LAEP NewsBlast 9.23.14

September 23, 2014 – In This Issue:

Americans want rigorous teacher prep

A new PDK International and Gallup poll finds 60 percent of Americans support increasing the rigor of admission requirements for teacher-preparation schools, reports Allie Bidwell for U.S. News & World Report. Additionally, 80 percent support use of a board certification exam such as lawyers and medical professionals must take before earning a license to practice. A national board certification for teachers already exists, but is optional, and only about 3 percent of the nation’s 3 million teachers have met requirements for it. In addition to raising requirements for teaching, most surveyed said those training to become teachers should spend at least one year practicing teaching under the guidance of a certified teacher. Forty-four percent said those training to become teachers should spend a year doing so, while another 27 percent said the practice period should last two years. Americans also see value in evaluating teacher performance — primarily to help teachers improve their ability to teach — but there is little support for using standardized test scores in those evaluations. This may stem from frustration with the failures of No Child Left Behind, which significantly increased the amount of testing in schools under the premise that increased testing would raise student achievement. More

An evaluation of evaluations

A new article from Education Next examines the design and performance of new teacher-evaluation systems in four districts “at the forefront of the effort to evaluate teachers meaningfully,” finding ratings assigned to teachers were sufficiently predictive of teachers’ future performance to be used by administrators for high-stakes decisions. Just a fifth of teachers in the study districts were evaluated based on student test scores; the other four-fifths, responsible for classes not covered by standardized tests, were evaluated based on classroom observation, achievement test gains for their entire school, scores from non-standardized tests chosen and administered by each teacher, and some form of “team spirit” rating. Classroom observations comprised between 50 and 75 percent of overall evaluation scores for teachers in non-tested grades and subjects. Based on its analysis, the report issues several recommendations. Teacher evaluations should include two to three annual classroom observations, with at least one conducted by a trained observer from outside the school; observations that make meaningful distinctions among teachers should carry at least as much weight as test-score gains in determining an overall score; and importantly, districts should adjust classroom-observation scores for background characteristics of students, which can substantially and unfairly influence an evaluation rating. More

Success Academy: the known knowns

What neither Eva Moskowitz’s supporters nor detractors admit is how little we actually know about why Success Academy (SA) students succeed, writes Paul Bruno on the Flypaper blog of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute website. SA students are perhaps not representative of neighborhoods that surround the schools, since students self-select by applying; yet most student demographic information can offer only a crude picture of advantages or disadvantages. SA cohorts often shrink substantially; yet ten percent of students leave particular schools annually, especially low-income, black, and/or Hispanic students. If SAs attract and retain high-achieving students, this could impact lower-achievers, since students might benefit from learning alongside academically stronger peers. But peer effects are hard to measure, and inconsistent across contexts. We don’t know how SAs prepare for testing, or how much their teachers rely on instruction aligned with standards or tests. Nor do we know if more class time is devoted to test prep than at other schools. SAs self-identify as “no excuses,” but we know relatively little about their culture and practices. We don’t know their instructional approaches to math, or whether math and reading instruction is supplemented by — or crowds out — instruction in other content areas. None of these factors are mutually exclusive, and may all work together. Given how little we know, Bruno urges caution about drawing conclusions. More

Charters that serve only special needs

Dozens of charters nationwide focus on serving students with disabilities, counter to a long-running criticism that charters don’t serve kids with special needs, reports Arianna Prothero for Education Week. Yet these schools also renew questions about the best educational environment for students with disabilities: Are kids with special needs better served in a specialized school, or in a mainstream setting with general education students? Parents of students with disabilities often push for special schools, but experts point to federal law and related research that prescribe such students be integrated as much as possible with typically developing peers. There are few data on exactly how many special education-focused charter schools exist; one count was 100 in 2012-13. This number is small compared to over 6,000 charter schools operating nationally, but many predict specialized schools will gain in popularity because they offer a tuition-free option for parents seeking such programs. In many ways, the schools align with the choice movement: responding to parental demand and gaps in the “education marketplace.” This choice may collide with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which requires students with disabilities be taught in the “least restrictive environment” appropriate for their needs. More

Ed tech and student data: vast and unregulated

Technology companies are collecting vast amounts of data on students — touching every corner of their educational lives — with few controls on how those data are used, reports Natasha Singer for The New York Times. Schools nationwide have rushed to introduce everything from sophisticated online portals, which allow students to see course assignments and correspond with teachers, to reading apps that can record and assess a child’s every click. California will be the first state to comprehensively restrict how this information is exploited by the growing education-technology industry. Legislators there have passed a law prohibiting educational sites, apps, and cloud services used by schools from selling or disclosing personal information about students from kindergarten through high school; from using children’s data to market to them; and from compiling dossiers on them. The law responds to growing parental concern that sensitive information — learning disabilities, disciplinary problems, or family trauma — might be disclosed or disseminated. Other states have enacted limited restrictions, but California’s are wide-ranging. Gov. Jerry Brown has not taken a public position on the measure. If he does not act, the bills become law at the end of this month. Last year, sales of education-technology software for preK-12 reached $7.9 billion, according to the Software and Information Industry Association. More

When broadband goes rural

About 70 percent of America’s elementary schools still rely on slow internet connections, writes Nicole Dobo for The Atlantic Magazine. The federal government has pledged financing to remedy this situation, and last year, President Obama added funds through the ConnectEd program, promising “virtually all” the nation’s schools would have high-speed connections, as well as teacher training and digital tools, by 2017. In a profile of this process underway in rural Garrett County, Maryland, Dobo describes how teachers are now using broadband to develop high-tech lessons with familiar agricultural themes. Schools no longer limit internet use for fear of overburdening the connection. Yet Garrett County still has very old computers, and two of 12 district schools aren’t linked, and won’t be soon. The county’s new needs include teacher training, rewiring of old buildings, and new curricular resources — most to be paid for by state and local funds at a time when county money is scarce. The district planned to spend more on computers and other devices, but recognized it lacked internal systems to support full use of new computers, so prioritized infrastructure over devices. Its technology grant runs out this fall, and district leaders don’t yet know how they’ll pay for more classroom technology. More

Foster care students: support the supporters

California’s initiative to give extra support to foster youth in school is proving difficult for districts to implement, reports Susan Frey for EdSource. Under the Local Control Funding Formula, lawmakers created a separate subgroup so students in foster care could receive targeted services. But the school year has begun, and the state has not provided districts with names of foster students. Advocates also say the state offers little support – e.g., sample programs or expert advice — to help districts understand the special challenges faced by the 40,000 foster youth in California. For instance, foster youth miss school because of court hearings, meetings with social workers and district attorneys, or court-ordered therapy sessions. Though districts are required under the new school-finance system to set goals and provide extra support for foster youth, a recent change in the Local Control and Accountability Plan no longer encourages districts to differentiate between foster youth and other low-income youth. The ACLU reviewed 100 of 1,000 district plans and found the vast majority lacked specific goals or services for the foster youth subgroup, particularly at the school level. Advocates suggest coordinating between agencies and social workers, attorneys, counselors, foster parents, and teachers, so all are aware of problems youth may be having and work together. More

Deep in the heart of textbooks

Reviews of 43 proposed textbooks for grades 6 to 12 in Texas by the Education Fund of the Texas Freedom Network have found extensive problems, writes Valerie Strauss on the Answer Sheet blog in The Washington Post. Texts suggest that Moses and Solomon inspired American democracy; that in the era of segregation, only “sometimes” were schools for black children “lower in quality”; and that Jews view Jesus Christ as an important prophet. Two government textbooks include information that undermines the Constitutional concept of separation of church and state; several world history and geography textbooks inappropriately portray Islam and Muslims; all world geography textbooks inaccurately downplay the role of conquest in the spread of Christianity; one world history textbook includes outdated — and offensive — anthropological categories and racial terminology in describing African civilization; and several government and U.S. history textbooks suffer an uncritical celebration of the free enterprise system, ignoring legitimate problems in capitalism and failing to include coverage of government’s role in the U.S. economic system. The state board will vote on which books to approve in November. More

BRIEFLY NOTED CALIFORNIA
 

Going for the source

A lawsuit working its way through the courts is striking at the core of the CTA’s power: its authority to automatically deduct hundreds of millions of dollars a year in dues from paychecks of both members and non-members. More

Not exactly news

Black elementary schoolchildren in California were chronically truant and faced suspension from school at disproportionately high rates compared to other students last year, according to a study that follows similar research from the U.S. Education Department. More

Another reprieve

Seven California districts have received a one-year extension of NCLB waivers in return for meeting a slew of new requirements mandated by the Obama administration. More

Wait, what?

The Los Angeles Unified School District has taken possession of Pentagon military surplus that included 61 M16 assault rifles, three grenade launchers and a mine-resistant protective vehicle.More

Total wash

LAUSD has paid $3.75 million to settle with the vendor of a software system designed to track attendance, grades, schedules and other student data, officials said. More

Sounds spiffy

The social service organization Children’s Institute Inc. is planning a new campus in Watts designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry. More

BRIEFLY NOTED 
See above

Texas may limit the sway of a new national Advanced Placement U.S. History course and exam amid arguments that they’re rife with anti-American biases. More

Welcome news

Rates of drug abuse among young people between 12 and 17 years old dropped from almost 12 percent in 2002 to 9.5 percent in 2012, a study from the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration has found. More

By any other name

A bill before Congress aims to amend the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s definition of “homelessness,” which would help children and families living in motels, cars, or temporarily with others to obtain needed services. More

Ready, aim

Twenty Columbus, Ohio schools, or nearly 1 in 5, now qualify for major leadership overhauls under the state’s pilot “parent-trigger” law. More

GRANTS AND FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES

 

CompareCards: FLY

CompareCards’ Financially Literate Youth (FLY) program is granting funds for the school year towards financial education. Maximum award: $5,000. Eligibility: public, private, and charter K-12 schools in the United States. Deadline: September 26, 2014. More

GRAMMY in the Schools: Grants for High School Music Programs

GRAMMY Signature School awards are given to high school music programs that are keeping music programs alive and well despite budgets and school politics. Maximum award: $5,500. Eligibility: public high schools in the U.S. Deadline: October 22, 2014. More

USA Today/Office Depot Foundation: Dream UP!

The Office Depot Foundation Dream UP! Career Exploration Program enables middle school students to evaluate their career interests and future career goals. The Dream UP! Program includes: career exploration lessons in a student workbook format, an essay challenge (aligned to the Common Core), USA TODAY Newspapers for student research on industries and career trends, and the opportunity for five students to win a day with a mentor to experience their chosen career. Maximum award: winning students will each spend one day shadowing a mentor in the field of his or her chosen Dream career. Eligibility: U.S. residents who are full-time students of a public or private middle school in the 50 U.S. States and District of Columbia (excluding Puerto Rico). Deadline: February 5, 2015. More

Adobe: ConnectED software grants

As part of the White House’s ConnectEd initiative, Adobe is offering creative tools and teacher professional development to schools across the United States. Maximum award: Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Premiere, Adobe Presenter, Adobe Captivate, Adobe Echosign, and a range of teacher training resources. Eligibility: public, state-operated, county-operated school, or BIA schools at the elementary or secondary school level that receive Title I funds. Deadline: rolling. More

Quote of the Week:

“Every single kid in the room was IMing their friends, or trying to fix the computer, or surfing the Internet, while a teacher talked very loudly in the front. If we try to stick technology in there to solve this problem without those foundations [of human connection in the classroom], we’re going to see things go in the wrong direction.” – TFA founder Wendy Kopp at a NationSwell event, describing a visit to Microsoft’s School of the Future in Philadelphia. More