- The smell of desperation: AFT’s anti-Rhee website
When StudentsFirst revealed that the site originated at AFT headquarters, the union barked back in typical fashion, questioning the funding of StudentsFirst. It’s the same response we’ve seen from other unions when we questioned their motives. The tacky union websites, however, are a perfect example of why virtually all education non-profits keep their donor lists private: to avoid the ruthless tactics employed by Big Labor to silence those they oppose.
- North Carolina brings the Founding Principles Back to School
Signed it into law on June 23, 2011, the Founding Principles Act requires high school students to pass a course on the philosophical foundations of America in order to graduate. Studying the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, the Federalist Papers, and the writings of the Founders, students will learn about inalienable rights, the rule of law, private property rights, federalism, and individual responsibility. The law also requires state standardized tests to include questions on the “philosophical foundations of our form of government and the principles underlying the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution and its amendments, and the most important of the Federalist Papers.” The Founding Principles Act is a good step toward educating the next generation of students about America’s philosophical foundations.
- School Choice at Risk for Colorado Kids
In a momentous move in March of this year, a Colorado school board voted to implement its first private school choice program. The program allows up to 500 children in Douglas County to attend a private school of their choice. Now, hundreds of students are being blocked from receiving these scholarships due to the decision of a state district judge from Denver to halt the voucher program, claiming that it violates the state constitution. The county school board is planning to appeal the decision. Just two weeks ago, Indiana courts upheld the state’s newly created school choice program, which had come under similar attack. Rather than dictating where taxpayers’ education dollars go, school choice allows parents to use their dollars to send a child to a school of their choice. It gives families the power to make the educational choice that’s in the best interest of their child instead of assigning kids to public schools based on their zip codes.
- Back to School for School Choice: More Students Set to Benefit from School Choice Programs than Ever Before
200,000 children will go “back to school” this month, and next, as participants in America”s 26 private school choice programs, spanning 13 states and the District of Columbia. But despite these school choice advancements, millions of students who go “back to school” will remain trapped in often failing and unsafe schools. Nationwide, only 33 percent of 4th graders and 32 percent of 8th graders are proficient in reading. In math, only 39 percent of 4th graders and 32 percent of 8th graders are proficient. The American Federation for Children”s back to school campaign–launched today at http://www.federationforchildren.org/backtoschool- empowers advocates, legislators, and parents with information on the progress of school choice programs, details on how these programs save states money, and advice on how to get involved in bringing school choice to their states. Visitors can access back to school news and updates, tell elected officials to support school choice to their states.
- A Teacher Finds Good in Testing
What I learned was surprising and empowering. I discovered holes in my curriculum. I once dismissed standardized testing for its narrow focus on a discrete set of skills, but I learned that my self-made assignments were more problematic. It turned out they were skewed in my favor. I was teaching to my strengths instead of strengthening my weaknesses. The test provided me with fresh perspectives on my work. I’m now convinced that these sentiments are the product of a testing movement that has become more about fear and politics than pedagogy. Fear is at the heart of this backlash. That’s not to say there is no room for improvement. On the whole, testing must become more innovative, technologically advanced, and better at identifying skills essential for college and career readiness. The test didn’t make my students smarter. It made the teacher smarter. I learned that my job wasn’t simply to encourage students to relentlessly pursue knowledge. I needed to constantly test what I thought I knew about teaching.
- Are High Schools Failing Their Students?
Does earning a diploma guarantee that a high school graduate is ready for work and college? It should, for very practical reasons. Entrance requirements for colleges have increased. Employers expect more. ccording to NCES at least 28 percent of students entering four-year public colleges in the fall of 2000 were required to take remedial courses when they started, especially in mathematics and language arts, as did 42 percent of those enrolled in two-year public colleges (NCES, 2004). Employers also have noted that many recent high school graduates do not possess the basic reading, writing, and mathematics skills they need to function on the job; and providing remedial training to address this problem costs employers millions of dollars each year. Increasing rigor in high school curriculum is one way to ensure that high schools are preparing students—all students—for work, college, and citizenship.
- 18 Low-Tech Learning Innovations
I frequently write about new learning technologies, but there are lots of low tech learning innovations. Here’s a lit of 18.
- System is good for teachers because it’s good for kids
For years, Tennessee maintained the same system for “evaluating” tenured teachers: two evaluations every 10 years, based on minimal classroom observations and no student data. Virtually every teacher was rated highly effective, and at the same time, more than 70 percent of students fell below proficiency on national academic standards, placing Tennessee 43rd out of 50 states. Teachers got little feedback or targeted support, there was no meaningful accountability, and our children continued to struggle. In 2010, the Tennessee legislature, under bipartisan control, passed a law to change that. The First to the Top Act, which became the basis for Tennessee’s winning national grant, called for evaluations to be based 50 percent on student achievement — 35 percent on Tennessee Value-Added Assessment System scores and 15 percent on other student-achievement metrics. Gov. Phil Bredesen signed the bill into law, and the Tennessee Education Association and local districts signed onto the First to the Top application. Tennessee is in the process of implementing a ground-breaking evaluation system for teachers that includes multiple components: meaningful, consistent feedback from principals; a clear rubric and guidance for observations; high-quality, direct training for evaluators, including a required certification exam; use of student-growth data; and flexibility for educators to select additional achievement metrics. This system, while a work in progress that will require continuing reflection and review, is so highly regarded that I was asked by congressional leaders to testify about it before the U.S. House Education Committee. Indeed, when the TEA presented us with 30 questions about the new system, we worked to provide answers —in some cases, year one solutions; in other cases, updates on the progress of committees of educators who are working collaboratively to improve the system for the coming years.
- Teachers question evaluation plan
There are still so many unknowns about the new [teacher] evaluation system. Questions they’ve been asking since March are still unanswered. Some teachers have been told no one should expect a 5. Principals wonder how they’ll balance hundreds of classroom observations with their other duties. Special-education teachers, music teachers and librarians worry that their instruction can’t be measured in the same way as a lesson in a “typical” classroom. Those who teach in multiple schools, K-2 schools or in alternative schools don’t know which student data will be used for their evaluations.
- Feds test teacher bonuses
This year, 1,500 Metro teachers and principals in 22 low-income, low-performing schools could win a share of $1.75 million in performance-based bonuses. The Metro Nashville school district is participating in a federally funded pilot study to see if educator incentive pay will increase students’ test scores and teachers’ desire to stay in their jobs. While some educators are skeptical that the additional pay makes any difference — a previous Vanderbilt University study found no changes — they say the bonuses can help with recruiting high-quality teachers into schools with large turnover, plus pay them to get more training and reward them for handling tough-to-teach students. The state approved the model last week. Teachers in pre-K through third grade can earn an extra $2,100, grades 4-12 up to $3,600, assistant principals up to $4,000 and principals up to $5,500. There are different award amounts for different targets. If teachers score a 4 or 5 on their evaluations, the highest two levels, they can earn a $1,000 bonus, plus money for students’ high ACT scores or overall gains by their grade level or department. They can collect $600 to take training in their subject areas.
- Haslam Cool to State ‘Authorizer’ for Charter Schools
Gov. Bill Haslam led the movement this year to take the shackles off Tennessee charter schools so they can play a bigger role in education, but he says he’s as yet unwilling to grant them their next wish — a statewide board to OK their applications. Charter school advocates argue they’d rather have the state or some independent body OK their applications instead of local school boards, which they see as too hesitant to embrace nontraditional education initiatives. But Haslam said he won’t give away powers now reserved for local school districts to anyone else — at least until he can gauge how successful his developing charter school reforms turn out. “It’s a situation where if we had a statewide authorizer, we could have a very consistent high-standard, high-quality application process, and therefore the applicants that are approved in those communities will be good charter schools and will be accepted much quicker.”
- HOPE Academy resubmits application
Innovation Education Partnership Inc. has submitted its response to the Blount County Board of Education’s concerns about overseeing the state’s first suburban charter school. Blount County school officials have 15 days to deny or approve the amended application. School board members awarded 35½ out of 100 points to the group’s submitted application, according a nine-page document that detailed the board’s decision. They denied the application based on “the discovery of incomplete information, inaccurate information, conflicts with the old law versus the new law, issues and concerns related to the educational plan, governance and policies, as well as operations and finance.”
- Changing family structures impact public education
With almost 40 percent of Tennessee children living in non-traditional home environments, the concept of parent involvement in public education must be redefined. Public school systems must continue to adapt to changing family structures. Some educators argue that schools must step into the family role to some degree. We see this in schools that offer after-school programs, mentoring, in-school meals and some that offer special times such as Saturdays for parents to get involved. The traditional family structure is not dead, but it continues to evolve. What will come next is anyone’s guess. Schools must be prepared to educate all students regardless of family structure and family background.
- Plan for Campus School records access outlined
MURFREESBORO — Parties in a lawsuit involving access to records on how Campus School Principal Chontel Bridgeman spent funds raised by the school’s Parent Teacher Club now have a nine-step plan on how to proceed.No timeline was set on how long it would take the process to be completed, but both attorneys said they were pleased with Chancellor Robert Corlew’s determination.
- Panel explores changes to Hope Scholarship requirements
A commission of state senators and public and private Tennessee higher education officials held its first meeting and began reviewing some 15 proposals to close a shortfall between the scholarship program’s income and spending. The Tennessee Higher Education Commission says the program is now spending about $20 million to $22 million more than the proceeds.
- The answer: Zero in on reading
We do need standards to guarantee success. But standardized tests are a cudgel that creates a whole new set of problems. Which means perhaps we should be working on a different goal entirely: reading proficiency by third grade. “What we really need to strengthen,’’ said Margaret Blood, executive director of Strategies for Children, “is teaching comprehension, and defining literacy more broadly around listening and talking. It’s language.’’
- Union ties to anti-Rhee site roil schools fight
an anonymous website that for months has published sharp and sometimes personal criticisms of Rhee was created last February on a computer registered to the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s second-largest teachers union. The union, Rhee’s group says, later tried to “hide their connection to the site by laundering it through multiple [Internet] addresses.” A statement released this afternoon by the AFT acknowledged the union’s connection to RheeFirst.com but didn’t back down on its criticisms. “We think our kids deserve better than the brand of poisonous discourse and tactics that the AFT thinks aren’t a ‘big deal’ and which are typical of old Washington special interest politics. We hope that the AFT will join us in shifting the tone of the debate, as well as the substance, so that it no longer focuses on what’s best for the adults in the system, but instead what’s best for the students in our classrooms.”