LAEP NewsBlast 9.3.14

September 3, 2014 – In This Issue:

Of iPads and fiascos
Superintendent John Deasy has announced he’s canceling the contract and restarting bidding for a massive expansion of classroom technology in the LA Unified School District, reports Annie Gilbertson for NPR. LAUSD had planned to buy 700,000 iPads for students and teachers, with learning software by Pearson, but release by KPCC of emails between Deasy and Pearson executives brings into question whether the initial bidding process was fair. The expected price tag for equipment, software, and wi-fi upgrades to schools was $1.3 billion. KPCC discovered notes exchanged between Deasy and Pearson long before the contract was opened for competitive bidding, and that Deasy and his deputies communicated with Pearson over pricing, teacher training, and technical support in drafting specifications for a request for proposals from vendors. Pearson and Apple were awarded the contract in June 2013. KPCC’s investigation also found some LAUSD officials had qualms about cost, infrastructure readiness, and timing of the iPad/Pearson plan; that Deasy personally pitched Apple on the Pearson partnership; that Pearson’s charitable foundation subsidized a training for 50 LAUSD employees at a resort and gave participants free iPads; and that Pearson’s sales representative argued against an RFP at all. The district now owns 75,000 iPads, roughly half loaded with Pearson’s unfinished and problematic educational software. More

Baltimore’s groundbreaking teacher compensation
Baltimore has implemented the final piece of its four-year effort to transform its teacher-pay schedule into one that emphasizes professional accomplishment over credentials and seniority, writes Stephen Sawchuck for Education Week. Few of the nation’s 14,000 districts have attempted this, even fewer with cooperation of their teachers’ union. A handful of Baltimore’s “lead” teachers will teach fewer classes, use additional time to coach other teachers on instruction, and earn nearly six figures. The Professional Practices and Student Learning Program all but dispenses with pay increases for longevity and credentials; its predominant element is performance. Baltimore teachers will earn incremental pay boosts each time they compile 12 “achievement units,” the quickest way to do so being via top teacher-evaluation scores. Larger pay increases occur after promotion to the “model” or “lead” pathway, a competitive process partly vetted by other teachers. The system has its detractors in research and in practice, yet proponents say the system offers an important benefit over its predecessor: more options for the ambitious teacher. “It takes away the predictability of when you’re going to get this or that [raise], but it really allows the individual to take control and lead where they want to go in their professional growth,” said Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, the district’s achievement and accountability officer. More

How to bolster the Common Core
What’s behind declining support for the Common Core? asks Michael Petrilli in his blog on the Thomas B. Fordham Institute website. Its slide is apparent in recent polls: Education Next found public support dropped from 65 to 53 percent in one year, with support from teachers plummeting from 76 to 46 percent. PDK/Gallup found a majority of the public and three-fourths of Republicans oppose the Common Core. Yet after two punishing years of legislative assaults, Tea Party attacks, implementation controversies, and negative stories in conservative media, it’s a miracle the numbers aren’t worse, says Petrilli. And he sees two silver linings for those — he’s one — who still think the Common Core has great potential to improve American education. The Common Core “brand” is indeed damaged, but the concept’s still popular. When Education Next ran an experiment asking half of respondents to provide views on the “Common Core” and the other half to respond to a description of the reform without the label, support jumped from 53 percent to 68 percent; Republican support in particular bounced way up. The PDK/Gallup poll asked about the “Common Core” without any description. Misperceptions are driving down support; fix those misunderstandings, and support may return, Petrilli feels. More

U.S. math instruction is fine
In a post on the Brookings Institution website, Tom Loveless outlines six myths he found in Elizabeth Green’s New York Times article about American math reform and its failures. The article’s glaring mistake, Loveless feels, is its suggestion that a particular approach to mathematics instruction is the answer to improving U.S. math learning. Green’s first myth is that Japan scores higher on math tests because Japanese teachers teach differently. Green relied on the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) 1995 Video Study for her conclusion, yet the study itself collected no data on how much kids learned during lessons. Her second myth is that non-school factors are unimportant to Japanese math success. But what of juku, or “cram school,” the private, after-school instruction most Japanese students receive? A third myth is that American kids hate math, and Japanese kids love it. PISA data on enjoyment show that American students consistently report enjoying math more than Japanese, 45.4 compared to 33.7 percent. A fourth myth is that international scores support math reform. Yet Japan’s scores are declining — worse now in absolute terms than in the 1960s, prior to reforms — and U.S. scores are rising. Myth five is that a blind devotion to procedure and memorization caused the failure of 1990s U.S. math reform. The suggestion that teachers were left on their own to change their teaching is simply inaccurate, Loveless says. Myth six is that the Common Core (CCSS) addresses teaching practice. In fact, the CCSS website states, “Teachers know best about what works in the classroom. These standards establish what students need to learn, but do not dictate how teachers should teach.” Loveless feels Green’s article is based on “bad science, bad history, and unfortunate myths that will lead us away from, rather than closer to, the improvement of math instruction in the United States.” More

Can teaching excellence be taught?
Popular culture promotes the notion that good teachers possess magical charisma, writes Nick Romeo in The Atlantic. Elizabeth Green’s new book presents teaching as technically demanding, with complex component skills that can be studied, isolated, practiced, and improved. Teaching can be taught. Green emphasizes that no specific method can transform any teacher, but argues for the teachability of teaching with case studies, research, and cross-cultural comparisons. And yet, Romeo observes, a gulf separates teaching competence from excellence. Can we expect even the best training to transform a significant number of teachers? Some people learn more deeply and effectively, are better able to anticipate student confusion, admit and correct their own shortcomings, and adapt to the flux of a dynamic classroom. The idea that great teachers can be made is appealing: It offers hope our schools can improve, and sends the democratic message that we’re all equal. But self-improvement requires learning, and the undemocratic truth is that some are better learners than others. Green’s title is Building a Better Teacher. Making teachers better is a reasonable and laudable goal, Romeo says. But it’s important to honor the fact that teaching — like any other profession — has its geniuses. Better training could make many mediocre teachers competent. It’s less likely to make competent teachers extraordinary. More

No teaching one-night stands
Teacher-preparation programs should be matchmakers, writes Andre Perry in The Hechinger Report. To his mind, communities benefit when new teachers share their fates with their surroundings. To meet this expectation, teacher-prep programs should be measured by quality time served, but new teachers aren’t staying in the classroom very long; one estimate is that 40 to 50 percent of new teachers leave within the first five years. Causes for premature exit are multifold: poor preparation, feeling overwhelmed, work conditions, and student behavior. An uncounted number leave simply because they had no intention of staying. But schools are so much more effective and efficient when teachers stay: It’s hard to develop feelings for anyone expecting the educational equivalent of a one-night stand. Kids don’t learn from those they don’t like, and can’t learn from those who are detached. A relationship is both process and product. Perry recommends teacher-education programs move toward required yearlong residencies that give candidates a “figuring-out” period. Opportunities for skill development should occur under supervision, with feedback, but before the candidate signs her or his first contract. Most importantly, skill development should happen in the context of a relationship. The effectiveness of teacher-training programs must be measured on teacher ability to positively impact student learning. Districts can’t shoulder the costs of teacher-prep promiscuity. More

Duncan’s August surprise
As teachers gear up for a new school year, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan offers two thoughts on ASDC’s SmartBlog. First, thanks: America’s students have posted unprecedented achievements in the last year. Second, he addresses concerns about standardized testing — that it makes no sense to hold teachers accountable during a transition to standards-based assessments; that standardized tests privilege basic skills over critical thinking; and that testing — and prep — takes up too much time. Duncan agrees assessments should be just one part of gauging progress. Schools and teachers shouldn’t look bad because they instruct kids with greater challenges. And no teacher or school should be judged on one test, or tests alone. It’s become a distraction, he concedes, “sucking the oxygen out of the room” during a transition to higher standards, improved data systems, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation, support, and more. Accordingly, the U.S. Department of Education will allow states to delay when test results matter for teacher evaluation. States can push back to 2015-16 the time when student-growth measures based on new state assessments become part of evaluation systems. Change is hard, Duncan writes, and changes of significance rarely work exactly as planned: “But in partnership, making course alterations as necessary, we will get there.” More

Chronically absent political will
Given hardships at home, poor kids could be expected to have the best school attendance, if only because school offers a hot meal and orderly environment, writes Daniel Cardinali of Communities in Schools for an op-ed in The New York Times. Yet poor children are most often chronically absent. Amazingly, Cardinali writes, the federal government doesn’t track absenteeism, but state numbers are alarming. In Maryland, for example, 31 percent of high school students eligible for the federal lunch program were chronically absent this year; for students above the income threshold, the figure was 12 percent. But policymakers treat dropout rates and chronic absenteeism as “school” problems, while issues like housing and mental health, which have huge bearing on a child’s performance in school, are “social” problems. To bridge this divide, the community school model would bring a site coordinator, with training in education or social work, into every high-poverty school. That person would identify at-risk students and match them with services in both school and community. Putting social workers in schools is a low-cost way of avoiding bigger problems down the road, but will require a measure of political courage, something all too often chronically absent. More

BRIEFLY NOTED CALIFORNIA
Common sense prevailsA piece of legislation aimed at overturning a 16-year-old state law restricting use of bilingual education in California’s public schools has made it out of the legislature and now awaits action from Gov. Jerry Brown. More

Brown contests Vergara

Gov. Jerry Brown has appealed a California judge’s sweeping ruling that threw out teacher job-protection laws on the ground that they deprived students of their constitutional rights. More

Sounds good to them

An EdSource survey of a sampling of Californian county offices of education found they had approved nearly all inaugural Local Control and Accountability Plans, laying out spending and academic priorities under the state’s new funding formula. More

Readiness lacking

The “career” piece of “college- and career-readiness” continues to challenge the state advisory committee charged with reworking the primary measure of school effectiveness in California. More

Hoboy

An audit of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s computer inventory reveals 230 devices worth nearly $200,000 have been stolen or are missing — and school officials can’t account for another 3,105 laptops, desktops, and iPads. More

Under the wire

In the fast and furious final days of the legislative session, a package of bills is headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk this week that, if signed as expected, will initiate a systemic effort to increase student attendance by reducing chronic absences, providing for follow-up on truancy hearings, and requiring statewide attendance data collection. More

 

BRIEFLY NOTED 
He used to love themLouisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal has sued the U.S. Department of Education, accusing it of violating federal law and the US Constitution by strong-arming states into adopting the Common Core State Standards and assessments. More

‘Broken’

The Vermont State Board of Education is taking a stance against the testing policies of NCLB weeks after the state’s education secretary sent a letter to parents saying the “broken NCLB policy” has identified nearly every school in Vermont as low performing. More

You’re out

Nearly three months after Oklahoma dropped the Common Core State Standards, officials at the U.S. Department of Education revoked the state’s NCLB waiver, saying its academic standards do not prepare students for college or a career. More

Feeling put-upon

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is ready to take the federal government to court over testing rules for students learning English. More

Breaking Away

Florida Gov. Rick Scott has rolled out a series of education proposals that touch on everything from high-stakes testing to the cost of college, representing a break from signature moves put in place by former Gov. Jeb Bush. More

Keep trying

A judge declared Texas’ school finance system unconstitutional for a second time finding that even though the Legislature pumped an extra $3 billion-plus into classrooms last summer, the state still fails to provide adequate funding or distribute it fairly among wealthy and poor areas. More

Scramble

Knowing that New York City schools and private organizations would need as many as 1,000 new pre-k instructors before classes start this week, city and school officials have resorted to creative training and hiring strategies. More

For the love of tofu

In a move that appears designed to counter criticism of the healthier school meals rules, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has given grants of more than a quarter million dollars to North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana to help implement the program in states where students, school food service directors, and politicians have complained they don’t like some of the changes. More

In arrears

A group of 14 Mississippi school districts is asking the state to pay up $115 million — the amount the group says the districts have been underfunded by the state since the 2010 fiscal year. More

A meeting of minds

Lawyers in New York working with former CNN anchor Campbell Brown on a legal challenge of teacher tenure have agreed to consolidate their case with an earlier complaint filed by a group of public school parents that also seeks to change job protections for teachers. More

 

GRANTS AND FUNDING OPPORTUNITIES

Melinda Gray Ardia Environmental Foundation: Grants

Melinda Gray Ardia Environmental Foundation grants support educators in developing and implementing holistic environmental curricula that integrate field activities and classroom teaching, and incorporate basic ecological principles and problem solving. Maximum award: $1,500. Eligibility: 501(c)3 organizations. Deadline: September 14, 2014. More

AAE: Classroom grants

The Association of American Educators offers small grants for teachers that can be used to purchase classroom learning materials. Grants can be used for a variety of projects and materials, including but not limited to books, software, calculators, math manipulatives, art supplies, audio visual equipment, and lab materials. Maximum award: $500. Eligibility: all full-time educators who have not received a scholarship or grant from AAE in the previous three grant cycles (or 18 months) Deadline: October 1, 2014. More

Farmers Insurance: Thank a Million Teachers Grants

Farmers Insurance Thank a Million Teachers grants can be put towards classroom supplies or National Board Certification. Maximum award: $2,500. Eligibility: teachers in the U.S. Deadline: October 30, 2014. More

Quote of the Week:

“These kids live a life where their best friend may have been murdered last week, or a horrible abusive incident may have happened at home the night before the test. You’ve got to look at class size; you’ve got to look at resources in a school. If you have 40 kids in a classroom with all kinds of problems and they have no services, then a great teacher can’t do much.” — Michael Rebell, professor at Teachers College at Columbia University, regarding the disconnect between teacher-effectiveness ratings and student outcomes. More