Education Best of the Blogs


August 05, 2014 7 min read
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| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

The Case for Including Girls In ‘My Brother’s Keeper’

Many women and girls of color believe President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative is unfairly overlooking their gender. The president launched the effort to “address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color and ensure that all young people can reach their full potential.”

A fact sheet about the initiative cites poverty, single parents, dropout rates, “negative interactions with the juvenile- and criminal-justice system,” and college inaccessibility as some of the challenges boys face.

But those problems are also true for girls of color, proponents of expanding the initiative say. A letter from more than 1,000 black and Latina women and girls questions why the effort targets only boys. “We simply cannot agree that the effects of these conditions on women and girls should pale to the point of invisibility,” it says, “and are of such little significance that they warrant zero attention.”

Girls from racial- and ethnic-minority groups also face high rates of sexual assault and other violence, the letter says. And it says that the needs of boys of color are better known not because they are more significant, but because they are researched in greater depth.

–Evie Blad

| NEWS | Inside School Research

Researchers Advise White House On Better, Cheaper Studies

Researchers met with White House officials from the office of science and technology policy last week to discuss ways to make high-quality experimental research less expensive and quicker to turn around to educators in the field.

Groups involved in education, health, and workplace-safety studies—all of which were winners of new experimental design grants from the Washington-based Coalition for Evidence-Based Policy—shared their experiences and offered policy advice for ways that lawmakers can encourage faster, cheaper randomized controlled studies using the massive amounts of administrative data that schools produce.

Experts from the Aspen Institute called in May for such a meeting. They argued that “the constellation of organizations and agencies conducting and disseminating education research is too fragmented and disjointed, rendering the enterprise much less helpful than it could be to policymakers and practitioners alike.”

A report on the proceedings is expected and may give a boost to the long-awaited reauthorization of the federal Education Sciences Reform Act.

–Sarah D. Sparks

| NEWS | Learning the Language

More States Support Bilingualism With Special Seals on Diplomas

A small but growing number of states are promoting bilingualism among K-12 students by offering special recognition on high school diplomas for those who demonstrate fluency in two or more languages.

Oregon has been piloting a “seal of biliteracy” in a handful of districts and will offer the special recognition statewide in the coming school year. Lawmakers in Louisiana, New Mexico, and Washington state approved bilingual seals in the spring. Several other states—Florida, Utah, and Wisconsin among them—are working on proposals.

California was the first to offer the seal and has since been joined by New York, Illinois, and Texas.

The push for the seals of biliteracy stems in part from the expansion of dual-language programs that bring both native English-speakers and English-language learners together in classrooms to learn all academic content in English and the target language.

–Lesli A. Maxwell

| NEWS | Digital Education

Teacher Designs App to Help Colleagues ‘CYA’ for Evaluations

For many teachers, the prospect of dealing with new evaluation systems falls somewhere between stressful and agonizing.

Now, there’s a slyly named new app—designed by a teacher, no less—to help teachers manage the process.

My former colleague Kevin McCorry of whyy/NewsWorks in Philadelphia has the story of Katy Morris, an 8th grade algebra and geometry teacher at Welsh Valley Middle School in southeastern Pennsylvania. A former programmer, she developed an app she calls CYA—for “Catalog Your Activities,” of course.

As McCorry tells the story, Morris came up with the iPhone app “to take photos, quickly snap things in my classroom—bulletin boards, examples of students’ work, different versions of quizzes or tests that I made up, activities,” so she could keep track of what she’d done and see how it aligned with the framework for the evaluation.

Pennsylvania’s new teacher-evaluation system breaks teacher competency into four domains that incorporate 22 components containing a total of 76 specific criteria elements. On each element, administrators assess teachers on a three-tiered scale, judging them to be “basic,” “proficient,” or “distinguished.”

–Benjamin Herold

| NEWS | Digital Education

Federal Data-Privacy Guidance Stresses Communication to Parents

The U.S. Department of Education has released new, nonbinding guidance for schools and districts on better informing parents about how their children’s sensitive educational data are being used. Some privacy advocates, however, are less than enthusiastic.

Among other things, the guidance, issued by the department’s Privacy Technical Assistance Center, suggests that schools and districts publish an inventory of all data collected about students, post online all contracts that require the sharing of student information with third-party vendors, and provide parents with a list of all online software and apps that are approved for classroom use.

Such efforts at transparency are important, said Khaliah Barnes, a lawyer with the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center. But an equal emphasis on accountability is also needed, she said.

“The department routinely is not investigating possible [Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act] violations,” Barnes maintained. She also said the new federal transparency guidelines “fall short” in not suggesting that districts notify parents of breaches or unauthorized release of student information.

In response to the criticism, Education Department press secretary Dorie Nolt offered a statement via email saying, “The department is committed to enforcing federal privacy laws that protect students and families while also providing guidance and best practices to school systems and educators facing rapidly changing technology in the classroom.”

–Benjamin Herold

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Series of Bipartisan House Votes Move Higher Ed. Bills to Next Stage

A trio of higher education-related bills have made their way through the U.S. House of Representatives with bipartisan support, part of an effort by House education committee Chairman John Kline, R-Minn., to reauthorize the Higher Education Act in a piecemeal fashion.

On July 23, the House approved by a vote of 414-0 a bill that would allow federal student aid to be used at colleges, universities, and other postsecondary education programs that operate on a competency-based system versus a traditional credit-hour system. It’s aimed at getting students degrees in a faster, more cost-effective way.

That same day, lawmakers cleared by voice vote a largely noncontroversial measure that would present to prospective students and their parents information on tuition and other college costs in a more transparent way. And on July 24, the House passed a bill that would increase the amount of required financial counseling for students and their families taking out federal student loans. Financial counseling is currently required upon entering and exiting college, but this measure would require annual counseling.

Meanwhile, on the Senate side, education committee Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, released a discussion draft of the Higher Education Act reauthorization, which—in contrast to Kline’s efforts—is a sweeping 700-page overhaul of the entire federal law.

Harkin plans to continue work on reauthorization when lawmakers return from their five-week summer recess in September.

–Lauren Camera

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Rhee’s StudentsFirst Organization Ends Paid Staff Work in Five States

StudentsFirst, the advocacy group founded by former District of Columbia schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee, has expanded at a steady pace into many states over the last few years, but confirmed last month that it’s ending the work of paid staff in Florida, Indiana, Iowa, Maine, and Minnesota.

In Florida, as reported by Travis Pillow at RedefinED last month, StudentsFirst will maintain only a “nominal presence,” while pulling the plug on its core policy work. A couple days later, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reported a similar situation in Minnesota: StudentsFirst’s state affiliate will no longer maintain a paid staff there.

The reasons vary. Indeed, Florida seems to have done well enough in meeting StudentsFirst’s policy priorities that the group no longer considers the state in dire need of its attention, according to Pillow’s report. Florida (along with Louisiana) got a B last year on the group’s state policy report card, the highest overall grade given out. In Minnesota, meanwhile, the director of the group’s state affiliate, Kathy Saltzman, indicated that the “continually changing legislative climate” there led the group to end its core operations.

In an interview with Education Week, a spokesman for StudentsFirst, Francisco Castillo, said that scaling back the group in five states will allow for the organization to focus on other states, and that the number of staff affected was small compared with the overall size of the organization. (It will remain officially active in 13 states, based on the listing on the group’s website.)

–Andrew Ujifusa

A version of this article appeared in the August 06, 2014 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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