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

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

News & analysis

GAO criticizes Ed. Dept. on School Improvement Grants
The U.S. Department of Education needs to do a better job of making sure that the performance of contractors hired through the School Improvement Grant program is reviewed, and of making sure states have the information they need to make grant renewal decisions, according to a report released today by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’ investigative arm. The report, which was sent to Senate lawmakers overseeing K-12 spending, took a look at the track record of the much-maligned program that has led to some significant student gains in places, but faced major implementation issues. In addition to contractor and compliance issues, the GAO found that states and districts are having a tough time finding and retaining good staff members for low-performing schools, as well as putting in place new teacher-evaluation systems and an extended the school day. (Those findings echo another set of reports on SIG, put out by the Center on Education Policy last month.) In fact, 26 states told the GAO they didn’t think that they would be able to sustain the program’s extended learning time requirement after the school year ends, compared with 10 that said they’d probably be able to keep it going. (Ed Week)

Louisiana: School vouchers gain ground
Louisiana is poised to establish the nation’s most expansive system of school choice by adopting a package of vouchers and other tools that would give many parents control over the use of tax dollars to educate their children. The initiative would effectively redefine vouchers, which have typically helped lower-income public-school students pay for private schools. Vouchers could now also be used by students to pay for state-approved apprenticeships at local businesses, as well as college courses and private online classes, while they are still in public schools. The legislation would also pave the way for the rapid growth of charter schools—public schools run by nongovernment entities—and make Louisiana one of a handful of states to adopt a “parent trigger” provision, letting parents vote to convert their low-performing schools into charters. Louisiana’s legislature passed the sweeping education package last week, and Gov. Bobby Jindal, the Republican architect of the overhaul, hopes to sign it into law next week, said a spokesman. “This is about giving parents choice and about fostering competition across the education system,” said John White, Louisiana’s superintendent of education, who helped design the initiative. “We are trying to incentivize people outside the four walls of the school building to help us create a work force that can compete.” (WSJ)

New Jersey: In wake of NCLB, worst schools receive stern message
The state Department of Education put New Jersey’s most troubled schools on notice Wednesday, ordering administrators and educators to cooperate with state intervention and improve student performance or face serious consequences. Acting Education Commissioner Christopher Cerf delivered the stern message as the state reached the next phase in its rollout of a new school accountability system that replaces some elements of the federal No Child Left Behind Act. New Jersey is one of 10 states granted a waiver by the federal government to deviate from the law, which many education officials consider too inflexible and imprecise in gauging school achievement. In keeping with the new system, the education department Wednesday released a final list of 370 schools in three categories: low-performing “priority schools” in need of aggressive guidance; “focus schools,” which must improve in certain areas; and “reward schools,” which demonstrate continual excellence or improvement. (Star Ledger)

Maryland: Md. hits hurdles in Race to the Top
Problems with teacher evaluation systems and data management have only slightly strained Maryland’s progress toward implementing Race to the Top reforms, according to a report released by the Center for American Progress. The report, released last week, evaluates the progress of the first 11 states, and the District of Columbia, to win funding for Race to the Top, a federal competitive grant program designed to spur educational reforms and innovations in states. Maryland received $250 million as part of the second phase of states chosen in August 2010. After winning its grant, the Maryland State Department of Education created a Race to the Top office to manage all of its projects. One of Maryland’s biggest strengths is its teacher development training, the report said. The education department held Educator Effectiveness Academies last summer to inform teachers and principals from every school in the state about the Common Core standards, a common set of learning progress benchmarks essential to Race to the Top’s design. Jim Foran, assistant state superintendent and one of the Race to the Top office’s main coordinators, said the Educator Effectiveness Academies were the most successful initiative in the past two years. “Because of this, we’re probably farther along than any other state in terms of teaching the Common Core Standards,” Foran said. (Baltimore Sun)


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