Published Online: October 22, 2013
Published in Print: October 23, 2013, as Blogs of the Week

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| NEWS | Politics K-12

16 States, D.C., Vie for Race to Top Aid Targeted at Early-Childhood Education

Sixteen states, plus the District of Columbia, have thrown their hats in the ring for a piece of the U.S. Department of Education's $280 million Race to the Top Early Learning Challenge fund. The applicants are: Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Vermont.

At least three of those applicants—the District of Columbia, Georgia, and New York—clearly know how to write a winning Race to the Top application. They were winners in the state grant competition, financed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also called the stimulus.

The applicants will be eligible for four-year grants ranging from $37.5 million to $75 million. The grant size will depend on the state's share of the national population of children birth-through-5 from low-income families, as well as its proposed plans.

This is not the first round of the early-learning competition. Nine states—California, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and Washington state—were winners in the initial round. And five more states with highly-rated applications also received funding: Colorado, Illinois, New Mexico, Oregon, and Wisconsin.

—Alyson Klein

| NEWS | District Dossier

View on Broad Prize's Value Mixed Among Education 'Insiders'

Education "insiders" are hardly of the same mind when it comes to their opinions on the Broad Prize, the $1 million sweepstakes that honors urban school systems that have demonstrated academic improvement.

In a new survey released last week by Whiteboard Advisors, 42 percent agreed that the annual award is an "important recognition of progress by urban school systems despite their overall low levels of performance." Fifteen percent said the award is an "inappropriate celebration" of urban districts, given their overall low academic achievement, while another 42 percent fell somewhere in between.

Those results come less than a month after the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation announced that the Houston school system was the 2013 winner. Houston is the first district in the prize's 11-year history to become a two-time winner. It was the inaugural winner in 2002.

Participants in Whiteboard's regular surveys are mostly current and former Capitol Hill and U.S. Department of Education staff members and heads of education associations and think tanks.

—Lesli A. Maxwell

| NEWS | Education and the Media

Documentary Follows Two Black Youths In N.Y.C. Private-School Journey

"American Promise," a new documentary with an Oct. 18 opening date in New York City and later openings elsewhere, started out with the working title, "The Dalton Experiment."

Filmmakers Michele Stephenson and George Brewster chose the prestigious Dalton School in Manhattan for their son, Idris, despite the lengthy commute it would require from their home in the Fort Greene section of Brooklyn. Early in the boy's kindergarten year there, the parents decided to film the experience of African-American students at the school.

Three other families in the project would eventually drop out, but Idris's friend Seun Summers would also be a long-term subject. The result is a gripping, two-hour and 20-minute film chronicling the boys' struggles and triumphs at the school and at home.

Race is a more dominant theme than class. Both families seem to live comfortably in Brooklyn, though they marvel at Dalton parents who can spend as much on private-school tutoring for their children as they spend on tuition at the school. Seun's mother, Stacey O. Summers, at one point finds him, at around age 7, brushing his gums so hard they bleed because he wants them to be as light as those of his white classmates.

Meanwhile, Idris Brewster is asked at around the same age whether he feels it is an issue that he is one of the few black students at Dalton. "No, it's never an issue," he says confidently. Around the black players at his neighborhood basketball court, though, Idris worries about sounding too white, and he begins to speak "slangish," as he puts it.

By middle school, Idris has been invited to more than 20 bar mitzvahs by his white Jewish classmates. He wonders out loud whether his life might be better if he were white. Seun is on academic watch by middle school, and his parents feel Dalton is intent on pushing him out before high school. It's not revealing too much to say that Seun does leave Dalton after 8th grade for a public school in Brooklyn.

What do we learn from this after more than two hours with these families? That race is never far from the discussion in almost any facet of American education, even though, as Idris observed at a young age, it's not really a barrier if you don't let it be.

—Mark Walsh

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Common-Core Reading 'Exemplars' Ditched by Florida's Education Board

In another sign of increasing caution in Florida regarding the Common Core State Standards, the state board of education voted Oct. 15 not to adopt the suggestions regarding student writing and how to structure math classes contained in the standards' appendices, as well as reading "exemplars" (suggestions) that accompany the standards. In short, none of the appendices attached to the common core will have Florida's official support.

The board voted 5-1 against the appendices, Kathleen McGrory at the Miami Herald reported, although the decision does not specifically prohibit individual districts from using these resources. She reported that the vote came at the request of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who announced last month that the state was withdrawing from a multistate consortium developing common-core-aligned tests and would seek out new assessments on its own. Technically the state has only reduced its role in the consortium, not left it altogether.

The reading suggestions have come under fire in other states, such as Alabama and Georgia, where critics of the common core have highlighted suggested books they say deal with subject matter in an inappropriate political fashion (Julia Alvarez's In the Time of Butterflies) or convey sexuality in an offensive way (Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye).

—Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Teachers in Alternative-Route Programs Can Keep Label of 'Highly Qualified'

The federal government didn't shut down over the question of whether teachers in alternative-certification programs should be considered "highly qualified"—but the bill ending the budget stalemate addressed the question anyway.

The deal reached by Congress and signed by President Barack Obama last week includes a provision allowing teachers participating in alternative-certification programs (for example, Teach For America) to be considered "highly qualified" for an additional two years, through the 2015-16 school year. Waiver states—more than 40 at this point—already get some flexibility with the highly qualified teacher requirement. They don't have to develop improvement plans if they miss their targets in this area, for instance.

Will everyone be happy about this? Maybe not. Last year, when Congress was contemplating a similar extension, a coalition of unions, civil rights and disabilities groups, including the Council for Exceptional Children, the National Education Association, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, and the NAACP, sent a letter to Capitol Hill saying they would rather not see the provision extended. They're worried that the extension would lead to more low-income students and students in special populations being taught by folks who aren't certified.

But there are plenty of organizations that may be fans of the provision, including Teach for America, the New Teacher Project, Chiefs for Change, the Council of the Great City Schools, and the NewSchools Venture Fund. They sent their own letter to Congress last year asking lawmakers to extend the provision. Without the language, they argued, students would lose access to many good teachers.

—Alyson Klein

Vol. 33, Issue 09, Pages 10,17

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