Published Online: April 19, 2016
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| NEWS | K-12 Parents and the Public

Districts Try to Simplify School Choice Process

Two major urban areas are trying to make it easier for parents to choose and enroll their children in schools. But Los Angeles and Detroit district officials are taking opposite approaches.

Los Angeles Unified wants to start a one-stop application for its specialized schools, such as magnets and dual-language programs. But the district plans to exclude charter schools.

Detroit only has charter schools and one private campus in its new application system. No regular district schools are involved.

Districts nationwide are increasingly trying to simplify the way parents apply for a myriad of public school choices and make the process more equitable. Single-enrollment systems, especially, have caught on in districts with many options, such as efforts started in 2012 with Denver and New Orleans. But the results have been mixed and have resulted in parent complaints, such as in Newark, N.J.

Both Los Angeles and Detroit have neighborhood schools, along with charters and other options.

The 640,000-student Los Angeles district recently started discussing a unified-enrollment process to help parents navigate the district's eight or so specialized programs, as well as its traditional district schools.

Now, if parents want to leave their neighborhood schools, every program has a different application system. The enrollment process spreads over eight months, said Jesus Angulo, the director of academic and counseling services.

The district wants to crunch down the window to about six weeks in the fall each year as a way to better "support communities and families so they can make important choices for their sons or daughters," he said.

District officials in Detroit were initially part of the talks to join the common-enrollment system, but the 50,000-student school system decided to stay out for now.

The district has been under state oversight and emergency managers since 2009.

"Given the state of transition that currently exists in the district, we elected not to join in the pilot program," said Michelle Zdrodowski, a Detroit spokeswoman, in a statement.

Meanwhile, Detroit families with children entering kindergarten or 9th grade can choose among more than 40 schools during the 30-day window this month, according to the Detroit Free Press.

–Sarah Tully


| NEWS | Rural Education

How Student-Led Confabs Could Help Rural Schools

Eight years ago, the rural Pittsfield, N.H., district had one of the state's lowest-performing schools. Parent involvement was low, with fewer than 20 percent showing up for parent-teacher conferences.

Then, in 2012, the district received a $2 million grant to focus on student-centered learning, which gives students more choice over their learning and also increases the responsibility students have over their academics. As part of this model, the district adopted student-led conferences, which put students in charge of relaying their academic progress to parents.

This model is examined in a recent story by The Hechinger Report, which suggests that those conferences could help rural schools deal with such chronic problems as low college-enrollment rates and a lack of parent participation.

In Pittsfield, officials say the conferences are teaching students valuable lessons and skills. They must organize the conferences with school officials, invite their parents through a formal letter, and prepare a work portfolio. During the conferences, they present their work to their parents or guardians, as well as their progress toward various goals.

District officials say the process is helping students set goals for their future, and parent participation has increased. Now, 90 percent of parents attend conferences. A key feature of the process is that the district accommodates parent schedules, which can be especially helpful in rural districts where there are few public-transportation options and work commutes can be lengthy.

Some potential challenges have arisen, however, according to the story. School officials have seen parents and children disagree about long-term goals that are brought up during the conferences, such as attending college out of state. Parents of juniors and seniors also may start seeing the conferences as "familiar and even rote," after attending for several years, which means the content may need to change for older students.

–Jackie Mader


| NEWS | Charters & Choice

Teachers' Union to Help File Suit Against Washington Charter Law

The Washington Education Association says it plans to help file a lawsuit challenging the state's latest charter school law.

Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, allowed a bill that restores funding to the state's charter schools to pass into law this month without his signature.

The Washington Supreme Court in September ruled that the original law, passed by voter referendum in 2012, was unconstitutional. The court argued that charters did not qualify as "common" schools—basically, public schools—because they were not overseen by locally elected school boards and, therefore, were not eligible to draw money from the general fund.

Charter school advocates championed the bill that eventually passed, which directs charters to draw from a new funding source and puts more regulations on the schools.

But the WEA, which helped spearhead the first lawsuit, said in a statement April 7 that there are two major flaws with the new law: It still does not require enough oversight from publicly elected officials, and it still diverts money from district schools, even though it calls for drawing from a separate pool of money.

"This law still does not meet our state's rigorous standards for funding, accountability, or public education," said union President Kim Mead in the statement. "It shortchanges the more than 1 million public school students who are still waiting for the state to meet its constitutional obligation to them and their education."

The same year the first charter law was passed by voters, the state's supreme court ruled in a case called McCleary v. Washington that lawmakers were failing to adequately fund public education. Last August, the court declared the legislature in contempt and levieda daily $100,000 fine on the state. Lawmakers failed to resolve the issues raised in McCleary this session, instead passing legislation committing lawmakers to design and approve a plan for satisfying the court next year.

The WEA is joining a coalition that includes several other state labor unions to bring the lawsuit, which it said could take up to two months to file.

–Arianna Prothero


| NEWS | Politics K-12

ESSA Groundwork Expected to Last Beyond Election, Ed. Secretary Says

In a wide-ranging breakfast discussion with reporters last week, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. discussed, among other things, rulemaking under the Every Student Succeeds Act and state testing policy.

But he sidestepped at least one sticky topic: presidential politics.

With the clock ticking on the Obama administration's time in office, King wouldn't say if he's worried that his team will spend a year regulating ESSA with an eye toward what it sees as student equity, only to have a President Donald Trump or a President Ted Cruz come in and take a wrecking ball to everything the team did.

"I'm very focused on the things that we can try to effect between now and January 2017, putting in place the best possible framework for state implementation of the law," King said. "I believe that the law reflects not only a consensus but a national consensus around the importance of students graduating college- and career-ready. This work is not just about what happens here, it's about a national consensus around how we move education forward."

He added: "I'm confident that the groundwork that we are laying today will be something that the next administration can build on."

–Alyson Klein


| NEWS | State EdWatch

Md.-Passed Bill Would Scale Back On Kindergarten-Readiness Tests

Maryland legislators have passed legislation that would limit the administration of a controversial kindergarten assessment to only a sampling of children, rather than to the state's entire kindergarten population.

The exam, known as the Kindergarten Readiness Assessment, attempts to determine a child's social skills and word development by having teachers observe pupils' playtime. It was seen as one of many efforts to size up children as they enter the K-12 system.

But in a union-conducted survey of the state's kindergarten teachers last year, teachers said the exam took up way too much class time and was developmentally inappropriate.

The legislation, which was passed in the legislature's recently concluded session but had yet to be signed by the governor as of last week, would prohibit any "statewide kindergarten assessment from being administered to an enrolled prekindergarten student unless it is being administered by a school psychologist or other school-based professional who intends to use the results in order to identify a disability."

"This is exactly what happens when legislators listen to the perspective of experts in schools," Maryland State Education Association President Betty Weller said in a statement. "Due to the [test], students lost out on instruction time during perhaps the most crucial learning period in their school experience—when they should be forming important learning habits and learning to play well with others. This bill will restore time for thousands of our youngest learners to play, learn, and develop a love for school."

–Daarel Burnette II

Vol. 35, Issue 28, Pages 10,15

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