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Education Best of the Blogs


December 01, 2015 10 min read
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| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Researchers Urge Caution In Use of ‘Value Added’

The membership group representing education researchers has released a statement warning of the “potentially serious negative consequences” of using “value added” models to judge individual teachers or teacher-preparation programs.

Not only do such models, which are based on growth in students’ test scores over time, potentially misidentify teachers and programs if not used carefully, they could also result in resources being misdirected and “the educational system as a whole being degraded,” according to the American Educational Research Association.

“Only if such indicators are based on high-quality, audited test data and supported by sound validating evidence for the specific purposes proposed can they be appropriately used, along with other relevant indicators, for professional-development purposes or for educator evaluation,” the statement concludes.

The statement goes on to detail eight technical requirements that the AERA says must be considered for using VAM.

There have been reams of studies and commentaries written about the technical properties of value-added and its use, from the positive to the neutral to the critical, which leaves the education field far from consensus.

The timing of this statement comes just ast he U.S. Department of Education is putting the finishing touches on a regulation to toughen accountability for teacher colleges. Under the draft, student achievement would be one of the required indicators for judging programs, although the department has indicated it might soften that requirement.

–Stephen Sawchuk

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Vending Machines Dispense Short Stories

Vending machines do well in school settings—but what if instead of junk food they served up short stories?

French publisher Short Édition has developed a machine that dispenses short stories that can be read in one, three, or five minutes. Fast Company reports that the city of Grenoble will soon have a handful of these vending machines. They’ll be free to use, and each will have about 600 different works chosen by Short Édition subscribers and authors.

“Quentin Plepé, the publisher’s co-founder, and his team came up with the idea a couple years ago as they were standing around a snack machine in their office,” reports Fast Company. “What if the same concept could be applied to literature, they wondered.”

After two years of development, the design was released this fall. It will roll out in Grenoble first. According to a Short Édition spokesperson, some schools are interested in the idea, especially for libraries.

–Liana Heitin

| NEWS | Teaching Now

Dead-Animal Incidents Raise Tension in Strike

We’ve seen a number of tense teacher strikes this fall, but the one going on in Peters Township, Pa., has become particularly ugly over the past couple weeks, with reports of protesters dropping dead animals along the teachers’ picket line.

Some teachers reported arriving at the picket line in front of Peters Township High to find a rotting deer carcass. The deer had been spray-painted with the local union’s initials.

That, according to reports, was the latest in a string of similar incidents. Someone driving by in a pickup truck threw a plastic bag containing a dead squirrel at picketers, and a dead raccoon was found hanging over a nearby traffic sign.

Teachers in the largely affluent, 4,300-student Peters district have been on strike over salary and health-insurance issues since Oct. 28. Despite some progress, talks between the union and the district have repeatedly broken down, leading to a tense standoff between teachers and parents at a recent school board meeting.

The district has maintained that it does not have the resources to meet the teachers’ demands, but the union has rejected that claim. “It’s an upper-middle-class community,” one union leader told local media. “They have over $24 million in the bank.”

–Anthony Rebora

| NEWS | The School Law Blog

Justice Scalia: Parents Have No Constitutional Right To Direct Education, Upbringing of Their Children

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia told a law school audience that there is no U.S. constitutional right of parents to direct the education and upbringing of their children.

The nation’s charter document is “not a perfect Constitution,” and many “important rights are not contained there,” Scalia told an auditorium of first-year law students at Georgetown University Law Center on Nov. 16.

“For example, my right to raise my children the way I want,” he said. “To teach them what I want them taught, not what Big Brother says. That is not there.”

To a large degree, Scalia was repeating views he has long held and expressed in dissents to the high court’s decades-old precedents that say that parents do have such a fundamental right to direct the upbringing of their children.

In Troxel v. Granville, a 2000 case about grandparents’ child-visitation rights, the court reaffirmed that view. Scalia dissented from the outcome in that case, which went against two Washington state grandparents seeking visitation rights to their grandchildren against the wishes of the children’s mother. His dissent cast some doubt on the constitutional underpinnings of key court precedents on parental rights in education, including Pierce v. Society of Sisters, a 1925 ruling that struck down an Oregon law that required public school attendance, thus precluding enrollment in parochial schools.

In his wide-ranging conversation at Georgetown, Scalia drew a comparison to a more recent hot issue: same-sex marriage.

Because such a parental right is “simply not in the Constitution,” he said, “I will not enforce it from the bench.”

“The notion that everything you care a lot about has to be in the Constitution is a very dangerous notion,” Scalia continued. “Because it begins with stuff we all agree upon. ‘Oh, sure, we ought to be able to educate our children the way we want.’ That was one of the early substantive-due-process [cases]—don’t get me going on substantive due process.”

That is the notion that the 14th Amendment due process clause protects certain fundamental rights as well as procedural rights.

Scalia said in his talk that “at the bottom of that slide” down the slippery slope of substantive due process “is same-sex marriage.”

Scalia’s dissent in last June’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges was critical of the majority’s recognition of a 14th Amendment substantive-due-process right to same-sex marriage. Substantive due process “stands for nothing whatever, except those freedoms and entitlements that this court really likes,” Scalia wrote.

“That’s what happened,” Scalia added at Georgetown. “It began with, ‘Oh, who could possibly disagree with Pierce v. Society of Sisters.’ Nobody could disagree with that. But then, once the court is making these decisions, it is going to make decisions a lot of people disagree with.”

–Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Early Years

Partisanship Raises Its Head in National Attitudes Toward Early-Childhood Education, Study Says

Early-childhood education may have cross-aisle political support at the state level, but at the national level, bipartisanship breaks down, according to Erica Greenberg, a research associate at the Urban Institute. She conducted a survey of preferences for government-funded preschool in 2013 and found that Republicans were much more likely than Democrats to favor cuts in preschool spending.

According to her findings, which Greenberg revisited recently in an article about this year’s presidential race, 31 percent of Republicans wanted to see a decrease in public preschool spending, compared to 5 percent of Democrats. (Most Republicans surveyed, 48 percent, felt that current spending levels were fine. In comparison, most Democrats, 57 percent, wanted to see more money going to public preschool.)

Universal, tuition-free preschool found just about equal support among Republicans and Democrats in the survey. But once Greenberg introduced the idea of a fee for higher-income families, support dropped: 21 percent of Republicans favored such a program, compared to 42 percent of Democrats.

The partisan divide appears to be driven by Republicans’ distrust of federal involvement, her research suggests.

–Christina A. Samuels

| NEWS | Politics K-12

GOP’s Latest Face-Off Leaves Education Issues Mostly Out of Spotlight

So far, if the 2016 campaign were a 3rd grade class, K-12 education would be the kid in the back who never gets called on. There was barely a whisper about it in the fourth Republican debate, held Nov. 10 in Milwaukee.

In fact, it didn’t even get a mention as something the federal government should stay out of.

Case in point: At one point during the debate, which was hosted by Fox Business News and The Wall Street Journal, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas listed the five agencies he’d like to eliminate. He named the Commerce Department twice, but didn’t say that he would also like to shutter the U.S. Department of Education. Did he change his mind about getting rid of it, or just forget to mention it?

It seems he forgot to mention it. His campaign tweeted this during the debate: “We eliminate the IRS, Department of Education, Department of Energy, Department of Commerce, and HUD.”

Higher education fans got a couple of quick nods, mostly courtesy of Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who reiterated his support for vocational education as a possible alternative to college.

“For the life of me, I don’t know why we stigmatized vocational education,” Rubio said. “We need more welders and less philosophers; welders make more money.” (Various fact-checkers weighed in to challenge the validity of that assertion.)

Rubio also said the nation needs to overhaul its colleges and teach “21st-century skills.” And he continued to flag student debt as a problem.

There were other small scraps: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said his tax plan would help teachers. And Donald Trump, the billionaire real estate developer, said the nation needs to invest in domestic programs, like schools, before spending a lot of money abroad. He didn’t elaborate, though.

‘Undercard’ Roundup

Were you putting your kids to bed/at happy hour/watching “Modern Family” reruns during the “undercard” debate among those candidates who didn’t make the polling cut for the main debate? Want to know if you missed anything education-y?

The answer is not really, even though there were a couple of new faces in the undercard crowd, Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey and former Gov. Mike Huckabee of Arkansas.

Former Sen. Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania reiterated some comments he made at the last debate questioning whether every student should really be expected to pursue traditional college.

Christie disparaged the Democrats’higher education plans for “debt free” college as unaffordable. (Their plans all seek to seriously cut down on student debt, but differ on the details.)

And Huckabee was really excited about a $6 donation he got from a North Dakota 3rd grader.

–Alyson Klein

| NEWS | Politics K-12

A Few Passing Mentions Of College Costs, K-12 As Democrats Clash Anew

| POLITICS K-12 | With the terrorist attacks in Paris and the economy dominating the most recent debate featuring the three remaining Democratic presidential hopefuls, education only got a few passing mentions, as in the Democrats’ only previous debate. And when it did, none of the candidates said anything that really broke new ground.

During the Nov. 14 debate, held at Drake University in Iowa and hosted by CBS, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley made a point of bragging about his state’s record of No. 1 national rankings. And Maryland schools did achieve that distinction from 2009 to 2013 in Education Week’s Quality Counts reports.

However, the Education Week Research Center recently changed how it calculates those state-by-state rankings. And for 2015, right as O’Malley left office, Maryland slipped to third place, behind Massachusetts and New Jersey.

As in the last debate, college affordability got a nod. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont scoffed at a moderator’s suggestion that the significant share of students in higher education who don’t graduate makes greater investments in college not worth it. (Sanders wants to make public colleges and universities free for all students.) And he stressed that college access was particularly important to children coming from low-income backgrounds.

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has her own plan to reduce college costs, also made a pitch for allowing Pell Grants to be used to defray living expenses for college students. As it happens, the U.S. Department of Education announced a pilot program that will test a new use for Pell Grants—but it’s for high school students in dual-enrollment courses.

In a discussion about gun control, O’Malley indicated that he pushed for greater restrictions on firearms after the school shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., in 2012. For a look at what happened in Maryland, as well as in the rest of the states in 2013 after those shootings, check out our interactive presentation about school safety legislation introduced that year.

There were no direct questions about K-12.

–Andrew Ujifusa

A version of this article appeared in the December 02, 2015 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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