Top Stories 11/13-20/2013

Cursive writing…  Ken Burns and the Gettysburg Address… Teacher quality improving… Bad omens in NAEP… Universal Pre-K goes to Capitol Hill…. Arizona has problems… More fighting in Indiana… K12 Inc. stock plunges… Parent power everywhere… And why they choose private schools…

Top Stories 

Gains Seen in Teacher Quality

Over the past 20 years, there has been a strong policy push to get smarter people into the teacher workforce. These efforts appear to be working, according to a study by Dan Goldhaber and Joe Walch of the Center for Education Data & Research (CEDR) at the University of Washington. Since the mid-1990s, there has been an upward shift in the SAT scores of education majors, the two researchers found. However, whether this reflects a temporary response to the economic downturn, or a more permanent shift, remains to be seen.


Making the Most of Great Teachers

What would happen if we gave the best teachers more students and weaker teachers fewer students? In a report released this week, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute aimed to find out. While the results were relatively modest for the fifth grade, at the eighth-grade level, the gains were robust. Among the major findings: Moving a handful of eighth-graders to classrooms with the most effective teachers proved to be comparable to the gains seen by removing the lowest five percent of teachers—without actually removing them!


Ken Burns Asks Americans to Learn, and Record, the Gettysburg Address

President Abraham Lincoln spoke for only two minutes; yet the Gettysburg Address has endured the test of time. In honor of the 150th anniversary of the address on November 19, filmmaker Ken Burns is encouraging all Americans to learn the words of Lincoln’s most famous speech by heart and then recite it on video for posterity. The growing collection of video recordings will be housed on a new website,


Indiana State Schools Superintendent Takes Her Ball and Goes Home

The bitter fight for control of Indiana’s K-12 education policy between state schools chief Glenda Ritz and Gov. Mike Pence exploded last week, reports Mike Antonucci in EIA Online, when Ritz abruptly walked out of the Indiana State Board of Education meeting. Tensions between Ritz, a Democrat, and the Republican governor have been building since the legislature gave Pence control of some state education funds in the state budget earlier this year. There’s “no word on whether she said ‘neener neener’ as she departed,” quips Antonucci.


 NAEP’s Bad Omens for Kids

No Child Left Behind Act mastermind Sandy Kress on the consequences of eviscerating the very accountability measures that have helped more kids succeed. Despite some gains, this year’s results should be cause for great concern, Kress warns. “The nation generally, with just a few notable exceptions, is moving away from standards-based reform and accountability,” he writes. “Our young people are beginning to pay the price for that adult folly. Let us get back on track before these fresh bad omens play out fully in even worse results in the future.”


 Epic Failure in Arizona: Majority of High School Grads Lack College Degrees

A new study released by the Arizona Board of Regents takes aim at the state’s “incredibly dysfunctional K-12 system, and rightly so,” says Jay P. Greene, professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas. The study, which tracked more than 50,000 students from the state’s high school class of 2005-06, found that four out of five did not have a college degree six years after graduation. In addition, half of the states’ public high-schools saw five percent or fewer of their graduates earn bachelor’s degrees. “The state’s accountability system jumped the shark a decade ago,” Greene notes. “You can’t paper over illiteracy and the consequences of all this softness is a system that is failing to prepare students for the future.”


Montgomery County Superintendent on Closing the Gap

Montgomery  County, Md., Superintendent Joshua P. Starr delivered his yearly “State of the Schools” address last week. He highlighted the district’s successes—high SAT scores and strong early-reading proficiency—as well as the bad news, including the chronic achievement gap in test scores by race and ethnicity. “We have much work left to do,” Starr said. “Despite our best efforts, we have not been able to reach some children. And many of them are students of color, students with special needs, students who are learning English or students who are poor.”


Tech Platforms, Publishers Join Forces to Sell Content

In the crowded field of ed-tech startups seeking to go to scale, companies with distribution platforms and those that develop instructional materials are merging their resources, reports Benjamin Herold in Education Week. One such company is Nearpod, a Miami-based ed-tech startup that offers teachers a digital platform for designing interactive lessons and delivering them to students on their tablet computers. Nearpod is now looking to serve entire schools rather than just tech-savvy teachers. Says company cofounder Emiliano Abramzon, “Type-A teachers are creating their own content, but the mainstream would like to get content created for them.”


Tale of Two Startups in the K-12 Marketplace

As more and more entrepreneurs take the plunge in the educational technology arena, Education Week, in partnership with the University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education, will begin following two fledgling ed-tech companies as a part of a special series about the successes—and setbacks—of educational startups. Michele McKeone and Adam Geller were teachers who wanted to improve the education process. McKeone founded Autism Expressed to enhance the digital literacy of students with autism. Geller, a former science teacher and secondary school principal, created Edthena to use video to facilitate observations and feedback for teachers. You can follow these two companies throughout the school year as they strive to find funding, navigate contracts and legal issues, and determine what it takes to construct and grow a viable business from the ground up.


Online Provider K12 on a Remedial Course of Action as Stock Plunges

K12 Inc., the largest for-profit provider of precollegiate online learning and one of the few publicly traded companies in the K-12 marketplace, recently saw its stock value take a nose dive, plummeting from more than $29 a share to less than $19 a share, Michele Molnar reports in Education Week. The company has been growing steadily for years, but has faced increasing scrutiny about the academic performance of its students, as well as lawsuits.


Cursive Writing: A Lost Art That’s Still Vital in the Modern Age?

When the Common Core was crafted, penmanship didn’t make the cut. Some people have noticed and now, according to this AP report, seven states—California, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina and Utah—are fighting to bring cursive writing back to the classroom. Cursive advocates say that writing in script builds hand-eye coordination, develops fine motor skills, and helps promote reading, writing and cognition skills. They also argue that without cursive, scholars of the future could lose the ability to interpret valuable cultural resources like historical documents—the U.S. Constitution, for instance, was handwritten.  See also this sweetheart NPR story about letter-writers.


De Blasio’s Successor No Friend of School Reform

Letitia   James, New York City’s soon-to- be public advocate, and the mayor-elect pretty much see eye-to-eye on everything in terms of education. But she understands what can happen when the candidate becomes the mayor,  Sarah Darville reports in Gotham Schools. “Now it’s time to put the rhetoric into action. And my role is to ensure that in fact the rhetoric is actualized,” James told Darville. “I have a job to do. And New Yorkers elected me to be checks and balances on Mayor Bill de Blasio.”



Chancellor Watch in NYC

In the newest Gotham education parlor game, Brooklyn College professor Jessica Siegel makes the case for Kathleen Cashin, a 35-year veteran teacher, principal and district superintendent in the city schools, to be the next New York City schools chancellor.  Siegel notes that Andres Alonso, the former CEO of the Baltimore public schools, and Shael Polakow-Suransky, currently the chief academic officer of New York City’s schools, have also been mentioned as possible schools chiefs, but argues that “A problem for these possible contenders: Both worked under Bloomberg and fully bought into the metric-based notion of education, in which test scores drive almost everything.”


Diana Senechal on Turning Our Attention Toward Interesting Things

In her latest blog post, Diana Senechal, author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture, argues that teachers should be given room to pursue their own lives and personal interests. “Schools and policymakers should recognize that those outside pursuits enrich lives and translate into better teaching,” she writes. “Studying a language out of interest is much more important than attending some professional development workshop on how to scaffold a complex text. In truth, if you are studying a language, you are probably developing insights on ‘scaffolding’ that no workshop could give you.”


Despite Privacy Concerns, Opening School Data Carries Economic Value, Report Contends

Efforts to create more open school data, while controversial, could create robust economic growth, an analysis by McKinsey and Company argues. According to a new report by the global consulting firm, creating more open and transparent data in education from both public and private sources could “unlock” between $900 billion and $1.2 trillion in annual economic value worldwide, about a third of that in the U.S. The added economic value in education would be derived from the higher future earnings of students, as well as the financial savings that school districts will realize through improved procurement processes and other means. The increasingly ubiquitous flow of data across education, however, is causing anxiety among parents and privacy advocates, who fear that information about students will be released or shared with outside entities without permission.


 DOE Finally Addresses the Issue of Low-Skilled Americans

On the heels of an alarming report that revealed that low “basic” skills (literacy, numeracy and problem solving) are more common in the U.S. than other countries, the U.S. Department of Education has issued a broad range of recommendations to improve the foundation skills of American adults. “If adults have trouble reading, doing math, solving problems and using technology, they will find the doors of the 21st century workforce closed to them.  And that will have severe consequences for all of us,” the DOE announced on its blog. “That’s why all of us must find ways to help more adults upgrade their skills. Otherwise, no matter how hard they work, these Americans will fall short in the struggle to support themselves and their families, and contribute fully to our country.”


NAEP:  Young Black Men Are Left Behind

How is the education system doing for young black men, arguably the most vulnerable group of students? The answer: Not well at all, writes Dropout Nation contributor Michael Holzman. According to the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, just 16 percent of black students scored proficient or above in eighth grade reading. Nationally, this breaks down to 21 percent of female black students, but just 12 percent of male black students. “What is to happen to the nearly 90 percent of male Black students on the verge of secondary school who the schools have not taught to read proficiently?” asks Holzman. “Will they graduate from high school?  Will they avoid incarceration?  Will they find good jobs and live with their families on middle class incomes?  Will their children have access to good schools? Or will the black poverty cycle continue, pushed along by inequitable school funding, stop-and-frisk policing, mass incarceration and increasing inequality?”


How’s the Young Men’s Initiative Doing?

The results are mixed for New York City’s Young Men’s Initiative (YMI), an ambitious set of programs to help black and Latino young men build stronger futures. Since the program was launched in 2011, high school outcomes have steadily increased for all racial and ethnic groups. However, frustrating gaps between groups of students remain, particularly in the area of college readiness.


More Than Scores: Why Parents Choose Private Schools–An-Analysis-of-Why-and-How-Parents-Choose-Private-Schools.aspx

With the implementation of K–12 school choice programs, more parents are transferring their children out of public schools. According to a new study published by Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, parents cite a wide variety of factors for choosing private over public schools—the overwhelming majority of which have nothing to do with standardized test scores. The top five reasons were “better student discipline,” “better learning environment,” “smaller class sizes,” “improved student safety” and “more individual attention for my child.” “The big takeaway for school-choice advocates is don’t spend all your time focusing on test scores and holding private schools accountable, because it seems like parents care about a lot of different things,” said Ben Scafidi, coauthor of the study. “School choice is a better way to hold schools accountable, because different parents and different students have different needs, and by standardizing education, like No Child Left Behind and Common Core do, you’re going to harm the education of children who need something different.”


 Mobilizing Parents to Speak Up About Governance Reform

Last week’s elections in Boston, Denver and New York City prove that education reform is working, says Paul Hill, Founder of the Center on Reinventing Public Education and Research Professor at the University of Washington Bothell. However, when schools improve, parents generally attribute the results to teachers and principals, not the governance systems. In general, parents who are happy remain silent; it’s the naysayers who speak up. “The lesson is clear,” Hill writes. “Parents alone are not enough to defend reform, but without them, reform won’t get needed support from a broader civic coalition, and pro-reform candidates won’t get into (or stay in) office.”


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The state of California just boosted the state-aid in the low-income Fresno school district where over 80 percent of students are eligible for free or subsidized school lunches. Once the parents caught wind of the extra funding, hundreds spoke up to claim their power. Because of their engagement with the school board, parents may be able to have more say in how that money is spent. The bottom line is parents across America want more power and want more options but do not realize they can make a difference. When these Fresno parents saw an opportunity to wield more input and influence into their local schools, they eagerly stepped up to the plate and took it.


Fordham: Hell, Yes, We Want Instructional Change

Michael J. Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute responds to critics of the Common Core who say the Institute has been inconsistent, if not dishonest, in its claims that the standards don’t “prescribe” a particular curriculum.


Obamacare Goes to School

As an unintended consequence of the Affordable Care Act, will school districts and universities be forced to cut programs, support staff and college adjuncts?


Universal Pre-K Bill Introduced

A bill to expand children’s access to vital, high-quality pre-K education programs—the first significant legislation on early childhood education in more than a decade—will be introduced in Congress this week. The bill, which has been endorsed by the Democrats for Education Reform, seeks to make good on President Barack Obama’s promise to make universal pre-K a priority for all children. Preschool advocates are hopeful about the bill’s passage. However, without a Republican co-sponsor in the Senate, they fear they are in for a tough fight.


Not So Fast, says, GOP Congressman

Republican Rep. John Kline of Minnesota, chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, issued a statement last week in response to a new congressional proposal that would provide universal kindergarten to four-year-olds:  We can all agree on the importance of ensuring children have the foundation necessary to succeed in school and in life. However, before investing in new federal early childhood initiatives, we should first examine opportunities to improve existing programs designed to help our nation’s most vulnerable children, such as Head Start and the Child Care and Development Block Grant. Recognizing an opportunity to come together and strengthen these and other initiatives, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce Committee will convene a hearing in the coming weeks to discuss the challenges facing early childhood care and education in America. I look forward to a productive discussion with my colleagues on ways to help get the youngest Americans on the path to a brighter future.


Do Standards Matter?

While not a silver bullet, K–12 academic standards are important, argues Kathleen Porter-Magee, the College Board’s senior advisor for policy and instruction and a policy fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. But, she says, we also need to ensure “that those standards are well implemented, and clear, rigorous and coherent from grade to grade.”






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