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

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

News & analysis

Nonfiction curriculum enhanced reading skills, study finds
Children in New York City who learned to read using an experimental curriculum that emphasized nonfiction texts outperformed those at other schools that used methods that have been encouraged since the Bloomberg administration’s early days, according to a new study to be released Monday. For three years, a pilot program tracked the reading ability of approximately 1,000 students at 20 New York City schools, following them from kindergarten through second grade. Half of the schools adopted a curriculum designed by the education theorist E. D. Hirsch Jr.’s Core Knowledge Foundation. The other 10 used a variety of methods, but most fell under the definition of “balanced literacy,” an approach that was spread citywide by former Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein, beginning in 2003. The study found that second graders who were taught to read using the Core Knowledge program scored significantly higher on reading comprehension tests than did those in the comparison schools. It also tested children on their social studies and science knowledge, and again found that the Core Knowledge pupils came out ahead. Citywide, budget cuts and the drive to increase scores on the state reading and math exams have led many elementary and middle schools to whittle down their social studies and science instruction. (New York Times)

Student loans seen as next “debt bomb” for U.S. economy
Bankruptcy lawyers have a frightening message for America: They’re seeing the telltale signs of a student loan debt bubble that is placing increased financial pressure on families struggling with their children’s mounting debt. According to a recent survey by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys, more than 80 percent of bankruptcy lawyers have seen a substantial increase in the number of clients seeking relief from student loans in recent years. In most cases, those clients could not meet the federal hardship standards that are necessary to discharge a student loan through bankruptcy proceedings. Instead, many of these parents or guardians who co-signed the student loans face the prospect of losing their life savings, cars or homes to collection agencies for aggressive private lenders. William Brewer, head of NACBA, has said, “This could very well be the next debt bomb for the U.S. economy” — something akin to the housing mortgage loan crisis that triggered the U.S. financial crisis. (WaPo)

Romney adds education info to campaign site
Up until now, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination, has had a background section on his Web site letting voters know where he stands on a long list of issues—health care, China, trade—but not education. But, today, the campaign added an education section. No major policy proposals—apparently those are still to come—but the campaign does provide a quick, CliffsNotes version of Romney’s record in Massachusetts, including his support for charter schools, rigorous standards, and merit pay. (Politics K-12)

Maryland: Md. budget would tip balance of power, giving state more say in education
The budget that Maryland’s Senate could approve this week has garnered attention for shifting pension costs and hiking income taxes to correct an imbalance left from the Great Recession. Embedded in the plan, however, is an even more fundamental change to the way government works in Maryland. Following a directive set out by Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) to protect school funding, the spending plan would consolidate power in the hands of the state’s chief executive and legislature. The state would assume authority to seize county tax revenue and to hand it directly to school boards to ensurethat counties maintain what areamong the nation’s highest levels of per-pupil spending. To prevent such an outcome, the legislature would first authorize county leaders to raise more tax revenue from businesses and to even toss out local, voter-approved tax caps.The battle in Maryland reflects growing tensions nationally between local and state governments over scarce resources and rising education costs. But the reach of the plan devised by Maryland Democrats is unique and has drawn howls of protests. (WaPo)

Minnesota: State receives $28M grant for charter schools
The state has received a $28 million grant to support charter schools. The federal grant money will be used to develop new programs for existing charter schools based on the successes at Minnesota’s highest-performing charters. “This $28 million will help us place a sharp focus on high quality, it will provide funding to replicate high-performing charters, and to share those best practices across all schools — traditional, public and charters,” said Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius. The money will also be used to design and start new charter schools, she said. (MPR)

New York: Legislature seeks to restore $200M to NY schools
New York’s Senate and Assembly will try to shift $200 million from a proposed schools incentive program back to traditional school aid when they release budget resolutions Monday, a legislative leader and a legislative official said this week. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed setting aside $250 million in his 2012-13 budget for competitive grants to be awarded to schools that show improved instruction or innovation, which could then be shared with other schools. But Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos said his chamber will recommend using $200 million of that for traditional school aid. That would mean most of the $800 million total in school funding, a 4 percent increase over last year, would be disbursed as usual to the 700 school districts statewide. A legislative official familiar with the talks said the Assembly’s Democratic majority will make the same recommendation. (WSJ)


Straight up conversation: TFA Research Chief Heather Harding
Recently, Education Week’s “Living in Dialogue” blog featured a number of provocative posts on Teach For America. Phil Kovacs, an assistant professor at the University of Alabama-Huntsville, penned a guest post that offered a sharp critique of TFA and the research supporting its efforts. There was also an impassioned back-and-forth between two TFA corps members on TFA’s “locus of control” concept. Given high interest in TFA, the relevance of research on TFA to the broader teacher quality agenda, and my own long, complicated history with TFA as a critical friend, I thought it worth sitting down with TFA’s VP for Research Heather Harding to get her take. (Rick Hess)

Ryan Heisinger: The need for charter schools
If you attend this university, chances are you had access to an excellent education growing up. Chances are you went to a nice public school or — if the public schools in your hometown were low-performing — your family managed to send you to a private school. However, the reality is that children live in those areas. They and their families are trapped, and without access to a quality education, their chances of having better futures are slim to none. The prevailing ideology in the United States from about 20 years ago was students from low-income backgrounds in urban and rural school districts could not perform at the same levels as their suburban counterparts. Now we know that isn’t true — and we have a slew of examples in which students in the most high-need areas are excelling. And the vast majority of these examples come from students at charter schools … 18 charters across the state ranked in the top 20 in elementary, middle and high school rankings released last week by MarylandCAN — a nonprofit advocacy group committed to ensuring every student in this state has access to a great public school. Many have called education reform the civil rights movement of our generation — and they’re right. Despite all of the forces working against us, there is a growing movement of families, educators and students crusading to make the American Dream a reality for everyone — regardless of their racial, ethnic or socioeconomic background. Our children will read about this in their history textbooks. It’s time to stand up and join the fight. (The Diamondback)


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