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March 17, 2015 7 min read
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| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

Ferguson School Police Found to Be Too Heavy-Handed With Students

Two school resource officers employed by the Ferguson, Mo., police department to work in the city’s schools engage in “police action that is unreasonable for a school environment,” the U.S. Department of Justice found in an investigation of law-enforcement practices in the St. Louis suburb.

In the Justice Department’s review, which was completed this month as a response to last summer’s police shooting of an unarmed teenager, Michael Brown, investigators’ core finding about the agency—that police officers engage in unfair, excessive practices and disproportionately target black people—trickles into all areas of the department, including its actions in schools.

The Ferguson department’s “approach to policing impacts how its officers interact with students, as well, leading them to treat routine discipline issues as criminal matters and to use force when communication and de-escalation techniques would likely resolve the conflict,” the report says.

The two school resource officers work in a middle and a high school in the Ferguson-Florissant district.

The report includes examples of overly aggressive tactics used by school police: charging a 15-year-old African-American girl with failure to comply, resisting arrest, and peace disturbance when she refused to follow an officer to the principal’s office; and arresting a 14-year-old African-American student who “refused to leave the classroom after getting into a trivial argument with another student.”

“SROS’ propensity for arresting students demonstrates a lack of understanding of the negative consequences associated with such arrests,” the report says. “In fact, SROS told us that they viewed increased arrests in the schools as a positive result of their work. This perspective suggests a failure of training (including training in mental health, counseling, and the development of the teenage brain); a lack of priority given to de-escalation and conflict resolution; and insufficient appreciation for the negative educational and long-term outcomes that can result from treating disciplinary concerns as crimes and using force on students.”

–Evie Blad

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

English-Teachers Group Seeks To ‘Reclaim Assessment’

With anti-testing battles simmering all over the country, the National Council of Teachers of English is advancing a message that seems to go against the grain: Reclaim assessment.

The 104-year-old association of English/language arts teachers has been hard at work on a project to protect and preserve assessment. And let’s be clear: They’re not talking about testing.

The organization, whose members are maniacally devoted to wordsmithing and all the other literary arts, wants you to feel the difference between testing—the standardized exercises for which thousands of teachers prep students—and assessment, a carefully thought-out set of practices that can gauge each child’s learning and reshape instruction to enhance that learning.

The NCTE’s Assessment Story Project has been reaching out to teachers in K-12 and college to find out about what kinds of assessment are valuable to their practice. It’s conducting a survey, in which it seeks—no shock here—narrative responses about the kinds of practices that help teachers respond best to students as they learn.

Teachers are welcome to share their thoughts through the five-question survey, which is still available online. When the survey period closes, the NCTE will compile the responses into a report it hopes will offer something of a profile of the kinds of assessment practices that English/language arts teachers consider important.

–Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | Inside School Research

What Can Educators Learn From ‘Bunkum’ Research?

The National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado Boulder has unveiled its Bunkum Awards for Shoddy Research, “recognizing the lowlights in education research” conducted by think tanks in 2014. Its leaders also reflected on common problems that keep cropping up in research in the nine years the Bunkum has been awarded.

After nine years of pointing out the problems with popular education reports, Kevin Welner, the center’s director, and William J. Mathis, its managing director, explained that some clear problems come up again and again:

• Mistaking correlation for causation;

• Not accounting for potential reasons for results, such as selection bias;

• Taking too large of leaps from a finding in one area to a conclusion that isn’t necessarily supported by the results;

• Using a small or barely statistically significant result to recommend a broad policy change; and

• Starting a study from an ideological point rather than an objective hypothesis.

And the winners: Gems Education Solutions for “The Efficiency Index"; the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for “Expanding the Education Universe"; the Reason Foundation for “Federal School Finance Reform"; the Lexington Institute for “Updating Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century"; Sonecon Inc. for “The Economic Benefits of New York City’s Public School Reforms, 2002-2013"; the School Choice Demonstration Project and the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform for “Charter School Funding: Inequity Expands"; and the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform for “The Productivity of Public Charter Schools.”

–Sarah D. Sparks

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Chiefs for Change Reorganizes, Turns Focus to Urban Districts

Chiefs for Change, the advocacy group of state superintendents known for supporting the Common Core State Standards and teacher evaluations based on test scores, announced last week that it is shifting its mission to focus more on major urban districts

The group is also undergoing a reorganization and is ending its association with the K-12 foundation begun by former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush in order to become an independent group.

At the same time, Louisiana Superintendent John White will take over as the organization’s new chairman, replacing New Mexico Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera, who has headed up Chiefs for Change for the past two years.

Membership in the group, which also supports digital education and school choice, has dipped in recent years from a high of nine in 2012 down to the current roster of four. One of those four, Rhode Island Commissioner Deborah Gist, recently agreed to take over as superintendent of the Tulsa district in Oklahoma. Gist will stay with the organization in her new job as Tulsa superintendent.

In an interview, White said that discussions about altering the model and mission of Chiefs for Change have been under way for about a year now. “It’s the job of states and large cities to develop the ideas that ultimately have promise at a national level,” he said.

White and Skandera denied that Bush’s possible run for president in 2016 influenced the group’s decision to break away from the foundation he started, the Foundation for Excellence in Education But Skandera did say that perceptions about Chiefs for Change and it links to the foundation did lead people to certain conclusions about its work.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Duncan Lays Out Arguments Against Prospect of K-12 Cuts

The battle over whether and how to avoid across-the-board federal spending cuts known as “sequestration” was front and center during the first appropriations committee hearing on President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2016 budget request for the U.S. Department of Education.

“The president has made clear that he will not accept a budget that locks in sequestration going forward,” said U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan while defending the budget request March 4 before the House committee responsible for setting spending levels for federal education programs.

Overall, the president wants $70.7 billion in discretionary spending for the Education Department, an increase of $3.6 billion, or a 5.4 percent hike over fiscal 2015 levels.

Previously, Congress was able to come up with a temporary deal to alleviate sequestration-level cuts for military programs and domestic ones, like education. But that deal expires this fall, and across the board 8 percent cuts then kick back in.

Committee Chairman Tom Cole, R-Okla., called the looming spending battle “the elephant in every appropriations hearing right now.” He said he hoped lawmakers would soon begin a new round of negotiations, though he wasn’t overly optimistic.

–Lauren Camera

A version of this article appeared in the March 18, 2015 edition of Education Week as Blogs

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