- all the teachers, administrators and other personnel at one Rhode Island high school were fired (the focus seems to be on the teachers but news reports say the entire staff will be let go). That's a big wow all the way around. Central Falls High is one of the lowest-performing schools in R.I. and is in a low-income area. From CNN:
The superintendent, under federal guidelines, had asked teachers to work a longer day than 7 hours and tutor students weekly for one hour outside of school time. There would also be 2 weeks of paid professional development during the summer break. As usual, the issue was money and specifically, paying the teachers for the extra time. Apparently, the superintendent wasn't against paying but they couldn't agree on a pay rate. One teacher:
Kathy May, a teacher at Central Falls High, said she's disheartened. "I feel like, after 20 years, I can see some progress beginning to be made. And I'm sad that we're not going to be around to follow that through, to push that forward."
President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan have backed this decision. Okay, but where are they going to find good teachers (if the fired ones are "bad") to turn the school around? You can say "off with their heads" and maybe the teachers should have done more. Ms. May's comment about improving after 20 years is a little startling but this could be the start of something for superintendents who want to clean house or look like they are actually doing something.
- Then there's the headline "Board's Decision to Close 28 Kansas City Schools Follows Years of Inaction". This would be almost half the schools in KC. I can't imagine closing that many schools in one fell swoop. From the story:
But a closer look at the school board’s recent history reveals a chaotic, almost nonfunctioning body that put off making tough choices and even routine improvements for generations. Experts said that in the board’s years of inaction is a cautionary tale for school districts everywhere.
“We have buildings that are half empty,” said Andrea Flinders, the union president. “We recognized that schools needed to be closed, but the board wasn’t willing. This board is different.”
"If the schools had fallen into bankruptcy, as was predicted before the closings, the state would have seized control, and made changes as it saw fit."
- Panel Proposes Single Standard for All Schools, an article in the NY Times this week about a panel of educators brought together by governors and school superintendents with a uniform set of academic standards for English and math. Upside, our nation would be able to truly know how kids are doing state to state if say, in third grade, they learn fractions. These standards would not prescribe curriculum. It would mean possible teacher retraining and textbook rewrites.
“I’d say this is one of the most important events of the last several years in American education,” said Chester E. Finn Jr., a former assistant secretary of education who has been an advocate for national standards for nearly two decades. “Now we have the possibility that for the first time, states could come together around new standards and high school graduation requirements that are ambitious and coherent. This is a big deal.”
In recent years, many states moved in the opposite direction, lowering standards to make it easier for students to pass tests and for schools to avoid penalties under the 2002 federal No Child Left Behind law.And guess who doesn't want to be part of it from the get go? Texas and Alaska. The governor of Texas says only Texans should decide what their children learn. Local control is king for education but those days may be ending. (This issue may also play into another Texas story - see below - on textbooks.)
Some states like Massachuseutts already have high standards and are uneasy about any efforts towards possibly lowering standards.
The standards are open for public comment through April 2, before final versions are published later in the spring. The adoption process varies greatly from state to state. In some, the state schools superintendent has considerable power to move forward in as little as three months. But other states, including California, have complicated procedures, involving the state board of education and other bodies that could prolong the process for a year or more, Mr. Linn said.
- This brings us to No Child Left Behind. Another NY Times article is about the President's plans for NCLB. From the article:
In addition, President Obama would replace the law’s requirement that every American child reach proficiency in reading and math, which administration officials have called utopian, with a new national target that could prove equally elusive: that all students should graduate from high school prepared for college and a career.
“We’ve got to get accountability right this time,” Mr. Duncan told reporters Friday. “For the mass of schools, we want to get rid of prescriptive interventions. We’ll leave it up to them to figure out how to make progress.”
However, the national teachers unions do not like the blueprint at all.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said of the proposal, “From everything that we’ve seen, this blueprint places 100 percent of the responsibility on teachers and gives them zero percent of the authority.”
I also see this as problem:
The administration’s proposals would also rework the law’s teacher-quality provisions by requiring states to develop evaluation procedures to distinguish effective instructors, partly based on whether their students are learning. These would replace the law’s current emphasis on certifying that all teachers have valid credentials, which has produced little except red tape, officials said.
And this is a big difference:
Obama proposed requiring states to adopt “college- and career-ready standards” to qualify for the $14 billion Title I program. The administration proposes that new federal education dollars be provided to states as competitive grants, rather than through per-pupil formulas.
The blueprint proposes eliminating a current requirement, popular among Republicans, that schools failing to meet testing benchmarks for two years in a row provide busing to other schools for students wishing to transfer, but few parents have transferred their students under this provision.
This is a whole lotta change to come. It's seems like some of NCLB would be improved with giving schools credit for progress and not just one score but it seems like the feds become more involved than ever.
- Then there's the Texas textbook issue. First, a little background. I first heard of this when I worked for a book design firm that did some textbook publishing. There aren't as many textbook publishers as there used to be and the publishers wanted to create books that many districts would buy. However, in some states, like Texas, the districts don't pick the books, the state Board of Education does. That means larger states like California and Texas and what they want to see in textbooks can dominate content. California, with its weakened economy, may not be as big a player today but Texas still is. The weird part? The people who pick the textbooks aren't educators, they are just folks who get on a committee and for the most part, they are very conservative. So here's what they are pushing through now from a NY Times article this week about history and economics textbooks:
They also included a plank to ensure that students learn about “the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract With America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.”
Dr. McLeroy, a dentist by training, pushed through a change to the teaching of the civil rights movement to ensure that students study the violent philosophy of the Black Panthers in addition to the nonviolent approach of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He also made sure that textbooks would mention the votes in Congress on civil rights legislation, which Republicans supported.
They also replaced the word “capitalism” throughout their texts with the “free-enterprise system.” “Let’s face it, capitalism does have a negative connotation,” said one conservative member, Terri Leo. “You know, ‘capitalist pig!’ ”
Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)On the upside? One, we're in a digital age and so textbook publishers are better able to tailor textbooks for different districts. Two, if we do pass national standards for English and math and Texas isn't part of the group, publishers will have a huge number of districts to write for and Texas will not be able to hold the sway it has in the past.