Education News Bulletin - January 18-22, 2010
Education News Bulletin
January 18-22, 2010
After 10 Years, Federal Money for Technology in Education
NATIONAL--More than a decade ago, Lawrence K. Grossman, former president of both NBC News and PBS, and Newton N. Minow, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, were asked by several foundations to explore how nonprofits like schools, libraries and museums could tap into emerging digital technologies. Their bold recommendation in 2001 was to set up a multibillion dollar trust that would act as a "venture capital fund" to research learning technology. After a tortuous journey "It's been one `starting all over again' after another after another after another," Mr. Minow said their organization, what is now being called the National Center for Research in Advanced Information and Digital Technologies, finally has Congressional appropriation through the Education Department and will be introduced Monday. It could be handing out grants by fall. "It's time that education had the equivalent of what the National Science Foundation does for science, Darpa does for the national defense and what N.I.H. does for health," Mr. Grossman said in an interview. He and Mr. Minow, senior counsel at the law firm Sidley Austin, will be the co-chairmen of the nonprofit organization, along with Anne G. Murphy, former director of the American Arts Alliance. James H. Shelton III, the assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the Education Department, has been shepherding the new center. To build support for the project, the group created three prototypes: an educational video game for biology students called Immune Attack; a game for museums, called Discovering Babylon; and a computer simulation to train firefighters in high-rise fires. They typify the projects the center will be looking to finance. (New York Times registration required)
CHARTERS, CHOICE AND NEW SCHOOLS
Charter School Demand Continues to Rise
MICHIGAN--Parents are demanding more public charter schools according an annual survey conducted by the Center for Education Reform. While demand grew by 21 percent over the last year, there aren't enough charters to meet demand, often due to legislatively imposed caps. For every public charter school in the country, there are 239 students denied the opportunity to attend. In Michigan, two-thirds of charter schools have waiting lists, which adds up to an estimated 13,000 students. New legislation allows for the creation of a limited number of new public charters, but a cap on the number of school authorized by public universities remains in place. Enrollment numbers show that when given the opportunity, more parents would like to choose their children's school, rather than see them assigned by ZIP code. (Mackinac Policy Research)
WSJ Editorial: Choice Education Chiefs: Two new governors pick reformers.
NEW YORK--Kudos to the country's two newest governors, Republicans Bob McDonnell of Virginia and Chris Christie of New Jersey, who have tapped strong school choice advocates to head their state education departments. Last week, Mr. McDonnell chose Gerald Robinson to become Virginia's next Secretary of Education. Mr. Robinson currently heads the Black Alliance for Educational Options, a national nonprofit that backs charter schools and performance pay for teachers. Meanwhile, Mr. Christie has picked former Jersey City Mayor Bret Schundler to serve as his state's next education commissioner. Mr. Schundler is an unabashed supporter of using education vouchers and charter schools to improve the plight of urban school districts. This is good news for all school children in both states, but it's especially auspicious for low-income kids stuck in failing schools who have the most to gain from a state education official who is unafraid to shake up the establishment. Virginia has a grand total of three charter schools, one of the lowest numbers in the nation. New Jersey spends more money per pupil than all but two states, yet test scores in Newark and Jersey City are among the worst in the country. (Wall Street Journal subscription required)
Teachers, school district approve contract
PHILIDELPHIA--Yesterday, the morning after members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers voted nearly 2-to-1 to approve a new contract, union officials and school Superintendent Arlene Ackerman stood together to praise the pact as "groundbreaking" in school reform. "All eyes will be on Philadelphia as a result of this contract," Ackerman said. "This is an historic contract," said Robert Archie, chairman of the School Reform Commission. He said the reforms called for in the agreement will support "the school district's strategic plans and its objectives." The three-year contract is retroactive to Sept. 1, 2009, and runs through Aug. 31, 2012. The 17,000-member PFT represents teachers, librarians, counselors, school nurses and classroom and nonteaching aides. Among its highlights are:
* A 3-percent across-the-board salary increase on Sept. 1, 2010, and a second 3-percent raise on Jan. 1, 2012.
* Allows the school district to fill about 90 percent of teacher vacancies through "site-based selection" instead of seniority.
* In soon-to-be established Renaissance Schools, or chronically underperforming schools, the district will have the flexibility to implement such reforms as lengthening the school day by up to an hour and requiring teachers to work up to two Saturdays a month and 22 days in July.
* The contract also allows the district to provide performance bonuses to schools that demonstrate exceptional academic growth among its students. (Philadelphia Inquirer)
ACCOUNTABILITY AND ASSESSMENT
Quality of Questions on Common Tests at Issue
NATIONAL--Most experts in the testing community have presumed that the $350 million promised by the U.S. Department of Education to support common assessments would promote those that made greater use of open-ended items capable of measuring higher-order critical-thinking skills. But as measurement experts consider the multitude of possibilities for an assessment system based more heavily on such questions, they also are beginning to reflect on practical obstacles to doing so. The issues now on the table include the added expense of those items, as well as sensitive questions about who should be charged with the task of scoring them and whether they will prove reliable enough for high-stakes decisions. Also being confronted are matters of governancethe quandary of which entities would actually "own" any new assessments created in common by states and whether working in state consortia would generate savings. (Education Week subscription required)
Toothless Reform? (By Andrew Smarick)
NATIONAL--To many education reformers, the passage of the federal government's massive stimulus plan, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), appeared to be a final bright star falling into alignment . The ARRA seemed to complete the constellation: an astounding $100 billion of new federal fundsnearly twice the annual budget of the U.S. Department of Educationto jump-start and sustain the improvement of America's schools. When Duncan expressed his intention to make the very most of this once-in-a-lifetime "moon shot," some advocates eagerly prophesied an epochal shift for reform. The ARRA's results to date, however, have been soberingly quotidian. So far, the vast majority of its funds have served to sustain the status quo, funding the most traditional line items and actually helping schools and districts go about their everyday business. How did one of the ARRA's education goals (reform) get completely displaced by the other (job and program preservation)? The answer can be found in two sets of factors, one mostly economic and beyond the federal government's control but the other legislative and fully within it. Combined, they offer an unmistakable overarching lesson: local dynamics, not the will of Washington, determine the pace and scope of education reform. (Education Next)
America's K-12 Education Strategy: Technology is addressing the dysfunctions in education.
NATIONAL--About five years back, I did some research on middle school and high school math and science education and interviewed a number of teachers and parents at various high schools throughout the Bay Area, deriving direct, experiential feedback from the field. At San Francisco's Galileo High School, Chris Kaegi, a bright young math teacher, shared a particularly important perspective: "I have a general sense of my students' skill gaps, but I have 180 students, so even if I know the weak areas, I can't do anything about it." It became clear to me that there was no standardized methodology of teaching, and there was no methodology for personalized skill-gap analysis. Another problem loomed large. "With an average annual salary of only about $43,000, teaching does not compare favorably with other professional opportunities available to talented individuals," a 2002 National Education Association Research study reported. Less than a third of the teachers and tutors in math and sciences had relevant backgrounds. American schools expected these teachers to come up with the teaching methodology, then execute on it. (Forbes)
NEWSCHOOLS AND OUR VENTURES IN THE NEWS
Making a Healthy Lunch, and Making It a Cause
NATIONAL--Between them, Kristin Richmond and Kirsten Tobey have worked on Wall Street, traveled the world and taught school from East Africa to Ecuador. Now they make lunch for a living. Friends since they met in business school at the University of California, Berkeley, Ms. Richmond and Ms. Tobey founded Revolution Foods Inc. to ride a political and economic wave: surging support for healthier food in school cafeterias. Federal nutrition guidelines require subsidized school lunches to meet benchmarks on calories and fat, but they do not require that foods be whole, local, truly nutritious or good to eat. As a result, the standard cafeteria fare is doing little to curb the nation's rising rate of childhood obesity and might even be contributing to it. That was the problem that Ms. Richmond and Ms. Tobey identified in a graduate school class and set out to solve. What began as a class project is now a growing company with headquarters in Oakland, 240 employees and operations in Los Angeles, Denver and Washington. (New York Times registration required)
City charter school beats suburbs
NEW YORK--Students at a Rochester charter school are getting exceptionally high grades. And Mayor Bob Duffy says it is proof city kids can learn as well as their suburban counterparts. While True North Rochester Preparatory Charter School has the word charter in its name, the people who run it say they are as different from other charter schools as they are public schools. True North doesn't get all the best students. The children are chosen by lottery. The focus is on academics and college prep, with a structured and fun environment. Homerooms are named after colleges, and college banners hang on the walls. Moving from class to class is single file, orderly, and quick, only about 90 seconds. True North Principal David McBride said, "You think of a regular school with three, four, five minutes between bells, so if we've saved two or three minutes every transition for every class, that's 30 classes a week -- all that time goes towards academics." How good are these kids? Today's 8th graders last year scored 100-percent proficiency on the 2009 state E.L.A. tests, beating out suburban districts like Pittsford and Brighton. In fact, they scored higher than all the suburban districts, and doubled the performance of Rochester city schools. True North Chief Operating Officer Dan Deckman said, "There's a level of teacher quality here that we're just very proud of. And I think it's a huge deal breaker in terms of our success." True North is part of a network called Uncommon Schools. Expectations are high. The school day is long -- from 7:40 a.m. to 4:40 p.m. (WHEC)
Fixed schools fail: Several closing; others -- including Phillips, Marshall -- to get overhaul
CHICAGO--Storied Phillips High -- where Nat "King" Cole once walked the halls -- and basketball powerhouse Marshall High School are among 14 Chicago public schools expected to face massive shakeups, the Chicago Sun-Times has learned. Fewer than 4 percent of students at both schools passed their state exams last year, putting both Phillips and Marshall on the radar for a "turnaround'' in which schools are re-staffed but kids stay in place. For the first time, kids in schools closed for either academic reasons or for lack of enrollment have been promised they will be sent to higher-performing schools. Some receiving schools will get longer school days and some transferred kids will get summer school classes to guard against academic loss. Facing a "turnaround'' by the not-for-profit Academy for Urban School Leadership are Phillips High and two elementary schools: Gillespie and Deneen. Marshall's turnaround would be coordinated by CPS officials. (Chicago Sun-Times)
Ivy Leaguers' Class for Poor Becomes `Platinum' Charter Schools
NATIONAL--In 1993, Mike Feinberg and Dave Levin were recent Ivy League graduates teaching fifth graders in Houston's inner city. The students were as much as two academic years behind their middle-class peers. A year later, Feinberg and Levin started a classroom that operated nine hours a day instead of the normal seven, as well as on some Saturdays and during the summer. Within a year, the number of students performing at grade level in reading and math jumped to 90 percent from 50 percent. Today the 50-pupil experiment has grown into the biggest U.S. charter-school operator, with 82 schools for poor and minority children in 19 states. The Obama administration cites the Knowledge Is Power Program, as the nonprofit system is known, as a model of the kind of education reform it hopes to spawn with $100 billion in stimulus money. KIPP has gotten "remarkable results from students," Education Secretary Arne Duncan said in an interview. "The program helps kids "who didn't really have a good work ethic, who didn't have dreams, start to become extraordinarily successful." (Business Week)
FEDERAL POLICY AND THE NEW ADMINISTRATION
Investing in brains: Should the economic squeeze mean cuts, reform or more spending on education?
NATIONAL--IN CALIFORNIA the students are revoltingnot against their teachers, but in sympathy with them. The state's governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has cut $1 billion, some 20% of the University of California's budget, as he tries to balance the state's books. Fees may rise by a fifth, to over $10,000. Support staff are being fired; academics must take unpaid leave. That is part of a global picture in which cash-strapped governments in the rich world are scrutinising the nearly 5% of GDP they devote to education. Those budgets may not be the top candidates for the chop, but they cannot fully escape it. Just before Christmas the British government said it planned to reduce spending on higher education, science and research by £600m ($980m) by 2012-13, just as a chilly job market is sending students scurrying to do more and longer courses. The trade union that represents academic staff claims that up to 30 universities could close with the loss of 14,000 jobs. A House of Commons select committee is investigating the effects on British science. Even where education spending has not been slashed, it may face a squeeze as short-term stimulus spending ends. America's $787 billion Recovery Act passed by Congress nearly a year ago included $100 billion for education. More than half is to be spent this year, meaning that the budget will have to be cut in 2011. A study by the Centre for the Study of Education Policy at Illinois State University, published on January 18th, found that half of American states will have spent all of their stimulus money for education by the end of July. Cuts will follow. Privately funded schools and colleges have seen their endowments and donors' enthusiasm wither. (The Economist)
States Race to Apply for U.S. Education Funds
NATIONAL--Forty states are seeking federal school funding through a competitive Obama administration program that has prompted educational changes as well as resistance in much of the country. States have spent months, and in some cases millions of dollars in consulting fees, preparing applications for the first round of the $4.35 billion Race to the Top program, due Tuesday. The initiative has generated stiff competition among states eager to prove their bona fides as education reformers in a scramble for federal cash. Administration officials promise to award grants worth up to $700 million to states that show the greatest willingness to push innovation and implement tough testing standards in local schools. The program has met resistance in some quarters. In Florida, eight of the state's 67 counties declined to sign on to the state's application, citing disagreements with the federal policy. Hundreds of districts in California also declined to go along. (Wall Street Journal subscription required)
WSJ Editorial: Race to the Middle?: How to make a little education reform money go a long way.
NATIONAL--The big education story these days is the state competition for some $4.35 billion in Race to the Top grants to be passed out by Education Secretary Arne Duncan. President Obama said this week he'll seek an additional $1.35 billion for the program for next year, but more important than the amount is whether Mr. Duncan really wants to race to the top, or just the mediocre middle. Forty states met the application deadline on Tuesday, and the grants will be awarded in two rounds, in April and June. To qualify, Mr. Duncan said states had to, among other things, lift caps on charter schools and remove barriers to using student records to identify good teachers and reward them. He's also said that "there will be a lot more losers than winners." Money is fungible, and a few hundred million extra from the feds is likely to go toward filling budget gaps, not advancing reform. If Mr. Duncan wants to increase the chances that stand-out school districts and administrators will have the political cover to build on their success, awarding more money to fewer states is the better option. All the more so because it will set the reform bar high. In recent months many states have been rushing to pass reforms willy-nilly to check off a box and qualify. Some have hired expensive consulting firms to polish their applications. But Race to the Top shouldn't be about rewarding a state for its grant-writing. It should use federal leverage to help remove barriers that stand in the way of state and local problem solvers. (Wall Street Journal subscription required)
Education is Challenger's challenge: L.A. County's largest detention center is failing at its basic job: rehabilitating the youths confined there. (By Mark Rosenbaum is chief counsel at the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. Laura Faer is the directing attorney of the Children's Rights Project at Public Counsel. Shawna L. Parks is the legal director at the Disability Rights Legal Center.)
LOS ANGELES--Challenger Memorial Youth Center in Lancaster is both Los Angeles County's largest juvenile detention camp and its greatest failure. It costs as much as $50,000 a year to house a youth at Challenger -- about the same amount as tuition and room and board at an Ivy League university. But that's where the comparison ends. The facility's school is appalling, with 95% of its students scoring below proficiency on state exams. Challenger is the target of a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into mistreatment and poor supervision of the 650 students housed at the facility's six juvenile camps. It was cited in a 2009 county Probation Commission report as operating a "broken" school system. And this month, our coalition of nonprofit organizations filed a lawsuit asking that the county be ordered to meet at least minimum standards in educating our community's most at-risk youth. (LA Times registration required)
Annual Poll of Freshmen Shows Effect of Recession
NATIONAL--The recession hit this year's college freshmen hard, affecting how they chose a school as well as their ability to pay for it, according to an annual nationwide survey released Thursday. Over all, students were more likely than previous freshmen to have a parent who was unemployed and less likely to have found a job that might help pay for college. About two-thirds of incoming students said they had "some" or "major" concern about their ability to pay for their education. The percentage of those with "some" concern 55.4 was at its highest level since 1971. The number of students taking out loans was at its highest in nine years, at 53.3 percent. (New York Times registration required)
Op-ed: More (Steve) Jobs, Jobs, Jobs, Jobs (by Thomas Friedman)
NATIONAL--The most striking feature of Barack Obama's campaign for the presidency was the amazing, young, Internet-enabled, grass-roots movement he mobilized to get elected. The most striking feature of Obama's presidency a year later is how thoroughly that movement has disappeared. In part, it disappeared because the Obama team let it disappear, as Obama moved to pass what was necessary the economic stimulus and what he aspired to health care by exclusively playing inside baseball with Congress. The president seems to have thought that his majorities in the Senate and the House were so big that he never really had to mobilize "the people" to drive his agenda. Obama turned all his supporters into spectators of The Harry and Nancy Show. And, at the same time, that grass-roots movement went dormant on its own, apparently thinking that just getting the first African-American elected as president was the moon shot of this generation, and nothing more was necessary. Well, here's my free advice to Obama, post-Massachusetts. If you think that the right response is to unleash a populist backlash against bankers, you're wrong. Please, please re-regulate the banks in a smart way. But remember: in the long run, Americans don't rally to angry politicians. They do not bring out the best in us. We rally to inspirational, hopeful ones. They bring out the best in us. And right now we need to be at our best. (New York Times registration required)
Technology Can Leverage Donor Money, Gates Says
SEATTLE -- The needs of the poor are greater than the money available to help them, but that's not enough to discourage Bill Gates in his work as co-chair of the world's largest charitable foundation. In his second annual letter, issued Monday, Mr. Gates says investment in science and technology can leverage those dollars and make more of a difference than charity and government aid alone. In his 19-page letter, Mr. Gates says the foundation currently is backing 30 areas of innovation including online learning, teacher improvement, malaria vaccine development, HIV prevention, and genetically modified seeds. The Seattle-based foundation focuses most of its donations on global health, agriculture development and education. Since 1994, the foundation has committed to $21.3 billion in grants. As of Sept. 30, 2009, its endowment totaled $34.17 billion. Mr. Gates said his and his wife's experience at Microsoft Corp. is not the only reason they are so taken with technology. "Melinda and I see our foundation's key role as investing in innovations that would not otherwise be funded," he wrote. "This draws not only on our backgrounds in technology but also on the foundation's size and ability to take a long-term view and take large risks on new approaches." Mr. Gates begins his letter by talking about how much fun he's having at his new job: 2009 was the first year he worked full-time as co-chair of the foundation, after a decade of part-time work as he led Microsoft full-time. (Wall Street Journal subscription required)
Commentary: Five college blind spots (By Jay Mathews, Washington Post education columnist)
NATIONAL--My family has much experience in higher education, not all of it happy. I spent six years as an often struggling undergraduate and grad student. My journalist wife did ten years in higher ed, including three of what she considered hard labor as a visiting professor. Our kids add another 11 years, with the youngest child about to sign up for three more. Please don't ask me what that will cost. American colleges and universities are the great strength of our education system. They are revered around the world. But those schools put heavy stress on our families, since getting into, paying for and graduating from the ones we most want often exceeds our capabilities. We need to know more about what they are doing to us, so I am happy to see washingtonpost.com launch two higher education blogs: College Inc. by Daniel de Vise and Campus Overload by Jenna Johnson. Let me celebrate that event by grumbling about what I consider higher education's five biggest blind spots.
CALIFORNIA--The Gateway to College National Network announced today that it has received $13 million in grants to expand programs that help high school dropouts earn a diploma while also amassing college credits. The grants include $7.28 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, $3.8 million from the Foundation to Promote Open Society and $1 million each from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Kresge Foundation. Gateway to College serves students who are 16 to 21 years old and have dropped out of school or are unlikely to graduate. They study basic reading, writing and math in community and technical colleges and then transition to regular college courses. Students also receive training in study skills, time management and stress reduction. (LA Times registration required)
New turnaround target: 76 schools by 2012
PENNSYLVANIA--Pennsylvania's application for a piece of the $4 billion federal Race to the Top money calls for Philadelphia to "turn around" 76 low-performing schools by 2012-13 -- eight schools in 2010-11, 40 the following year, and 28 in 2012-13. That is close to a third of all schools in the District. Such schools will be required to adopt one of four drastic reform strategies approved by the US Department of Education. Only last fall Superintendent Arlene Ackerman said she was heeding US Education Secretary Arne Duncan's advice not to take on too many school turnarounds at once. Now with the possibility of federal money to support it, the District has signed on to a state application that commits it to a very aggressive pace if the grant is awarded. The mildest of these strategies calls for removal of the principal and intensive staff training. But no more than half of the schools in Philadelphia can use this model, according to federal guidelines. The harshest is closure. In between is "turnaround," replacing the principal and 50 percent of the teachers, and "restart," or hiring outside providers to run the school. (Philadelphia Public Schools Notebook)