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

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

News & analysis

School vouchers at center of political, legal fights
For all the arguments in favor of vouchers, there are opponents who say vouchers erode public schools by taking away money, violate the separation of church and state by giving public dollars to religious-based private schools, and aren’t a proven way to improve test scores. Even among supporters, there’s dissension over whether vouchers should only be offered to low-income students on a limited basis or made available to anyone. There’s also division among black and Hispanic leaders as to whether vouchers help or hurt kids in urban schools. Many opponents also dislike scholarship programs that provide tax benefits to businesses or individuals for contributing to a fund to pay for private school. They say those programs undermine public schools by keeping tax revenues out of state treasuries, an important source of education dollars. Fights about using tax dollars to help make private schools more affordable are popping up around the country. In Louisiana, Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal won a victory Thursday with passage of legislation that expands statewide a voucher program in New Orleans as part of broad changes to the state’s education system. (HuffPo)

Early results out for teacher-transfer-for-cash study
A cash incentive appears to have helped seven school districts attract effective teachers to low-income schools, though the longer-term impact of the transfers on teacher retention and student achievement results remains to be seen, a recently released analysis concludes. The results are the first findings from the Talent Transfer Initiative, a U.S. Department of Education funded project. There’s a short description of the initiative in this Education Week story. The basic idea is to offer bonuses of $20,000 to teachers with high-value-added scores to transfer to positions in a low-achieving schools and to study the results, in up to 10 districts. It has long been argued that such schools have a harder time attracting effective teachers, partly because they are often staffed by novices still at the beginning of their learning curve. So far most of those analyses have been based on credentials, which aren’t very predictive of classroom performance. (Teacher Beat)

What would big, giant proposed cuts mean for your k-12 program?
So if Congress doesn’t stop the big, giant across the board cuts to set to hit (almost) every education program under the sun next January, what would that mean for you? The Committee for Education Funding, an uber-lobbying coalition, has taken a stab at answering that question. This week, CEF put out a series of very helpful charts estimating what would happen if the planned cuts, which were put into law under a deal to raise the debt ceiling last August, go through. The cuts, which could be as high as 9.1 percent, are known inside-the-beltway as “sequestration”. (Politics K-12)

Congress says “no” to kids seeking challenge
Congress has so far been reluctant to revise its No Child Left Behind law, despite its flaws. The problem may be that the issue has gotten too much attention: Whether legislators loosen or tighten federal controls over public schools, they are going to offend someone. It is easier to interfere with instruction when no one is looking, as happened in December when Congress sharply reduced funds to pay Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate test fees for low-income students. The legislators chopped the allotment from $43 million to $27 million, a gross lapse in legislative foresight. We have plenty of data showing that taking an $87 three-hour AP test is one of the most cost-effective ways to prepare for college. Studies of hundreds of thousands of students by Linda Hargrove, Donn Godin and Barbara Dodd in Texas and Paul Geiser and Veronica Santelices in California show that students with passing scores on AP do better in college than students who don’t take the test. Those difficult exams, full of essay questions, not only give high schoolers a taste of college trauma but also motivate harder work in the courses by them and their teachers. The exams are written and graded by outside experts and cannot be watered down to save the reputation of students who didn’t do their homework or instructors not up to the job. (Class Struggle)

New York: School districts struggle to remove bad teachers
Hurtful name-calling, mocking a colleague’s disability and failing to show up for school could land any student in the principal’s office — but those and other infractions often aren’t enough to get a teacher removed from the classroom for good, a review of records from around the state found. As the Rochester School District’s attempt to dismiss problem teacher Valerie Yarn continues, other upstate districts are going to similar lengths to fire educators using a process that can take months or years — even in cases where evidence of misconduct is not in dispute. Yarn, accused of sending unwanted sexually suggestive letters and presents to her bosses before allegedly turning her unwanted advances on students, is one example among dozens in recent years.In all, 40 cases against administrators and instructors in districts outside New York City were decided in 2010 and 2011, according to information obtained by Gannett’s Albany Bureau through the state Education Department. (Democrat and Chronicle)

Maryland: Legislative session produces profound changes
The 2012 General Assembly has not been kind to Maryland’s county governments or their checkbooks. This year’s session, which is scheduled to end Monday night, has been a deal-changer for the state’s relationship with its counties. Bills have passed to direct more education costs to the counties and place greater burdens on them to clean up the environment. Now it is up to the counties to determine how to pay for their new obligations. Sooner or later many will be forced to raise taxes or cut spending in other areas, such as fire and police departments, or parks and recreation programs. New standards for minimum education funding and the shifting of teacher pension costs have created a precarious new fiscal reality for the counties. County Chief Administrative Officer John Hammond estimates the pension shift, when fully in place, will cost Anne Arundel County $21.5 million more each year. The new school funding requirements will cost the county an additional $12 million, Hammond said. (The Capital)

Georgia: Fewer schools flagged for testing concerns
More than 90 percent of Georgia schools were cleared of concern about testing irregularities in a review conducted by the governor’s Office of Student Achievement and the state’s testing vendor, CTB-McGraw Hill. “This is good news,” state school Superintendent John Barge said. “It shows that the measures we put in place are having a positive impact.” The review, the third annual one conducted since the cheating scandal that engulfed Atlanta Public Schools in 2009 after reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, examined the percentage of incorrect answers that were changed to correct ones on the 2011 Criterion-Referenced Competency Test. The test, covering English, language arts, reading and math, is given to Georgia students in grades 3 through 8. (AJC)


Bill Gates: Making teacher evaluations public “not conducive to openness”
Gates made a splash back in February when he came out against making Teacher Data Reports — or evaluations — public in New York City. Los Angeles Public Schools released similar data. This is a big deal, because his foundation has advocated for tougher accountability standards for teachers, something teachers unions haven’t fully embraced. In an interview with Weekend Edition Saturday’s host Scott Simon, Gates explained himself. “The goal is to help teachers be better,” Gates said. “And when we run personnel systems where we want to be frank with employees about where they need to improve, having [evaluations] publicly available is not conducive to openness and a free exchange of views.” Scott pushed that point, asking Gates if he could understand this is information that might be helpful for parents who want to know how their children’s teachers are performing. Gates said parents looking at evaluations could lead to a rush of them trying to get their kids in classrooms with the highly rated teachers and that’s a “zero-sum game,” he said, when what we should be doing is helping all teachers improve. (NPR)


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