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

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

News & analysis

Course credits on the quick
The lessons in John Rice’s English III class at Anacostia High School in Washington, D.C., are as varied as the music wafting from his students’ headphones. They veer from Death of a Salesman to Beowulf, from the meaning of “pathos” to how to write a resume. While the delivery is high-tech—online, via laptop—the students are engaged in a practice as old as summer school. They’ve all taken English III before and failed. Now, a relatively new and controversial process called online credit recovery is allowing them to advance toward graduation in a fraction of the time they would typically have to spend retaking a class. Credit recovery is a burgeoning part of the estimated $2 billion online education industry, accounting for half of all online instruction in the country, according to a 2010 survey by market research firm Simba Information. A November 2011 study by the National Center for Education Statistics suggests that one-third of the nation’s school districts use some form of online credit recovery, among them some of the largest: Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City.  The offerings vary widely, from online labs with almost no input from a teacher to models that blend virtual lessons with one-on-one tutoring. On that continuum, Rice’s second-period English class falls somewhere in the middle. Students spend most of their time reading passages and clicking answers to quizzes through an online curriculum provided by Seattle-based Apex Learning. They work through the same modules at their own pace, moving on after scoring 70 percent or above on quizzes. Rice’s role is secondary, helping students when they get stuck. (Harvard Ed Letter)

Black students face more discipline, data suggests
Black students, especially boys, face much harsher discipline in public schools than other students, according to new data from the Department of Education. Although black students made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled, they accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions, according to the Civil Rights Data Collection’s 2009-10 statistics from 72,000 schools in 7,000 districts, serving about 85 percent of the nation’s students. The data covered students from kindergarten age through high school. One in five black boys and more than one in 10 black girls received an out-of-school suspension. Over all, black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers. And in districts that reported expulsions under zero-tolerance policies, Hispanic and black students represent 45 percent of the student body, but 56 percent of those expelled under such policies. “Education is the civil rights of our generation,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a telephone briefing with reporters on Monday. “The undeniable truth is that the everyday education experience for too many students of color violates the principle of equity at the heart of the American promise.” (New York Times)

New York: Funds at stake as teachers urged to budge
The next two days will be pivotal in the Buffalo Public Schools, as the parent group and the School Board try to persuade the teachers union to bend on an issue that could cost the district $9.3 million this year. At issue is a clause in the union’s agreement with the district on teacher evaluations that says the performance of chronically absent students would not be counted against any teacher. Today, the board will vote to ask the union to change its stance on teacher evaluations — and the parent group will threaten to pull their children out of the schools in September if the union holds its ground. The only way the district can persuade the state to restore millions in suspended federal grants is if the union’s council of delegates votes Wednesday to have the performance of all students count toward a teacher’s evaluation. While the outcome of the union vote will not be known until Wednesday night, the School Board will meet at noon today to consider an eleventh-hour resolution from West District board member Ralph R. Hernandez to avert the permanent loss of federal funds. (Buffalo News)

Rhode Island: Woonsocket reveals full extent of school deficit
Mayor Leo Fontaine says the Woonsocket school department is more than $7 million in the red this and bankruptcy is a real possibility for the city. The budget shortfall comes after Woonsocket schools ran up a $3 million deficit last year. According to the Providence Journal, Governor Lincoln Chafee’s administration stopped short of predicting bankruptcy for Woonsocket. State Revenue Director Rosemary Booth Gallogly said both the city council and the school committee seem committed to solving their fiscal problems. State officials say they will keep a watchful eye on Woonsocket to see what progress local officials are able to make to reduce the school department deficits. (Elisabeth Harrison)

Minnesota: District settles bullying lawsuits
Minnesota’s largest school district on Monday voted to settle a pair of lawsuits over a policy that was criticized for failing to protect gay students from bullying. The Anoka-Hennepin School Board approved the settlement 5-1 at its meeting Monday evening. The district agreed to a long list of measures to help prevent and address sex-based harassment at its middle and high schools, including hiring consultants and working with federal authorities to ensure the district complies with the terms. The district’s insurance carrier will pay the six current and former students named in the lawsuits a total of $270,000, and the district will tap about $500,000 of its own funds to implement the agreement. Superintendent Dennis Carlson told reporters the agreement “helps us move forward as a district to a better day for all students. When we have finished this process, we believe we will have developed a model that all school districts can follow.” (Brainerd Dispatch)

New Jersey: Governor Christie launching task force to determine where school aid might be susceptible to fraud
Citing high levels of fraud and abuse in the school lunch program, Gov. Chris Christie today launched a task force to examine how school aid is distributed in New Jersey. The seven-member task force, which has yet to be named, is being asked to come up with a new measure to count impoverished children, which is one of several factors used to calculate aid to school districts. Participation in the federal school lunch program has long been used as a poverty indicator — both in New Jersey and nationally. Christie, however, said corruption in the school lunch program has led to the possible misdirection of tens of millions of dollars of education funding. “We’ve all heard the stories of abuse and misuse of this program,” said the governor in a Statehouse press conference. Acting Education Commissioner Chris Cerf last week had called for the creation of the governor’s task force, based on an analysis by the state auditor in July that found up to 37 percent of free lunch recipients were enrolled in the program fraudulently. (Star-Ledger)


Linda Darling Hammond: Value-added hurts teaching
Here’s the hype: New York City’s “worst teacher” was recently singled out and so labeled by the New York Post after the city’s education department released value-added test-score ratings to the media for thousands of city teachers, identifying each by name. The tabloid treatment didn’t stop there. Reporters chased down teacher Pascale Mauclair, the subject of the “worst teacher” slam, bombarding her with questions about her lack of skill and commitment. They even went to her father’s home and told him his daughter was among the worst teachers in the city. Now the facts: Mauclair is an experienced and much-admired English-as-a-second-language teacher. She works with new immigrant students who do not yet speak English at one of the city’s strongest elementary schools. Her school, PS 11, received an A from the city’s rating system and is led by one of the city’s most respected principals, Anna Efkarpides, who declares Mauclair an excellent teacher. She adds: “I would put my own children in her class.” Everyone agrees that teacher evaluation in the United States needs an overhaul. Although successful systems exist, most districts are not using approaches that help teachers improve or remove those who cannot improve in a timely way. Clearly, we need a change. (Ed Week)


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