LAEP NewsBlast Week of 5/6/14

Regulators or Educators: Who Should Run K-12? by guest blogger Ruth Herman Wells
Dear Governors and Legislators:
Forty years ago, when I was young and beginning my career counseling troubled students, I often worked with gray-haired, veteran educators nearing retirement. Young and optimistic, I’d tell them my ideas for how to fix K-12 education so it worked better for the growing number of students with challenges. The veterans would listen, then some of them would tell me how their efforts to reform K-12 education had failed. They’d tell me that they’re leaving an education system that functioned no better than when they entered. Read more & comment

May 6, 2014 – In This Issue:
What might work where nothing else does
Revolution in Cincinnati
Peer-to-peer progress
Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution
The Common Core could help ELLs
Almost no one benefits from high-stakes testing
U.S. testing: Are the stakes actually high?
Charters and equity

What might work where nothing else does

Preventing crime through psychotherapy may sound utopian, but a new program is starting to attract national attention, writes Dylan Matthews for Vox. Becoming a Man (BAM) was developed by Youth Guidance and World Sport Chicago for use in Chicago schools, and consists of weekly hour-long sessions with groups of no more than 15 high school boys, with an average instructor-student ratio of one to eight. Its approach borrows from cognitive-behavioral therapy, which teaches patients to identify thought patterns that contribute to depression and anxiety and replace them with healthier patterns. BAM tackles catastrophizing in particular, operating on the theory that living in distressed and dangerous neighborhoods leads teen boys to adopt certain behaviors automatically that are rational and adaptive in that context, but fail them elsewhere. Randomized controlled trials have found participants in BAM have significantly fewer violent crime arrests and arrests in general. Perhaps most striking is the estimate that BAM likely pays for itself many times over, as much 30 times, by reducing violent crime and its attendant social costs in the year the program takes place. Because of the program’s relative newness, it’s too early to gauge its benefits into adulthood. Researchers have committed to tracking participants for years into the future to determine its effects. More

Revolution in Cincinnati

Districts thinking of embracing a community-schools approach should look to a nationally recognized model: the Cincinnati Public Schools (CPS), writes Susan Frey for EdSource. Cincinnati has turned all 55 of its schools into community learning centers by relying on partners to offer services free of cost to students and the district, in exchange for space at schools and exclusive access to students. The transformation required leadership, community buy-in, time, and patience, but CPS went from one of the worst urban public systems in Ohio 10 years ago to the best today, according to the state’s ranking system based on test scores and high school graduation rates. Cincinnati’s model could also prove helpful to districts struggling for input from their communities. Cincinnati relied on top-down reforms to generate a grassroots movement, using a neighborhood-by-neighborhood planning process that worked with the entire community. This took many meetings before everyone agreed to the same vision. Today, every school has a mental health team, a health clinic, and full-blown after-school programs, working with the YMCA, the Urban League, the Cincinnati Art Museum, and the Boys & Girls Clubs of America. More

Peer-to-peer progress

Schools in Baltimore, New York City, New Jersey, and North Carolina have used the Peer Group Connection mentorship program to boost attendance, academic persistence, and graduation rates, reports Evie Blad for Education Week. Designed to ease the transition to high school, every 9th-grader in a given school participates. Some groups are led by predictable leaders, like student council members; others are led by students often overlooked for leadership roles. In a randomized control study, researchers tracked four-year graduation rates for 268 students at a high-poverty, mid-Atlantic urban high school. Of the program’s participants, 77 percent graduated in four years, compared with 68 percent of nonparticipating peers. Participating Latino males had an 81 percent graduation rate, compared with 63 percent in the control group. Peer Group Connection is integrated into the school day, incorporates meetings with student families, and requires buy-in from principals and teachers. Researchers tracking efforts between 2010 and 2013 found that students mentored through the program showed significant attendance gains. Chronically absent students, at high risk for dropping out, were 52 percent more likely to remain in school the following year than comparison students. The Center for Supportive Schools hopes to undertake research about the program’s effectiveness. More

Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution

For decades, schools have worked to address a range of student behaviors and emotional issues with programs that help students express feelings, manage behavior, and solve arguments, writes Suzanne Bouffard in The New York Times. But do these social and emotional learning (SEL) programs make a difference? The impact from even the best ones appears to be moderate, Bouffard writes. This may be because SEL programs are not used as designed, or adults who implement them do not themselves model the skills. Many teachers struggle to teach SEL because they lack training. In a pilot program funded by the federal Institute for Education Sciences, 33 third-to-fifth-grade teachers in New York City used the 4R’s program (Reading, Writing, Respect, and Resolution) developed by the Morningside Center for Teaching Social Responsibility, and received monthly SEL coaching. They learned how to teach the program and to reinforce SEL throughout the school day — for example, by modeling techniques to calm down and show empathy and by encouraging students to listen to each other and brainstorm “win-win” solutions when arguments arise. Preliminary findings from the project’s evaluation suggest benefits for students. Teacher coaching in particular seemed to yield better results for students who then more easily solved conflicts with peers and were rated by teachers as having better social and academic skills. More

The Common Core could help ELLs

Some educators, including those enthusiastic about the Common Core, have publicly worried about the effects of the standards on students already lagging, especially those still learning English, writes Pat Wingert for The Hechinger Report. Teachers fear the achievement gap between native speakers and English learners (ELLs) will widen, particularly where teachers have too little training and too few resources. The number of English learners has grown by 50 percent nationally since the 1990s, and currently accounts for 10 percent of all American students. Projections indicate that by 2030, 40 percent of the K-12 population will be ELL. Whether schools can successfully meet this challenge will be a key measure of success for the Common Core. Writing and vocabulary won’t be enough; ELLs also must tackle more challenging, nuanced concepts, like figurative language and inferences. But Wingert reports the new standards have prompted some teachers to use ambitious vocabulary in class, and they’ve been surprised at how quickly students echo their word choices. Common Core proponents hope the emphasis on comprehension and vocabulary will help ELLs catch up with native speakers by high school. They’re also convinced that extra time spent on nonfiction will help all students expand their knowledge of the world and become more powerful readers. More

Almost no one benefits from high-stakes testing

High-stakes testing in the District of Columbia is especially burdensome to low-performing schools, write Josie Malone and Wagma Mommandi, a sixth-year high school English Language Arts teacher and a fifth-year high school science teacher, in The Huffington Post. The DC CAS (Comprehensive Assessment System) does not show student growth, which is needed for schools to demonstrate actual progress achieved by students. Also, the test is administered in early April, with nine weeks of instruction left. Teachers must either inject so much content into a short period of time that both subject and students are shortchanged, or must accept that students will take a test covering material they’ve not yet seen, jeopardizing their jobs and lowering the test-taking confidence of their students. And many teachers are pressured to identify “bubble” students in the weeks immediately prior to the test, who are within range of moving up a performance level. This means ignoring students whose grade-level reading comprehension skills are unlikely to grow before the assessment, or high-achieving students whose performance is assured. The students and teachers in low-performing schools in high-test districts deserve a higher level of attention from administrators around the nuanced issues of testing, rather than a higher level of anxiety over the repercussions of scores. More

U.S. testing: Are the stakes actually high?

High school students in the U.S. take many standardized tests, but how do these compare with those taken by teenagers around the world? asks Cory Turner of NPR. For instance, at the age of 16, almost every child in England takes between 15 to 20 substantial examinations, all part of one test, which determine whether they finish high school. Finland has a single standardized exam at the end of high school, but it involves six day-long exams, so one test equates to 40 hours of testing. Many Finnish universities also have entrance exams. Japanese students don’t end high school with a high-stakes test, but Japanese universities require their own exams, and many students must take entrance exams to get into high school. Dylan Wiliam of the University of London says that when it comes to getting into college, the above pattern “is true for most countries apart from the U.S. There’s no teacher contribution to the decision. Basically, it’s how well you do on exams.” In the U.S., only half of states have anything like a high-stakes, high school exit exam. And American colleges and universities consider report cards, teacher recommendations, and application essays. Hundreds of American schools no longer require test scores at all. More

Charters and equity

A new report from the Walton Foundation finds charter schools on average receive less public money than traditional schools, reports Joy Resmovits for The Huffington Post. Yet many feel this funding gap isn’t necessarily unfair, and the report’s methodology masks fundamental differences between charter- and public-school populations. The report examined charter funding in 30 states and D.C., finding the disparity between public and charter funding grew 55 percent from 2007 to 2011. Most disparities stemmed from state and local revenue, and in 16 states widened as charter enrollment increased and district enrollment decreased, according to the report. The 2007 recession exacerbated disparities, with charters losing $902 per student — 1.5 times state and local revenues cut from public schools. All states except Tennessee gave traditional public schools more money than charters, and D.C. had the largest disparity at $12,736. In 48 urban areas, traditional public schools received on average $4,352 more per pupil than charters. The report’s authors frame this as an equity issue, asking, “When will charters see a reduction in the funding disparity? When will public school students experience resource equity?” The report’s findings come after an expensive battle over charter school resources roiled New York City, the nation’s largest school district.  More


No pressure

The graduation rate in California inched above 80 percent last year, the highest level in state history, but numbers were tempered by a report suggesting that progress in the national graduation rate might be lost if California fails to make significant gains. More

Time to step up

State elections this year offer the first look at Californians’ willingness to raise revenue for local schools since passage of Proposition 30, the tax initiative to benefit education that voters passed in November 2012. More

It gets worse

iPads that the LAUSD purchased to take new state competency tests are failing to get online, having trouble connecting to keyboards, and in some cases, not turning on at all. More

New boss in town

Alex Caputo-Pearl has won the top job of the teachers’ union for the Los Angeles Unified School District. More

A good start

LAUSD’s plan to help foster kids calls for creating a corps of social workers and manning 17 centers in poverty-stricken neighborhoods. More

Evil creep

Former Miramonte Elementary School teacher Mark Berndt’s alleged sexual abuse went beyond what has been previously disclosed, and included “highly assaulting” touching of girls’ genitalia, inducing children to touch his genitalia, and exposing his genitalia to students, according to a judge’s summary of an L.A. Sheriff’s Department investigation. More


Violence drops

Despite frequent media reports of school shootings and child abuse, a new analysis says the amount of violence U.S. children are exposed to fell considerably during the past decade. More

Mild progress

The four-year graduation rate in the United States rose slightly during 2011-12 to a historical high of 80 percent, up from 79 percent the year before. More

New wonk

Robert Gordon, who played key roles in the Office of Management and Budget in the Obama administration, has been tapped to serve as assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development at the U.S. Department of Education. More

Mandatory K in HI

Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie has signed state Senate Bill 2768 (Act 76), which makes kindergarten mandatory for children at least 5 years of age on or before July 31 of the school year, unless otherwise exempt. More

Multiple measures

The Connecticut panel responsible for crafting requirements on teacher evaluation has unanimously approved changes that restrict districts from using a single standardized test when assessing teachers. More

Forging ahead

The Indiana Board of Education followed Gov. Mike Pence’s lead and gave final approval to new K-12 education standards despite continued objections from critics who say the guidelines are a shoddy, warmed-over version of Common Core. More

Right, that controversy

The S.C. Education Oversight Committee has sent proposed language to the state board of education that would require biology students to construct scientific arguments that support and discredit Darwinism, so students could be exposed to the “controversy” over evolution. More

Under the wire

Aspiring New York State teachers won’t have to pass a new, tougher certification test this year or next, thanks to a Board of Regents vote that resulted from last-minute negotiations with the state teachers’ union. More

How nice

Google has said it stopped scanning student Gmail accounts for advertising purposes after the practice was scrutinized during a recent court case. More

As promised

The new NYC teacher contract includes wage increases and back pay, a streamlined teacher-evaluation process, and time built into the school day for professional development and parent engagement. More


Nearly 50,000 city students were turned away from NYC charter schools this year, a dip from last year’s total, according to new enrollment estimates from the New York City Charter School Center.More

This won’t hurt a bit

The Chicago Teachers Union is rolling out a plan they say will help solve the teacher-pension crisis through three new taxes. More

Starting smart

Some New Mexico schools will be offering the Smart Start K-3 Plus program, a state program that extends the school year by 25 days for math and literacy instruction. More


The Houston Federation of Teachers has filed a federal lawsuit against the 203,000-student district, claiming that its “value-added” approach to teacher evaluation violates teachers’ constitutional rights.More


Farmers Insurance: Thank a Million Teachers

Farmers Insurance wants to thank teachers all across the country and have a genuinely positive impact on the lives of teachers and their students. Every educator that has been thanked is eligible to apply for a grant. The winners must use the money to purchase school supplies through or have the funds applied toward a professional certification through the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. Maximum award: a $2,500 grant. Eligibility: current K through 12 teachers in the United States who have submitted a qualified proposal on Deadline: October 31, 2014.

ASIS&T/ Thomson Reuters: Outstanding Information Science Teacher Award

The Thomson Reuters Outstanding Information Science Teacher Award recognizes the unique teaching contribution of an individual as a teacher of information science. Maximum award: $1,000; $500 towards travel or other expenses to the grant recipient, contingent upon the recipient’s attending the ASIS&T annual meeting. Eligibility: individuals directly engaged in teaching some aspect of information science on a continuing basis, in an academic or a non-academic setting; nominees need not be associated with an educational institution; however, teaching information science must represent a significant work responsibility although it need not occur within the traditional classroom. Deadline: August 1, 2014.

State Farm Foundation: Grants

State Farm is committed to meeting the needs of our communities by focusing our giving in three areas: Safe Neighbors (safety), Strong Neighborhoods (community development), and Education Excellence (education). Maximum award: varies. Eligibility: nonprofit, tax-exempt organizations under Section 501(c)3 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code; Canadian charitable organizations, educational institutions, and governmental entities. Deadline: October 31, 2014.


“The fact that females generally perform better than their male counterparts throughout what is essentially mandatory schooling in most countries seems to be a well-kept secret, considering how little attention it has received as a global phenomenon.” — Susan Voyer of the University of New Brunswick in Canada and co-author of a meta-analysis of studies on gender performance in schools globally.