States Hunt for Evidence to Underpin School Turnaround Efforts

States Hunt for Evidence to Underpin School Turnaround Efforts

Education Week logoBy Alyson Klein

Allendale County’s school district sits in South Carolina’s Lowcountry, in an impoverished, rural region near the coast known as the “corridor of shame” for the chronic poor quality of its education system. Until recently, three of the district’s four schools were considered among the lowest performing in the state.

But after an assist beginning more than a year ago from the state—which is working to rebrand the area as the “corridor of opportunity”—two of those schools made it off the state’s list of the lowest performers….

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N.Y.C. Program Aimed at Diversifying Elite High Schools Comes Up Short

N.Y.C. Program Aimed at Diversifying Elite High Schools Comes Up Short

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A program meant to diversify New York City’s infamously segregated specialized high schools failed to admit representative numbers of black and Hispanic students this school year, figures released last week by district officials show.

The Discovery program, hyped as a desegregation tool for elite schools, mostly benefited Asian students despite the fact that those students already account for a majority of enrollment.

In contrast, black and Hispanic children, who account for about 67 percent …

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Puerto Rico’s Outgoing Education Secretary: ‘We Need the Help…’

Puerto Rico’s Outgoing Education Secretary: ‘We Need the Help…’

Education Week logoBy Julia Keleher

Seventeen months ago, and eight months after I became the secretary of education in Puerto Rico, the worst hurricane in over a century decimated much of the island, dislocating thousands of families and bringing daily life here to a halt. Our school buildings were no exception; those that weren’t destroyed suffered damage ranging from power outages to missing roofs. We continue to wait for approval from FEMA to address most of our physical infrastructure needs and are hopeful that the federal government will honor its promise to ensure all students have access to a safe, healthy, and engaging learning environment.

The storm created an opportunity for the world to see the challenges confronting Puerto Rico’s schools. Hurricane Maria and its economic repercussions exposed the negative impacts of poor decision-making and the politicization of the public education system. The operation of the public schools was largely ineffective and inefficient and characterized by a mass exodus of students and teachers. Over the years, the system neglected to prioritize the provision of basic resources, such as books and technology, or allow for the development of innovative and more effective instructional practices.

Since then, Puerto Rico has made dramatic improvements in the quality of its public education system. Dedicated families, communities, teachers, and students have made it possible for great things to take place since the hurricane left our shores.

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ESSA’s Growing Pains Evident Amid Progress

ESSA’s Growing Pains Evident Amid Progress

By Mike Bomster

Education Week logoIf the Every Student Succeeds Act were a schoolchild, it would be a preschooler—not much more than 3 years old, making steady progress, but still stumbling a bit along the way.

The first major rewrite of the nation’s main K-12 law in more than a decade, ESSA was signed into law at the end of 2015, replacing and updating the groundbreaking—but problematic—No Child Left Behind Act.

In theory, the last couple of school years should have been enough time for states and districts to begin making good on ESSA’s promises. Chief among them: a loosening of the federal reins in favor of greater local and state leeway over setting K-12 policy and satisfying the law’s demands for strict accountability, school improvement, and public transparency.

This latest Education Week special report recaps what’s been achieved by states and districts…

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DeVos’ Team: Arizona Could Lose $340 Million For Skirting ESSA’s Testing Requirements

DeVos’ Team: Arizona Could Lose $340 Million For Skirting ESSA’s Testing Requirements

By Alyson Klein

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Arizona could lose $340 million in federal funding because the state hasn’t followed the Every Students Succeeds Act’s rules for testing its students, Frank Brogan, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, told the state in a recent letter.

This spring, Arizona allowed its districts a choice of offering the ACT, the SAT, or the state’s traditional test, the AzMerit test, at the high school level.  ESSA allows states to offer districts the option of using a nationally-recognized college entrance exam in place of the state test, but first they must meet certain technical requirements.

For instance, states must make sure that the national recognized exam (such as the ACT or SAT) measures progress toward the state’s standards at least as well as the original state test. They also must make sure that the results of the nationally-recognized exam can be compared to the state test. And they have to provide appropriate accommodations for English-language learners and students in special education. All of this is supposed to happen before the state ever allows its districts the option of an alternate test.

Arizona “hasn’t provided evidence that it has completed any of this work,” Brogan wrote.

The department has other, big concerns about Arizona’s testing system. The state passed a law allowing its schools a choice of tests, at both the high school and elementary level. That is not kosher under ESSA, which calls for every student in the same grade to take the same test, in most cases, Brogan wrote…

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Civics Education Must Put Racial Equity First

Civics Education Must Put Racial Equity First

Education Week logoCivics education is popular again. As our democracy itself sits on a historic precipice, people from around the country are calling for a national renewal of civics education. However, more civics education by itself is not sufficient. This new political moment requires a new civics: one in which a quest for racial equity is front and center.

When it is taught at all, civics is predominantly presented as a stale and monotonous topic, in which democracy feels irrelevant to the majority of students’ lives. Conventional civics focuses primarily on how government works and does not acknowledge the lived experiences of many of today’s students.

That approach can harm our very politics. By definition, an effective democracy requires equal representation from all segments of the population. It demands the robust political participation from all voices and communities—a goal that we can only achieve through a shared commitment to racial equity. That promise does not yet ring true in our country.

A new civics education, which centers racial equity as a cornerstone of American democracy, must explicitly address the political and social marginalization of communities that have traditionally been excluded from the formal democratic process. In doing so, we can begin to dismantle the barriers to civic identity and participation faced by so many young people in this country, particularly by young people of color. In this equity-focused civics education, students can develop an understanding of democracy’s relevance to their own lives.

Unfortunately, the word “equity” itself is now widely understood as a partisan ideal. In consequence, many education leaders and civics educators choose to approach the subject from a broad perspective, believing that a rising tide in civics will lift all boats. Without an explicit focus on educating for the promise of racial equity, however, there is a danger in perpetuating a democracy led by a privileged, often white minority, instead of a diverse, inclusive majority.

“Civics education should reflect the needs and demographics of the nation’s public school children…”

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K-12 Funding in Spotlight as Bitter Rivals Do Battle for Wis. Governor’s Seat

K-12 Funding in Spotlight as Bitter Rivals Do Battle for Wis. Governor’s Seat

Last fall, Wisconsin’s Republican Gov. Scott Walker used Southern Door High School’s newly installed 3D printing lab in this small town near Green Bay as a backdrop to propose a $639 million increase in public school funding.

“We know that ensuring our students’ success, both in and outside the classroom, is critical to the state’s continued economic success,” said Walker, now in a fierce campaign for a third term against long-time state schools chief Tony Evers.

The Southern Door County schools, administrators say, got almost none of that money. In fact, the 1,029-student district—rural, losing students, and hampered by tax revenue caps put in place more than 20 years ago—had to make severe budget cuts this year and pull an extra $200,000 out of its savings account. If a referendum on the county ballot this fall allowing the district to exceed its revenue cap fails to pass, there will likely be more cuts next fiscal year.

The intricacies of Wisconsin’s school spending and whether districts like Southern Door need more or less money from the state has come to dominate the gubernatorial contest between Walker and Evers, both of whom have made their education records a high-profile piece of their pitch to Wisconsin voters in the November election.

Walker says that by leading the charge to turn Wisconsin into a right-to-work state with the passage of legislation in 2011 that stripped the bargaining rights of public employee unions including teachers, he’s saved the state more than $3.5 billion, while keeping property taxes low and expanding school choice. He has claimed his most recent budget provided districts with $200 more per student, though many dispute that fact.

Under Walker between 2011 and 2013, the state cut education funding by some $800 million, hitting some districts harder than others. Spending has rebounded since then, but Walker’s critics say it hasn’t been enough to keep up with inflation.

Evers says Walker’s budget cuts over the years crippled school districts’ ability to provide students with basic resources, causing massive layoffs and a teacher shortage across the state. He has proposed to boost spending by more than $1.7 billion…

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New Money and Energy to Help Schools Connect With Families

New Money and Energy to Help Schools Connect With Families

It’s indisputable that most students perform better academically when they have parents or adults to help with homework and to be advocates with teachers and principals.

But in many communities, parents who juggle multiple jobs, don’t speak much English, or have low levels of education often don’t have the time or resources to make meaningful connections to their child’s schooling experience.

That’s why some leading-edge districts have made it their job to reach out to families and create more welcoming and accessible ways for parents to be part of their children’s schooling.

In Washoe County, Nev., for example, the school district’s family-engagement work includes organizing home visits by teachers—and training those teachers to make the most of those face-to-face encounters in students’ homes.

In Federal Way, Wash., the leader of family-engagement efforts taps a diverse array of parents to serve on committees or task forces that inform major decision making in the district, including high-level hires.

Still, the specialized field of parent and family engagement has mostly been driven by ambitious leaders at the district level. And even in districts with robust programming, resources to support the work are often tight.

But new and potentially bigger forces are building around the need for schools and educators to forge deeper connections with parents and community members.

Philanthropists—in particular the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Carnegie Foundation of New York—are championing the flow of more money into family-engagement initiatives, including research to identify what efforts are effective.

And the federal budget has set aside $10 million to help fund efforts by several state education agencies and outside partners to develop strong parent and community programming.

The Every Student Succeeds Act also directs states and districts to develop plans to work with families and surrounding communities—a requirement that has spawned a multistate endeavor to create guidelines and exemplars for schools and districts to follow.

Advocates for building strong ties between schools and families say it’s a major opportunity for a proven, yet underutilized strategy to make schools better.

“There is a lot of excitement, and more of an evolution in where both policymakers and funders feel like they want to increasingly put their money,” said Vito Borrello, the executive director for the National Association for Family, School, and Community Engagement…

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The Teachers’ Unions Have a Charter School Dilemma

The Teachers’ Unions Have a Charter School Dilemma

A dispute over pay and class size in Chicago boiled over into the nation’s first charter school strike this month, raising questions about how teachers’ unions, going forward, will reconcile their longheld opposition to charters with their need to pick up more dues-paying members. 

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The historic walkout—and the concessions won by the Chicago Teachers Union on behalf of the striking charter school teachers—was welcome news for unions, which are predicted to potentially shed substantial members and revenue after the fateful U.S. Supreme Court Janus decision earlier this year.

Soon after the strike started, people began asking whether cracks were starting to show in the charter movement, the first viable public alternative—and challenge—to traditional public schools. For so long the charter movement has steadily expanded in many American cities, propelled by some of the world’s wealthiest philanthropists.

The Chicago teachers’ strike has been largely cast in the media as a major symbolic win for teachers’ unions and a warning sign for charter schools and their supporters.

But there are equally fraught—if less examined—questions facing unions as they simultaneously decry charters as the tools of billionaires trying to privatize public education and encourage charter teachers to join their ranks. A growing unionized workforce in the charter sector may very well require changes from teachers’ unions as well as charter schools.

Anti-Charter Policy Pushes

Unions have longed positioned themselves as the defenders of traditional public schools, and have used their considerable political and financial clout to stymie charters. In Chicago, the Chicago Teachers Union has called for a moratorium on all new charter schools. Elsewhere, unions have lobbied to block additional state funding for charter schools, backed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of charter schools, campaigned to keep caps on the number of charter schools allowed to open, and called for bans on charter management groups and companies…

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On ‘Teachers Pay Teachers,’ Some Sellers Are Profiting From Stolen Work

On ‘Teachers Pay Teachers,’ Some Sellers Are Profiting From Stolen Work

Julie Reulbach doesn’t sell resources on Teachers Pay Teachers, an online marketplace where educators can make money on their lesson plans and classroom materials. Even so, she often sees her work for sale there.

“Everytime I check, I find something,” said Reulbach, a high school math teacher at a private school in Concord, N.C., who has published an instructional blog since 2010. She scans TpT for work from her blog about once every six months. Her site is under a NonCommercial Creative Commons license, so anyone can use, edit, or share her materials—but they are not supposed to sell them.

It’s happening anyway. And Reulbach’s experience isn’t unique. Education Week logo

Nearly a dozen educators who have used or are knowledgeable about the site told Education Week that TpT has a widespread problem with copyright infringement. Teachers said sellers had lifted passages verbatim from their lessons and copied entire pages without permission. While the company provides a reporting mechanism for infractions, it leaves the policing to the rights holders themselves.

The controversy over stolen work has also fueled a larger ideological rift in the teaching community: the division between those who think it’s fine for teachers to make money off their hard work, and those who believe educators should share materials with their colleagues for free.

In a statement, TpT CEO Joe Holland said that the company takes the protection of intellectual property seriously.

“TpT strictly prohibits its sellers from listing material that infringes on the intellectual property rights of others, and we have no desire to have such material on TpT,” he said.

But educators and authors say the company should be doing more to combat what they see as a systemic failure to protect teachers and others who create materials.

‘They Shouldn’t Be Selling It’

When Reulbach sees sellers attempting to make money off of lessons she’s created, she reaches out to them and asks them to take her materials down. “Usually, people contact me and say, ‘I’m really sorry,’” and remove the resource from their store, she said…

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