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September 23, 2014 7 min read
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| NEWS | Learning the Language

N.Y.C. Education Leaders Pledge Special Attention to English-Learners

New York City’s public schools enroll nearly 160,000 English-language learners—about 14.5 percent of all students in the city schools and a population that dwarfs most U.S. districts.

The city has struggled to move its English-learners to higher levels of achievement, even in the three years since it struck an agreement with state education officials to take several concrete actions meant to provide better instructional services for those students.

Now, under the leadership of Chancellor Carmen Fariña, the district is pledging anew to vastly improve outcomes for English-learners. She has created a new position to oversee all English-learner programs and tapped a longtime dual-language educator and administrator to run it.

Milady Baez, whose title is senior executive director of the department of English-language learners and student support, will be a member of the chancellor’s senior management team and report directly to Fariña. That organizational arrangement is rare, if not unprecedented, for a director of English-language-learner programs.

State officials are also pushing ahead with plans to dramatically improve achievement for English-learners across all districts. But with 75 percent of the state’s 215,000 ELLs in New York City, achievement won’t budge much unless the city’s ELLs improve.

-Lesli A. Maxwell

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Pirate Talk: A New Requirement for American High Schoolers?

When you cover the Common Core State Standards day in and day out, it’s not surprising to hear some eyebrow-raising—and totally groundless—claims made in the debate. (Remember the one about eyeball-tracking technology?) So you could be forgiven if you wondered—for one teensy little second—whether this missive, which landed in inboxes last week, was for real.

A “leaked U.S. Department of Education memo,” the email said, will recommend that high schools in all common-core states adopt a new curriculum: “Pirate as a Second Language.” It said the memo had been signed by John Easton, the former director of the department’s Institute of Education Sciences.

Of course, the email was a stunt. It went on to say that the curriculum shift would support “Talk Like a Pirate Day,” which happened to be last Friday. It included links that purported to be a message from Easton or to show data about increases in the use of “pirate and pirate-related language” online. But they actually led readers to a video of goofy guys dancing around in pirate gear and offering tips on how to talk like a pirate.

This bit of fluffery was the brainchild of Elasticity, a St. Louis-based public-relations and social-media firm that is representing Café Press, which makes customizable products such as mugs and T-shirts. They’re hoping to capitalize on “Talk Like a Pirate Day” to sell items emblazoned with, well, pirate images.

“Café Press likes to do these stunts,” said Taylor Lutkewitte, the Elasticity representative who sent out the email and signed it, “public-relations strategist & Grammar Police Commissioner.” “They like to take issues and turn them on their head to give people a chuckle. Common core was in the news, so we said, ‘Why don’t we go ahead and make a spoof?’ ”

-Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | College Bound

All Kindergartners in Nevada Given College-Savings Accounts

In Nevada, starting kindergarten means starting to save money for college.

A college-savings plan with $50 is established for each child under the Nevada Kick Start Program, which began as a pilot in 2013 and was recently expanded.

State Treasurer Kate Marshall points to research showing a child with a college-savings account is up to seven times more likely to attend college than one without an account, regardless of family income, ethnicity, or the educational attainment of the child’s parents.

San Francisco had a similar program, but Marshall said she doesn’t know of any other statewide initiative.

The 529 college-savings accounts are established automatically by the state treasurer’s office and held in a master account. The money comes from fees paid to the treasurer’s office by the private companies that serve as program managers for the College Savings Plans of Nevada, along with donations from community partners. Parents can only withdraw money from the account for higher-education-related expenses when the child is entering college, a trade school, or a technical college.

-Caralee J. Adams

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Calif. CORE Districts’ Waiver Extended, on ‘High Risk’ Status

The U.S. Department of Education extended the CORE No Child Left Behind Act waiver—the nation’s only district-level waiver from the mandates of the NCLB law—for the 2014-15 school year. But the waiver, which covers seven California districts, has also been placed on high-risk status, according to a Sept. 12 letter sent to the districts by Deborah Delisle, the assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education.

That means the districts—Fresno, Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, San Francisco, Sanger, and Santa Ana Unified—have some work to do if they want to keep their waiver in the 2015-16 school year and beyond. The CORE districts have gotten behind the eight-ball when it comes to implementation of the School Quality Improvement Index, their new system for gauging school performance. The districts also need to set final guidelines for their principal- and teacher-evaluation and support systems.

This isn’t the first sign of trouble for the CORE waiver. Earlier this year, Sacramento, one of the districts that originally were granted the flexibility, opted out of the waiver. (Sacramento does remain part of CORE, which stands for California Office to Reform Education, and includes 10 districts. They collaborate on school improvement, including work that does not involve the NCLB waiver.)

Overall, the CORE districts don’t expect the “high-risk” designation to be a major impediment to their work.

The CORE district waiver isn’t the only one on high-risk. Arizona and Oregon have also been told they are in danger of losing their waivers, both for issues related to teacher evaluation. Kansas, meanwhile, recently became the first state to get off high-risk status.

-Alyson Klein

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Online Reading Test Suspended for Florida Students in K-2

Florida has suspended its online reading test for children in kindergarten through grade 2, deciding instead to have its teachers size up their students’ reading abilities through observation.

The decision came in a memo from Education Commissioner Pam Stewart to district superintendents on Sept. 15, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

Criticism in recent months of the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading, or FAIR, was sparked in part by one Alachua County kindergarten teacher’s public refusal to give the test to her students.

The online assessment used to be given with paper and pencil, but since it went online this year, it’s been plagued with technological problems. That was the reason cited for the test’s suspension, although teachers have argued that it isn’t developmentally appropriate for young children and have complained that it eats up too much classroom time.

Anti-testing sentiment has been on the rise in Florida; Lee County became the first district in the country to opt out of all state-mandated testing, although it has since rescinded that decision. A handful of other Florida districts are reportedly studying ways they can ease their state testing burdens as well.

-Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

School Districts Around Nation Get Military-Surplus Equipment

A U.S. Department of Defense program—criticized for “militarizing” local police departments by providing them with surplus combat-grade weapons, armored vehicles, and equipment—has provided similar supplies to school police around the country, a coalition of civil rights groups said in a letter Sept. 15.

The groups, led by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, asked leaders of the U.S. departments of Education, Defense, and Justice to stop providing equipment to schools through the Defense Department’s 1033 program. It was criticized by some U.S. senators following protests in Ferguson, Mo., last month, during which police responded with military-grade vehicles and gear. The civil rights groups also asked the agencies to evaluate how much of such equipment has flowed to school agencies.

The groups used published reports to determine that at least 22 school districts in California, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Nevada, Texas, and Utah participate in the 1033 program. Equipment provided to districts included M-14 and M-16 rifles, extended magazines, automatic pistols, armored plating, tactical vests, SWAT gear, grenade launchers, and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles, according to the organizations.

The Los Angeles Unified School District’s police department, meanwhile, said it will give back three grenade launchers it received through the program, but school police there plan to keep other supplies received from the federal agency—61 rifles and an armored vehicle, the Los Angeles Times reported.

-Evie Blad

A version of this article appeared in the September 24, 2014 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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