VOTE NO FLORIDA AMENDMENT 8 KEEP SEPARATION BTW. CHURCH AND STATE
Florida’s Amendment 8 on the Nov. 6 ballot would remove from the state constitution language that specifically prohibits religious institutions from receiving taxpayer money, which opponents say is a veiled effort to get vouchers approved and if successful will be attempted in more than 30 other states.
Low civics investment
According to a new report, only eight states have standardized tests specifically in civics at the high school level, and Ohio and Virginia are the only two that require students to pass them in order to graduate.
Building a future
An article in The Hechinger Report by Liz Willen profiles the Building Blocks program in Mississippi, a privately funded, $6 million investment in its fourth year of boosting the quality of early care and education in Mississippi. The program provides mentors and scholarships to train teachers, aids childcare centers with business practices, and equips the centers with a research-based literacy curriculum and $3,000 in classroom supplies. Mississippi has the highest rate of child poverty in the nation, and some of its lowest standardized test scores. Licensing and oversight of small, family childcare homes in Mississippi rank last in the country, and it is the only state in the South that doesn’t fund pre-kindergarten. Five years ago, in response to this situation, Mississippi businesspeople, philanthropists, and corporate sponsors raised money for Building Block’s pilot program, which has since expanded to 500 early-childhood programs in 31 counties. An independent analysis by the Center for Family Policy & Research at the University of Missouri found the program positively impacted children’s skills and social emotional development — particularly kids with the greatest need. Willen estimates that implementation of the program statewide would take a concerted, collaborative effort between government, business, advocates, and parents, and cost about $2,000 per child.
As more and more states pursue reforms in both early childcare (ECE) and the K12 education system, governors are uniquely placed to bring together state agencies to coordinate ECE and K12 systems to better serve all children, starting at birth. A paper from the National Governors Association outlines steps governors can take to bring the two systems into alignment. Doing so requires leaders from both systems to analyze their respective goals, approaches, and reform strategies, identifying commonalities. Governors, their staff, and other state policy leaders must develop concrete actions to promote greater alignment of reforms in key areas. In particular, state policy leaders must redesign or create new governance structures that facilitate this alignment. Leaders should ensure that early-learning standards and early-elementary standards are in sync, and should develop aligned birth-to-grade 3 assessments to monitor student progress. Promising practices from early learning must be incorporated into accountability policies that apply to the early elementary grades, and leaders should revamp teacher/school-leader preparation and professional development to strengthen capacity of ECE teachers and leaders, aligning approaches to teaching and learning. Finally, policymakers must develop credential and certification policies for elementary teachers and principals that support both the Common Core State Standards and best practices in early education.
See the report: http://tinyurl.com/922yvhn
The inherent conflicts in teacher evaluations
A new report from the American Enterprise Institute highlights “key tensions and trade-offs” in the rush to implement revised teacher evaluation systems nationally. The report indicates four issues that policymakers, advocates, and educators must consider in the development of new evaluations. The first issue is flexibility versus control: Prescriptive policies can ensure rigor and prevent weak implementation, but they also limit school autonomy and stifle development of better evaluations. A second tension centers on evaluation procedures in our evolving education system: Evaluation requirements inhibit models like blended learning, where it’s difficult to attribute student gains in a particular subject to a particular teacher. A third issue is the inherent conflict in the purpose of evaluations: On the one hand, they’re designed to identify underperforming teachers and spur dismissal; on the other hand, they’re intended to give teachers useful feedback. These differing purposes create trade-offs in design. Finally, the argument that holding teachers responsible for performance brings teaching into line with norms in other fields is flawed. Most professional fields rely on a large measure of subjective judgment from managers in evaluations. Teacher evaluation systems now under development aim to reduce subjectivity.
Across the country, oversight of standardized testing remains so haphazard that most states can’t guarantee the integrity of their tests, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. The Journal-Constitution’s survey of education departments in all 50 states found many don’t use basic test security measures to stop cheating on tests, and most make little effort to screen results for irregularities. Some require outside investigations of cheating in districts, but most permit districts to investigate themselves. While some states look for unusual spikes in scores, the majority do not. Only half send out independent monitors to oversee testing. Ten years after NCLB made testing the keystone of education policy, the federal government has yet to issue standards, guidelines, or recommendations on preventing and detecting cheating. Cheating scandals have surfaced in several major cities, and a Journal-Constitution analysis of test scores earlier this year suggests a nationwide problem: The paper reported in March that 196 school districts exhibited patterns of suspicious test scores similar to those in Atlanta. For now, the nation spends about $760 million annually on testing, but spends little to ensure test results are legitimate. Systemic cheating gives officials a false understanding of student achievement and robs struggling students of the help they need to improve.
A new brief by the Center on Education Policy highlights five issues to watch as states with waivers implement new accountability systems. Nearly all waiver states have replaced 100-percent proficiency with other “ambitious but achievable” goals; most have established a wider range of interim performance targets (annual measurable objectives, or AMOs) that go beyond reading and math achievement. A critical question is whether new, complex index systems will make it easier for states to mask poor academic performance. A second issue concerns student subgroups. Although states with waivers must calculate progress for each subgroup listed in NCLB, they can base major accountability decisions on the performance of fewer, more broadly defined student subgroups — so called “super subgroups.” It is unclear how the shift to broader subgroups will affect instruction and achievement for students from different racial/ethnic minority groups, low-income students, students with disabilities, and English language learners. Third, the new accountability systems establish multiple categories of schools subject to different interventions. These policies will likely result in fewer schools being identified, but many low-achieving schools that are not in a priority group could escape improvement efforts. Fourth, most waiver states must commit to college-and career-ready standards and are adopting the Common Core State Standards (CCSS), choosing one of the CCSS-aligned assessments systems. These assessments will not be ready for implementation until 2014-15, after current waivers have expired. Finally, no one knows how the 2012 election or potential reauthorization of ESEA will affect implementation of new accountability systems. Will implementation halt if a revamped ESEA, or a new administration, introduces a different set of policies?
Teaching in a time of silence
Last spring, Barbara Madeloni, director of the secondary-teacher education program at the University of Massachusetts, spoke out against a new licensing system for teachers being tested at UMass and implemented in several states, The New York Times reports. Traditionally for licensing, university professors and classroom teachers decide whether to grant a license after observing candidates for six months in real school settings. Under the pilot system, a for-profit education company hired by the state would decide licensure based on two 10-minute videos that student teachers submit, as well as a score on a 40-page take-home test. “This is something complex and we don’t like seeing it taken out of human hands,” Madeloni said. A total of 67 out of her 68 student teachers refused to submit videos or take the test during last year’s trial run. After an article about her dissent appeared in The New York Times on May 6, she received a letter on May 24 saying her contract would not be renewed for 2013 year. Madeloni had been running the university program for nine years, during which time she was often rated “outstanding.” “For several years this has been building inside me,” Madeloni recently remarked, “this reliance on standardized tests to evaluate teachers.”
In Hunterdon County, New Jersey, 14 districts have formed a consortium to devise a common standardized teacher-evaluation system, potentially saving their group hundreds of thousands of dollars in start-up costs alone.
The University of Florida will receive $5 million in federal funds per year over the next five years supporting states so they can make general and special education classroom teachers more effective in their work with students with disabilities.
The end of diversity?
In light of the pending decision on affirmative action from the Supreme Court, Neal Conan of Talk of the Nation on NPR spoke with Richard Kahlenberg about the shape of higher education if the policy ends. Some idea can be had from states that ended affirmative action on their own. Conan mentioned the dramatic change in racial makeup of schools like Berkeley after California ended affirmative action, and Kahlenberg agreed that representation of African-American and Latino students initially dropped. But universities didn’t give up, Kahlenberg said. A new study examines 10 leading universities and finds seven preserved or exceeded black and Latino representation through numerous alternative means. Many look at socioeconomic disadvantage, and privilege students of all races who are low-income or from low-income neighborhoods. Many universities also eliminated legacy preferences for alumni children. Some began partnerships with low-income high schools to expand the pipeline of students. Many states also strengthened financial aid. In three universities in the study — University of California at Berkeley, UCLA, and the University of Michigan — diversity was less successfully maintained. The report concluded that since these are highly selective institutions drawing on a national pool of applicants, the decline in black and Latino representation is overstated in terms of how it applies to other parts of the country.