Published Online: October 27, 2015
Published in Print: October 28, 2015, as Blogs

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| NEWS | Marketplace K-12

Educators in the Middle East Tackle the Common Core

The United Arab Emirates might seem an unlikely place to find a conference on the Common Core State Standards. But Dubai was center stage this month for about 200 educators from the Middle East and North Africa who met to delve into the common core.

Despite the fact that eight states in the United States are not on board with the common core, the standards have been embraced by 110 private schools in the UAE, said Alison Burrows, the co-founder of KDSL, a UAE-based education company that organized the conference.

"There are hundreds of thousands of K-12 students here who don't qualify for public school," she said, because the government only provides a free education for its citizens. "We have a huge international private school market offering various curricula—American being one of the most favored."

Each emirate has its own regulatory agency for private schools. In Dubai, it's the Knowledge and Human Development Authority, and this organization requires American-curriculum schools to use the common core. It partners with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, which inspects the American-oriented schools annually, according to Burrows. That review is central to the adoption of the common core: "If schools here want to be competitive with schools back home," they need to follow the standards, she said.

The keynote presenter at the conference was Norman Webb, who created the "depth of knowledge" classification system to explore the extent to which the common-core assessments gauge students' deeper learning. Among the exhibitors was WebbAlign, a program based on his research to help K-12 educational publishers validate the rigor of their curricula and assessments. The common-core standards—which have been much discussed, debated, and challenged in the United States—are being studied, taught, and implemented with interest in the Middle East, Burrows said.

—Michele Molnar

| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

Clockmaker's White House Visit Shines Light on School Discipline

Teenage clockmaker Ahmed Mohamed's visit to the White House astronomy night last week has once again stirred conversations about discipline and racial justice in schools.

Ahmed, a Muslim from a Sudanese-American family, drew international press coverage last month when police arrested him at his Irving, Texas, school after teachers said his homemade clock looked like a "hoax bomb." Police later filed no charges, though Ahmed did serve a multiday suspension related to the incident.

His supporters said the case demonstrates how discipline is often administered unfairly, especially for students of color. But some said the public was too quick to judge educators and police who were responding to what they saw as a potential safety threat.

The boy and his family have been on a sometimes bizarre international press tour. As Mashable points out, it included meetings with tech leaders, appearances at conferences, and even a meeting with the Sudanese president and alleged war criminal Omar al-Bashir.

The whole experience culminated in a quick meeting with President Obama as Ahmed joined other science-minded teenagers to gaze at the stars from the White House lawn.

The Advancement Project, a Washington-based racial-justice organization, was quick to highlight that Ahmed isn't the first student to be disciplined for a science project.

Kiera Wilmot, a black Florida student, was arrested in 2013 on two felony charges after her science experiment, a volcano model, malfunctioned. She was later expelled and then allowed to return to school and graduate following a public outcry, the organization said.

"We should be encouraging young scientists like Ahmed and Kiera, not criminalizing them because of race," Thena Robinson Mock, a project official, said in a statement.

–Evie Blad

| NEWS | Teaching Now

New York Principal Orders Teachers' Desks Thrown Out

Teachers at a New York City elementary school got their furniture back last week after they were suddenly ordered to remove all desks and cabinets from their classrooms.

Donna Connelly, the principal of PS 24 Spuyten Duyvil School in Riverdale, had the furniture thrown out because she didn't want teachers sitting, according to a story first reported in the New York Post.

Connelly had teachers clear out their desks and filing cabinets while classes were in session. Custodians then dumped the desks at the curb.

Photographs of the desks piled up on the street were uploaded to a teacher's Facebook page, which has since been deleted. The post sparked hundreds of outraged comments criticizing the principal for her behavior.

After an uproar from teachers and Post readers, District 10 Superintendent Melodie Mashel ordered the return of the furniture, which then was stored in the basement.

Last week, Connelly sent a staffwide email saying she would be returning desks to classrooms, the Post said.

The idea of removing the front-and-center teacher's desk from classrooms has become popular in recent years as educators have sought to create nontraditional learning spaces and to circulate more among students.

–Elisha McNeil

| NEWS | On Special Education

Congressional Watchdog Agency Focuses on Special Education Aid

Loosening the reins on state and district special education spending could lead to more innovation without damaging student services, says a new report from a congressional watchdog agency.

The Government Accountability Office was asked to look into special education spending—specifically, the provisions around "maintenance of effort."

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act requires, with few exceptions, that school districts and states spend the same amount or more on special education from year to year. That eliminates wild swings in funding, and ensures that spending can only go up, not down.

The GAO, which surveyed states and school district leaders, reported that in some cases, the maintenance-of-effort requirement dampens innovation in special education. For example, districts have no incentive to look for efficiencies in spending, because they can't actually reduce the amount of money they spend from year to year. And from another perspective, there's also no incentive to make a short-term increase in spending—such as to launch a new initiative—because that increase will be locked in forever.

Congress should step in to develop a less stringent maintenance-of-effort requirement, the Oct. 19 report suggests. Districts could be given permission to do one-time increases without changing the baseline funding requirement. At the same time, districts should be allowed to cut spending if they can demonstrate that it doesn't affect student services.

AASA, the School Superintendents Association, released a statement not long after the report came out, saying that it supported the GAO's findings. The organization is backing legislation that would allow school districts to cut back on special education spending if they could show that students were receiving all the services they are entitled to.

–Christina A. Samuels

| NEWS | Politics K-12

House Approves Reauthorization of D.C. School Voucher Program

The U.S. House of Representatives has voted to reauthorize the Scholarships for Opportunity and Results Act, or SOAR, which creates vouchers for a certain number of K-12 students in the District of Columbia. But what will happen after the House's passage of the bill, HR 10, is unclear.

The Opportunity Scholarship program is a political favorite of House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, and he's intent on making sure his name stays with the program even after he leaves Congress. The bill was approved by the House on Oct. 21 on a 240-191 vote, even though the program isn't technically up for renewal this year. (Remember, at one time, Boehner was the chairman of the House education committee, and fought unsuccessfully for the inclusion of a voucher program during negotiations over what became the No Child Left Behind Act.)

Six other lawmakers co-sponsored HR 10, including Rep. John Kline, the Minnesota Republican who now leads the House education committee, and one Democrat, Illinois Rep. Dan Lipinski.

However, the Senate still needs to sign off on HR 10, and that's no sure thing. And Boehner and Kline have also fought with the Obama administration over the program—they have argued that the administration has thrown unnecessary obstacles in the program's way.

In 2012, congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama did agree to a deal to raise the cap on the number of students who could use the vouchers, from 1,615 to 1,700, and simultaneously conduct an evaluation of the program.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Early Years

Poll Finds Support for Increases to Federal Early-Ed. Spending

A national poll shows a growing appetite among voters for a federal investment in expanding early-childhood education, with 76 percent of respondents saying they would strongly support (50 percent) or somewhat support (26 percent) such a proposal. This is the strongest support seen in the annual poll since it was launched in 2013.

"For the first time in our three years of polling, American voters' top priority is making sure children get a strong start in life, a concern equal to improving the overall quality of public education," said Kris Perry, the executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocacy group.

This year's poll was again commissioned by the group and conducted by the polling firms Hart Research and Public Opinion Strategies. Among the highlights:

• 72 percent of respondents said the government should be doing more to ensure children start kindergarten with necessary skills.

• 88 percent of respondents agreed (66 percent strongly) with the statement "Access to quality early-childhood education is not a luxury, but a need for many families."

• 6 percent of voters said they would hold a less favorable view of a presidential candidate who supported such spending.

• 79 percent of respondents from swing states said they would support a proposal to increase federal spending on early-childhood programs. (Swing states included Colorado, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and Wisconsin.)

• 59 percent of Republicans said they would support a proposal to spend more federal money on early-childhood education.

–Lillian Mongeau

Vol. 35, Issue 10, Pages 8,18

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