Published Online: October 15, 2013
Published in Print: October 16, 2013, as Blogs

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| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Syracuse Union Head Vows to Appeal Results of Teacher Evaluations

Earlier this year, Education Week brought you news that results from revamped teacher-evaluation systems generally look pretty similar to the results from the old systems. But it was probably only a matter of time before a jurisdiction upended the pattern, and now we have Exhibit A: the Syracuse, N.Y., district.

Syracuse last week released first-year results from its new system. While a majority of teachers, 60 percent, were rated "highly effective" or "effective," more than a third were "developing," the second-lowest category, and 7 percent "ineffective"—and the city teachers' union president isn't happy about it, reports The Post-Standard.

Syracuse Teachers Association President Kevin Ahern said in a message to members that the union "will seek every legal remedy available to ensure that no member is harmed as a result of this botched implementation," the newspaper reports. Among other things, he's critical of the fact that the results were based in part on tests that reflect the Common Core State Standards, widely considered to be more difficult than their predecessors.

One of the really challenging aspects of the push for new teacher evaluation is that there is no empirical figure in the research literature about just how many teachers, on average, should be dismissed for incompetence or put on improvement plans. Tellingly, the president of the New York State Union of Teachers said anecdotal reports from other districts show the proportion of developing and ineffective teachers at less than 10 percent.

If 99 percent of teachers rated effective is too many, as most officials agree, and if 60 percent is too few, where does that leave us? Evidently, where it may leave Syracuse: up to its ears in adjudication.

—Stephen Sawchuk

| NEWS | Politics K-12

In New Campaign, Hillary Clinton Champions Pre-K Education

Flash forward to 2016: An Education Week headline reads: "Democratic Presidential Nominee Hillary Clinton Makes Early-Childhood Education Campaign Centerpiece."

OK, fine, we don't really have a crystal ball here at Politics K-12. And it's an open question whether the former first-lady-turned-senator-turned-secretary-of-state is even running for president. But it's hard to deny that since leaving the Obama administration, Clinton has turned back to a long-held interest of hers: early-childhood education.

The latest effort? Back in June, the Clinton Foundation announced it was collaborating with Next Generation, a nonpartisan strategic-policy and communications organization, to launch "Too Small to Fail," an initiative to improve the health and well-being of children from birth to age 5. Hillary Clinton recently wrote an op-ed for Too Small to Fail's website. It goes over well-trodden territory, explaining that kids from disadvantaged families begin school already behind their more advantaged peers.

The op-ed doesn't lay out any earth-shattering policy initiatives—instead it focuses on more targeted, practical solutions. Too Small to Fail will start a public-outreach campaign to help parents become more aware of what Clinton calls "the word gap" and push businesses to allow parents to work more flexible schedules.

—Alyson Klein

| NEWS | The School Law Blog

Sibling Rivalry Over Parenting No Federal Case, Court Rules

Well, Thanksgiving should be interesting this year for the extended Bovee-Broom family.

An Illinois man, Terry Bovee, sued the guidance counselor at his children's school because she criticized his parenting methods and called him a "bad father."

According to Bovee's federal lawsuit, the counselor's actions alienated his children's affections and violated his fundamental constitutional liberty interest in familial relations, as court documents put it.

The counselor, Claudia Broom, happens to be Bovee's sister.

A federal district court dismissed the suit. On appeal, a three-judge panel agreed that Bovee had no federal case.

The appellate court said that by criticizing their father as a bad parent in front of Bovee's children, Broom may have defamed him. But that alone would make for a state-law defamation claim. Bovee's lawyer conceded that Broom had not taken any adverse action against the children in her role as guidance counselor, the court said.

Defamation consisting of words but not accompanied by any other official action does not violate the 14th Amendment's due-process clause, the court said. "Bovee ... appears to believe that, if defamation causes an intra-family injury, then an injured parent has a constitutional claim," the court said. "He does not have any support for this proposition" in case law.

"Siblings dissatisfied with each other's methods of child rearing must find a means other than federal litigation to address their differences," the court said.

—Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Districts File Applications for Race to Top Funding

Despite some delivery problems that came alongside a federal government shutdown, 219 applicants made the Oct. 3 deadline for the U.S. Department of Education's second Race to the Top district contest. A few more from Colorado may have trickled in, however, as districts affected by flooding in that state had until Oct. 10 to apply.

This year's applications, made by districts and groups of districts, represent 678 school systems in 44 states. The only states without any Race to the Top district applicants were Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming—plus Hawaii and the District of Columbia, which count as just one district each.

Awards will range from $4 million to $30 million, with a total of $120 million to be awarded.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education received 317 applicants, so interest is down. But so is the money up for grabs. Last year, $400 million was awarded; less than half that is now available. The money will be awarded by the end of the calendar year, even if that means calling back some federal employees to work on the judging process.

—Michele Mcneil

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Legal Showdown Looms in Kansas Funding Case

If you're interested in a K-12 political battle that doesn't pit one group of lawmakers against another, look no further than Kansas, where the state Supreme Court and legislators seem to be at loggerheads over the future of education spending in the state.

What's the story? The Kansas Supreme Court is considering a 2010 lawsuit brought by several school districts, Gannon v. Kansas. The districts argue that the state has failed to live up to its constitutional obligation to fund schools. Specifically, the 2010 suit says the state hasn't abided by a 2006 ruling from the same court, in Montoy v. Kansas, in which justices said the legislature wasn't making "suitable provision" for paying for public education, referring to language in Article Six of the Kansas Constitution.

After the 2006 ruling and much "wrangling," as the Kansas City Star puts it, lawmakers agreed to pump about $750 million in new money into schools. But the state got slammed by the Great Recession, and the new funds didn't materialize.

This in turn led to the 2010 Gannon lawsuit, which is essentially a continuation of Montoy. Earlier this year, a Kansas district court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, who are seeking at least $440 million in new funding, a per-student spending boost from $3,800 to $4,500. Now that the case is before the Supreme Court, the judges are making it clear that the onus for the current legal wrangling in court rests with the state.

"It stands before me, in my eyes, as a broken promise," Justice Eric Rosen said during arguments on Oct. 8.

But state Solicitor General Stephen McAllister claimed that simply increasing funding commitments wasn't a sustainable model. "The legislature has to deal with the real world," he said. "The constitution shouldn't be a suicide pact."

During the 2013 legislative session, Kansas lawmakers seemed to sense that the court wouldn't necessarily look favorably on their budget decisions with respect to Montoy and Gannon. For a February story I wrote about school funding lawsuits, I quoted Kansas Senate President Susan Wagle, a Republican, about the issue: "We believe [the justices] should not be appropriators and that that role should be clearly left in the hands of elected officials."

—Andrew Ujifusa

Vol. 33, Issue 08, Pages 11,24

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