Published Online: March 29, 2016
Published in Print: March 30, 2016, as Blogs of the Week

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| NEWS | High School & Beyond

To Redefine 'College Ready,' District Shifts Measurements

A school district outside Chicago has become the first to showcase a new way of measuring students' readiness for the workplace and college.

High School District 214 has adopted the Refining Ready! indicators announced last month at the national conference of AASA, the School Superintendents Association. The organization is urging districts all over the country to try it. But the group's current president, David R. Schuler, decided to use his own district for the project's maiden voyage.

The new set of metrics is intended to capture a more complete and nuanced report on students' skills and knowledge by blending a variety of measurements.

To be considered college-ready, for instance, a student must earn a grade point average of at least 2.8 out of 4.0, and then add one more factor, such as earning a C or better in an Advanced Placement course, a dual-credit class, or a remedial college English or math course. Students can choose other indicators. For example, they can combine the 2.8 GPA with a C or better in Algebra 2, or specified scores on an International Baccalaureate exam, or on the SAT or the ACT.

To be considered career-ready, a student must have stated an interest in one of 26 nationally recognized career clusters and met two of the requirements on a list that includes attending school 90 percent of the time, completing 25 hours of community service, completing a dual-credit career-pathway course, and earning an industry credential.

One of the things that led Schuler to put the new set of measures into practice in his district was the story that ACT exams told about his students. In high-performing District 214, only 47 percent of the class of 2015 met all four ACT college-readiness benchmarks (compared with 59 percent nationwide).

That picture felt incomplete to Schuler, since his district tracks students into college and has found them returning for a second year at high rates. He became convinced that a more inclusive way of defining college readiness would tell a more complete story of what makes students successful in work or postsecondary education, he said, a belief shared by many other district leaders.

–Catherine Gewertz


| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Strange Bedfellows: Pensions Of AFT Invested in Pearson

The American Federation of Teachers and other teachers' unions, here and abroad, are pressuring Pearson, the oft-villainized global education company, to review how it does business so that it becomes more profitable.

That's because the union has 27 affiliates whose pension funds are partly invested in the education behemoth.

Say what?

The AFT and its affiliates have relentlessly slammed Pearson for allegedly making poor-quality tests, for supposed "gag orders" on teachers, for its role in scoring a performance-based teacher-licensing test, and countless other things. But the AFT and its fellow unions aren't threatening to divest from the corporation. They are in essence telling Pearson that it needs to make more money, though they don't want it to be via standardized tests.

Their shareholders' resolution, to be introduced in April, would require Pearson's board of directors to "immediately conduct a thorough business-strategy review of Pearson PLC, including education commercialization and its support of high-stakes testing and low-fee private schools, and to report to shareholders within six months."

The National Education Association is joining the fight, although it isn't clear how many of its members' pension investments include Pearson holdings.

Unions typically don't themselves make pension-investment decisions—that's done by the boards that oversee the pension systems. Still, union members have some say.

Pearson, for its part, says it's already doing business differently.

The situation underscores that, for all the talk of privatization and corporate influences in education, teachers' unions are more closely tied to businesses and Wall Street matters than they sometimes like to admit.

–Stephen Sawchuk


| NEWS | K-12 Parents and the Public

Parent-Trigger Movement Fizzles Outside California

With the recent rejection of a parent-trigger petition in Los Angeles, what other states are considering new laws to give parents a route to greater power over their children's schools?

As it turns out, not many this year.

Josh Cunningham, a senior education policy specialist at the National Conference of State Legislatures, found that lawmakers in four states—Iowa, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania—have introduced bills to create parent-trigger laws. But no action has been taken.

Now, just six states have parent-trigger laws. It used to be seven.

The parent-trigger concept was popular, initially. In 2010, California was the first state to pass a law that allows parents to collect signatures in a bid to transform low-performing schools, such as by turning them into charter schools or changing the administration.

In 2013, 20 states were considering such laws, but that dropped to 13 the following year. The number has declined since then, and no new laws have passed since 2012.

California remains the only state where the law has been used, and parents in most schools where parent-trigger campaigns have been attempted have struggled to make changes.

–Sarah Tully


| NEWS | State EdWatch

Newly Elected N.Y. Schools Chancellor Voices Sympathy for Testing Opt-Outs

Betty Rosa, New York's new schools chancellor, lost no time in making waves after the state's board of regents elected her March 21 to succeed Merryl Tisch, who stepped down as chancellor that same day.

At a news conference, Rosa put herself on the side of those seeking to opt their children out of the state's standardized tests, a long-running topic of controversy in New York.

"I want to be crystal clear," Rosa said, according to Newsday. "If I was a parent and not on the board of regents, I would opt out at this time."

Further, Rosa said she believes the state's standardized tests, which are aligned to the Common Core State Standards, were designed so that many students would fail, giving policymakers a chance to point to a crisis in the state's school system.

Students are set to take the state's test, the New York State Testing Program, throughout April. Last year, 200,000, or a fifth of the state's students, opted out of the test, the newspaper said.

Rosa's position on parents opting their children out of the tests veers sharply from that of Tisch, who led the state through its adoption of the common core and tying test results to teacher evaluations—moves that the state's governor no longer supports. Tisch, whose 20-year tenure on the state board ends this month, has long dismissed the opt-out movement as destructive.

Rosa started her career as a bilingual teacher in New York City before moving up the ranks to serve as a principal and district administrator. She was appointed to the board in 2008. In recent years, she's run B.D.J. & J. Associates, a consulting agency that works with urban districts to turn around failing schools.

–Daarel Burnette II


| NEWS | District Dossier

Six Additional District Superintendents Named as Chiefs for Change Members

Six district superintendents are new members of Chiefs for Change, the national education advocacy group that focuses on implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, diversifying education leadership, and promoting innovative education practices. It includes both local superintendents and state education chiefs, current and former.

Three of the six announced last week are from Florida: Robert Avossa of Palm Beach County; Desmond Blackburn of Brevard County; and Barbara Jenkins of Orange County.

The others are Tom Boasberg, the longtime superintendent in Denver, who is currently on sabbatical; Antwan Wilson of Oakland Unified in California; and Chris Cerf, the state superintendent of the school system in Newark, N.J.

–Denisa R. Superville


| NEWS | The School Law Blog

U.S. Supreme Court Backs Indian Tribe In Case Eyed by Local School Districts

In a case being watched by school districts on or near American Indian reservations, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the right of a tribe in Nebraska to impose a liquor tax on retailers in a part of its reservation that long ago lost its Native American character.

The concern for the 350-student Pender public schools, and for similarly situated districts, is that an Indian tribe may assert greater authority in areas such as employment law and taxes.

The case, Nebraska v. Parker (Case No. 14-1406) concerns a 50,000-acre territory once considered an active part of the Omaha Tribe reservation in northeastern Nebraska. The reservation was divided by a railroad right-of-way in 1880, and eventually, the western half was settled by non-Indians. The state of Nebraska exercised jurisdiction over the western section beginning in 1882, creating municipal governments and the Pender school district.

In 2006, the Omaha tribal council approved an ordinance imposing a license requirement and sales tax on liquor on the reservation, including in the western section.

Several residents of the western section sued the tribe in federal district court, arguing that the reservation had been "diminished" under federal Indian law. The district court ruled that the plaintiffs had to first take their case to the Omaha Tribal Court. That court ruled that the original boundaries of the reservation had not been diminished.

In its unanimous decision last week, the Supreme Court ruled for the Omaha Tribe.

–Mark Walsh

Vol. 35, Issue 26, Pages 10,16

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