Betsy DeVos Approves Testing Flexibility Under ESSA for Two More States

Betsy DeVos Approves Testing Flexibility Under ESSA for Two More States

The number of states that can try out new ways to test students under the Every Student Succeeds Act just doubled.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that she had approved Georgia and North Carolina to try out new assessment methods for the 2019-20 school year, joining Louisiana and New Hampshire as states to successfully apply to participate in this pilot.

Georgia’s approach to the pilot is particularly notable, since it will be trying out not one but two assessment systems for the upcoming academic year. One will rely on adaptive assessments, which present students with questions based on their answers to previous ones, instead of relying on a fixed progression of test questions. The other will rely on “real-time” information on student performance. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s pilot system will rely on customized “routes” based on students’ prior answers on formative assessments. (More on formative assessments here.)

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COMMENTARY: Financial Literacy Transforms Students’ Lives. Here’s Where to Start

COMMENTARY: Financial Literacy Transforms Students’ Lives. Here’s Where to Start

Personal finance education is most effective when teachers are comfortable with it themselves

By Annamaria Lusardi & Nan J. Morrison, Education Week

Would a school allow athletes into a game without any practice? Send kids to their library or point them online but not help them learn to read? Should schools stop teaching math because some children find it hard or might fail? The notion, as advocated by some, that America should let students slide into adulthood without teaching basic personal finance concepts is equally shortsighted. As a researcher and a leader of a financial education organization, we could not disagree more. In fact, we experience every day the profound, lasting impact that financial education has on our nation’s young people.

One high school senior who recently completed classes in economics and personal finance told us that this practical curriculum was transformational: “At first, it felt like a foreign language. Now, I understand how to make more thoughtful decisions about my life. It’s a new way to think,” the student said. We’re thrilled the teacher was able to get the training necessary to master the subject and inspire kids in another avenue of knowledge.

Not every teacher, student, or school has that option.

They should.

“Teachers, like many other Americans, need to build the competence and confidence to teach this subject.”

The 12th grader’s observation puts a fine point on who needs financial education and how to deliver it. If we want to demystify the language of finance and build capability, we must ensure that every child has access to quality financial education. That happens best in the classroom when personal finance is treated like any other subject. Ideally, these essential life lessons should be integrated into the K-12 curriculum—a bit each year, culminating in a full semester class. In a standard math education, for instance, we teach kids to count in kindergarten so they build readiness for algebra years later. Personal finance education should be treated similarly.

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DeVos Seeks to Align Education Grants With Trump-Backed Economic Initiative

DeVos Seeks to Align Education Grants With Trump-Backed Economic Initiative

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos wants to put a priority on competitive grants that square with the Trump administration’s initiative to improve economic opportunities in distressed areas.

In the Federal Register, which is where the U.S. government publishes agency rules and public notices, DeVos’ proposed priority is to “align the Department of Education’s … discretionary grant investments with the Administration’s Opportunity Zones initiative, which aims to spur economic development and job creation in distressed communities.”

Perhaps the best-known program to get funding through discretionary grants is the Expanding Opportunity Through Quality Charter Schools Program, which gets $440 million and supports new charters as well as those seeking to expand. In fact, the department announced at the start of this month in a rule that a priority for distributing these charter school grants will be to fund charters that are in Opportunity Zones, which provide tax breaks to investors in exchange for long-term investment in identified areas. (More on that below.)

But the department’s proposed rule, published on Monday, could broaden the extent to which these competitive federal grants are tied to the zones. It’s possible federal grants to magnet schools, arts education, and programs like TRIO and GEAR UP that help bridge gaps between K-12 and higher education could also prioritize Opportunity Zone investments in the future…

And in general, there’s some hope these Opportunity Zones could strengthen schools by bolstering and diversifying the services available to students in struggling communities.

Remember: The big-ticket education funding programs, such as Title I services for disadvantaged students and special education state grants, rely on formulas and not competitive-grant applications. So those funding streams wouldn’t be affected by this new grant priority.

To read the full article, visit Education Week. May require a subscription.

No More Scissors. No More Mail. Box Tops for Schools Goes Digital

No More Scissors. No More Mail. Box Tops for Schools Goes Digital

By Kristen Leigh Painter, Star Tribune (Minn.)

Smartphones are replacing scissors in the decades-old Box Tops for Education program that raises money for schools through food purchases.

General Mills, which founded the program 23 years ago, announced Wednesday the program will soon be digital-only. Customers now earn money for their schools by scanning receipts rather than clipping box tops and mailing them in.

Participants can download the new mobile app, scan their store receipt, which will automatically analyze which products were box-tops items and tabulate the amount that will be donated to their school of choice. Every box top will still be worth 10 cents.

For those with a competitive spirit, the mobile app will allow participants to track their personal contributions as well as the school’s running total.

One noteworthy caveat: receipts must be scanned within 14 days of purchase.

As for those who like the old-school clippings, there will be a transition period during which each item can be counted twice — once during the receipt scan and another by mailing in the traditional box top.

Since 1996, 70,000 schools have received more than $913 million through Box Tops for Education.

“Modernizing Box Tops to fit the needs of today’s families brings the next generation of supporters and brands into the program, so we can stay true to our mission: to help schools get what they need,” Erin Anderson, manager, Box Tops for Education, said in a statement.

Jon Nudi, General Mills’ president of North America retail, announced the digital transition at the company’s annual investor conference earlier this month.

“This well-known program,” Nudi said, “is now available on a mobile app, allowing our brands to show up in a modern way, making it easy for our consumers to buy, scan and earn.”

Educator Spotlight: Donald Hense

Educator Spotlight: Donald Hense

By Curtis Valentine

The African-American community’s fight for quality education requires constant dedication and reflection on successful strategies to educate our children. Donald Hense and the Friendship Charter Network is an example of success worthy of recognition.

Hense is the founder and board chairman of the Friendship Charter Network, the largest African-American-led charter school network in America. Hense’s accomplishment is significant, because, while over 80 percent of charter school students are Black or Latino, fewer than 10 percent of charter schools are founded and led by Blacks or Latinos, according to a study by the Brookings Institute.

Three-quarters of the students enrolled in Friendship schools in D.C. are from Wards 7 and 8, the city’s two poorest areas, and nearly all are African-American. Their achievement is reflected in their continuous improvement on standardized tests. Most recently, Hense and his team celebrated, when five of Friendship’s 12 D.C. schools were rated Tier 1 by the Public Charter School Board – the highest of three ratings a charter school can earn.

As a native of St. Louis and graduate of Morehouse College and Stanford University, Hense has long understood the power of a quality education. But for years he had no interest in working in K-12 education. He was serving as executive director of Friendship House Association, a non-profit serving low-income families in Washington D.C., when he was approached by an executive from a local charter operator about using Friendship House to charter a school. After some reflection, he agreed to transfer his experience fighting intergenerational poverty to the fight for quality public education.

Hense made history as the first African American to win a grant from New Schools Venture Fund, which supports charter school founders. Friendship was among the first group of schools chartered by the D.C. Public Charter School Board in 1998. Twenty years later, it has12 campuses for students in grades Pre-K3 to 12 in D.C., an online school, and schools in Baton Rouge, La., Baltimore, Md., and Little Rock and Pine Bluff, Arkansas.

Hense is proud of Friendship and of education reform efforts in Washington, but he is not ready to celebrate. “We declared victory too soon,” he says. “Fifteen years of education reform is not an institution.”

To Hense, the fight to reform school systems serving African-American students should include more leaders of color. For years, he held a monthly meeting of black charter school leaders in D.C. to talk about their experiences and discuss lessons learned, but it “fizzled out” after young leaders lost interest. “We brought in second and third generation [leaders] and forgot to show them that [African-Americans] need to work together to get things done,” he says. “New [leaders] have to participate in black organizations.”

In spite of a few setbacks, Hense is still dedicated to supporting African-Americans interested in opening their own charter schools. The greatest obstacle to their success, he believes, is lack of experience in management. A potential founder needs “a good plan and a good board of directors. It’s best to go in [to the charter application process] with a strong [management] team.”

Fortunately, there are positive examples of young, African-American charter school founders to emulate. In 2017, Dominique Lee of BRICK Avon Academy in Newark, New Jersey won a Promise Neighborhood grant from the U.S. Education Department. Dominque aims to use the grant to educate 3,000 students in Newark over the next few years, making BRICK the state’s third-largest CMO and the only one led by a person of color.

Hense recommends that other African Americans interested in starting charter schools apply for funding fromthe New Schools Venture Fund or for charter school design grants from Friends of Choice in Urban Schools (FOCUS), if they are in D.C.

At 75, Hense says he is not done. The Friendship Education Fund continues to identify opportunities to replicate their model around the country. Friendship’s goal is to bring what Hense and his team learned in Washington to the countless districts struggling to grow African-American student achievement. As DCPS welcomes a new chancellor with experience championing school choice, there may be new opportunities in D.C. as well.

This article is a part of The ‘Reinventing America’s Schools’ series. This series highlights Change Makers from our community who are walking reflections of what’s possible when we place Accountability and Autonomy at the forefront. 

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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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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COMMENTARY: Is There More to Teaching and Learning Than Testing?

COMMENTARY: Is There More to Teaching and Learning Than Testing?

By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Phd

Teaching is a multi-faceted calling for many and an occupation for some, but how can teaching and learning effectiveness be measured without testing?

There must be some way—or ways—to measure what and whether students are learning, and teachers are teaching. Rigor, high standards, curriculum design, learning and teaching styles, and external demands all must be considered in any teaching and learning situation, regardless of location and resources.

As the teaching population becomes more monocultural and the school-aged population becomes more multicultural, teaching materials, beliefs, and techniques tend to rely too heavily on standardized tests and testing materials. In order for education to capitalize on the strengths and talents of learners and the skills and professionalism of their teachers, what kinds of additional progress measures might be employed?

Different kinds of professional development programs and materials may be needed to provide more sufficient and culturally responsive information about the teaching and learning process.

One way of assessing whether students are actively engaged in learning on a high level might be using multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary materials such as those in an original textbook of poems, shorts stories, and essays.

The book, Connections: A Collection of Poems, Short Stories, and Essays with Lessons,became part of a study in the Washington, D. C. schools and surrounding Metropolitan areas of Prince George’s County, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, from 1996-2001. (Parks-Lee, 1995)

It addresses some of the challenges Gloria Ladson-Billings pointed out when she quoted Jonathan Kozol, saying that “…Pedagogic problems in our cities are not chiefly matters of injustice, inequality, or segregation, but of insufficient information about teaching strategies.”(Ladson-Billings*, 1994, p. 128)

Both neophyte and experienced teachers participated in a study that provided them with information, materials, and teaching strategies to employ with urban, poor, and predominantly, but not exclusively, African American youth.

The idea for the study originated with a concern that an increasingly middle class or suburban teaching force often seems unable to meet the needs of diverse students who are different from them in class, socioeconomic status, geography, ethnicity, and/or culture.

The Connections materials were intended to help address ways to foster a positive impact upon all children, but particularly upon children of color. In addition, teachers using these materials might also feel more empowered to think creatively and to utilize students’ strengths and talents as they incorporate high and rigorous interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary lessons and higher order thinking skills in order to increase academic achievement.

Effective teachers believe that we must produce and use materials that encourage students to be able to read, to write, to speak, to be creative, to understand, and to interpret what they hear and read. If students can develop these proficiencies, they may experience greater success on standardized tests.

Success breeds success, and if our students are to be involved learners and thinkers, we cannot keep doing the same things the same ways and then blaming students and teachers if standardized test scores are not optimal. There must be more inclusive ways of tapping into and measuring what is taught and what is learned. Standardized tests are but one wayand should not be the onlyway to validate the teaching and learning processes.

There are three domains to teaching, the cognitive, the affective, and the psychomotor. The one that is not easily addressed by standardized testing is the affective domain.

As Sharon M. Draper says, “You must reach a child before you can teach a child.” (Draper, S., November 2002). The challenge comes when trying to measure the affective domain. However, affective success is often reflected in student attendance and behaviors that are involved, on-task, and diligent.

There is often a spirit of collaboration and cooperation between the teacher and the students. Fewer discipline problems are observed when there is a positive classroom community involved.

When diverse students are allowed to utilize their talents and skills, they often become self-motivated, because they feel affirmed, valued, and respected.

*Ladson-Billings, G. (1999). (Notes from speech delivered at Howard University).

This article originally appeared in New York Amsterdam News.

COMMENTARY: Assembly Workers and Widgets

COMMENTARY: Assembly Workers and Widgets

By Barbara D. Parks-Lee, Ph.D., CF, NBCT (ret.), NNPA ESSA Awareness Campaign

Have you ever felt frustrated and ill-equipped to meet the needs of the students in your classroom as well as the dictates of those who have never been teachers in a classroom?

Sometimes, we teachers feel like there is too much to do and not enough time or resources to do what needs to be done well. Standardized testing frenzy, No Child Left Behind, Common Core Curriculum, STEM curriculum, professional development relegated to one day make-‘n’-take or lecture sessions, and demands from school boards, legislators, and the business community all may contribute to teacher frustration, burn-out, and being ROJ (retired on the job).

Well, how can we feel more professional and less like factory workers producing widgets? First, we must clarify our mission. Students are not widgets. There can be no reject bins for human beings with different needs and varied learning intelligence!

Secondly, we must reach our students before we can teach them. By reach I mean to be willing to acknowledge cultural and personal idiosyncrasies and to be friendly, fair, and flexible. Not everyone learns—or teaches—the same way. Being friendly involves knowing our students’ names and greeting them as they enter our classrooms.

It also involves dressing professionally as a means of demonstrating personal and student respect. There are three B’s no student should ever see on a teacher: no bosoms, no belly buttons, and no backsides. Students need a professional appearance. They form their own perceptions the first time they meet us, and we do not get a second chance to make a good first impression.

The culture of our classroom community must be one of acceptance, rigor, and high standards, for our students will either stretch or stagnate according to our expectations of them. Teachers must not only have a lesson plan A and a back-up plan B but also a back-up for the back-up in order to take advantage of any teachable moment.

If we do not have a plan for our students, they will most certainly have plans for us! I assure you, their plans will make our lives miserable and learning and teaching almost impossible.

Fairness involves demanding standards for which everyone is held accountable. Certain rules must be observed. For instance, no one can be allowed to ridicule, to bully, or to be disrespectful or disparaging of anyone’s personal appearance, answers, questions, or opinions. We, as teachers, must take control of our classrooms from the first day until the last.

When we wish not to be perceived as factory workers producing widgets, we must acknowledge that our calling is a combination of science, art, and craft. TEACHING IS PLAIN HARD WORK!

Our diverse students are real human beings with real needs and varied skills and talents. We must take the challenge of our profession and equip ourselves with the content knowledge and the pedagogy skills in order to deliver what our students must have. As we teach, we must also remember that these same students may have to serve us or to teach our children or grandchildren at some point after they leave us.

As teachers serving humans, we cannot allow them or ourselves to be treated any way except as we would want our own children and family members to be treated. We must be actively vocal as we present ourselves as advocates for the teaching and learning process.

Raise your hand if you weresick and tired but now resolveto be well and full of energy as you go forward.