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

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

News & analysis

Early Capitol Hill response mixed on Obama’s higher ed proposals
President Barack Obama’s sweeping plans to shake up higher education funding will need to get through a politically polarized Congress, and the initial reviews from some top education lawmakers indicate a rocky road ahead. The president’s wish list includes creating a form of Race to the Top, and the Investing in Innovation program for colleges. And he wants to rejigger funding for campus-based aid programs so that they go to institutions that give students good bang for their buck. More here. Reaction on Capitol Hill was mixed. U.S. Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the chairman of the House Education and the Workforce Committee, said he’d take a look at some of the affordability proposals. “Competition and transparency are basic principles Republicans have long supported to help lower costs in higher education, and institutions have a responsibility to do everything they can to provide a good education at an affordable price,” he said in a statement. (Politics K-12)

Higher dropout age may not lead to more diplomas
In his State of the Union address, President Obama called on every state to require students to stay in school until they graduate or turn 18. “When students don’t walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma,” he said. The White House cited studies that showed how raising the compulsory schooling age helps prevent kids from leaving school. And while some of that is true, some of it is also wishful thinking. According to [Education Professor Russell Rumberger], all you have to do is look at the 21 states where the compulsory schooling age is already 18. In Nevada, the dropout rate is 58 percent; in Louisiana, it’s 43 percent; in California, it’s 37 percent. The other 18 states aren’t much better. Then there are states like Kentucky, where kids can leave school as early as 16. That’s been the law since 1934, and yet in recent years, Kentucky has dramatically lowered its dropout rate by focusing on the causes. Lisa Gross is with the Kentucky Department of Education. “The reason kids drop out in Kentucky, and I suspect that this is the case nationwide, is not because they’re falling behind,” Gross says. “It’s because they don’t see a connection between what they’re learning in high school and what their lives are going to be like as adults.” Gross says Kentucky has worked hard to provide students multiple pathways to graduation. It has created a support system and gotten parents involved. But holding on to some kids hasn’t been cheap — or easy. (NPR)

Study: Class size doesn’t matter
Two Harvard researchers looked at the factors that actually improve student achievement and those that don’t. In a new paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research, Will Dobbie and Roland Freyer analyzed 35 charter schools, which generally have greater flexibility in terms of school structure and strategy. They found that traditionally emphasized factors such as class size made little difference, compared with some new criteria: We find that traditionally collected input measures — class size, per pupil expenditure, the fraction of teachers with no certification, and the fraction of teachers with an advanced degree — are not correlated with school effectiveness. In stark contrast, we show that an index of five policies suggested by over forty years of qualitative research — frequent teacher feedback, the use of data to guide instruction, high-dosage tutoring, increased instructional time, and high expectations — explains approximately 50 percent of the variation in school effectiveness. (Wonk Blog)

Maryland: Prince George’s takes first step toward year-round schooling
Prince George’s County Superintendent William R. Hite Jr. wants to add year-round calendars to his arsenal to turn around underperforming schools. Hite asked the Prince George’s County House delegation to support legislation that gives the district the authority to create year-round calendars for certain schools. The bill would make the county the seventh jurisdiction in the state that allows year-round schools. The delegation voted 19 to 2 in favor of the measure. The bill still requires additional approvals in the General Assembly. “We want to have it as an option to meet the unique needs of a school,” Hite said after meeting with the House delegation in Annapolis. “That’s currently not available to us.” (Washington Post)

Maryland: Mayor, Alonso ask legislators for school construction flexibility
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Baltimore schools chief Andrés Alonso told legislators Friday that the city needs more flexibility in spending the school construction money it gets from the state — seeking a change that would let the school system take on many projects at once rather than seeking approval for one at a time. Testifying separately before the city’s House delegation in Annapolis, the mayor and schools chief both expressed their commitment to develop a major construction program to improve Baltimore’s dilapidated school buildings. (Baltimore Sun)

New York: Who will find Buffalo’s next superintendent?
The School Board was supposed to choose a superintendent search firm at the end of November or early December, but that process has been delayed by about two months. The board was busy dealing with school improvement plans, finding a new board member and other issues, according to Rosalyn Taylor, vice president of executive affairs. So the search for James Williams’ permanent successor was delayed. The board in mid-November issued a request for proposals for search firms. Seven proposals came in. An ad hoc committee narrowed that list to four. The board is meeting at 10 a.m. Saturday in Room 801 of City Hall to interview the four firms. The meeting is open to the public — if you want to attend, you’ll need to make sure you use the front door of City Hall that is the farthest to the left. The building superintendent told me that door is open from 7:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Saturdays. (Buffalo News)

New York: U.S. schools chief trumps Bloomberg, says great teachers should be paid $150,000
The country’s top educator doubled down Friday on Mayor Bloomberg’s push for merit-based school pay, saying the sky’s the limit for the best teachers. Asked on MSNBC’s Morning Joe about Hizzoner’s plan to give highly-rated teachers $20,000 raises, Education Secretary Arne Duncan said teacher pay should start high and balloon for top performers. “A starting teacher should make 60 (thousand dollars), $65,000. I think a great teacher should be able to make 130 (thousand dollars), 140 (thousand dollars), $150,000 — pick a number,” Duncan said. “We have beaten down educators. We have to elevate the profession. We have to strengthen the profession. We have to reward excellence,” Duncan said. The incentives are critical “when great teachers are taking on tough assignments in inner-city schools, in rural and remote areas and in areas of critical need like math and science,” Duncan added. (Daily News)

New York: Bracing for $40,000 at NYC private schools
Over the past 10 years, the median price of first grade in the city has gone up by 48 percent, adjusted for inflation, compared with a 35 percent increase at private schools nationally — and just 24 percent at an Ivy League college — according to tuition data provided by 41 New York City K-12 private schools to the National Association of Independent Schools. Indeed, this year’s tuition at Columbia Grammar and Preparatory ($38,340 for 12th grade) and Horace Mann ($37,275 for the upper school) is higher than Harvard’s ($36,305). Those 41 schools (out of 61 New York City private schools in the national association) provided enough data to enable a 10-year analysis. (Over all, inflation caused prices in general to rise 27 percent over the past decade.) The median 12th-grade tuition for the current school year was $36,970, up from $21,100 in 2001-2, according to the national association’s survey. Nationally, that figure rose to $24,240 from $14,583 a decade ago. (New York Times)

New York: Flaws seen in vocational education
Nearly four in five vocational programs in city high schools aren’t directed toward high-growth careers, meaning it could be tough for graduates to land jobs, according to a report to be released Monday by Public Advocate Bill de Blasio. And it’s impossible to tell whether the vocational programs—which reach about 140,000 students—are successful, because the city doesn’t track whether students get jobs, the report said. The analysis comes as Mayor Michael Bloomberg seeks to beef up career and technical education, pledging in his State of the City address this month to open within two years 12 vocational programs aligned with global economic trends. Mr. de Blasio, who is widely assumed to be planning a mayoral candidacy, said New Yorkers should look for “real and sustained progress” from the 30 dedicated vocational schools and vocational programs in more than 125 schools. (WSJ)

Pennsylvania: Charter schools are struggling to meet standards but keep growing
Since the charter school movement began in Pennsylvania nearly 15 years ago, most of the state’s charter schools continue to struggle to meet state standards. Yet, charters in Western Pennsylvania keep growing. More than 90,000 students are enrolled in 142 public charter schools, including 12 cyber charter schools, according to the Pennsylvania Coalition of Public Charter Schools. An estimated 30,000 students are on waiting lists. Data show traditional charter schools fare better academically than their virtual counterparts. In Pennsylvania, 94 percent of school districts met adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind law in 2010-11. Sixty percent of charter schools and 17 percent of cyber charter schools met the standard. A study of Pennsylvania charter school performance released in April by Stanford University shows that from 2007 to 2010, 60 percent of traditional charter schools performed similarly or better than traditional public schools in reading. Fifty-three percent did so in math. Nearly all of the state’s cyber charter schools performed significantly worse than their traditional public school counterparts in reading and math. (Pittsburgh Tribune-Review)

North Carolina: Perdue calls decision selfless
North Carolina Gov. Bev Perdue said Saturday that her decision not to seek re-election was the “most selfless decision I’ve ever made” but said it was necessary to press for more education funding during her last year in office. The Democrat, speaking to reporters for the first time since announcing she wouldn’t seek a second term, said she cares more deeply about children and education than any election and didn’t want her recent proposal to raise the state sales tax to become a wedge in a re-election campaign. “I am absolutely committed to spending the rest of my life fighting for public schools and access to public education for every child in this state,” Perdue said at a gathering of several hundred Democrats at a fundraising dinner in Greensboro. “I did not want to be seen as someone who was partisan, who was trying to use this as a wedge to win re-election. It’s much more important to me than being governor — this fight for education.” This month, Perdue proposed a three-quarter-penny increase in the sales tax to restore spending cuts from last summer and to close a projected budget gap caused by the loss of federal education dollars. Republicans, who already let a temporary, Perdue-backed penny increase in the state sales tax from 2009 expire last summer, dismissed her idea as a tax increase and called it a non-starter. (Winston-Salem Journal)


Evan Stone and Sydney Morris: Cuomo is NYC teachers’ best hope
In refocusing the Albany spotlight on public-education reform, Gov. Cuomo recently called himself “the students lobbyist.” In fact, he just may be the only effective lobbyist that teachers have right now, too. For two years, classroom teachers across the state have been waiting for a new system of evaluation they were promised as part of the state’s Race to the Top package, a package passed into law by the Legislature. School districts (including New York City) and unions (including the United Federation of Teachers) supported this effort, which for the first time would give teachers meaningful feedback about how they’re performing and guidance on how to improve. Luckily, Cuomo has stepped up and issued an ultimatum: Either districts and unions agree to an evaluation structure in 30 days, or he’ll pass one for them during the budget process. It’s a bold yet necessary move to get a deal done. Of course, the devil is in the details. We urge the governor to agree only to a system that truly supports teachers, stops treating them like widgets and allows for smart staffing and compensation decisions that acknowledge that effective teaching matters. (Daily News)

Colleen Bondy, an L.A. teacher, reviews her review
For the first time this year, LAUSD has prepared reports for teachers that rate their effectiveness. When I received an email saying I could now view my own personal “Average Growth over Time” report, I opened it with a combination of trepidation, resignation and indignation. First, the indignation. It is, I think, the key factor that has kept me teaching past the five-year mark, when most new teachers quit the profession. I am in my sixth year of teaching after a nearly 20-year career as a professional writer. I know that I am smart, hardworking and competent, and despite the many frustrations of teaching in the Los Angeles Unified School District, I have refused to throw in the towel — as so many do. Indignation is also what fueled my reaction when I saw the rating the school district sent. It showed me to be on the low side of average for high school English teachers in the district. I teach 10th-grade English and journalism. My “10th grade” English classes are actually made up of ninth-, 10th-, 11th- and 12th-graders. The 11th- and 12th-graders are repeating the class because they failed it the first time. The ninth-graders are students who didn’t pass enough classes the first time they went through ninth grade to be promoted to 10th. With my scores, the district also sent a notice that, for reasons not explained, the 10th-grade scores were not considered reliable at this time, and so my overall score had been derived solely from the ninth-graders who happen to be in my 10th-grade English class. Because these happen to be my least motivated students, I was therefore judged not on my best students but on my worst. With that realization came trepidation because the scores may very well be used to determine my salary one day, and they may also be published for all the world to see in this newspaper, which is suing to have teachers’ scores made public. (L.A. Times)


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