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

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

News & analysis

New $133M available for Race to the Top Early Learning grants
The five states that narrowly missed winning a slice of the Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge Fund will get a chance to compete for $133 million in new money, the U.S. Department of Education announced today. Eligible for this round: Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin. Nine states already have split $500 million in early-learning funding last year, including California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington. The program is focused on helping states develop plans to expand access to high-quality preschool programs, including for low-income children. This year, Congress provided $550 million for Race to the Top overall. That means, that after the early learning money goes out, there should be roughly $417 million left for a new district-level competition. The Education Department is still working out the details on just what that will look like. (Politics K-12)

PTA membership experiencing steady drop
When Otha Thornton, president-elect of the National PTA, signed up to help lead the PTA at Maryland’s Meade Senior High School in 2005, the chapter had about 25 members. Within two years, membership soared to 400 as the school community mobilized to boost morale and academic performance. Now he’s trying to rekindle that spirit on a larger scale as the PTA strives to reverse a steady decrease in its national membership. “I tell parents: ‘Other people are making choices for you and your children. We need you at the table,'” said Thornton, who will become the National PTA’s first male African-American leader next year. By any measure, the PTA is one of the most venerable and iconic of America’s volunteer-based nonprofits. It was founded in 1897 as the National Congress of Mothers and at its peak in the 1960s claimed about 12 million members. Membership plummeted in the late ’60s and 1970s, in part because of the racial rifts caused by school desegregation, then stabilized. But it has dropped steadily over the past 10 years from about 6 million to under 5 million. (Star-Ledger)

Why do boys and girls burn out?
Exhaustion, stress, disengagement, cynicism, inadequacy: Not feelings that anyone seeks out, or that any educator wants to foster. But 16-year-olds in Nordic countries have been reporting these symptoms of burnout more and more over the past decade. Why? Researchers Katariina Salmelo-Aro and Lotta Tynkkynen, of the University of Helsinki’s Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies and the University of Jyväskylä, respectively, looked into the role of school transitions and educational tracks in fostering burnout, paying particular attention to differences in the experiences of boys and girls, for “Gendered Pathways in School Burnout Among Adolescents,” published in the Journal of Adolescence. The study finds that that burnout decreased slightly between ninth grade and the first year of secondary school for students on the vocational track. Both boys and girls on the academic track, however, saw a significant increase in burnout. Girls on the academic track were most likely to experience burnout, but boys on the academic track were likely to see a bigger increase in burnout. Girls scored higher on exhaustion than boys; boys, especially those on the academic track, were more likely to be cynical. The researchers plot the changes in students’ responses on a series of graphs that you can view in the Journal of Adolescence article. (Inside School Research)

Maryland: Baltimore County school board bill fails in final hours of Assembly session
Legislation to add elected members to the Baltimore County school board failed in the General Assembly late Monday, amid intense opposition from County Executive Kevin Kamenetz. The state Senate passed a measure last week to add six elected members to the all-appointed panel, but the bill died in the House of Delegates in the final hours of the legislative session. School board selection has been hotly debated in Baltimore County. The governor now appoints the members with input from the county executive. Under the proposal that passed the Senate, the board would have six elected and five appointed members. (Baltimore Sun)

Maryland: Baltimore County’s new schools chief won over skeptics in Houston
The selection of S. Dallas Dance, 30, as the youngest person to head the Baltimore County public schools in at least 50 years has set off worry here among parents, teachers and administrators that he has too little experience to lead. The county school board had to obtain a waiver from the state to hire him as superintendent because he did not have the requisite teaching experience. Houston school leaders say they, too, were skeptical when he came at 28 to be middle schools chief. But they say he has fostered confidence among principals, who say he shields them from administration politics, and among parents and education advocates, one of whom likened his skill level to that of Michael Jordan. Dance has won supporters despite being part of an administration that critics say has sowed discontent with a rapid-fire succession of unpopular changes, from high turnover to unnecessary testing and classroom funding cuts. In contrast to Houston Superintendent Terry Grier, a controversial figure, Dance is considered a calming influence and an impressive communicator with a direct, I-do-what-I-say approach. Several principals, teachers and parents interviewed by The Baltimore Sun in Houston sought to reassure their counterparts in Baltimore County. “He is wise beyond his years. Trust me, give him a chance,” Monaghan said. “We are losing a great leader.” (Baltimore Sun)

New York: Release of city teachers’ rankings prompts lawmakers to weigh access
Ever since New York City’s Education Department released 18,000 public-school teachers’ performance rankings, generating news coverage about the lowest and highest scorers, there has been talk in Albany of preventing a repeat. Increasingly, lawmakers say they are open to the idea of changing state law to allow parents to see the evaluations of their own children’s teachers but to block the general public from having access to those reports. With the Legislature preparing to go into session next week, the question of how much privacy teachers are granted could soon be resolved. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said Monday that he believed in preserving the public access guaranteed by current law. The city released its teachers rankings in February after defeating a teachers’ union lawsuit to keep the reports private. “We should have all of the data out there,” the mayor said when asked about the issue at a news conference on solar energy production. “I think the courts have ruled that way, and I think the public, when you survey them, thinks that people have a right to the data.” A poll released in March by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute found that 58 percent of New York City voters approved of the release of the ratings, while 38 percent disapproved. (New York Times)

North Carolina: Pre-K program was one of five best in U.S. before 20 percent cut in funds
North Carolina was one of five states meeting all quality benchmarks in its state-run pre-kindergarten program last year, when funding for the program that prepares at-risk 4-year-olds for school was cut by 20 percent, according to a national report released Tuesday. Only North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, Alaska and Rhode Island met education quality standards that included class sizes of fewer than 20 children, teachers who held bachelor’s degrees and feeding students at least one meal on site, the report by Rutgers University’s National Institute for Early Education Research said. North Carolina’s program — which until last year was called More At Four — met all 10 of NIEER’s quality standards while spending $126 per child less than researchers estimated would be necessary. Funding from all sources for the renamed North Carolina Pre-Kindergarten Program totaled $7,910 in 2011, the report said, compared with $11,669 per child by spending leader New Jersey. (Winston-Salem Journal)

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia’s “Project U-Turn” aims to recapture dropouts
On Friday’s “Need to Know,” [PBS Newshour tells] the story of Justin Rudd, a high school dropout who lived on the streets of Philadelphia — a city where roughly 40 percent of ninth-graders don’t mange to graduate in four years. Rick Karr reports on Philadelphia’s ambitious plan — known as Project U-Turn — to reach out to and re-engage high school dropouts. Since the project launched in 2006, it’s become a model for cities nationwide, according to the report. (PBS Newshour)


Paul Bruno: Most teachers think standardized test results are important
Since the release of the Scholastic/Gates survey, I’ve seen a number of commentators arguing that the results indicate that the vast majority of teachers think that their students’ standardized test results aren’t important. Here’s Anthony Cody, for example, claiming that “only 28% of teachers see standardized tests as an essential or important gauge of student assessment”. And here’s Alfie Kohn this morning claiming that “[o]nly about ¼ of teachers think standardized tests accurately reflect kids’ achievement”. And those claims are pretty reasonable given the decisions the publishers made about which results to emphasize.  The trouble is, those decisions seem questionable. If you look at the version of the report released with appendices, you can see what I mean. When asked “how important [state-required standardized tests are] in measuring students’ academic achievement”, only 28% of teachers say they are “extremely” or “very” important. That’s not very many, but another 50% of respondents said that such tests are “somewhat” important. In other words, fully 78% of teachers think standardized tests are important to some degree in assessing student learning. And that’s in spite of the fact that such tests are given infrequently (or not at all for some teachers) and often provide results only months later. (Scholastic Administrator)


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