Published Online: October 20, 2015
Published in Print: October 21, 2015, as Blogs

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| NEWS | High School & Beyond

College Readiness? What About High School Readiness?

With policymakers focused heavily on the college-readiness agenda, educators at the middle school level are working in a variety of ways to make sure that young adolescents are ready to do well in high school.

One bit of news on the high school readiness front comes from a nonprofit organization called Spark, which recently won a $1.2 million grant to help 4,100 middle school students choose high schools and make smooth transitions into 9th grade.

Spark has been running apprenticeship programs for 7th and 8th graders in those cities. The three-year grant from the Michael & Susan Dell Foundation will enable the group to expand its work in Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and the San Francisco Bay Area for students who are showing signs of disengaging from school.

It will scale up work it piloted in Chicago, using counseling workshops to help students evaluate their options for high school, and to be prepared for the social and emotional parts of the transition, according to Spark officials. The work will also include a peer-to-peer support system that employs Spark program alumni, and use of a database and a guide that outlines the steps students must go through to apply to, and enroll in, high school.

Another interesting project in high school readiness comes from California, in a group of six districts that have been pushing the boundaries on new kinds of accountability. The CORE districts are trying to design school measures that provide a more nuanced, detailed look at students' progress, and that also encourage the kinds of school improvement they value.

In that spirit, one of the metrics the CORE districts wanted to use in their new approach to accountability was to track students not just from 8th grade into 9th, but right on into 10th grade.

When leaders of the consortium analyzed the data, however, they wondered if they'd set their sights on the wrong thing. They were surprised to find reasonably good transition rates by 10th grade, Oakland Unified's Superintendent Antwan Wilson writes in a recent piece for EdSource.

"When we dug into the data a little more deeply, it became clear that many of those 10th grade students were so deficient in school credits that they were not truly on a path to graduating from high school," he writes.

The districts decided to base their high school readiness metric on students' attendance, grades, and history of suspensions from school—factors that proved to be better indicators of success than simply having "made it" into 10th grade.

–Catherine Gewertz


| NEWS | Teaching Now

Frustrated Seattle Parent Donates $70,000 to Save Teacher's Job

A Seattle parent has reportedly donated $70,000 to save a teaching job at an elementary school that his own kids don't even attend.

Perhaps even more interestingly, the guy says he did it to some degree out of spite: "My broader goal was to shame the [district] administration and the legislature and the mayor, for the fact that a private citizen and parents are putting up money to support children, because they're doing nothing," Brian Jones told local news station KIRO7.

At issue is the Seattle district's plan to reassign some two dozen teachers on account of lower-than-expected enrollments across the system, which has caused a reported $4 million drop in state funding.

In addition to staging protests, parent organizations at some of the affected schools have launched fundraisers to save teaching positions.

Jones, who runs a documentary-film-production company, made his generous donation to Alki Elementary after reading that a parent group there had started a campaign to raise the $90,000 they were told they had to have to keep a jeopardized teaching slot.

Jones said he has no ties to Alki—his one school-age daughter goes to Loyal Heights Elementary—but was moved by the difficulty of the school's situation and wanted to bring attention to what he sees as negligence on the part of lawmakers and education leaders.

"I'm not Bill Gates. ... This was a large sum of money for me to do," he told KIRO7.

Other parents' donations and fundraising activities also seem intended in part to send pointed messages to policymakers about the budget situation.

According to The Seattle Times, a group called Teacher Retention Advocate Parents held a "half-baked sale" at the district's headquarter's last week "to highlight the absurdity of trying to fund basic education with bake sales and car washes."

In response to parents' concerns about the reassignment plan, a district spokesperson cited the state legislature's "responsibility to fund K-12 education in Washington state," The Times reported.

–Anthony Rebora


| NEWS | Politics K-12

Key Programs Alive in Rewrite of NCLB, But Dead in Budget

If you care about K-12 education, there are two things you’re probably watching in Congress this fall: the federal budget process and the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

But when it comes to some federal programs—including top priorities of the Obama administration and congressional Democrats—these two legislative trains don’t seem to be on the same track.

There are a handful of high-profile programs that the Obama administration and other key Democratic lawmakers pushed to include in a bipartisan Senate bill to reauthorize ESEA.

But those same programs, or others with similar purposes, get zero dollars in a partisan spending bill approved this year by the Senate appropriations committee. They’re also nixed in a House appropriations bill.

The programs include: Preschool Development grants, Investing in Innovation, and Striving Readers, a literacy program for needy schools.

By contrast, the Senate’s bipartisan ESEA bill includes new state grants for early-childhood education, some language allowing for federal funds to be used for i3-like purposes, and a comprehensive literacy program.

How exactly can these programs exist in one bill and not the other? The ESEA renewal bill is an “authorization” bill, meaning it details what policies should govern K-12 education but doesn’t actually fund them. That’s left up to “appropriations” bills.

But here’s the problem: Once a program is defunded, it’s hard to get the money back.

So why bother fighting and horse-trading for a new authorization if the spending committee isn’t going to cough up the funds to make the program a reality?

“You want to have an authorization,” said Joel Packer, the executive director of the Committee for Education Funding. “If your program is not authorized, then that’s that.”

So far, Democratic lawmakers haven’t made a huge deal about the differences between the spending bill and the ESEA bill publicly, probably in the spirit of harmony and bipartisanship. Will that continue?

–Alyson Klein


| NEWS | School Law Blog

Supreme Court Weighs Possibility of New Sentencing for 'Lifers'

The U.S. Supreme Court last week took up the case of the life-without-parole punishment of a Louisiana high school student convicted of murdering a sheriff’s deputy. As it happens, Henry Montgomery was a 17-year-old junior at Scotlandville Senior High School in East Baton Rouge in 1963 when the murder occurred.

John F. Kennedy was president, public schools in Louisiana were still segregated, and racial turmoil pervaded the areas where a black teenager shot to death a white law-enforcement officer. Montgomery was convicted and sentenced to death. But he later won a new trial, was convicted again, and sentenced to life without parole.

Now 69, Montgomery has been in the state’s infamous Angola prison for more than half a century. His case has reached the U.S. Supreme Court because, in 2012, the court ruled that mandatory life without parole for those younger than 18 at the time of their crimes violates the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. A key question left unresolved by that decision in Miller v. Alabama was whether it would apply retroactively to some 2,500 people already serving such sentences for crimes committed as juveniles.

In oral arguments Oct. 13 in Montgomery v. Louisiana, lawyers for the prisoner and for the Obama administration urged the justices to make Miller retroactive.

“Miller said that juvenile homicide offenders should not have to die in prison with no chance for rehabilitation and no consideration of youth,” Mark D. Plaisance, Montgomery’s lawyer, told the court.

S. Kyle Duncan, the lawyer for the state, told the justices that Miller was not a substantive change in the law because it did not take life-without-parole sentences completely off the table. He also said there would be “adverse consequences” of resentencing prisoners so long after their crimes.

–Mark Walsh


| NEWS | State EdWatch

Backtracking, Chief Says Ark. Will Use PARCC Cutoff Scores

Last week, Arkansas announced that it would use a lower cutoff score on the PARCC exam to determine whether students are on track for college- and career-readiness than the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers does itself. Just a day later, state schools chief Johnny Key reversed course.

First, the state said it would consider students scoring at a Level 3 or higher on the test to be on track. However, the PARCC consortium only considers students scoring at Levels 4 and 5 as demonstrating they’re on track for higher education and the workforce.

The next day, however, Key said the language his department used to describe college- and career-readiness left a “misleading impression” with the public.

“Our description ... was in error,” Key said in his statement. “We should have then, as we will from this point forward, used the actual descriptions from PARCC to accurately reflect the performance of students.”

PARCC can’t tell states how to describe student performance on the exam to the public, or how those scores are used.

Last month, Ohio decided to describe students scoring at Level 3 as proficient.

–Andrew Ujifusa

Vol. 35, Issue 09, Pages 9,16

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