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May 05, 2015 7 min read
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| NEWS | Digital Education

House Bill Aims to Increase Federal Role in Safeguarding Student-Data Privacy

In a surprising turnaround, new legislation that would significantly increase the federal government’s involvement in protecting student-data privacy was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives last week with support from educator groups.

But the “Student Digital Privacy and Parental Rights Act of 2015,” pulled just over a month ago following sharp criticism over vendor-friendly loopholes, has so far received a lukewarm reaction from the ed-tech industry.

The bill introduced by Reps. Luke Messer, R-Ind., and Jared Polis, D-Colo., would prohibit ed-tech companies from selling student information and targeting students with advertisements.

Vendors would be required to meet a host of new requirements on everything from data security to data retention to breach notification, as well as to be more transparent about their privacy policies, the nature of the information they collect from students, and with whom they share that information. The Federal Trade Commission would be given enforcement authority over the industry.

A host of educator groups have already endorsed the bill, including AASA, the School Superintendents Association, the International Society for Technology in Education, the National Education Association, and the National PTA.

But no broad industry-related groups were among the initial list of endorsers. The Software & Information Industry Association, a Washington-based trade group, expressed concern that if enacted, the bill, which would not supersede state laws, would create significant burdens for educational-technology companies.

–Benjamin Herold

| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

Qualified, Trained Title IX Coordinators Mandatory, Ed. Dept. Guidance Says

K-12 schools and higher education institutions that receive federal funding must have a qualified and trained Title IX coordinator to field complaints and monitor compliance with the civil rights law, the U.S. Department of Education said in new guidance.

The guidance in an April 24 “Dear Colleague” letter and a guide about the key elements of the law—which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex or gender—should serve as a reminder to schools that they have “a critical responsibility” to have a coordinator who has “the authority and support necessary to do the job,” Catherine E. Lhamon, the assistant secretary for civil rights, said in a statement.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 applies to a much-broad range of obligations related to sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity.

–Evie Blad

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vt. Adds Name to List of White House Hopefuls

Move over Hillary Clinton—and Lincoln Chafee. There’s a new declared potential contender for the presidency from the left side of the aisle: Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont, a self-described “socialist” and official Independent who “caucuses” (Congress-speak for “organizes”) with Democrats.

Sanders has been one of the earliest—and most outspoken—critics-from-the-left of the Obama administration’s competitive grants, particularly Race to the Top, which he argues shortchanges rural schools. He’s advocated for ensuring that teachers are highly qualified—he’s not a fan of allowing alternative routes to count.

Sanders (along with the rest of the Senate education committee) voted to support a bill to revise the Elementary and Secondary Education Act that leaves standardized testing intact. And he likes that the bill would allow states to dial back the role that standardized tests play in their accountability systems. (It’s worth noting that if the Green Mountain State had its way, it would have been able to substitute local tests for statewide assessments in some grade spans through a waiver from provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, the law’s current version.)

In fact, back in 2012, Sanders was slated to meet with “Occupy the DOE” protestors about allowing students to opt out of standardized testing. (Yes, before it was cool.)

Sanders has also been vocal on higher education issues, calling for a serious shakeup of the college loan system to make postsecondary education more affordable for students, and seeking to expand loan forgiveness for students who choose to work in public service jobs, such as teaching.

–Alyson Klein

| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Still at Odds, Accreditor Tells AACTE it Won’t Revise Teacher Ed. Standards

The gloves are starting to come off in a squabble between the accreditor for teacher-preparation programs and the main membership group for teachers’ colleges, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education.

In the latest development, a member of the Council for Accreditation of Educator Preparation board of directors said that the group does not plan to accede to the AACTE’s request to review its accreditation standards—and intimated that such demands aren’t appropriate.

“CAEP is an accreditation group, not an advocacy group,” New York University professor Mary Brabeck wrote in a letter last month addressed to the president and chair of the AACTE board of directors. “Teacher education accreditation has been criticized for being ‘in house’ and concerned with meeting the needs of its membership, which is seen by many as a conflict of interest. Having an independent accreditation process is a critical step in restoring the public’s trust.”

At the AACTE’s annual meeting, it passed a resolution saying it had concerns with CAEP’s governance structure, its standards, and the costs of accreditation. Until then, the organization had been publicly supportive of CAEP. It has, though, had qualms about some of the accreditor’s tenets—especially on student outcomes and teacher selection.

Rather than dying out quietly, the disagreement seems to have garnered more attention in the past few weeks. Witness:

• The Council of Chief State School Officers wrote a letter to the AACTE that said its resolution “is of great concern.”

• Arthur Levine, the author of a critical 2006 report on education schools, wrote an op-ed calling on the preparation field to embrace the standards rather than try to “water them down.”

• Deans for Impact, a group of education school deans that supports the CAEP standards, offered to help the accreditor address capacity concerns.

In her letter, Brabeck acknowledges that CAEP needs to keep in open communications with the programs it serves, but says that “that is not the same thing as reviewing the standards with an eye toward revisions.”

Here’s the kicker: She challenges the AACTE to make CAEP accreditation a prerequisite to membership.

–Stephen Sawchuk

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Study to Examine the Value of School Science Fairs

Is holding a middle school science fair a worthwhile endeavor? A team of science educators and researchers funded by a $2 million National Science Foundation grant is hoping to find out.

The group is collecting data on science fairs’ cost-effectiveness, as well as their impact on learning and on students’ interest in science.

Despite being a staple of American education, science fairs have “never been really rigorously researched,” said Abigail Jurist Levy, the principal research scientist for the four-year project. “As valued as they are by some, and as criticized as they are by others, we really don’t know what they offer students in terms of learning experiences and engendering enthusiasm in science.”

The research team at the Waltham, Mass.-based Education Development Center is currently recruiting middle schools to complete surveys on how their own science fairs are designed and implemented. From there, the researchers will choose 40 varied science fairs from across the country to study in depth.

“We don’t have an opinion about science fairs’ value,” said Levy. “We have a real passion for finding an answer about whether they do [have value] and what kind, and we have an appreciation for the scope and complexity of the question.”

While the sample will be limited to science fairs based in schools, Levy said the results could also have implications for settings that host informal science learning, such as museums and science centers.

Science fairs do represent a line in the sand for some people.

Last year, a mother made a fake science-fair poster titled “How Much Turmoil Does the Science Project Cause Families?” that struck a chord with other parents. Afterward, in a piece for the Huffington Post, she wrote: “I’m definitely not anti-science or anti-intellectual in any way. ... [But] any elementary school project that requires a lot of parental time, energy, resources, support, cajoling, and financial investment is just bad. Such projects privilege students from higher-income families for all the obvious reasons.”

Meanwhile, President Barack Obama has been hosting a White House science fair for five years running. “We’ve got to celebrate the winners of our science fairs as much as we celebrate winners of football or basketball,” he said at the event in March.

–Liana Heitin

A version of this article appeared in the May 06, 2015 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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