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

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

News & analysis

States’ waivers weak on extended learning time, report says
Most of the dozen states that have already gotten wiggle room from the No Child Left Behind Act don’t have very good plans in place when it comes to a key piece of the U.S. Department of Education’s requirements for turning around low-performing schools: extending learning time, according to a report out by the Center for American Progress today. The Washington-based think-tank singled out three applications—Colorado, New Mexico, and Tennesee—as exceptionally thin, when it comes to adding time to the school day or extra time for teachers to collaborate. And seven states—Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Jersey, and Oklahoma—were put in the category of “committed but missing details.” Just one state—Massachusetts—was singled out as a shining star when it comes to thinking through plans for adding time to the school day. What does extended learning time have to do with waivers? Well, it’s one of the interventions that states have to put in place in their Priority Schools (those designated as being in the bottom 5 percent of performers on the brand new accountability systems created under the waivers). And extended learning time isn’t new to the waivers. It’s a requirement for schools using the most popular of the four School Improvement Grant models (transformation). A lot of schools have struggled with it. Under the waivers, states can tap funds from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers to pay for adding extra time to the school day, which can be a costly venture. Those funds are normally used to cover the cost of voluntary after-school or summer programs. (Politics K-12)

Separate reading exams await elementary school teachers
A handful of states are gradually adopting licensing tests that measure aspiring elementary teachers’ ability to master aspects of what’s arguably their most important task: teaching students to read. In the most recent example of what appears to be a slow but steady push, Wisconsin became the latest state to adopt a rigorous, stand-alone test of elementary teachers’ knowledge of the science of reading. Though such efforts to improve the quality of reading instruction generally have been pushed by a fairly small network of constituents, those proponents say that updating licensing exams is one of the few ways states can ensure that reading-instruction skills are taught in teacher training. “I think it’s definitely increased attention to the need to cover this content in a more consistent way,” said Louise Spear-Swerling, a professor in the department of special education and reading at Southern Connecticut State University, in New Haven. The state adopted neighboring Massachusetts’ reading test in 2009. “It’s only one piece of what we need to do to prepare teachers well,” Ms. Spear-Swerling said. “It’s not a cure-all. It does not measure how well a teacher translates content into practice. But it’s an important piece, because it’s foundational knowledge teachers need to have.” (Ed Week)

New study identifies “opportunity gap” for students
Educators have long studied the achievement gap, in which black and Hispanic pupils and low-income students of all races perform at much lower levels than their white, Asian and better-off peers. A new study released on Tuesday by a group that supported efforts to attain for more money for city schools looked at the educational opportunities available to poor and minority students and found the choices lacking. The report by the Schott Foundation for Public Education found that poor and minority students have fewer opportunities to attend the city’s best public schools largely because of where they live. The study’s authors looked at state math and English scores at 500 middle schools in the 2009-2010 school year. The schools were sorted into four groups from highest to lowest test scores, with an equal number of schools in each. The authors then looked at how many students in each of the city’s 32 community school districts are able to attend local middle schools that scored in the 75th percentile, or top quarter. The study did not include charter schools. Most of the charters are in low-income and minority communities, and some of them have impressive test scores. The study found that wealthier neighborhoods have more access to better schools. For example, all of the students in District 26 in Queens — which includes Douglaston and Little Neck — have an opportunity to attend a high-performing middle school. Most students can also attend high-scoring schools in Manhattan’s District 2 and 3. (School Book)

Minnesota: Teachers hope to boost test scores with fresh air, food, mints
Do you feel smarter when you pop a piece of peppermint candy or gum in your mouth? How about after a quick walk? Or a snack? Kids statewide are taking the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment tests again, and many teachers hope those are all things that boost student performance today as they begin their second day of high stakes testing. Teachers at Avalon School hope they’ve found a new way to increase student test scores. Kevin Ward and his fellow teachers and advisors at the St. Paul charter school are walking all of their students — nearly 200 of them, grades 7 through 12 — to a nearby park. “This is the first time,” Ward said. “We’ll see how it goes.” Ward hopes students are more relaxed after getting some fresh air and a snack of fresh fruit on the morning their MCA tests begin. (MPR)

New York: Mayoral hopefuls begin to define their education policies
Three of the likely candidates for mayor condemned Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg’s school closing policies on Tuesday, saying that if they had control of the city’s more than 1,700 schools, closing would be a last-resort, used only after schools had been offered many attempts to improve. The comments by William C. Thompson Jr., the only candidate who has has formally declared his candidacy, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, and Manhattan Borough President Scott M. Stringer, both of whom are likely mayoral candidates, gave the clearest indication yet of what education policies they might support in a mayoral race, and just how much distance they would put between themselves and Mayor Bloomberg’s policies. Speaking at a panel on Tuesday arranged by the Working Group on School Transformation, a coalition of education advocates, the three men agreed that while they supported mayoral control in principle, they believed Mr. Bloomberg had wielded that power almost cavalierly by closing schools with little input from parents or teachers. Missing from the group was Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who also is believed to be seeking the mayoralty, but has not weighed in on the major education policy issues that will confront the next mayor. In a phone interview she refrained from criticizing the mayor, and said she would like to keep the practice of closing failing schools in the Education Department’s “toolbox.” (New York Times)


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