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

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

News & analysis

State Chiefs to Duncan: Don’t undermine us with district waivers
It’s unclear just how serious Education Secretary Arne Duncan and his top aides are when they talk about pursuing waivers for districts in states that choose not to take advantage of a broader waiver under the No Child Left Behind Act. But state chiefs have a message for Duncan nonetheless: Back off the idea of district-level waivers. (Okay, so they put it a little more nicely than that.) During an hour-long Q-and-A session in Washington Monday at a legislative conference of the Council of Chief State School Officers, Duncan mostly danced around the issue of district-level waivers, saying that he wouldn’t grant them to districts in states that had already secured a waiver from the department. But what about flexibility for districts in states that do not obtain a waiver? All he would say is: “We’ll look at where we are at that point.” Later, the department would only clarify that district waivers are one idea “under consideration.” (Politics K-12)

Maryland: Meet the candidates for Montgomery Board of Education
Nine candidates are running in the April 3 primary for the Montgomery County Board of Education. Incumbent Phil Kauffman faces three challengers in the re-election bid for his At Large seat. And five contenders are vying for an open seat being vacated by board member Laura Berthiaume in District 2, which covers Rockville and Potomac. Even though the latter is a district race, voters countywide can weigh in. Incoming school board members will be tasked with overseeing a 146,000-student system and a budget of more than $2 billion. Working with a still-new superintendent, they will need to manage the challenges of growing enrollment, poverty and ever higher academic expectations, including a new set of national standards and standardized tests that will be transforming classrooms over the next few years. The new board will also be expected to continue developing its relationship with the County Council, after a few years of bruising budget battles. (Maryland Schools Insider)

Rhode Island: Four RI school districts merit investigation for suspicious test scores
Four Rhode Island school districts have been singled out for having “suspicious test scores” in a national investigation by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.
The four districts are Coventry, East Providence, Providence and Woonsocket, where irregularities were found during at least one of the testing years between 2008 and 2011. The Georgia newspaper analyzed test results for 69,000 public schools and found suspicious reading or math scores in roughly 200 school districts across the country. Classes with scores rising or dropping with a probability of less than 0.05 from one year to the next were flagged as “unusual.” U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan called the AJC’s nationwide findings “concerning.” (ProJo)

New York: State budget framework takes shape as final deal nears
With a final deal on the 2012-2013 state budget imminent, legislators were racing to hash out the last of several education rifts in a series of closed door negotiations on Monday. State Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos announced today that he would not stand in the way of releasing teacher data ratings, rebuffing earlier reports that senate lawmakers were considering aligning with the Assembly on the issue. The state teachers union had heavily lobbied senators to back a law that would have either banned or restricted the release of any teacher performance data tied to their evaluations. “There were discussions in terms of seeing if there was a way you could balance the parents’ right to know and some sort of [teacher] privacy rights, but there’s no resolution of that, so it will stay as it is,” Skelos said outside the Senate chamber this afternoon, according to the Daily News. Other budgetary loose ends related to education also began to firm up as the day went along. Cuomo struck a deal on how much of the increased state aid should be tied to competitive grants, the Times Union reported. In his preliminary budget, Gov. Cuomo proposed $250 million in competitive grants as part of a proposed $800 million state aid increase. That was met with opposition from lawmakers in both houses and the deal reached Monday reduced Cuomo’s grant total to $50 million, which State Education Commissioner John King advocated for in January. (Gotham Schools)

Minnesota: Lawmakers consider giving schools the option to start before labor day
Minnesota lawmakers are considering a bill that would give school districts the choice to start the academic year before Labor Day, a measure that has sparked a perennial debate over whether an early school start hurts tourism. Minnesota is one of a handful of states that, in most cases, doesn’t allow schools to start classes before Labor Day. The long summer is a hit with Minnesota businesses that depend on late-summer trips by families. To be fair, you’re likely to find a lot of Minnesota kids who are not so enthusiastic about an early return to school. But that legislation authored by state Rep. Connie Doepke, R-Orono, could put have them in the classroom earlier. Current state law prohibits pre-Labor Day starts unless a district obtains a special waiver from the state. More than 30 districts in the state, including Minneapolis and 25 districts in southwestern Minnesota, have gone through that process. Doepke’s bill scraps that law. “The bill is in no way mandatory,” she said. “What it does is allow local communities to decide when is the appropriate date for them to start the school year.” (MPR)

Minnesota: Teacher tenure bill may be unacceptable to Governor Dayton
House and Senate negotiators say they are trying to craft a teacher tenure bill that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton would be willing to sign, but the prospects of such a compromise this session appear bleak. State Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius told members of a conference committee at the Capitol today that she thinks the repeal of current seniority rules is premature and could result in what she termed “reform overload.” This year’s key education policy proposal for House and Senate Republicans is to get rid of the practice known as “last in, first out.” They want public school administrators to be able to consider job performance, and not just years of service, when making decisions about teacher layoffs. The commissioner’s reluctance to embrace the seniority repeal did not sit well with most of the conferees. Sen. Pam Wolf, R-Spring Lake Park, a co-chair of the conference committee, took issue with Cassellius and her defense of the current system. Wolf said that system drives away too many good, young teachers. “Often what happens is they go from one district, they go to another district, get laid off there, go to another district, get laid off, and they say ‘I’m done with this. I’m done with teaching. I’m not going to go through this for my career. If nobody cares about how effective I am, why in the world do I want to stay in this career? If all that matters is when I signed my contract — that to me is not a process that works.'” Even a Democrat on the conference committee pushed back against the administration. Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, told Cassellius that her attempt to hold up the proposed changes in seniority policy isn’t defensible. (MPR)


Dana Goldstein: “The Rent is too Damn High” and Education
We know school desegregation is important because of a growing body of research showing that “peer effects” are correlated with better teacher quality and higher test scores for low-income children. So I’ve done a lot of reporting and writing about how public schools can racially and socioeconomically integrate classrooms, both through instructional reforms and by forging partnerships with other schools across the boundaries of neighborhoods and even muncipalities. That said, school desegregation efforts are, at their core, a work-around for the problem of residential segregation by race and class. That’s why I found my friend Matt Yglesias’ new e-book, The Rent is Too Damn High, so fascinating. Matt argues for increasing the supply of affordable housing in central urban neighborhoods–the kinds of places with good or rapidly-improving public schools–by allowing real estate developers to build tall apartment towers, regardless of NIMBY concerns about historic preservation, aesthetics, or preserving sight lines. He also argues that inner-ring suburbs should reduce zoning barriers that make it impossible for developers to construct high-density, affordable housing near good schools. Although I believe there is real cultural value in some historic preservation efforts, I generally agree with Matt that American urban liberals should worry less about preserving buildings and property values, and more about expanding access to quality education, transportation, and other services. (Dana Goldstein)


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