Curtis Whatley is a past member of the 50CAN team. 

Here’s what educators, advocates, wonks and policymakers are talking about today:

News & analysis

Education gap grows between rich and poor, studies say
Education was historically considered a great equalizer in American society, capable of lifting less advantaged children and improving their chances for success as adults. But a body of recently published scholarship suggests that the achievement gap between rich and poor children is widening, a development that threatens to dilute education’s leveling effects. It is a well-known fact that children from affluent families tend to do better in school. Yet the income divide has received far less attention from policy makers and government officials than gaps in student accomplishment by race. Now, in analyses of long-term data published in recent months, researchers are finding that while the achievement gap between white and black students has narrowed significantly over the past few decades, the gap between rich and poor students has grown substantially during the same period. (New York Times)

Ten states get leeway on school law
President Barack Obama on Thursday authorized 10 states to ignore key provisions of the No Child Left Behind law, a move to circumvent the unpopular legislation that won cheers from the states but prompted concern from Republicans and some civil-rights groups. The Obama administration said it would grant Colorado, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey and Tennessee the power to design their own school accountability systems, instead of using the one mandated by the decade-old federal law. Florida, Georgia and Oklahoma received waivers on condition they adopt specific policies promised in their applications. New Mexico had also applied for a waiver, but was denied. (WSJ)

Kline ESEA bill would squelch the federal role in K-12
The federal role in K-12 education would be almost entirely eviscerated under a pair of bills introduced today by Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee. The bills would get rid of the adequate yearly progress provision, and allow states to craft their own accountability systems. Schools would be able to come up with their own improvement strategies. They wouldn’t have to offer free tutoring or school choice. But schools would still test students in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Testing in science would become voluntary, though. “Decisions about education should by and large be made at the state and local level,” said Kline at the American Enterprise Institute, a free-market think thank in Washington. “All decisions should be measured against the yardstick of whether they are helping students learn and achieve. Federal spending in education has increased every single year and we haven’t seen any results.” (Politics K-12)

The challenge of teaching higher order skills
Could teacher evaluations begin to offer us the best portrait yet of what instruction actually looks like in America’s classrooms? And what changes might such information spur in teacher preparation and on-the-job training? Those are implications raised by a couple of different papers looking at teacher evaluations. I’ve written about them on this blog before, but only from the technical aspects of the systems. In reviewing the reports again, it strikes me that they also have a lot to say about instructional quality—some of which seems frankly troubling. First up is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s most recent release from its Measures of Effective Teaching study. As part of the study, observers scored thousands of taped teacher lessons against a bunch of different teaching frameworks. The key data are in the charts on Pages 26-7. In essence, no matter what framework was used, teachers got higher scores on procedural tasks like planning and behavior management, but relatively low scores on things like “analysis and problem solving,” “using investigation/problem-based approaches, “student participation in making meaning and reasoning,” and “relevance to history and current events.” (Teacher Beat)

Pennsylvania, Texas among 11 states passing on education law exceptions for now; some cite politics
Some of the nation’s largest states are questioning whether the Obama administration’s offer to let them escape certain mandates of the No Child Left Behind law is a helping hand to improve education or a means to impose more federal control. California, Pennsylvania, and Texas are among 11 states that haven’t asked for a waiver, although they could apply later. Pennsylvania’s top educator said the offer doesn’t make sense, in part because of political realities. “What would happen if we had a new administration or a new law” next year, asked state Education Secretary Ron Tomalis, who worked in the U.S. Department of Education during Bush’s administration. Tomalis said Pennsylvania is discussing alternatives to the waiver with the Obama administration. “No one is saying that we should lower standards,” Tomalis said. “But you could have a very different federal law in 18 months.” (WaPo)

Rhode Island: Broke Central Falls school district sends layoff notices to 71 teachers
Facing a yawning $5.6 million deficit and uncertain enrollment numbers for next year, the Central Falls School Board of Trustees Tuesday night agreed to send formal layoff notices to 71 teachers. Uncertainty of funds and declining enrollment are the principal reasons for the layoffs. Other reasons include laying off teachers who have emergency certification and those whose performance has been deemed inadequate by administrators. Board Chairwoman Anna Cano-Morales said she regretted the timing of the notices, which is in accordance with state law that requires districts to notify any teacher at risk for layoff by March 1. The layoffs “are unfortunate and premature,” Cano-Morales said. “Some of these people will be coming back, and every one contributes greatly to the district.” (ProJo)

Minnesota: Education waiver gives state flexibility
Minnesota school officials say the waiver President Barack Obama is giving them from the strict requirements of the No Child Left Behind education law will give them the flexibility and resources they need to effectively help struggling students. Instead of relying on one high-stakes annual test to determine if students are making “adequate yearly progress,” Sam Kramer of the state education department says Minnesota schools will use several indicators to determine how students are doing – and which schools need help. There will also be new rewards for schools that perform well. (KSTP)

New York: What will the next round of school turnarounds look like in Buffalo?
District officials are still waiting to hear back from State Ed on the improvement plans submitted at the end of December for seven low-performing schools. Associate Superintendent Debra Sykes says she expects a decision sometime in early or mid-March on the plans for Futures Academy, Buffalo Elementary School of Technology, Waterfront Elementary, Bilingual Center School 33, Drew Science Magnet, East High School, Lafayette High School. These are the plans, remember, that involve hiring outside groups for four of the schools and replacing half the staff and implementing other changes at three. And the district is waiting to hear how many of the four possible new PLA schools do end up getting that designation: Pantoja, Lovejoy Discovery School 43, Herman Badillo Bilingual Academy and Grabiarz. Sykes says she has started meeting with parents and staff at each of those schools to find out which of the four federal improvement models they want to implement. (Buffalo News)

New York: Amid protesters disruptions, city board votes to close 18 schools and truncate 5
A city board voted on Thursday night to close 18 schools and eliminate the middle school grades at five others, citing poor performance. The decision drew howls of opposition from hundreds of teachers’ union members, parents and students, who gathered in the auditorium of Brooklyn Technical High School along with a group that was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. The Panel for Educational Policy, a board that replaced the city’s Board of Education, determined that the schools’ test scores, graduation rates and leadership failings were too severe to merit keeping them open. Among them were nine schools opened during Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s tenure. (New York Times)


Rick Hess: A shameless display on waivers
The Obama administration made its big NCLB “waiver” announcement yesterday, getting the predictable, fawning edu-coverage. The announcement featured President Obama bragging, “After waiting far too long for Congress to reform No Child Left Behind, my Administration is giving states the opportunity to set higher, more honest standards in exchange for more flexibility.” Now, let’s just stipulate that President Obama and the folks at the Department of Education are good people who want to help kids. But that doesn’t excuse an exercise that struck me as hypocritical, graceless, and troubling. (Straight Up)


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