Best of the Blogs
| NEWS | Teacher Beat
A teacher contract approved in Indianapolis creates new roles for high-performing teacher leaders coupled with eye-popping salary increases worth up to $18,500.
The agreement was adopted late last month by the city's school board. It has already received the go-ahead from the teachers' union and from rank-and-file teachers.
Under the terms, base pay will rise to a minimum of $40,000, a 12 percent increase. For a general school or district leadership role, teachers will receive $5,000.
But teachers who are participating in a special initiative, called Opportunity Culture, could make potentially far more in exchange for instructing more students or for leading teams of teachers.
The basic idea is that effective teachers should be able to affect more students, in exchange for more responsibility and higher salaries. "Multiclassroom leaders" will, for instance, manage a team of up to six other teachers and two paraprofessionals and take responsibility for the learning of all the students taught by those teachers. They will have the flexibility to switch up class schedules and sizes to tailor instruction appropriately. Such teachers will earn between $6,800 and $18,500 extra.
And an "expanded-impact teacher" (a $6,800 stipend) will take on a third more students, with help from a paraprofessional.
The Opportunity Culture idea comes from Public Impact, a consulting group. According to the group, six Indianapolis schools are participating, using this new school year to figure out exactly how the new models will work. They'll implement them in 2016-17.
Schools in a number of other districts, notably Charlotte-Mecklenburg, N.C., and Syracuse, N.Y., are also using iterations of this concept.
The news site Chalkbeat Indiana notes, though, that the contract will likely be paid for in part by withholding salary increases from teachers who don't score an "effective" teacher-evaluation rating.
| NEWS | Digital Education
The World Privacy Forum, a public-interest research group, has launched a campaign urging parents to "opt out" of allowing schools to release directory information—student data the organization says schools could otherwise disclose to third parties who request access.
Directory information could include a child's name, address, phone number, birthday, and awards, according to the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.
FERPA says schools may share directory information "without consent," but the law also gives parents and eligible students who are at least 18 the right to prevent schools from releasing this information.
Some of the information's most common uses are for school photos, yearbooks, class rings, and sports programs.
Directory information refers to "very detailed personal information" that can become publicly exchanged data if a school is covered by FERPA and chooses to share it, said Pam Dixon, the executive director of the privacy forum. Data brokers may get the information from schools and then publish it for sale, after which students may be at risk for identity theft, or have unwanted marketing or advertising directed at them.
"Most parents and students are completely unaware of this," Dixon said. "We deal with the consequence of that every year."
Schools must notify parents of their rights each year under FERPA, but because many have outdated notices, many parents don't exercise their opt-out right, she said.
The forum launched its campaign this year to "be proactive, get the word out, and try to encourage parents to really take care of this problem," Dixon said. The San Diego-based organization took to Twitter with the hashtag #OptOutKids, produced a video, and created a sample opt-out form in an effort to simplify the process for parents.
| NEWS | Teaching Now
Can't say we saw this one coming: Were you aware that somebody has published an erotic novella set during the Chicago teachers' strike of September 2012?
The Teacher's Strike, by Gabby Matthews (a pseudonym), debuted as a Kindle e-book on Amazon in July. It's billed as adult "historical fiction"—like "Selma meets 50 Shades of Grey" (at only 87 pages), according to the Chicago Reader.
According to the promotional copy, the story chronicles the forbidden relationship between a troubled—though of age—high school student and a former classmate, now a young Chicago teacher and union activist, who (of course) "walks back into his life." The pair's apparently quite torrid romance plays out amid the unexpected freedom and political tensions of the eight-day teachers' strike.
The strike became a focal point of the national conversation on education, pitting the powerful Chicago Teachers Union against Mayor Rahm Emanuel's reform-driven policy agenda. "Matthews" is said to have conducted "extensive research" on the conflict, "weaving complex narrative that seamlessly blends perilous romantic intimacy with sultry political struggle."
Matthews, in reality a 31-year-old former Chicago man, maintains that, despite its genre affiliations, his book is meant to highlight the serious issues raised by a strike. "Economic strangulation in Chicago and elsewhere expressed through cuts to education and other public resources—these are life-and-death matters," he said. "If erotic fiction can help raise these issues in new, creative ways, that's what I care about."
| NEWS | Charters & Choice
The American Civil Liberties Union of Nevada has filed a lawsuit challenging the state's new school choice law.
The law allows any parent with a child in public school to use state money toward tuition at religious, private schools. The ACLU says that goes against Nevada's constitution, which bars public funds from being used for sectarian purposes. The organization is seeking an injunction to stop the program's implementation.
State lawmakers this summer passed an expansive school choice program with the most generous eligibility requirements in the country: All students in public school can enroll in the program.
The state will put money in education savings accounts that parents can use to pay for tuition at a private school, including those that are religiously affiliated, or buy materials for home schooling. Parents could even use the money to mix and match courses and services from private and public sources to create a customized education for their children.
| NEWS | Politics K-12
Testing for students with disabilities has been one of a number of flashpoints as Congress struggles to reconcile bills to reauthorize the No Child Left Behind Act passed by the House and Senate this year.
And, in advance of those discussions, the U.S. Department of Education has taken a politically symbolic step: It's officially said that states can offer alternate assessments only to the 1 percent of students who have severe cognitive disabilities. That's about 10 percent of students in special education overall. The Education Department had previously allowed states to use alternate tests for up to 2 percent of students, or 20 percent of those in special education.
This change has been a long time in the making. And at this point, the final rule doesn't have much practical impact. States with waivers from the NCLB law—that's 42 and the District of Columbia—have been living with the 1 percent rule for more than three years. The change is supported by the National Association of State Directors of Special Education. And only a very small handful of states without waivers still go with the 2 percent option.
Still, advocates for students with disabilities are cheering the move. "It's a fantastic change," said Lindsay Jones, the director of public policy and advocacy for the National Center for Learning Disabilities. The 2 percent rule had become divisive and had devastating consequences for some students who were given alternate tests, she said.
The move may be at least partially a signal that the department really wants Congress to stick to the 1 percent rule in rewriting the NCLB law. The 1 percent rule would be in place under the Senate's bill to do so. But the House bill gives states a lot more flexibility when it comes to using alternate assessments—there's no clear cap in place, advocates say.
| NEWS | The School Law Blog
A federal appeals court has upheld an Arkansas school district's decision to opt out of a state program allowing interdistrict student transfers, in a case where the district claimed it is still subject to a federal desegregation order.
The 2,400-student Blytheville district in 2013 denied transfer requests on behalf of white children from five families, citing continuing desegregation obligations. The district said it was still subject to a 1973 letter from the office for civil rights in the then-Department of Health, Education, and Welfare that required the district to meet certain obligations. A desegregation lawsuit involving the district was dismissed in 1978.
"While we decline to hold as a matter of law that the district" is currently subject to a desegregation mandate, said the Aug. 31 opinion by a 2-1 panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit, in St. Louis, "we do hold that the district at least had a rational basis for believing that it is subject to the mandate of a federal court or agency."
The district could reasonably decide to opt out of the choice law, the court said in its decision in Stevenson v. Blytheville School District No. 5.
(Arkansas this year amended its law on the interdistrict choice program to require districts to provide the state with clear documentation of their desegregation orders and obligations, but that didn't affect this case.)
The white families that challenged the Blytheville district's decision argued, among other things, that the district did not claim any interference with its desegregation obligations in 2009 when it allowed 250 students, most of them black, to transfer to a KIPP charter school in the district.
Vol. 35, Issue 03, Pages 8,18