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

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

News & analysis

Rhode Island: Woonsocket schools will have to close in April without quicker state aid payments
School committee chairwoman Anita McGuire Forcier warned Monday night that if the state does not speed up the city’s June aid payment to March the schools may have to close on April 5 for lack of money. “This is no joke, this is real,” said McGuire Forcier. McGuire Forcier said the school department has been talking with the state about speeding up the aid payment but has not gotten an answer. At a meeting of the City Council’s audit committee, City Council president John F. Ward said he was concerned that the state would want to see an overall plan for how the city would close its two-year $10 million school deficit before it would agree to the early payment. (ProJo)

Rhode Island: How RI stacks up according to federal civil rights data
New data from the U.S. Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights shows that African-American students are more likely to face harsh discipline than their peers. Does Rhode Island follow the trend? Well, the answer depends on the school district. In Cranston, for example, school officials are much more likely to expel African-American students than white or Hispanic students. African-Americans accounted for half of all expulsions in Cranston in 2009, a year when they represented just 4 percent of students enrolled in the district’s public schools. Pawtucket school officials appear to slap a disproportionate number of Hispanic students with in-school suspensions. Hispanic students made up 2/3 of all in-school suspensions in Pawtucket, but they represented only ¼ of the district’s student population. African-Americans accounted for 33% of in-school suspensions and 29% of the student body. White students, the single largest group in Pawtucket Public Schools, had no in-school suspensions at all. (Elisabeth Harrison)

Maryland: Montgomery County changes stance on teacher pension shift
A growing number of Maryland counties are seeing the writing on the wall: State legislators are going to shift some of the cost of rising teacher pensions to them. Now they are trying to soften the blow. In a letter to the Montgomery County delegation in Annapolis on Monday, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) and Council President Roger Berliner (D-Potomac-Bethesda) adjusted their hardline stance against the pension shift, saying that if it were to occur, the state should require the county and the school board share the costs. “As you know we do not think the shift is justified on any policy basis,” Leggett and Berliner wrote. “Nonetheless, if you conclude that there are not acceptable alternatives to the shift, we urge you to keep the cost impact on our community to a minimum.” By having the school board share in the burden, they argue, there would be “some modest incentive for school systems to control these costs.” School board president Shirley Brandman (At Large) did not immediately have a comment on the letter, saying she had not read it. (WaPo)

New York: End game remains on teacher evaluations
Although the grand bargain on teacher evaluations in New York state has saved—for now—the state’s $700 million federal Race to the Top award, the long-term picture for carrying out the evaluation deal has a lot more fine print involved. The agreement last month between the state education department and the state teachers’ union is only a starting point for the local union representatives and district officials who have to negotiate their own deals and present them to state Commissioner of Education John B. King for final approval by Jan. 17 of next year. Several obstacles remain. Casting a shadow on that entire process is the release by the New York City school district of its teacher-data reports rating the individual performance—based wholly on student-achievement data—of thousands of its public school teachers. The release of those names in February in response to journalists’ open-records requests has set off alarm bells outside the city and has the potential to cloud local negotiations on the new evaluations being crafted by the 696 districts in the state. The district and the city teachers’ union had been engaged in a lengthy legal dispute over whether to redact teachers’ names from the data. A state court ultimately declined to overturn a lower-court ruling that the names remain attached. (Ed Week)

New York: Promising results for specialized high school tutoring group
Every Saturday morning for the last year, a team of graduates from some of the city’s elite public high schools has spent hours readying teenagers for the specialized high school entrance exam. Now, the results of their labor are in. Of the 64 students who stuck with the free tutoring program, 28 were offered seats at one of the city’s eight selective high schools. All came from households that met the city’s poverty definition, and most of them hailed from Upper Manhattan and the South Bronx — neighborhoods that are underrepresented among the specialized high school student body. The goal of the program, the Science Schools Initiative, is to help more of the city’s black, Latino and poor students qualify for the specialized schools. The program selects some of the city’s most promising seventh graders who would not be able to afford tutoring on their own, and works with them to get ready for the notoriously difficult entrance exam. Of the 28 eighth graders with acceptance letters, six received offers from Stuyvesant High School; seven from the Bronx High School of Science; nine from Brooklyn Technical High School; five from the High School for Math, Science, and Engineering at City College; and one from the Brooklyn Latin School. (School Book)


New York Times: Dream Act for New York
The Dream Act is an aptly named-but-star-crossed piece of federal legislation that would open a path to legal status for young unauthorized immigrants who pursue college degrees or serve in the military. Its goal is to help ambitious youths who were brought here as children and are American in all but the paperwork. But, since the bill has been stalled in Congress, some states have found a way to help these blameless young people. Though they cannot fix anyone’s visa problems, some states have passed their own versions of the Dream Act to make college more affordable to undocumented students. Thirteen, including New York, allow the undocumented to qualify for in-state tuition rates. Only three — Texas, New Mexico and California — allow them to receive government tuition aid. New York should become the fourth. It has long been a global beacon for immigrants and a leader in higher education. One bill in the Legislature would make undocumented students eligible for the state’s Tuition Assistance Program; another would provide aid through a fund with private donations. (New York Times)

Alexander Russo: What should educators think of “Kony2012”?
One of these days there will be a viral education video out there like Kony 2012, the Internet meme of the moment (and perhaps of all time, says the Atlantic Wire). Don’t laugh — I’m sure there are folks out there trying to create a viral hit about schools as we speak.  Your friends will start sending it to you on Facebook with the message “have you seen this? or “check this out!”  But will it help? The ever-enthusiastic Whitney Tilson tells us “we gotta figure out how to get something like this going viral for our issue.” Documentaries like Waiting For Superman, Two Million Minutes, Race To Nowhere are long form examples of much the same thing. — dramatic stories told in a clear way, plus a concrete call to action (share this, write your elected representatives, donate here). The Gates Foundation’s Stand Up (2006) and EDIN’08 included similar elements. But, alas, there are problems with Kony2012 not too dissimilar to the ones we’ve encountered with education-related advocacy efforts like WFS and Race To Nowhere.  In particular are issues of accuracy and context, use of funds,  the focus on a relatively minor issue, and the simplistic-minded solutions. (Alexander Russo)


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