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

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

News & analysis

House passes bill to stave off cuts, but K-12 advocates still worried

Education advocates have been sweating for months over a series of planned cuts that are slated to hit every K-12 program in January—unless Brokedown Congress can figure out a way to stop it. Well, today the House of Representatives passed a bill that would stop the cuts—known in Inside-the-Beltway speak as “sequestration”—for a year for all programs, and permanently for defense spending. But education advocates—and the White House—aren’t exactly celebrating. They say the cure is worse than the disease. In a nutshell, the plan, which was approved on a 218-199 vote today, would stop sequestration for the next federal fiscal year, fiscal year 2013. But it would do so by cutting non-defense spending (that’s the category that includes education) even further over the long haul. And, even in the first year, the cuts for “non-defense” programs wouldn’t really be much smaller under the House plan than they would have been under the much-dreaded sequestration, according to an analysis by the Committee for Education Funding, a lobbying coalition in Washington. (Politics K-12)

8th grade students make gains in testing on science
American eighth graders have made modest gains in national science testing, with Hispanic and black students narrowing the gap between them and their white and Asian peers, the federal government reported Thursday. Students tested last year scored an average of 152 out of a possible 300, up from 150 in 2009, a small but statistically significant improvement. The latest results are based on a representative sampling of 122,000 students in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, part of the Department of Education’s National Assessment of Educational Progress. Hispanic students made the largest gain, to 137 from 132, while the average score for black students increased to 129 from 126. For whites, the average went to 163 from 162. Among Asians, the average dropped from 160 to 159, and for American Indians, it rose to 141 from 137, but in both cases the changes were not judged statistically significant because of smaller sample sizes. Looking at results by state, for public schools only, lagging states made some of the biggest improvements. South Carolina had the biggest increase, 6 points, to 149; Mississippi, the lowest-scoring state, rose 5 points, to 137. The top-scoring state was North Dakota, at 164, followed by Vermont and Montana at 163. After Mississippi, the lowest averages were in Alabama and California, at 140. (New York Times)

Minnesota: Rushford-Peterson schools lose bid for state bonding money
One of the many items not included in the $496 million bonding bill that passed this week at the state Capitol was funding for local school district projects. It was a unique request, as we reported in February, because state bonding bills traditionally do not fund local school projects. Local districts have the ability to raise their own capital funds – with voter approval – but leaders of the Rushford-Peterson school district in southeastern Minnesota had made the argument that their tax base wasn’t large enough, and voters would never approve the $29 million needed for a new building to replace the school in Rushford that was built in 1906. Rushford-Peterson officials were seeking $20 million from the state, saying they were confident they could raise the remaining $9 million locally. In the end, the project was not included in the bonding bill. (MPR)

New Jersey: Bill offering NJ teachers $10K loans to live in poor communities clears assembly panel
Assemblyman Reed Gusciora says there aren’t enough Trenton police officers who live in the struggling city, so he wants to give them an incentive to move there. The Assembly Housing and Local Government Committee today approved a bill he sponsored that would cover up to a $10,000 down payment for police officers, firefighters, teachers and sanitation workers to buy homes in the poor communities they serve. The bill (A1472) would apply to Trenton and 30 other low-income communities whose schools were formerly classified as Abbott districts. “If you use Trenton as a prime example, if you work in City Hall you have to live in the city,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer), who recently moved to Trenton from Princeton after his legislative district was redrawn. “Twenty years ago we actually relaxed the requirements to make an exception for police and fire — they can live in Hamilton, Bordentown and Chesterfield.” The measure cleared the Democratic-controlled committee 4-2 along party lines. Gusciora said the point of the bill is the foster a better sense of community between its residents and public servants, which he said would make the town safer. (Star Ledger)


Judith Berezin List: Remembering a Murrow H.S. student named Adam Yauch
Some of you might remember me. I taught Communication Arts (English) at Murrow High School from 1978 until 2007, becoming the department assistant principal in 2004. I left my beloved Murrow to become the English department chair at Brentwood High School, in Suffolk County. I would like to share my reminiscences of “MCA,” Adam Yauch, my former student at Murrow. Driving home from work last Friday, I listened to the news on 1010 WINS and I was deeply saddened to learn of the untimely death of Adam Yauch. I had often spoken about Adam to my son, Joe, now 21 years old and a college student. Joe, a longtime Beastie Boys fan, had previously told me that Adam had been battling cancer. So, through my tears, I called Joe, not only to tell him the sad news, but to ask him to help me understand my great sadness. After all, I had not seen Adam in about 30 years, but my grief was almost overwhelming. Adam was my student in Writer’s Workshop. I can still remember where he sat, near the window in the front of the class in 210A. He was thin and so his jeans and sweaters always seemed big on him. That year Adam seemed to grow much taller, and his face became more masculine and less of a boy’s face. He was quiet and unassuming, but always a presence in the class. Was he an angel and an ideal student? No. But then, I never did favor those angelic types! I’ll tell you what he was: Adam Yauch was a regular kid, who sometimes needed to be pushed to do his homework — but not always — and sometimes came late — but not often — and who ultimately worked and learned some stuff about reading and writing in my class. He liked his fellow students, he enjoyed a good laugh, and he had depth and humanity, even then. (School Book)

Robert C. Pianta: Stop complaining about teacher assessments; find alternatives
When talks between the U.S. Department of Education and teacher-preparation programs over performance-based accountability collapsed last month, no one should have been surprised. Like most other accountability efforts in education, the department’s proposed plan was more stick than carrot. But those of us in the higher-education field of teacher preparation must accept our share of responsibility for the breakdown in negotiations as well. The department had proposed that states evaluate teacher-preparation programs using graduates’ job placement, teachers’ job retention, the achievement gains of their students, and graduates’ and their students’ satisfaction surveys. Those assessments would have been used to classify programs’ impacts, and only those in the “effective” or “exceptional” groups would have been eligible for the federal Teacher Education Assistance for College and Higher Education (Teach) Grant Program, which provides financial support for students planning to teach in schools that serve low-income families. If we cannot counter the federal plan with a cohesive set of our own solutions, then we should follow the Education Department’s procedures for a period of, say, three years, but with two caveats: that no penalties be attached during that time, and that the information obtained from applying the rules be made public. During those three years, we should work out the kinks in measurement, develop and test parameters of accountability that could inform policy, and use the teacher-preparation process to begin improvements not only in our primary and secondary classrooms but in higher education as well. (Chronicle of Higher Ed)

Rick Hess: The culture of “can’t” in American schools
When it comes to reforming our nation’s public schools, we hear a lot about what educational leaders can’t do. Contracts, laws, and regulations assuredly handcuff school and system leaders. But the ardent drumbeat for “reform” has obscured the fact that school and system leaders can actually do much that they often complain they can’t, if they have the persistence, knowledge, ingenuity, and motivation. In truth, it’s tough to know how much blame should be apportioned to contracts and laws and how much to timid school boards and leaders who prize consensus and stakeholder buy-in. There are genuine legal and bureaucratic obstacles that hinder leaders. A few states, including Pennsylvania and West Virginia, mandate that seniority be the sole determinant of who gets cut when laying off teachers. Regulations governing the use of federal funds can be equally burdensome. “It is hard to overemphasize the number of federal compliance requirements that apply to states and districts,” explain education attorneys Melissa Junge and Sheara Krvaric. They note that the Office of the Inspector General has estimated that Title I alone contains 588 discrete compliance requirements. Still, these obstacles are less burdensome, and more surmountable, than many leaders or reformers seem to understand. The problem is that in selecting, training, socializing, and rewarding leaders, we do not equip or encourage them to lead. Traditional educational leadership counsels tell leaders that they should rely wholly on coaching and consensus — while placidly accepting contractual, bureaucratic, or policy barriers. Meanwhile, would-be reformers divert attention from lethargic leadership by rushing to blame “the union.” The result is that school and system leaders operate in a timid “culture of can’t.” As the Center on Reinventing Public Education’s legal analyst Mitch Price has noted, contractual or regulatory issues can serve as “smoke screens for those people who don’t want to do something.” (Straight Up)


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