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 for poor students threatened by exclusionary housing policies, report says
A new Brookings Institution’s Metropolitan Policy Program report released Thursday lists which metropolitan areas’ housing policies most severely impede low-income students from attending high-performing schools, and found that zoning laws preventing the construction of affordable housing in wealthier neighborhoods are still widespread. The report, “Housing Costs, Zoning, and Access to High-Scoring Schools,” concludes that restrictive zoning laws create “economic segregation that prevents millions of American children from getting the quality education they need.” The paper, written by Brookings senior research analyst Jonathan Rothwell, notes that in some cities, paying for private school is actually cheaper than moving to enroll in a better public school. “I’d like people to think about the fact that it costs a lot of money to live near a high-scoring school,” Rothwell said in an interview. “Instead of moving toward opportunity, we’re magnifying inequality because of the way we assign students [to schools] based on where they live.” While policies that affect teachers, such as tenure and evaluations based on student test scores, have garnered recent attention and traction among state legislators, the Brookings paper makes the case for using zoning laws to change education. Rothwell said while there was movement toward changing zoning laws in the 1970s, a Supreme Court case that upheld the constitutionality of exclusionary zoning quashed momentum. (HuffPo)

College completion data becomes the new focus of k-12 education, with help from Harvard
From the federal government to school boards, policymakers and administrators are increasingly setting their sights on “college and career readiness” as the goal of K-12 education. Now, school districts are grappling with methods that turn this seemingly abstract bar into something tangible. On Tuesday, Harvard University’s Strategic Data Project will release “Strategic Performance Indicators” that aim to help administrators track their graduates and use that information to drive instruction and advising in present-day classrooms. SDP, a five-year project funded by $23 million from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, worked with five school districts — Boston, Charlotte-Mecklenberg, Fort Worth and Georgia’s Gwinnett and Fulton Counties — to gather student-level data that fuels these indicators, which the group says are akin to “the price-to-earnings ratio that show the financial health of a firm.” “The goal is to establish a set of indicators that districts and states will track over time,” says Sarah Glover, the project’s director. “Underneath that data is the question of why we aren’t doing better.” That is the question Robert Avossa, Fulton County’s schools superintendent, is now trying to answer. “Public school systems don’t have the technical sophistication to do these deep dives on their own,” says Avossa. “We used to take the old exit surveys and we’d report out to the public that 75 percent of our students were accepted to college. We never really knew if they finished.” (HuffPo)

Rhode Island: North Kingstown schools rank 12th in RI-CAN ranks
The Rhode Island Campaign for Achievement Now (RI-CAN) released its 2012 School Report Cards for 300 Rhode Island public schools. Check out the results for the North Kingstown school district. Overall, Stony Lane Elementary School tied for fourth place in average student performance at the elementary school level with 92 percent. (Hope Valley Elementary School and The Compass School took the top honors.) At the middle school level, Wickford Middle School tied for sixth in overall performance with a score of 88 percent. North Kingstown High School tied for ninth with South Kingstown and Lincoln at 70 percent. Barrington High School and East Greenwich High School finished first and second respectively in that category. NKHS was one of the state’s biggest improvers at the high school level, jumping up three percent from last year. The biggest improver in the district was Hamilton Elementary School, with a performance boost of seven percent. Overall, however, North Kingstown elementary schools decreased in ranking by six percent. “The report cards are designed to help Rhode Island parents serve as effective advocates for their kids,” said Maryellen Butke, RI-CAN executive director. “Parents deserve to know how well their child’s public school is meeting the needs of all of its students.” RI-CAN used students’ academic performance in four key categories: average student performance, subgroup performance, achievement gaps and performance gains. The grades, which range from A to F, are calculated based on the October 2011 New England Common Assessment Program scores, released in January 2012 by the Rhode Island Department of Education. (North Kingstown Patch)

Maryland: KIPP Ujima math educator named Baltimore City’s Teacher of the Year
A mathematics educator whose students have consistently scored among the highest in Baltimore and Maryland on state assessments was named the city’s 2012 Teacher of the Year. Bradley Nornhold, a seventh- and eighth-grade math teacher at the high-performing charter school KIPP Ujima Village Academy, was surprised with the honor Wednesday by a visit to his classroom — which immediately erupted in cheers — from city schools CEO Andrés Alonso. Alonso called Nornhold a “tremendous educator,” saying that he was told that to watch Nornhold teach is “like magic.” “I was told that that I should walk into his classroom if I’m having a bad day because his teaching is like alchemy,” Alonso said. “So I’m just very happy for him.” Nornhold, 34, who has taught in city schools for 12 years and was one of the founding teachers at KIPP Ujima, is also the first teacher from a city charter school to receive the honor in the past decade, school officials said. Nornhold said he was inspired to become a teacher at the Northwest Baltimore school after reading the book “Savage Inequalities,” which he said emphasized the idea that “the ZIP code you’re living in shouldn’t impact your education.” KIPP is part of a national network of charter schools whose trademarks are a stringent college-preparatory curriculum and structured school environment. KIPP primarily serves students who are from low-income neighborhoods and performing below grade level. (Baltimore Sun)

Maryland: Montgomery Superintendent Joshua Starr sharpens critique of national reforms
Montgomery schools superintendent Joshua Starr congratulated the school board Tuesday on standing firm against some of the turbulent reform efforts being embraced around the country. He called their political posture, including the past decision not to support the state’s application for a federal Race to the Top Grant, “one of the reasons I was so thrilled to come here.” Starr’s comments, which came during a board briefing on the roll-out ofsome key state and federal initiatives, bolstered his emerging role as a vocal and prominent critic of national policy trends. He criticized what he called a reversion to an “industrial model” of public education. A hyper reliance on measurement and an embrace of quick, cure-all solutions means systems will be destined to repeat past failures, he said. Montgomery County Public Schools was one of two districts out of 24 in Maryland that passed on federal funding by refusing to sign on to the state’s Race to the Top grant application in 2010. (WaPo)

North Carolina: Superintendents get to talk to legislators
At long last, school superintendents will be at a Raleigh legislative committee to talk about budgets. But the money talk may be brief. House Speaker Thom Tillis promised last year that superintendents would be called to Raleigh to explain how they handled budget cuts, particularly to justify any teacher or teacher aide cuts. The meeting, initially promised for late 2011, was delayed. In the meantime, a debate has raged between Democrats and Republicans over how many teachers lost their jobs and whether the GOP budget was good or bad for education. Four school superintendents are schedule to appear at a legislative education committee meeting Thursday. They are Jeff Cox of Alleghany County, Michael T. Bracy of Jones County, Jeffrey Moss of Lee County, and Donald Martin of Winston-Salem/Forsyth. The superintendents may not get too much into budgeting nitty-gritty, however. According to Martin’s office, the committee invited him to talk about successful best practices the district has used and ways they can be scalable statewide, and to briefly address the budget impact on the district. (News & Observer)


Kathleen Porter-Magee: Are “just right” books right for the Common Core?
The prevailing view among many educators in the United States today is that the best way to improve student reading comprehension is to assign lots books that are “just right” for individual students. The theory is that every student has three reading levels: an independent reading level (what the student can read without teacher scaffolding or support), an instructional reading level (something just above the student’s independent level, but something that they can access with scaffolding and support), and a frustration level (something that will cause the student to throw up his hands in frustration). In class, the theory goes, teachers should assign (or students should select) books that are pitched at their instructional reading level—not too easy so that they don’t stretch themselves but not too hard so that they don’t get turned off to learning. Teachers strictly following this approach are challenged to frequently assess student comprehension and carefully monitor student progress, all the while gently push them up levels with incrementally more difficult texts. Makes sense, right? Not necessarily. Let’s take, as one example, a ninth grade student –Maria—who has the equivalent of a fifth grade reading level. Her peers are reading things like Shakespeare, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Hemmingway. Maria is reading Maniac Magee. If we assume that both comprehension and cultural and background knowledge build over time, how we will ever get Maria to the same place as her peers? How do you get her from Maniac Magee to Macbeth? The reality is that, the incremental increases in complexity that the “just right” books theory demands simply will never close the gap between Maria and her peers. Enter the Common Core. The “Grade Appropriate” approach that drives its ELA standards is based on a very different assumption. Teachers who follow the “Grade Appropriate” theory select books, poems, articles, and stories that are appropriate for the grade level, even if that level is above the students’ instructional or independent reading level. (Flypaper)


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