LAEP NewsBlast Week of 4/15/14

Vergara: Everyone loses

In an editorial in Education Week, David Menefee-Libey and Charles Taylor Kerchner write that in Vergara vs. California, the plaintiffs can’t win and the defendants will lose, regardless of how Judge Rolf Treu rules. The plaintiffs lose because they picked the wrong lawsuit. However much tenure, due process, and seniority laws make school improvement difficult, they are far from the core weaknesses in California’s education system. On the other side, the state and the California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers have for years failed to clean up the obvious messes in teacher tenure, dismissal procedures, and seniority. California teachers have so far been spared the frontal attacks seen in Wisconsin and other states, but the politics of pensions and school reform put them at odds with Democratic officeholders and with Republicans eager to eliminate them as an interest group. Menefee-Libey and Kerchner feel the courtroom was just a warm-up act. It’s likely the plaintiffs don’t expect to win the trial, but arguing the case has given them a chance to speak to national audiences, call press conferences, and tell vivid stories about children suffering at the hands of school bureaucrats and teachers. It also prepares the ground for a 2016 ballot initiative to wipe away teacher tenure and job protections.  More

Teachers don’t love their jobs, and students don’t love their teachers

Gallup’s newly released State of America’s Schools report indicates that nearly 70 percent of K-12 teachers surveyed in 2012 do not feel engaged in their work, reports Rebecca Klein in The Huffington Post. Nearly half of teachers reported feeling daily stress. When compared to 12 other occupational groups, teachers were least likely to feel their “opinions seem to count” at work; yet the survey found teachers tended to be satisfied with their lives overall. The report also surveyed 600,000 students in grades five through 12 on their feelings of hope, engagement, and well-being. Forty-five percent of students felt “not engaged” or “actively disengaged” from school, with rates of disengagement increasing by grade level. Teachers have the biggest influence on student-engagement levels: Students who have “at least one teacher who makes me excited about my future” and feel their school is “committed to building the strengths of each student” were 30 times more likely to be engaged at school. Teachers’ and students’ lack of engagement seems to have filtered down to the public’s perception of American education. An earlier Gallup poll cited in the report found just 17 percent of Americans think high school graduates are ready for work, and just 29 percent think they’re ready for college. More

Failing the kids who need us most

In an opinion piece in The Hechinger Report, Pamela Cantor writes that many of our schools are failing to educate black and Latino children, and quick to punish them. To change this, Cantor says we must understand the challenges that children in poverty bring to school every day, and intentionally design learning environments to counteract these. We must use what we already know to intentionally design and build fortified environments for teaching and learning — fortified to reduce stress; to promote strong connections to adults, peers, families, and communities; to aggressively address academic recovery; to deliver rigorous and engaging content; and to promote attributes common among all successful students. A fortified school environment is filled with adults who fire up their students, expand their confidence, increase their stamina, never give up on them, and never let them give up on themselves. Imagine what could happen if every school had the knowledge, skills, and tools to create this kind of learning environment, Cantor writes. Initiatives like the president’s My Brother’s Keeper are important because they help convene all stakeholders — the private and nonprofit sectors, philanthropy, faith communities, educators, and government. With continued collaboration and perseverance, we have a real chance to change the trajectory for millions of young men, and women too. More

The data confirm: poor and minority kids have less effective teachers

An analysis of data from the newest state teacher-evaluation systems by the Center for American Progress shows that in some areas, poor students and students of color are far less likely to have expert teachers. The brief looks at Louisiana and Massachusetts, two early adopters of teacher-evaluation systems that have released teacher ratings by school. The data show that in both states, students in high-poverty schools are three times as likely to be taught by a teacher deemed ineffective, although in Massachusetts the number of ineffective teachers overall is low. In Louisiana, students in schools with high minority enrollment are more than twice as likely to have an ineffective teacher as students in schools with low minority enrollment. The brief recommends several policies to ensure equitable distribution of skilled teachers throughout schools, districts, and among districts: identify high-quality teachers by improving data about effectiveness, then use these data to determine distribution; retain effective teachers by reforming career and compensation systems; increase the reach of effective teachers by creating roles for master and mentor teachers; encourage effective teachers to move to disadvantaged schools through incentives; improve the effectiveness of all teachers through proven professional development; and improve recruitment of new teachers. Working toward even one or two of the policies above could greatly increase the chance that disadvantaged students get a level of superb instruction that could change the course of their lives. More

Using early warnings to turn around lives

At Miami Carol City Senior High in Florida, a handful of teachers, administrators, and coaches, as well as analysts from Talent Development Secondary, which monitors student data; City Year, a nonprofit that provides mentors; and Communities in Schools, which connects kids with health care and social services, all convene weekly to discuss kids on a downward trend, reports Sammy Mack for NPR. The kids are flagged based on attendance, behavior, and performance in math and English. The team discusses potential options and strategies for helping the student, an interaction between different departments that didn’t happen before the program started three years ago. The program, Diplomas Now, identifies 150 to 200 students a year at Carol City and costs about $600 per student annually. Last year, one-third of students flagged for missing school got back on track to graduation. Two-thirds of students having behavioral problems made a turnaround. “The point of all this isn’t to collect data. It’s to change what’s happening for individual kids,” says Paige Kowalski of the Data Quality Campaign. Kowalski says about 20 states have developed early-warning systems like the one at Carol City. Schools, she says, can learn a lot from the medical field: “[They] don’t just put out reports saying, ‘The hospital lost all these patients and saved these people.’ They look at data and say, ‘What can we do better?'” More

Hold your conclusions from the latest PISA scores

When the scores of the new PISA Creative Problem Solving test were published, attention in different countries was predictably focused on outcomes for their respective youth, writes Daniel Willingham for RealClear Education. What wasn’t questioned was whether the tests actually measure what they purport to. In contrast to a subject like math, intelligence is not domain-specific. The PISA test uses a combined strategy that Willingham feels should prompt serious reflection in education policymakers. The OECD, which issues the test, conceives of problem-solving as a combination of exploring and understanding; representing and formulating; planning and executing; and monitoring and reflecting. Pinning the validity of the PISA test on this particular taxonomy reflects a particular view of problem-solving, Willingham points out. The test’s authors also sought to present problems that students might really encounter, like figuring out how to work a new MP3 player, finding the quickest route on a map, or figuring out how to buy a subway ticket from an automated kiosk. The tests authors effectively say, “This is the kind of problem-solving that people do, so we measured how well students do it.” Which leads Willingham to conclude that the PISA 2012 is surely measuring something, and what it’s measuring is probably close to something he’d comfortably call “problem-solving,” but it’s nothing definitive. More

Darling-Hammond on the Common Core
In an interview with The American Prospect, Linda Darling-Hammond discusses the Common Core State Standards, noting they do not require testing. In places that include standardized testing with them, what people are really debating are the tests and the high stakes attached to them, rather than the standards themselves, she says. In Darling-Hammond’s view, the tests aren’t important; some countries have a national curriculum, but local tests. She does feel, however, that Common Core-aligned tests are good for most states, since they include more open-ended items and provoke engagement. The standards themselves ask students to collaborate, use technologies for multiple purposes, communicate orally and in writing, extensively research, and apply mathematics and English language arts in complex problem-solving situations. The tests tackle standards that are closest to what traditional sit-down tests do. But using these tests to decide whether a student advances to the next grade or graduates from high school, whether a teacher continues to be employed or gets merit pay, or whether a school will be put into some kind of “failing schools” category — is irresponsible, Darling-Hammond says. To move forward, we must change the accountability paradigm in this country from “test and punish” to “assess and improve,” and we should pursue the Common Core standards within that framework. More

CCSS: Work to be done, and analyzed

A new brief from the Center on Education Policy examines the needs of state and local education policymakers around the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Four areas of policy-related research will be needed in the coming year, the authors write: case studies of successful implementation of the CCSS; studies of state and local CCSS outreach strategies; studies of state education agency capacity to lead CCSS implementation; and analyses of the impact of federal education requirements on CCSS implementation. State and local policymakers want to assist schools with CCSS implementation, but often don’t know where to start. Classroom teachers are also looking to districts and states for curricula and other CCSS-aligned materials and strategies to help prepare students for the Common Core. Additionally, some state and local policymakers have a limited understanding of the CCSS and accompanying assessments, but are tasked with making decisions about them in an environment rampant with misinformation about what the standards represent, how they came into being, and how they will shape education. Decisions about the CCSS have implications for accountability requirements and efforts to turn around low-performing schools, and for technology demands for administering assessments aligned to the CCSS. Charitable foundations, education organizations, and researchers must take the next steps to fund and carry out research projects on CCSS implementation and practice. More

Some resolution

Los Angeles school district officials have announced a lawsuit settlement that will provide $60 million in pay increases, services, and staff at about three dozen schools, many hit hard by teacher layoffs; the pact fails to deal with whether instructors should continue to be dismissed based on seniority. More


Fewer than 4 in 10 California high school students are completing the requirements to be eligible for the state’s public universities. More

Welcome news

Disadvantaged students in L.A. Unified stand to benefit from $837 million specifically aimed at boosting services for students who are low-income, learning English, or in foster care. More

Seemed like a good idea at the time

In a joint press conference, the Sacramento school district and its teachers’ union announced they are withdrawing from a first-of-its-kind No Child Left Behind Act waiver the U.S. Department of Education granted the district less than a year ago. More

Giving money for getting real

President Obama traveled to a high school in the Washington, D.C. suburbs to announce winners of $107 million in grants for updating curriculums to better integrate work experiences and real-world learning opportunities. More

Not one thin dime

Ten Republican senators don’t want further federal money going to states in exchange for adopting certain academic standards. More

Jindal yields to Justice

The U.S. Department of Justice has prevailed — at least in part — in a long-running and politically charged battle with Louisiana over the state’s private-school voucher program; the state must provide the agency with timely information about the racial background of participating students each year so the Justice Department can monitor the program’s effect on school segregation. More

Tenure takes a hit in Kansas

A Kansas bill that allocates millions more to schools but also strips teachers of a protection they have had since 1957 will head to the governor’s desk. More

Collective sigh of relief

A Virginia bill recently signed by the governor cuts in half the number of standardized tests that third-graders take, eliminating the social studies and science tests. More

All for nought?

A years-long endeavor to create national certification for principals may be scrapped, leaving in the lurch more than 100 school leaders who invested 18 months of time and effort to take part in the program’s rigorous pilot. More

About face

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has said he would allow religious services in public-school buildings, reversing a policy that has been the subject of an intense legal dispute for nearly two decades. More

S.C. remains Smart and Balanced

The South Carolina board of education has voted against a motion introduced by the state department of education to withdraw from the Smarter Balanced consortium. More

Day of reckoning

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has announced that his office is auditing the Philadelphia school district’s multibillion-dollar budget. More

The dismantling begins

New York City’s Education Department, in a break with the data-driven policies of former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, has moved to reduce the role of standardized exams in deciding which students to hold back each year. More


Kennedy Center: VSA Playwright Discovery Competition

The Kennedy Center VSA Playwright Discovery Competition invites middle and high school students to take a closer look at the world around them, examine how disability affects their lives and the lives of others, and express their views through the art of script writing. Writers may write from their own experience and observations or create fictional characters and settings. Scripts can be comedies, dramas, or even musicals. Maximum award: Division 1 (Grades 6-8, or equivalent): $375 for his/her school; publication in the 2014 VSA Playwright Discovery Program booklet. Division 2 (Grades 9-12, or equivalent): $750 scholarship, $375 for his/her school; publication in the 2013 VSA Playwright Discovery Program booklet. Deadline: April 28, 2014.

Dollar General Literacy Foundation: Youth Literacy Grants
Dollar General Literacy Foundation Youth Literacy Grants provide funding to help students who are below grade level or experiencing difficulty reading. Grant funding is provided to assist in implementing new or expanding existing literacy programs; purchasing new technology or equipment to support literacy initiatives; and purchasing books, materials, or software for literacy programs. Maximum award: $4,000. Eligibility: schools, public libraries, and nonprofit organizations. Deadline: May 22, 2014.

ACTFL: Florence Steiner Award

The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Florence Steiner Award honors the memory of a teacher, department chair, professional speaker, and ACTFL President-Elect who inspired a generation of foreign language teachers and challenged them to improve their teaching through better communication of the goals and outcomes of second-language education with the public, administrators, colleagues, and students. Maximum award: $500. Eligibility: ACTFL members for at least the last three years who have a minimum of five years teaching experience, with at least half of each year’s assignment in the area of foreign language education. Deadline: May 28, 2014.

Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation: Grants for Youth with Disabilities

The Mitsubishi Electric America Foundation Grants program is dedicated to helping young Americans with disabilities maximize their potential and fully participate in society. The foundation supports organizations and projects within its mission that have broad scope and impact and demonstrate potential for replication at other sites. A major program emphasis is inclusion: enabling young people with disabilities to have full access to educational, vocational, and recreational opportunities, and to participate alongside their non-disabled peers. Maximum award: $90,000. Eligibility: 501(c)3 organizations. Deadline: June 1, 2014.


“I’m just a big proponent of high standards. Whether they’re common or not is secondary.” — U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to members of the House appropriations subcommittee that works on health, education, and other related issues.