Published Online: February 16, 2016
Published in Print: February 17, 2016, as Blogs

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| NEWS | Teaching Now

Educators Talk About How They Know They’re in the Right School

Every school is different. Different administrators, different colleagues, different families, different buildings—very possibly, different funding and curricula, too. Finding the right school might be a big challenge, but how hard is it really?

We recently held a Twitter chat to dive into those topics. Our #ewedchat featured Eric Cooper, the president of the teacher-training-focused National Urban Alliance, and Danielle Brown, a national-board-certified teacher from Arizona. While the discussion covered a lot of ground, it’s worth highlighting two questions that dealt explicitly with how teachers enter and exit schools.

Q: As a new teacher, how much did you know about the school you ended up at?

Carly Lutzmann: “For me, it was easy to pick up the routines of my school, but harder to understand and apply system-level expectations.”

Diana Maskell: “It’s hard to ‘know’ about a school until you experience it firsthand. Often, what you think you know is merely another’s opinion.”

Kim Dunnagan: “When I walked in the door, the two secretaries greeted me warmly and carried on a pleasant conversation. That is all I needed!”

National Urban Alliance: “Had to ask the students who they thought was the best teacher. I went to that teacher and learned from that teacher.”

Q: What factors do teachers consider when deciding whether or not to leave a school?

Cody Norton: “Are kids and families treated with respect? Would I ever let my future children attend this school? I said no & had to leave.”

Mr. K!: “Was I happy in the school? The community? Was there room to grow or had I reached my full potential here?”

Danielle Brown: “Is the district about change & thought based on student needs. Are school & community focused on what students need?”

Owl Mt. Coach: “Decision to leave: poor administrative support and incompetence.”

Christine Dahnke: “Feeling empowered, room for growth, feedback, and visionary leadership.”

National Urban Alliance: “Retention plans that ignore the uniqueness of each teacher have an inherent weakness, which can also lead to departure.”

If none of that sounds new, it’s because it really isn’t. Studies have shown that many of the factors mentioned influence teacher attrition. In a sense, this chat served to tie anecdote and living educators to a wealth of data and research on this topic.

But as former educator Rosa Nam wrote in an Education Week Teacher commentary last year, there’s another reason for teachers’ leaving: Sometimes, it’s the right thing to do:

“My students deserve a better teacher. In an ideal world, the folks in charge of educating the youth of America would be the most passionate, level-headed, mentally stable, and educated scholars amongst us, but that’s like finding a unicorn. All I know for sure is that teaching can be depressing.”

–Ross Brenneman


| NEWS | Digital Education

Tennessee Online Test Crashes, Causing Return to Paper and Pencil

Tennessee officials have halted the online administration of the state’s assessment after widespread failures that they attributed to a “procedural problem with the vendor.”

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen said the breakdowns occurred on the morning of the first day of testing, in the first year that the exams were implemented by a new testing vendor for the state, Measurement Inc.

As the scope of the breakdowns became evident, state officials directed districts to postpone the exams until paper officials directed districts to postpone the exams until paper and-pencil versions could be printed and distributed.

According to McQueen, state education department officials had been working with the Durham, N.C.-based company since an October “stress test” of the platform to increase server capacity and fix problems.

State officials said that shortcomings discovered during that stress test, and ongoing concerns about the stability of the platform—called Measurement Incorporated Secure Testing, or MIST—led them to alert districts two weeks ago that they had the option of testing with paper and pencil.

Then, last week, a new batch of network failures, unrelated to the issues that officials thought were fixed, forced the state to require all schools to administer hard copies of the exam.

In a conference call with reporters, McQueen blamed the vendor for the failures. But she also ultimately said, “When you are talking about the vendor, you are talking about the state,” and that districts “are absolutely not to blame.”

Cliff Lloyd, the department’s chief information officer, said the breakdowns “occurred because of processes kicked off by the vendor,” which led to flooded servers and system failures.

In a statement, Measurement Inc.’s president, Henry Scherich, voiced confidence in the platform, saying that Tennessee students took more than 1.1 million practice assessments in January to get ready for this week’s exams.

He added that the company is convinced that the server-overload problem has been fixed and attributed the problems some students had logging in to “improper network utilization, not [platform] functionality.”

Disruptions of online assessments have become common across the country, enraging district leaders, teachers, and parents, and fueling anti-testing sentiment.

Causes of breakdowns have varied. Recent testing failures in Kentucky and Florida were later linked to cyberattacks.

Tennessee is one of many states that have embarked on the transition to online platforms for administering their state assessments in recent years. Recent analyses, however, have shown that the format in which students take tests can affect their scores.

–Leo Doran


| NEWS | State EdWatch

La.'s Governor, Attorney General Clash Over Common-Core Suit

Louisiana's attorney general says that the lawsuit against President Barack Obama over the common core that Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards dropped earlier this month is not his to drop.

Attorney General Jeff Landry filed papers Feb. 8 with the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to let him take over as the plaintiff for former Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, who filed the lawsuit in 2014, shortly before his failed bid to become the GOP presidential nominee. In the lawsuit, he alleged that the federal government manipulated billions of dollars in grant money and policy waivers to illegally pressure states to adopt the Common Core State Standards.

A federal judge said in September that the standards don't represent an improper intrusion into education by Washington. Jindal pledged to appeal the ruling. But Edwards, elected in December, said Feb. 4 that he was dropping the long-standing legal challenge.

He said the recent passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which specifically bars the federal government from mandating standards, coupled with the state's own efforts to rewrite its standards, make the lawsuit "educationally and financially unnecessary," according to the Associated Press. The state has paid close to $450,000 to its lawyer, Jimmy Faircloth, to handle the case, the AP reported.

The state's attorney general, however, says he's the one empowered under the state constitution to decide what lawsuits proceed or are dropped—not the governor.The governor disagrees. "As in any case, the client—not the attorney—should ultimately make the decisions on the course of action, and I have decided that this case will not proceed," Edwards wrote to Landry, according to a letter made public to the AP.

–Daarel Burnette II


| NEWS | Politics K-12

States Without Waivers From NCLB Off the Hook on Tutoring, Choice

It's official: States without waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act no longer have to set aside a hefty portion of their federal Title I funds in order to provide for tutoring and school choice. That list includes California, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Vermont, Washington state, and Wyoming.

The U.S. Department of Education, which made that announcement Feb. 5, had already essentially said as much in previous guidance for states wondering how the transition from the NCLB law to the Every Student Succeeds Act, the new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, will work.

Some background: The NCLB law called for schools that continually failed to meet achievement targets—which is most schools in the states without waivers at this point—to set aside 20 percent of their federal Title I funds for disadvantaged students for public school choice or tutoring. But the ESSA gets rid of that requirement. Plus, it's already moot for the 42 states with waivers from the NCLB law.

Still, since the ESSA doesn't fully kick in until the 2017-18 school year, states without waivers have been asking where they stand when it comes to the set-aside.

Those states will have to come up with another plan to support schools where students were previously missing achievement targets, the department told Michael Kirst, the president of the California school board, in a letter.

And the plan doesn't necessarily have to include every school in the state that was eligible for choice and tutoring. Instead, states should put a premium on the schools where a large percentage or number of students are falling behind. The plan, which will apply to the 2016-17 school year only, needs to be developed by March 1, with input from parents, teachers, students, districts, and others. And it must explain just how the state plans to help students succeed academically.

What's more, students who are already taking advantage of public school choice get to stay in their school until they've completed the highest grade it offers.

–Alyson Klein


| NEWS | Inside School Research

IES Launches Latest Competition For Regional Network of Ed. Labs

The Institute of Education Sciences continues its push for more alliances between researchers and school districts with the opening earlier this month of its competition for the next iteration of the regional educational laboratory network.

The 10 regional labs are now operating 79 alliances among researchers, teachers, and education policymakers. The next group of regional labs will be expected to continue and expand the alliances, including with professional organizations that support teachers, principals, and other school officials. All the labs except REL Southwest will be selected this fall, to begin next January; the Southwest lab is 11 months behind the others because of a protest during the last grant competition that delayed its start. Each contract will run five years.

–Sarah D. Sparks

Vol. 35, Issue 21, Page 16

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