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| NEWS | K-12 Parents and the Public

N.Y. Parents Aim to Boost Numbers of Students Boycotting State Tests

A parent-advocacy group, New York State Allies for Public Education, is mounting a coordinated campaign to increase the number of students who opt out of state testing next year.

The group, which has been a staunch critic of standardized testing and student-data collection, announced last month that it hopes to encourage the parents of 250,000 students to boycott New York state tests in 2015.

In a news release, the group lays out an action plan to increase the number of students opting out: hosting informational forums, identifying parent liaisons in districts to coordinate boycotts, and disseminating information about opting out through fliers, lawn signs, and bumper stickers.

The group will wage a “tactical campaign” as well, targeting both state and federal legislators for their support to end the high-stakes nature of standardized testing, said Chris Cerrone, a parent and a board member of the Springville-Griffith Institute Central district.

–Karla Scoon Reid


| NEWS | State EdWatch

Common Core Spurs Hope, Fear for a Miami Principal

Bridget McKinney is the third-year principal of Miami-Dade County’s Allapattah Middle School, where 95 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals and which has been labeled a D or F school under Florida’s A-F accountability system for the past four school years. Migrant children from Central America have caused the 500-student school’s English-language-learner population to swell from 83 last year to 138 this year.

So how does McKinney see the Common Core State Standards, along with forthcoming state tests, playing out in her school? She’s not frustrated with the standards themselves; it’s a host of other state policies, and a dearth of resources, that have her on edge.

Take the A-F accountability system. In the 2014-15 school year, schools won’t face consequences for their grades in the A-F system. That’s the kind of reprieve most principals would welcome. But McKinney says that it doesn’t really help the perception of her school in the community.

“Every single year, the accountability system is different,” she said. “Every single year, there’s a different rationale.”

Then there is the issue of resources. With the number of digital devices she has, McKinney says it takes her three days, using three morning and three afternoon shifts on computers, to test just her 6th grader in math.

McKinney says she wishes lawmakers were more connected to “being in the trenches” in schools as the standards have been implemented.

–Andrew Ujifusa


| NEWS | District Dossier

Trial Opens for Former Educators in Atlanta Cheating Case

In opening arguments in the Atlanta district cheating case last week, prosecutors said that a dozen former educators lied and cheated to meet high academic targets set by then-Superintendent Beverly Hall and earn bonuses and other job perks.

Their actions, prosecutors argued, were part of a widespread conspiracy to make students’ performance on state tests look better than it actually was. Defense lawyers argued that their clients did not condone or participate in cheating, and that jurors would hear from multiple witnesses to vouch for their character.

The trial comes nearly 18 months after a Fulton County grand jury indicted 35 former Atlanta teachers and administrators, including Hall, on a range of conspiracy and racketeering charges stemming from one of the highest-profile cases of cheating in public schools.

–Lesli A. Maxwell


| NEWS | Digital Education

Satirical Video Game Skewers NCLB, Charter Schools, Testing

A pitch about a new in-development educational game, No Pineapple Left Behind, made me laugh out loud: “In NPLB, an evil wizard turns all of the students to pineapples,” it says. “Pineapples are very simple; all they do is take tests and get grades. If they get good grades, their school makes more money. But if left unattended, pineapples turn back into children. Children are very complicated and much harder to deal with. You are the principal and you have to run the school.”

Turns out the man behind the pitch is a 25-year-old former teacher named Seth Alter, who has since christened himself the “Captain of Industry” at Subaltern Games, an indie game-development company he founded in 2012.

The concept behind “NPLB,” he said, is “kind of like Sim City, but takes place in a school.”

“The ‘lose’ condition is if the school goes bankrupt,” he said. “The theoretical ‘win’ condition would be every student has an A grade and the school has a balanced budget. But we’re working to make a system where that’s not possible.”

Alter said that “No Child Left Behind and the massive charterization of schools are systemic problems.”

A key power given to the players of the game is the ability to “manipulate teacher salaries and fire them on a whim,” he said. The anti-charter bias is explicit: “Teachers [in the game] are all inexperienced and underpaid.”

–Benjamin Herold


| NEWS | On Special Education

GAO Suggests Improvements Be Made to Spec. Ed. Due Process Hearings

The U.S. Department of Education needs to do a better job of tracking how quickly due process hearings for special education students are resolved, and should improve how it monitors parent-involvement data from states, according to the Government Accountability Office.

The report, released last month, notes that due process hearings overall are on the decline, mainly because of fewer hearings in the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and New York.

The agency said the department requires states to report whether due process hearings are resolved in 45 days, or if they need to be extended. However, states are not required to report how much extra time extensions add to the process. In 2011-12, the GAO found, 48 percent of hearings were resolved after an extension.

Also, the congressional watchdog said, the department collects parent-involvement data from states, but because states use different collection instruments, statistics are not comparable across states. The department needs to modify its policies to collect better data on both of those issues, the report concludes.

In its response, the department said it proposes conducting due process timeline follow-ups with states that have 10 or more due process hearings in which 75 percent of those hearings were made under an extended timeline. It also said current methods of collecting parental-involvement information are sufficient.

–Christina A. Samuels


| NEWS | Learning the Language

Repeal of Bilingual Education Limits To Go Before California Voters

Bilingual education will be back on California voters' ballots come November 2016, because of a piece of legislation that Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law last week.

The new law will give voters a chance to overturn a 16-year-old state law that has severely restricted the use of bilingual education in California's public schools. Right now, English-only instruction is the predominant approach used to educate the state's 1.4 million English-language learners.

In a statement, the bill's sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Ricardo Lara, said multilingual instruction will improve the state's educational system.

"Children who participate in multilingual immersion programs not only outperform their peers in the long run, they also have higher earning potential when they enter the workforce," he said.

The 1998 law that drastically reduced the use of bilingual education programs was also the result of a ballot measure, Proposition 227. While not an outright ban on bilingual education, the voter-approved measure almost eliminated it from public schools.

–Madeline Will


| NEWS | Politics K-12

Cities, Counties, and Tribes Sign On to 'My Brother's Keeper'

About 100 cities, counties, and tribal communities have said they are going to take the Obama administration up on its new "My Brother's Keeper" initiative, which calls for local governments and tribes to help address the needs of traditionally overlooked minority students.

Communities that decide to take the administration up on the "challenge" commit to working toward at least one of a series of goals outlined by the My Brother's Keeper task force. They include getting all children socially and emotionally prepared for school, getting them reading on grade level by 3rd grade, ensuring all students graduate from high school and get some postsecondary training, and keeping children and teenagers safe from violence.

Importantly, the communities get absolutely no money from the federal government for signing on to this challenge. The White House is aiming to drive progress through the force of collective action and attention, not through federal resources. Philanthropies, however, have pledged $200 million to the effort.

–Alyson Klein

Vol. 34, Issue 07, Pages 8,19

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