 indicators to measure a child’s success from birth to adulthood, grouped into four areas: early childhood; education and early work; family supports; and neighborhood context. Overall, no one racial group has all children meeting all milestones. Using a scale of one to 1,000, Asian and Pacific Islander children have the highest index score at 776, followed by whites at 704. Scores for Latino (404), American-Indian (387), and African-American (345) children are much lower in nearly every state. The Rust Belt and Mississippi Delta in particular — Michigan, Mississippi, and Wisconsin — have the poorest opportunities for black children. Children of Southeast Asian descent (Burmese, Hmong, Laotian, Cambodian, and Vietnamese) also face barriers. For Latinos, kids from Mexico and Central America face the biggest hurdles. The report makes four policy recommendations: gather and analyze racial and ethnic data to inform polices; utilize data and impact-assessment tools to target investments for children of color; develop and implement programs and practices focused on improving outcomes; and integrate strategies that connect vulnerable groups to new jobs and opportunities in economic and workforce development. More

Child nutrition and tremendous waste
On hundreds of campuses in Los Angeles Unified, which serves 650,000 meals a day, students toss at least $500,000 worth of food per week, reports Teresa Watanabe in The Los Angeles Times. That’s $18 million a year — based on a conservative estimate of 10-percent food waste — which LAUSD Food Services Director David Binkle says would be better spent on higher-quality items like strawberries or watermelon. Under federal school-meal rules finalized in 2012, students must take at least three items — including one fruit or vegetable — even if they don’t want them, or the federal government won’t reimburse districts for meals. The rules, part of the 2010 Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, impose an array of requirements on calories, portion sizes, even color of fruits and vegetables served. The rules also increased the amount of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains that must be offered, imposing higher costs on districts. The School Nutrition Association, representing 55,000 school-food providers, plans to lobby for revision of the law, up for reauthorization next year. Among other things, the group wants to remove the requirement forcing students to take a fruit or vegetable, suspend rules requiring lower sodium, and drop a planned shift from half to full whole grain in food products beginning in July. More

Tackling obesity through data

Amid the nation’s childhood obesity epidemic, schools in nearly a quarter of all states record body-mass index scores, measuring hundreds of thousands of students, reports Julie Watson for the Associated Press. Some districts measure anonymously how many are at risk for weight-related health problems. Others track the weight of individual students and notify parents whose children are classified at an unhealthy weight. When Chula Vista, California measured nearly 25,000 students in 2010, it discovered 40 percent of its children were overweight. Officials used the data to make a color-coded obesity map of the district and showed the community. Schools boosted partnerships with doctors, planted gardens, banned cupcakes at school birthdays, and tracked kids’ activity levels. Yet not all parents react favorably to so-called “fat letters.” Vicki Greenleaf received one from the LAUSD for her daughter, who does Brazilian martial arts four times a week and is built like a gymnast but classified as overweight. “I think those letters make kids feel bad about themselves,” Greenleaf said. “For a kid predisposed to an eating disorder, those are the kind of triggers that can set it off.” Eighteen percent of U.S. children were obese in 2012, and 21 percent of U.S. adolescents ages 12 to 17, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More

BRIEFLY NOTED CALIFORNIA
Serrano, redux

Southern California researchers are finding that foundations, set up to raise money for public schools, are reintroducing funding inequality that was supposed to be eliminated back in the 1970s. More

Fiscal cliff on the horizon

The pension fund for public school teachers in California faces a long-term shortfall of $74 billion, threatening its ability to pay for the retirement of nearly one million teachers and administrators. More

Faring poorly

California’s African American, Latino, and American Indian children lag far behind white and Asian children in access to health and education opportunities, according to a new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation. More

Excellent move

In an effort to improve literacy rates among children from low-income families, public housing authorities across the state are piloting programs that help parents prepare their children for school and increase their access to books. More

Where it’s all going

The California State Controller’s Office has launched a website tracking how money from Prop 30 is being spent by charter schools, districts, and community colleges. More

BRIEFLY NOTED 
Next steps?

As Indiana’s charter school association completes a shutdown, questions about what sort of group might replace it remain unanswered. More

No dice

The Philadelphia Federation of Teachers has asked the state Supreme Court to toss out a petition from the district and the School Reform Commission that seeks to eliminate seniority and other work rules, claiming they are bargained privileges. More

Church and state

A federal appeals court in New York City has ruled that the Board of Education was abiding by the law in prohibiting the Bronx Household of Faith from using public school facilities for worship services during off-hours. More

Vouchers halted

The Mississippi House voted 63-57 to reject a bill that would have given vouchers worth more than $6,000 to parents of some Mississippi special education students. More

They want no credit

A lawsuit filed by Georgia parents argues that a Georgia program offering tax credits to people who fund private school scholarships is unconstitutional and robs public schools of much-needed financial support. More

Church and state, take two

The American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaii wants a court to order the state to stop providing preschool tuition subsidies for children attending religious institutions. More

Pledge realized

Two days after Albany lawmakers allocated $300 million for pre-kindergarten in New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that pre-k expansion was underway, with an additional 4,268 full-day seats found in public school buildings. More

Slightly more demanding

Washington state high school students will need 24 credits to earn a diploma, with an extra credit of math and science, starting in 2019. More

GRANTS AND FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES

AAPT: Frederick and Florence Bauder Endowment for the Support of Physics Teaching

The American Association of Physics Teachers Frederick and Florence Bauder Endowment for the Support of Physics Teaching was established to support special activities in the area of physics teaching. Activities can include but are not limited to the development and distribution of innovative apparatuses for physics teaching; traveling exhibits of apparatuses; and local workshops. Maximum award: $500. Eligibility: AAPT members. Deadline: July 1, 2014.

PTO Today: Parent Group of the Year

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. Eligibility: all parent groups — PTO, PTA, HSA, PTC, etc.; public and private schools; rural, suburban, and urban schools. Deadline: June 1, 2014.

National Weather Association: Sol Hirsch Teacher Grants

National Weather Association Sol Hirsch Teacher Grants improve students’ education in meteorology. Teachers selected will be able to use the funds to take an accredited course in atmospheric sciences, attend a relevant workshop or conference, or purchase scientific materials or equipment for the classroom. Maximum award: $750. Eligibility: K-12 teachers. Deadline: June 1, 2014.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK:

“As we parents began to see public spaces–playgrounds, streets, public ball fields, the distance between school and home–as dangerous, other, smaller daily decisions fell into place. Ask any of my parenting peers to chronicle a typical week in their child’s life and they will likely mention school, homework, after-school classes, organized playdates, sports teams coached by a fellow parent, and very little free, unsupervised time. Failure to supervise has become, in fact, synonymous with failure to parent.” – Hanna Rosin, The Atlantic Magazine.