Published Online: March 22, 2016
Published in Print: March 23, 2016, as Blogs of the Week

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| NEWS | Marketplace K-12

New Ed-Tech Consortium Investigates iPad Pricing

A new nonprofit organization that has set out to help districts compare the prices they pay for educational technology has come out of the gate with an ambitious project: data that question the prices Apple is charging districts for a popular model of iPads.

The Technology for Education Consortium says its research, based on surveys of 40 districts, shows that the prices those school systems paid for iPads with the same features and design ranged from $367 to $499. That gap can't be explained by the volume of the purchases or related factors, the group says.

The consortium's data are aggregated among districts, and the names and prices paid by the individual school systems were not released.

Apple responded to the research by saying that without having more details on the prices specific districts paid, it can't know if the information is accurate or skewed by unknown factors.

Soon, the consortium will produce other evaluations of ed-tech pricing, including a study of what districts are paying for Chromebooks, said Hal Friedlander, its CEO and co-founder.

"Every year, American K-12 schools spend billions of dollars on education technology," the organization, underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, says on its website. "Until now, they didn't have the tools to know if that money was being spent effectively." (The foundation also helps support certain reporting by Education Week.)

The consortium did not reveal the names of the individual districts or what each of them paid. Friedlander said the organization did not want to embarrass school systems that may have paid more than others, but rather provide them with useful information to help raise awareness of pricing disparities.

But as a service to the districts, it will provide them with national and regional pricing data. It is also willing to act as a go-between, sharing pricing data between comparable K-12 systems with their consent, Friedlander said.

–Sean Cavanagh

| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Southern Lawmakers Rethink Teacher Reviews

After years of fierce debates over the effectiveness and fairness of the methodology, several Southern lawmakers are looking to minimize the weight placed on so-called value-added measures, derived from how much students' test scores changed, in teacher-evaluation systems.

In part because these states are home to some of the weakest teachers' unions in the country, Southern policymakers were able to push past arguments that the state tests were ill-suited for teacher-evaluation purposes, and that such systems would punish teachers for working in the toughest classrooms. States such as Georgia, Louisiana, and Tennessee became some of the earliest and strongest adopters of the practice. But in the past few weeks, lawmakers have introduced bills to limit the practice.

In February, the Georgia Senate unanimously passed a bill that would reduce the student-growth component from half of a teacher's evaluation down to 30 percent. Similarly, the Louisiana House adopted a measure this month that would reduce student-growth weight from 50 percent to 35 percent. And legislation in the Tennessee House would reduce the weight of student-growth data through the 2018-19 school year, until the state school board evaluates the policy's effectiveness.

Lawmakers in Florida, Kentucky, and Oklahoma have introduced similar bills, according to the Southern Regional Education Board.

By and large, states adopted these test-score-centric teacher-evaluation systems to obtain waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act's requirement that all students be "proficient" in math and reading by 2014. To get a federal waiver, states had to adopt systems that evaluated teachers, "in significant part, based on student growth."

The NCLB law's replacement, the Every Student Succeeds Act, doesn't require states to have a teacher-evaluation system at all, but state superintendents say they remain committed to maintaining systems that regularly review teachers.

–Emmanuel Felton

| NEWS | Politics K-12

King Gives Message to Districts: Get ESSA Planning Underway

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. is urging high-flying district leaders to start thinking now about how their states should gauge school performance and intervene in struggling schools under the recently passed Every Student Succeeds Act.

English and math performance may be necessary for long-term success, but they may not be sufficient to a get a full picture of school performance, King said in a March 11 interview at Education Week's Leaders To Learn From event in Washington, which honors outstanding work by district leaders around the country.

"A quality education must mean more," King said. "A quality education must mean a well-rounded education. A quality education must mean what we'd want for our own children—science and social studies and access to the arts," as well as opportunities for social-emotional learning and health.

Under ESSA, states have to pick at least one indicator of school quality—like teacher engagement, student engagement, or success in advanced coursework—to gauge school performance. But if these new systems are actually going to work, "innovative and courageous" educators need to get involved, King said.

"You've got to be a part of these state conversations to make them transformative," said King, who was confirmed as secretary by the U.S. Senate on March 14.

Later, in a question-and-answer session with Virginia B. Edwards, the editor-in-chief of Education Week, King addressed the timeline for implementation of ESSA.

That timeline is being developed based on public comment and input, he said. The goal, he said is a regulatory framework and a guidance framework by the end of the year.

Edwards noted that means the next administration would be doing most of the plan-approving.

"I think that's right," King said. "But our hope is that one of the goals in this conversation is that folks have to start now thinking about what are those accountability indicators, what are those interventions. That's not a conversation that should wait until after [our] regulatory process is done."

–Alyson Klein

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Trump Sees an Education Role For Former Rival Ben Carson

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump said at the recent GOP White House hopefuls' debate in Miami that former presidential candidate Ben Carson would be "very involved with education, something that's an expertise of his," in a Trump administration.

He stopped short, however, of specifying exactly what role Carson, who has endorsed Trump, would have if Trump were to be elected.

Trump's comments at the March 10 debate came in response to a question about the Common Core State Standards, which Trump said he wants to get rid of.

As far as Carson and education goes, "he has such a great handle on it," Trump said. "He wants competitive schools. He wants a lot of different things that are terrific, including charter schools, by the way, that the unions are fighting like crazy. But charter schools work, and they work very well."

–Daarel Burnette II

Vol. 35, Issue 25, Pages 11,18

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