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 York: Buffalo teachers reject evaluations
A delegation of teachers from the Buffalo Public Schools voted overwhelmingly Thursday to reject a proposal for evaluating teacher performance at six troubled schools, and the president of their union vowed to hold the state responsible should it withhold funds to the district. “We’re not giving up,” Buffalo Teachers Federation President Philip Rumore said after a nearly three-hour meeting of the union’s council of delegates at the Hearthstone Manor in Depew. “What we’re going to do is go to court,” Rumore said. “We’ve identified a couple of parents at affected schools, and we’re going to go to court and sue the state and say that the decision in withholding the money from us arbitrary and capricious.” Rumore was referring to $5.6 million in additional funding for schools, which the state will not release without the BTF’s approval of a new teacher-evaluation system that has already been approved by the district and a union representing the district’s school principals. “The teachers voted overwhelmingly not to accept the latest document that the district had provided us,” Rumore said after the meeting Thursday night. “Basically, what the teachers said is that we voted on this three or four different times, and enough is enough. … There’s just no trust there anymore.” Interim Buffalo School Superintendent Amber M. Dixon said she was disappointed by Thursday night’s vote. (Buffalo News)

New York: State reviews its toughest test
The toughest mandatory exam for New York’s high-school students could soon be optional. The Board of Regents next week will consider state Education Department recommendations to make the global history and geography exam optional. Instead, students could take an additional math, science or vocational exam, starting with freshmen who enter high school in 2013. “It’s a really important step,” Education Commissioner John King said Thursday. “There’s certainly going to be a lot of jobs in the future in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics, and this new pathway will encourage districts and schools to create additional opportunities for their students to pursue those areas.” The Regents, who determine statewide education policy, will also consider another change: splitting the global history and geography exam, which covers two years of course work, into two exams that each cover one year. That would require additional funding. While officials say the change is intended to boost college- and career-oriented education, the practical effect is that it could make graduating easier. Only 69% of students statewide received a passing score on the global history and geography exam in 2011, the lowest of any required exam. (WSJ)

Maryland: Education advocates, retailers prepare for bottle tax showdown
Teachers, students, retailers and beverage industry lobbyists are preparing for a showdown Wednesday as the battle over raising Baltimore’s bottle tax to fund school repairs moves to a skeptical City Council committee. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wants to increase the tax from 2 cents to 5 cents and use the proceeds to float bonds. The mayor, who saw her school construction initiatives wither in the General Assembly, is pushing the council to quickly pass the tax, although it would not go into effect for more than a year. She plans to tour a West Baltimore elementary school Wednesday morning to call attention to the city’s poorly maintained schools. “It’s time to really make the tough decisions and start investing in our schools,” said mayoral spokesman Ryan O’Doherty. Rawlings-Blake wants the council to pass the tax swiftly to ease the passage of state legislation next year, he said. The mayor’s proposal to increase the cap on the school system’s ability to float bonds, which is currently set at $100 million, failed in the General Assembly this year. A companion measure to earmark the city’s bottle tax proceeds to pay off such bonds also failed to pass. In the City Council, the members of the Taxation and Finance Committee are divided on the bottle tax increase. While two of the five members say they support raising the tax, the others are reluctant. (Baltimore Sun)

North Carolina: School leaders tell lawmakers their districts need relief
Schoolchildren are getting less foreign-language instruction and fewer art, music and physical education classes, and are in classrooms with more students because of budget cuts, superintendents told legislators Thursday. Four school superintendents outlined the losses of teachers, counselors, teacher assistants and other employees over the last four years. The meeting followed by a few weeks a state Board of Education gathering that hit the same theme: that local school budgets are stretched to breaking. Asked to mention their successes Thursday, superintendents talked of higher test scores, improved graduation rates and special programs funded with grants. But they said they needed a break from a state budget maneuver that has them return money to the state every year. The state tells the districts to send money back, but doesn’t tell them where to cut. But many districts eliminate jobs because personnel costs make up the bulk of their budgets. The four superintendents outlined various budget-cutting strategies that included reducing teacher-assistant hours, combining school bus routes, and eliminating school librarians. Since the 2009-2010 school year, districts have had to return nearly $1 billion to the state. This year’s budget, part of that total, required the schools to return $124 million in addition to the $304 million required in the last budget. Schools may have to increase that by $74 million next year. (News Observer)

Rhode Island: Gist, Board of Regents to take over budget and teacher negotiations for Central Falls schools
Education Commissioner Deborah A. Gist and the state Board of Regents for Elementary and Secondary Education are taking over the day-to-day budget operations of the Central Falls School District, as well as contract negotiations with the city’s teachers’ union — two areas that in recent months have been under the authority of the city’s receiver. Gist said in an interview Thursday that the state Department of Education is still figuring out the details of their involvement. But she said her primary goal is to ensure stability in the fragile district and to continue the work underway by Receiver Robert G. Flanders Jr. This includes contract talks with the Central Falls Teachers’ Union and potential cost savings by consolidating administrative functions with City Hall. The district is facing multi-million cuts in state aid next year. School Supt. Frances Gallo and the School Board of Trustees will continue to oversee educational matters, Gist said. She said the state takeover “is not reflective of criticism” about the district’s current leadership. (ProJo)

Viewpoints

Dana Goldstein talks about the future of vocational education with Nancy Hoffman of Jobs for the Future
In a new book, Schooling in the Workplace, Nancy Hoffman of Jobs for the Future argues the United States should adopt a Swiss-style vocational education system, in which students in their last two years of high school have the option of participating in highly structured workplace apprenticeships, working for pay several days per week and spending the rest of the time in the classroom. “We have a 22 percent youth unemployment rate right now, compared to 5 percent in the Netherlands or Switzerland,” Hoffman told The Nation. “Among that 22 percent are young people who are going to be permanently scarred, and that’s damaging to the human psyche. We don’t think about what we can do to help the young people in our charge discover the role of work in our lives.” In the following interview, I talk with Hoffman about why vocational education is so controversial in the United States, what role the liberal arts should play and how emphasizing career training might change the teaching profession. The interview has been condensed and edited for clarity. (The Nation)

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