Some of the News Fit to Print
TOWARD IMPROVING CONTINUOUSLY
A new report from the Forum for Investment in Youth and the Wallace Foundation offers a how-to guide for the development of quality improvement systems (QIS) in afterschool settings. Identifying quality as a priority is an important first step, but addressing it in a systemic way is complicated and requires research, planning, consensus-building, resource development, managing new processes, and redefining old relationships. The guide aims to help those who are working to create better, more coordinated afterschool programming through a QIS, or to further develop existing efforts. It explains what constitutes an effective QIS, describes tasks involved in building one, and offers examples and resources from communities whose work is forging a trail for others. The guide is premised on the model of "continuous improvement": the idea that organizations should regularly take stock of themselves against a standard; develop plans to improve based on what they have learned; carry out those plans; and begin the cycle over again, so that the quality of their work is always improving. Experience shows that afterschool programs – and the children and youth they serve – benefit enormously when programs agree to a common definition of quality and embrace continuous improvement. This information is from the PEN NewsBlast.
PARENTS SEE MATH AS IMPORTANT TO CHILDREN’S SUCCESS, POLL FINDS
More parents believe their children will be successful in life through "being good at math" than "being outgoing," according to new survey data, but it wasn't a landslide. In all, 53 percent chose math skills, compared with 42 percent who picked social skills. And 5 percent who must have kids with some serious athletic prowess believe being good at sports is the most important of the three choices to future success. However, parental priorities seem to shift when it comes to how their children should spend free time. When asked about this, the top choice was sports and exercise activities (46 percent). Next was creative and artistic activities (25 percent) followed by academic and intellectual activities at 18 percent (such as math and science pursuits, chess, or Lego clubs). The post is from Education Week’s Curriculum Matters blog.
TEACHERS SHARE CONCERNS ABOUT NEW EVALUATION SYSTEM
A Nevada state council is drafting standards for teacher evaluation that follows 2011 legislation that mandated a uniform system. The new system would take into account student achievement data—test scores and growth measures—for at least half of a teacher's evaluation. The system must be adopted by the state education board this June, and be implemented in all districts by the 2014-15 school year. The article is in the Las Vegas Sun.
SCORES DROP ON COMMON CORE ALIGNED TESTS
Results from new state tests in Kentucky—the first in the nation explicitly tied to the Common Core State Standards—show that the share of students scoring “proficient” or better in reading and math dropped by roughly a third or more in both elementary and middle school the first year the tests were given. Kentucky in 2010 was the first state to adopt the common core in English/language arts and mathematics, and the assessment results released last week for the 2011-12 school year are being closely watched by school officials and policymakers nationwide for what they may reveal about how the common standards may affect student achievement in coming years. So far, 46 states have adopted the English/language arts common standards; 45 states have done so in math. The article is in Education Week.
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COURSE MANAGEMENT COMPANIES CHALLENGE MOOC PROVIDERS
Two software companies that sell course-management systems, Blackboard and Instructure, have entered the race to provide free online courses for the masses. On Thursday both companies plan to announce partnerships with universities that will use their software to teach massive open online courses, or MOOC’s. The companies hope to pull in their own college clients to compete with online-education players like Udacity and Coursera. The article is in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
OCCUPYING THE ACADEMY
For many in -- as well as outside of -- higher education, the 2008 election of Barack Obama seemed to mark a new era of progress toward equality. For college and university equity and diversity workers, in particular, it seemed that a nation led by a decisively elected black president (and one who had himself been a faculty member) might be newly open to and supportive of the work of furthering institutionalized diversity. "Our initial logic went something like this," write Christine Clark, Kenneth J. Fasching-Varner, and Mark Brimhall-Vargas in the opening pages of their new volume, Occupying the Academy: Just How Important Is Diversity Work in Higher Education? (Rowman & Littlefield). "If a majority of American voters elected Obama, clearly this means: (a) that attitudes about race, and presumably other dimensions of diversity, are improving; and (b) equity/diversity workers will find it easier to engage those attitudes with less concern about being reproached or ignored." As it turned out, they argue, "the Obama era was revealed as but another flashpoint in the continuing struggle for social justice." The article is in Inside Higher Ed.
TEACHER OBSERVATIONS: HIGH TECH OR LOW TECH?
Marshall Memo publisher and coach Kim Marshall writes in Education Week: As short, frequent, unannounced classroom visits become more common in American schools, principals have significant choices on how and when to use laptop computers, tablet devices, and smartphones as part of this teacher-evaluation technique. Lots of commercial software products are designed to streamline the process of gathering information on classroom observations and giving feedback to teachers, but is technology always the best tool? From my years as a principal in Boston and a coach of school leaders in other cities, I’ve become convinced that there is a time for high-tech and a time for low-tech in evaluating teachers, and the choices we make in this area really matter.
L.A. LOSES RACE TO THE TOP FUNDS BECAUSE OF TEACHERS’ UNION RESISTANCE TO EVALUATIONS
The Los Angeles Unifed School District (LAUSD) has just lost out on $40 million of free federal money because the teachers union has declined to sign the district's Race to the Top grant application. Given the dramatic budget cuts that they have suffered, LA's K-12 schools could really use the millions in federal education dollars. Why then did the LA teachers' union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), pass up the money? Because it continues to object to student test scores or other measures of student growth as a "significant factor" in teacher evaluations, the Sacramento Bee reports. The article is in the Huffington Post.
EDUCATION ISSUES UNDERSCORE ELECTION STAKES
Education policy and funding—from common standards and college access to the prospect of "doomsday" budget cuts—have been a steady theme in this year's presidential campaign, even as more specific K-12 debates lighted the political landscape in various states. And with the strategic balance in Congress in play, along with the makeup of 44 state legislatures and the fate of numerous education-related ballot measures, the Nov. 6 elections could have a lasting impact on the direction of precollegiate policy. The article is in Education Week.
TEACHERS SAY TECHNOLOGY IS CHANGING HOW STUDENTS LEARN
There is a widespread belief among teachers that students’ constant use of digital technology is hampering their attention spans and ability to persevere in the face of challenging tasks, according to two surveys of teachers being released on Thursday. The researchers note that their findings represent the subjective views of teachers and should not be seen as definitive proof that widespread use of computers, phones and video games affects students’ capability to focus. The article is in The New York Times.
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The idea that the country needs more graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields is not new, but several universities are now increasing their focus on finding those potential graduates, turning specifically to community colleges. The University of Maryland Baltimore County announced today that it will spend three years building and piloting a national model for increasing the number of community college students who ultimately earn bachelor’s degrees in STEM fields. The program is funded by a $2.6 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The City Colleges of Chicago and the University of Illinois at Chicago recently announced a partnership, along with a $100,000 grant from the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities' Minority Male STEM Initiative, which is funded by the Kresge Foundation, to support male minority STEM students at the community college system in transferring to and graduating from Illinois-Chicago. Additionally, earlier this year, Mount Holyoke College received a $600,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to recruit and support female community college students in STEM fields. The article is in Inside Higher Ed.
AS COLLEGE COSTS RISE, HAS COMPETITION ARRIVED?
Greater transparency increases the competitive pressure on institutions of higher education and incentivizes them to focus on student outcomes and reduce costs. There are, of course, other avenues to lower costs. One that has become almost a cliché is "disruptive" online startups that force inefficient brick and mortar companies, such as Borders, to either dramatically reduce costs or go out of business. The article is in U.S. News & World Report.
RETHINKING PRINCIPAL EVALUATION
Gail Connelly, executive director of the National Association of Elementary School Principals, and JoAnn Bartoletti, executive director of the National Association of Secondary School Principals, write in Education Week: In an era of high-stakes testing, more-rigorous federal and state accountability programs, and intense interest among taxpayers and government leaders in school-level performance, the demand for accountability for principals has never been greater. However, narrowing a principal's performance evaluation to student test scores—or any single criterion, especially those for which a principal does not have direct control—is absurd. Yet that very scenario has been repeated time and again during the past 10 years of adequate yearly progress under the No Child Left Behind law, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. As principal evaluation is likely to be included in proposals to reauthorize the ESEA, the federal government should encourage states to develop effective principal-evaluation systems based on multiple and meaningful measures of the competencies needed to improve student learning. Those systems should include professional-development plans that acknowledge the unique characteristics of each school and its community.
GRADUATION RATES LATEST NCLB WAIVER FLASH POINT
A growing chorus of education policy advocates is urging the Education Department to strengthen graduation-rate accountability in states that have earned No Child Left Behind waivers. The advocates are concerned that many of the waiver plans violate the spirit—if not the letter—of 2008 regulations that require all states to calculate the graduation rate in the same way and make those rates part of high school accountability. The article is in Education Week.
SCOTT’S EDUCATION AGENDA DRAWS PRAISE
In advance of the next legislative session, Florida Governor Rick Scott has outlined an education agenda that has already drawn praise from both lawmakers and state and district officials. Over the previous month, Scott has been on a listening tour around the state and has drawn most of his policy recommendations from things he learned along the way. Unlike previous years, this year’s plan sticks mostly to the areas that have proven universally popular. The plan includes steps that the government can take to avoid further education funding cuts, a charter school expansion, a moratorium on new standardized tests that don’t conform to the Common Core Curriculum, and calls for debit cards to be issued to teachers so they may purchase classroom supplies — something that many have been paying for with their own money. The article is in EducationNews.org.
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COLLEGES MUST HELP STUDENTS PREPARE FOR HIGHER EDUCATION
If colleges want more of their students to be ready for the academic challenges of higher education, then those institutions have to take a more direct role in elementary and secondary education, recommends a new report from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities.The report, written by a dozen college presidents and released at the association's annual meeting, calls on its member campuses to begin preparing students as early as preschool, helping children to acquire the building blocks of a successful academic career. And to have the greatest impact, the report says, colleges should focus on areas with high concentrations of poverty, where children have the greatest disadvantages in academic preparation. The article is in The Chronicle of Higher Education.
SOME COLLEGE, NO DEGREE, NO PELL
In the continuing push to increase the proportion of Americans with college degrees, one group has been singled out as key to reach: those who have attended college and have some credits, but never earned a degree. A recent change to eligibility for the Pell Grant, though, has made it harder for some of those students—as well as transfer students—to complete their studies and earn a degree. The article is in Inside Higher Ed.
CAUTION URGED IN USING VALUE-ADDED EVALUATIONS
Top researchers studying new “value added” or “growth index” models for measuring a teacher’s contribution to student achievement completely agree on one thing: These methods should be used in staff-evaluation systems with more caution than they have been so far. That area of agreement emerged in an Aug. 9 meeting that drew together a who’s who of a dozen of the nation’s top education researchers on value-added methods—in areas from education to economics—to build, if not consensus, at least familiarity within a disparate research community for value-added systems. The U.S. Department of Education’s research agency, which organized the forum, today released the proceedings of the meeting, as well as individual briefs from each of the experts. The article is in Education Week.
MEASURING THE WORTH OF A TEACHER
Math teacher Kyle Hunsberger was rated average according to a key measure of teacher effectiveness used by the Los Angeles Unified School District, Hunsberger is average. Two years ago, he said, he was rated above average. Then last year his ratings fell. He doesn't know what changed and there's nothing in his scores that will tell him. The rating "didn't tell me anything about how I can get better at teaching [weaker] students," Hunsberger said. "The truth is, I don't know and I would love to know." Hunsberger isn't the only instructor questioning the results of the Los Angeles school system's new approach to measuring teacher effectiveness. Academic Growth Over Time, as the district calls it, is based on students' progress on standardized test scores. The method estimates how much teachers added to — or subtracted from — their students' academic performance. Whether it is a fair, accurate and useful assessment of educators is a heated issue in the nation's second-largest school system. L.A. Unified is under court order to use test scores in teachers' reviews by December, and officials are in negotiations with the teachers union. The article is from the L.A. Times.
WHAT TESTING TELLS US ABOUT EDUCATION
Author and psychologiest John Jensen writes in EducationNews.org: Our problem with high stakes testing is that prior to the test, instruction is off doing a smorgasbord of things. Then to find out the presumed value of any of these activities, we test—by doing something different from the learning activity, failing to incorporate the nuances that were practiced, and demonstrating poorly those that were.
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California’s Coastline Community College is set to create low-cost, online bachelor’s degree pathways where students can enroll simultaneously at one of three public universities, none of which are in California. The new partnership between Coastline and the University of Massachusetts Online, Penn State University’s World Campus and the University of Illinois-Springfield should go live next spring. The project’s leaders hope it will serve as a model for expanding capacity at California’s community colleges, which have been forced to turn away hundreds of thousands of students because of budget cuts. Community college leaders in the state are already searching for new ways to meet student demand. An official with the 112-college California community college system said the central office is in the early phases of considering online credit pathways with the help of outside providers, perhaps even through massive open online courses (MOOCs). The article is in Inside Higher Ed.