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

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

News & analysis

Pennsylvania: Philadelphia School District plan would dismantle central office, close schools
The realities are ugly, leaders said Tuesday – the Philadelphia School District is nearly insolvent, lags behind most other urban districts in academics, and loses students to charters because parents believe it does not keep their children safe. “What we do know through lots of history and evidence and practice is that the current structure doesn’t work,” School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos said. “It’s not fiscally sustainable and it doesn’t produce high-quality schools for all kids.” So, at the SRC’s direction, Chief Recovery Officer Thomas Knudsen on Tuesday announced a plan that would essentially blow up the district and start with a new structure. The plan – subject to public comment and SRC approval – would close 40 schools next year and 64 by 2017, move thousands more students to charters, and dismantle the central office in favor of “achievement networks” that would compete to run groups of 25 schools and would sign performance-based contracts. Knudsen, in a news conference, avoided references to the “Philadelphia School District.” “We are now looking at a much broader definition of education in the city that includes not only district schools but other schools as well,” he said. Mayor Nutter hailed the plan, which he said would push control over education down to the school level. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

Maryland: Starr argues for renewed focus on “soft skills” in third book club
During his third and final book club on Tuesday night, current superintendent Joshua Starr said he’s “become convinced” that it’s important to go beyond these (important) basic competencies to be successful in the world today. To illustrate his point, he selected Tony Wagner’s “The Global Achievement Gap: Why Even Our Best Schools Don’t Teach the New Survival Skills Our Children Need” for discussion. Wagner argues that schools today, with their focus on memorization and testing, are becoming obsolete, because they are not teaching the critical thinking and communication skills needed in today’s economy. Despite all the hype over 21st-century skills, few of today’s standardized tests are designed to capture these skills and they are often downplayed in the classroom, Wagner argues. Starr said they are often thought of as “soft skills,” but they remain fundamentally important. He and a panel of educators and business and community leaders discussed the book and a range of issues, including how to train teachers who have been expected for the past decade to teach to the test, what rigor should look like, how much homework kids should have, and whether Advanced Placement classes do a good job of challenging students to think differently versus simply challenging them to learn more stuff. (WaPo)

Maryland: Judge allows discrimination suit against Prince George’s schools to move forward
It appears the winner of the first round in a legal battle against the Prince George’s Board of Education is a group of plaintiffs who have alleged discrimination by school leaders. A federal district court judge ruled recently that more than a dozen lawsuits filed against the school system can be recognized as Title VI claims, which means in part that the lawsuits can move forward without a damage cap. Some past and present system employees allege in the lawsuits that they were discriminated against because they are female, white, African, or light-skinned African American. The school system has denied all the accusations. The school system had argued that the cases should have been filed under a different statute – Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 – which would have meant that the complaints would have been investigated by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The commission decides if a lawsuit is warranted and caps the damages at $300,000. Bryan Chapman, the plaintiffs’ attorney, argued that Title VI was applicable because the alleged incidents occurred when the school system accepted federal stimulus money in 2008. The lawsuits are seeking between $5 million and $10 million. In his opinion, Judge Peter J. Messitte writes: “Section 601 of Title VI provides: ‘No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.’” The board asked for the claims to be dismissed, arguing that the primary purpose of the federal funds was for educational services for students, not to create or retain jobs. The court disagreed. (WaPo)

Minnesota: NE Minn. schools to offer more tech classes to help fill empty manufacturing jobs
As the nation’s manufacturers deal with a shortage of skilled laborers, a northeast Minnesota school district is planning to offer more technical training at local high schools to keep jobs, and the community’s children, in the area. Northshore Manufacturing in Two Harbors was down to about 45 workers in 2009. But as the economy started to recover, the scrap recycler and heavy manufacturer began to look for more qualified workers. “One of the things we found was that younger kids who spent time in school didn’t come in with the skill set we felt they needed,” Northshore Manufacturing sales manager Uwe Kausch said of some recent hires. Very few qualified people applied for the jobs. To meet production demands, Northshore Manufacturing hired workers who had potential but often required extensive training from an experienced employee. That meant the already short-staffed company had to pay two people who weren’t working on the production line. (MPR)

New York: Poll shows New Yorkers want new city school policies from next mayor
A majority of New York City voters disapprove of the way Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has handled his signature issue, education, and are looking for his successor to take the city schools in a new direction, a NY1-Marist Poll found. The poll, released late Tuesday, found that 34 percent of voters approve of Mr. Bloomberg’s handling of the city’s public schools, 56 percent disapprove and 10 percent are unsure. It also found that nearly two out of three — 62 percent — want the next mayor to move in a new direction, compared with 27 percent who want to see Mr. Bloomberg’s policies continued, and 11 percent who are unsure. “He’s been offered up as ‘the education mayor’ and this becomes a focal point for criticism,” said Dr. Lee M. Miringoff, the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion. “Clearly there is significant dissatisfaction with the school system in New York.” Dr. Miringoff said he and his team only polled opinions of performance, and not of particular educational policies. The NY1-Marist ratings are the lowest for Mr. Bloomberg since March 2011, when he was in the midst of the controversy over his appointment of Cathleen P. Black as the city’s chancellor. Asked about the poll results, Stu Loeser, the mayor’s spokesman, said in an e-mail message, “Tough decisions to turn around a school system that failed generations of students are rarely popular, which is why before we took responsibility for the city’s public schools, they too often existed largely to support the special interests and the crooked status quo.” (School Book)


Paul Bruno: In defense of multiple-choice tests
With people using a confusing pineapple-related question on a standardized state test to prove the supposed evils of standardized testing,  it’s probably worth mentioning that multiple-choice tests are not, in fact, inherently flawed. Yes, multiple-choice tests have some limitations in terms of what they can assess. And yes, poorly-designed questions can make them deeply problematic. By the same token, though, when they are well designed, multiple-choice tests can be very useful for teachers and other educators. Obviously, they’re quick and efficient to grade and analyze, which can be important given how little time we have to work with and for our students. Granted, they’re often easiest to use to test factual recall, but factual recall is badly underrated by many educators, who sometimes don’t appreciate how necessary recall is for “higher level” thinking abilities. And maybe most importantly, taking multiple-choice tests can help you learn. This isn’t just because self-testing is a good way to learn in general, although that’s part of it. (Scholastic Administrator)


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