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

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

News & analysis

Romney considering big school choice expansion
Presumptive GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney has been mulling some big changes to federal K-12 policy if elected, including allowing federal funding to follow students—even if they want to attend private schools—according to a campaign document obtained by Politics K-12. Disadvantaged families and parents of students in special education could choose to spend federal funds at any district or charter public school, tutoring provider, or online course, according to the document circulated over the weekend. It outlines a series of ideas that have been considered by Romney and his advisers, which could be announced as early as this week. Under the proposal, students could also federal money at a private school, as long as that was consistent with state guidelines. According to the document, states would also be encouraged to adopt open enrollment policies, and to eliminate caps on charter and online schools. The document also indicates that Romney may seek to expand the DC Opportunity Scholarship program, a federally funded program in the District of Columbia that supporters fear has been put on thin budget ice by the Obama administration. (Politics K-12)

Romney names education advisers
Presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney’s campaign has released a list of people who are advising the campaign on education issues, including a former U.S. Secretary of Education and a current state schools chief. Serving as Rommey’s K-12 committee co-chairs will be Nina S. Rees, a former assistant deputy secretary for innovation and improvement at the U.S. Department of Education and currently the senior vice president for strategic initiatives at Knowledge Universe; and Martin R. West, an assistant professor of education at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and executive editor of Education Next. Other committee members include Rod Paige, former secretary of education under President George W. Bush; Robert M. Costrell, a former education advisor to Romney when the candidate was governor of Massachusetts; Grover J. “Russ” Whitehurst, the former head of the U.S. Institute of Education Sciences and the director of the Brown Center on Education Policy at the Brookings Institution; and Tom Luna, the Idaho superintendent of public instruction and president of Council of Chief State School Officers. (Politics K-12)

AFT task force eyes teacher preparation, again
The American Federation of Teachers has convened a task force to make recommendations on how to improve the quality of teacher preparation. The panel first convened in January, and is expected to have its recommendations ready sometime this year. (The task force had planned to release a report in time for AFT’s biennial convention in July, but its members pressed for more time to discuss and draft the report, surely a sign they have something interesting up their sleeves.) AFT last tackled teacher preparation a little over 10 years ago, and many of the recommendations in the report it released in 2000 were prescient as to the debate teacher education would assume over the course of the next decade. For instance, that report called for increased attention to student teaching, or the “clinical” part of preparation. There appears to have been progress on that front. For instance, we’ve seen much interest in hands-on teacher preparation programs, such as residencies. And the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education has also called for the clinical part of preparation to be substantially expanded and improved. Other recommendations in the AFT’s former report are only now starting to undergo scrutiny. Most striking is its call for teacher preparation programs to set a minimum-entry requirement of a 3.0 GPA. While there has been some policy interest in such a requirement, the larger debate about entry criteria (largely drawn from the selective practices of international countries) continues to be a matter of some debate among teacher educators. (Teacher Beat)

New York: 3 finalists to interview for top Buffalo school post
Three final candidates vying for the superintendency — including interim Superintendent Amber M. Dixon — will interview with the Buffalo School Board later this week. The other two finalists come from “very large” urban school districts, according to the search consultant, but neither is currently a permanent superintendent. The names of the candidates will not be released until the board meeting Wednesday evening. Several sources, however, said Dixon is among the three. Board Vice President Rosalyn L. Taylor, who is overseeing the search, said the finalists were culled from more than 30 applicants. “We’re feeling satisfied in going forward with the three at this point in time,” Taylor said. She acknowledged, though, that the acrimony in Buffalo regarding a teacher-evaluation agreement has cost the city some candidates. “I am sure it’s having an impact on the candidate pool. There would be no way it could be avoided. I’m sure the candidates are aware of what’s going on in Buffalo,” Taylor said. “But some people are up to the challenge. They see it as something workable. I think these three people are ready for the challenge.” Lee T. Pasquarella, president of Cascade Consulting, said the original 34 applications included internal candidates, applicants from elsewhere in New York, those from the Northeast and some from other parts of the country. He declined to say how many candidates were in each category. (Buffalo News)

Maryland: State school board continues effort to reduce suspensions despite negative public comments
Despite a barrage of public comments, many negative, Maryland State Board of Education members said Tuesday that they will push forward with plans to reduce the use of long-term suspensions and expulsions in student discipline. “Everybody gets that kids need to be in school,” said board President James H. DeGraffenreidt Jr. “The question is how do we do that?” The board received more than 200 written comments after asking for public input when it released a report in late February, detailing proposed changes that would reduce suspensions for nonviolent offenses. Those who expressed concerns often said that “good” students would be harmed if schools were not allowed to separate students with behavioral problems. “Although I laud the goal of keeping children in school, many of the suggestions in this study would have a negative effect on well behaved students,” wrote Randolph Brown of Ellicott City. “Why coddle students with chronic behavior problems at the expense of others in the classroom? As you know, it only takes one troublemaker in class to disrupt the learning process for the rest of students.” John Murdock, a physics teacher at Dulaney High School, wrote that many schools would need more staff to deal with in-school discipline. He said the board’s plan is “noble in its intent, but it is not feasible given the current structure of schools in Maryland.” (Baltimore Sun)

Maryland: Baltimore school board approves passes 2013 budget
The Baltimore City school board voted Tuesday to pass the district’s proposed $1.31 billion budget, which includes a decrease in the per-pupil funding for charter schools. As the amount spent on students in traditional schools increases, the system’s 33 charter schools will see their per-pupil expenditures drop by $257 from 2012, for a total of $9,007. The overall amount for charters, however, has steadily increased as their populations grow. The charters are funded differently than traditional schools. The schools negotiated to receive in cash what the district spends per-pupil and pay for the bulk of their own central services. For traditional schools, those services are deducted from the overall per-pupil amount. The per-pupil decrease comes at a time when charters will feel the pain of new reforms in the district, particularly in labor union contracts. For example, while traditional schools are charged the average salary of educators, charters pay the actual costs. But charter leaders said they are still waiting for answers from the district about how to stop the three-year trend, during which funding for charters has decreased by $400 per pupil, but costs have continued to rise. “Charter schools are facing a very challenging financial environment,” said Will McKenna, principal of Afya Public Charter School. “Unfortunately we have not been able to get a clear answer from the district explaining this drop, which undermines the financial stability of the schools and unquestionably impacts the programming we have been approved to provide to our students.” Schools chief Andrés Alonso said that the charter’s funding formula was applied the same way as in previous years, and that charters are experiencing the effects of rising costs, increasing populations and flat expenditures. “That is basic math, not the district or the formula,” Alonso said. “It’s the dilemma in how we are doing business.” (Baltimore Sun)

Minnesota: Report on Minn. school performance released Tuesday
The Minnesota Department of Education released its list of state school performance evaluated under new standards on Tuesday. The state was granted a waiver from No Child Left Behind requirements this year. What do these new measurements mean for schools? Does the waiver change anything or help schools that are deemed “priority?” (MPR)


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