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

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

News & analysis

Senate stumbles on student loan bill
Legislation that would stave off a proposed rate hike for student loans failed to pass a key procedural hurdle today in the U.S. Senate—even though the basic policy has the support of President Barack Obama, presumed GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and congressional Democrats and Republicans. The measure failed, 52 to 45, to gain “cloture”—or having lawmakers agree to cut off debate and vote. And, as American government teachers know, a simple majority isn’t enough here. Senators need at least 60 votes to cut ff debate. Interest rates on new student loans are set double on July 1, to 6.8 percent from 3.4 percent, unless Congress acts. The U.S. House of Representatives, which is controlled by Republicans, already passed a bill to head-off the rate hike.So what’s the problem here? Lawmakers can’t agree on how to pay for the plan. The Senate legislation would have covered the cost by making tax changes for certain businesses, which Senate Democrats say aren’t paying their fair share. But Republicans countered that the proposal amounts to a tax on small businesses. The House legislation, by contrast, would cover the cost of the plan by cutting a portion of the controversial health care law aimed at preventative care—which nearly all Democrats say is the wrong way to go. A House Democratic bill takes aim at oil subsidies. (Politics K-12)

New report on growing poverty in southern states
A new report on children in poverty from the Southern Regional Education Board doesn’t directly deal with a new education policy or data, and probably isn’t a surprise to anyone. But it will surely trigger inward groans among school officials as they ponder the challenges associated with rising numbers of poor students. The April report from SREB shows that from 2005 to 2010, the number of children living in poverty in SREB’s 16 member states increased by 1.1 million, nearly equaling the total increase in child poverty in the rest of the nation of 1.3 million. (These SREB member states include Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.) Over that time period, the percentage of children in poverty in those states rose to 26 percent from 23. The rate of child poverty in the western United States rose to 19 percent from 15 percent, but fell short of the child poverty rate in SREB states by 7 percentage points. In the Midwest, child poverty grew to 19 percent from 16 percent over that period. SREB states now have 44.3 percent of all children living in poverty in the country. (State Ed Watch)

School-standards pushback
The Common Core national math and reading standards, adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia two years ago, are coming under attack from some quarters as a federal intrusion into state education matters. The voluntary academic standards, which specify what students should know in each grade, were heavily promoted by the Obama administration through its $4.35 billion Race to the Top education-grant competition. States that instituted changes such as common learning goals received bonus points in their applications. Supporters say the Common Core standards better prepare students for college or the workforce, and are important as the U.S. falls behind other nations in areas such as math proficiency. A 2010 report from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a right-leaning educational-research group, said the Common Core standards “are clearly superior to those currently in use in 39 states in math and 37 states in English. For 33 states, the Common Core is superior in both math and reading.” But conservative lawmakers and governors in at least five states, including Utah and Alabama, recently have been pushing to back out, or slow down implementation, of Common Core. They worry that adoption of the standards has created a de facto national curriculum that could at some point be extended into more controversial areas such as science. Critics argue that the standards are weak and could, for example, de-emphasize literature in favor of informational texts, such as technical manuals. They also dislike that the standards postpone teaching algebra until ninth grade from the current eighth grade in many schools. (WSJ)

Connecticut: Education reform bill, praised as good step, clears legislature
Legislators agree: The education reform bill they unanimously approved Tuesday is a step, one of several that will be needed to provide a better education for the lowest-performing students. “It’s a step. I wouldn’t call it monumental,” said Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, the leader of the Black and Puerto Rican Caucus. “I won’t celebrate finally getting our act together after we were nationally embarrassed” for having the largest achievement gap between minority students and their peers. The education reform bill that passed through the House and Senate over the past two days, and was greeted by cheers late Tuesday night, largely focused on improving the teaching profession and state intervention in the lowest-performing schools. “It’s what we should have been doing long ago,” said Republican Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., of Norwalk. “We wasted so much time focusing our time and energy on getting rid of a few bad teachers,” said Mary Loftus Levine, the leader of the Connecticut Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. “We could have done so much more.” That’s not to say legislators weren’t happy with the changes required in the bill; many said that these changes significantly move the state forward. “This will help us begin to turn around our schools,” said Rep. Andy Fleischmann, D-West Hartford, co-chairman of the Education Committee, at one point during the nearly seven-hour celebration of the bill before it was approved. But work remains. Legislators in both the House and Senate presented a list of steps the state must still take in the coming years to improve education for those students who need it the most: black and students with limited English skills. “There is more to be done,” said Democratic Rep. Susan M. Johnson, the leader of the state’s English Language Learners Task Force. Her district of Windham is one of the lowest-achieving districts and has a student population where one of every four students speaks limited English. (CT Mirror)

Maryland: City school employees could see furloughs if doomsday budget stands
Baltimore school employees would be forced to take furlough days if the district has to absorb millions of dollars in education cuts outlined in the state’s “doomsday” budget, city schools CEO Andrés Alonso said Tuesday as he prepared to present the fiscal year 2013 budget. In preparation for a massive cut to public education should lawmakers fail to approve higher taxes in a special session starting Monday, the school system has developed a plan to negotiate with labor unions to have employees take four unpaid days off. Alonso said the system found that the four furlough days, which would not include instructional days, would yield enough savings to hold school budgets untouched, a guiding principle of the system’s budget. In next year’s $1.31 billion budget, Alonso plans to increase individual schools’ funding and protect principals’ spending power. He would only carry out furloughs — a cost-saving measure that school system employees have been shielded from for at least a decade — as a last resort. “We wanted to communicate a philosophy, a way of doing business,” Alonso said in an interview. “The schools need the most they can get to educate kids. That has to be first in the calculations.” Jimmy Gittings, president of the principals union, which also represents administrative staff in the central office, said it would be willing to sacrifice for the sake of schools. “As usual, [we] would do anything possible to support the system financially,” Gittings said. “We are always the first ones to step up when the system is in financial trouble.” Facing a schedule crunch, the school system built its budget anticipating that the “doomsday” budget cuts would be averted. (Baltimore Sun)


Paul Bruno: Don’t (just) blame TFA for districts hiring their teachers
Too often, the debate over alternative teacher preparation and recruitment programs like Teach for America gets bogged down in overheated, accusatory rhetoric, as if the existence of such programs is best explained by a  malevolent conspiracy bent on “privatizing” education.Such theories have never been very persuasive in light of the fact that so many districts and principals are so eager to utilize alternatively-certified and recruited teachers, and new research from Stanford’s Michelle Reininger sheds light on what’s really going on. Reininger finds that “teachers’ preference for working close to where they grew up is a distinct characteristic of teachers,” and that this makes schools in educationally under-performing areas particularly difficult to staff.In other words, because teachers are more likely than other college graduates to want to work close to where they grew up, the quality of the teacher supply will tend to be lowest in precisely those areas with the weakest K-12 schools. It’s not hard to imagine that low-performing districts will also be especially poorly positioned to recruit teachers from other areas. Reininger is careful to point out that there are potential advantages to hiring local teachers, especially related to lower turnover and greater local and cultural knowledge. Nevertheless, her research indicates very clearly that TfA-style recruitment programs have grown in large part because they meet, however imperfectly, a very real need in struggling districts to expand and improve the supply of teachers. (Scholastic Administrator)


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