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September 15, 2015 8 min read
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| NEWS | Marketplace K-12

Intel Plans to Drop Support For Science Talent Search

The giant technology manufacturer Intel will soon end its support for one of the world’s best-known competitions showcasing the math and science talent of top U.S. students.

The Intel Science Talent Search describes itself as the nation’s “oldest and most prestigious precollege science competition.” The event seeks to pay tribute to high school seniors who conduct ambitious scientific research and inspire them to become future leaders in science fields.

Intel officials did not elaborate on their decision. Company spokeswoman Gail Dundas said that Intel’s contract to sponsor the competition will end in 2017, after two decades. She noted that the relationship has been a “long-term corporate sponsorship,” declining further comment on Intel’s rationale.

Out of a pool of roughly 1,800 American high school students who enter the competition, the yearly applicant pool is pared down to 300 semifinalists. From there, 40 candidates are invited to Washington as finalists. First-, second-, and third-place winners are chosen in three categories: the Basic Research Medal, which honors depth of research and analysis; the Global Good Medal, which focuses on demonstration of solutions to real-world problems; and the Innovation Medal, which recognizes problem-solving through innovative design and creativity.

About $1.6 million in prizes was given out during the most recent year.

Before Intel, best known as a semiconductor manufacturer, began sponsoring the competition in 1998, the talent contest was backed by Westinghouse, a major manufacturer and energy company.

The Science Talent Search has long been viewed as something of a barometer of super-elite talent in U.S. schools and a harbinger of the interests of exceptional students likely to be entering science-related fields.

It remains to be seen which corporation might take up the sponsorship of the talent competition.

–Sean Cavanagh

| NEWS | School Law Blog

Teacher’s Derogatory Blog Is Not Protected Speech

A federal appeals court has ruled that a Pennsylvania teacher who disparaged students and parents in personal blog posts was not protected by the First Amendment from dismissal by her school district.

A 2-1 panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals in Philadelphia held “reluctantly” that teacher Natalie Munroe’s blog posts were on matters of public concern. But it went on to hold that the teacher’s expression caused disruption at her school and that the district’s interests outweighed hers.

Munroe, an English teacher at Central Bucks East High School in Doylestown, Pa., started her blog in 2009, initially writing about food, film, her children, and yoga. But she soon began writing about her students and co-workers, though without identifying them or where she worked.

In one 2010 post that figures significantly in the appeals court’s analysis, Munroe described comments she would like to see added to the list of “canned” observations teachers use to fill out report cards. They included:

• “Seems smarter than she actually is.”

• “Am concerned that your kid is going to come in one day and open fire on the school. (Wish I was kidding.)”

• “Utterly loathsome in all imaginable ways.”

By 2011, Munroe’s posts came to the attention of school administrators. They said they began hearing from parents who did not want their children to remain in her classes.

The district fired Munroe in 2012 based on a negative performance review and contended that her blog posts were not the reason.

Munroe sued, arguing that the blog posts were indeed the reason for her termination, and that her posts were protected speech on matters of public concern. A federal district court ruled against her last year.

In its Sept. 4 decision, the appeals court majority concluded that the blog posts were so disruptive as to tip the balance in the district’s favor.

–Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

New York Times Launches Courses for High Schoolers

Ambitious high school students and parents of teenagers, take note: The New York Times is launching the School of the New York Times next month with a set of weekend classes for high schoolers and a one-day symposium on navigating college admissions.

The media company announced its plans to get into the education business via a partnership with CIG Education Group, a New York-based investment firm, earlier this year.

This fall’s precollegiate courses and symposium are the first official offerings of the school, also known as nytEducation. The symposium has room for about 300 people, and each course will enroll about 30 students—all in-person. The program is set to eventually expand to include classes for adults and professionals, classes that are accessible online, and a set of two-week “in-residence” courses for young people.

“In some ways, we’ve always thought of ourselves as an educational institution,” said Michael Greenspon, the general manager of news services and international. The paper’s Learning Network, for instance, provides resources and daily news quizzes for teachers, students, and parents.

The precollegiate courses aren’t solely focused on journalism. One is on sports management, another on climate and energy, and another on arts criticism.

Currently, the courses aren’t for credit. They cost $525 apiece and will be hosted at The Times’ building in Manhattan. Tickets for the symposium are currently set at $205. Admissions is first-come, first-served.

–Jaclyn Zubrzycki

| NEWS | High School & Beyond

Obama Assembles Panel of Experts To Push Free Community College

President Barack Obama hasn’t been able to get his plan for free community college through Congress, so he’s trying another approach: assembling a panel of experts to help him make that vision come true on a state-by-state basis.

The president and Jill Biden—a community college professor and the wife of Vice President Joe Biden—unveiled their plan Sept. 9 during a visit to Macomb County Community College in Warren, Mich.

Central to the plan is the College Promise Advisory Board, which will call attention to programs that already offer free community college and work to persuade more states and cities to do so as well, according to the Associated Press. Jill Biden will lead that 31-member board, which is made up of leaders from the higher education, business, advocacy, philanthropic, and legislative sectors.

Obama has been pressing for students to be able to go to community college free of charge, a proposal he made formally in January. The president’s domestic policy adviser, Cecilia Munoz, acknowledged to the Associated Press that the Republican-controlled Congress doesn’t appear to have much interest in the idea.

—Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Indiana Plans to Cut Length of Test In Aftermath of Political Uproar

After a political maelstrom in Indiana earlier this year about the amount of time students would have to spend taking the state test, officials now have a plan on the table to cut the length of that exam by 25 percent.

The state education department told lawmakers last week that the next version of the Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress-Plus, or ISTEP+, would take about nine hours, the Associated Press reported. Legislators are expected to review that figure and other issues before releasing their own recommendations as to how the exam should be altered.

Last February, the department sent shock waves throughout the state when it announced that the 2014-15 ISTEP+ would take 12 hours for students to complete. In response to anger and confusion from various quarters, officials scrambled to hack away portions of the test, such as the section on social studies, in order to shorten it just for the 2014-15 year.

It was given to about 450,000 students in grades 3-8 last year. Before replacing the Common Core State Standards with its own content standards in English/language arts and math in 2014, the state had been slated to give the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam to those students.

The furor over the ISTEP+, which renewed the political battle between state schools Superintendent Glenda Ritz, a Democrat, and Gov. Mike Pence, a Republican, preceded the state’s decision to drop CTB/McGraw-Hill as its testing company in favor of Pearson Education in March.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | District Dossier

County in Colorado Sets Recall Vote After AP U.S. History Controversy

November 3. That’s the date now set for a recall election in Jefferson County, Colo., that is targeting three school board members who pushed last year to revise the AP U.S. History curriculum to focus on the positive aspects of American history and emphasize patriotism.

That proposal met swift backlash from teachers and students, with some students staging multiple days of walkouts in Colorado’s second-largest district.

Earlier this year, a local group, Jeffco United for Action, gathered thousands of signatures to recall the three board members behind the history flap: Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams.

The three board members were elected in 2013 pledging to cut spending and expand school choice programs. But their critics countered that they have sought to foist their conservative agenda on the district, engaged in inappropriate spending, and operated behind closed doors.

–Denisa R. Superville

| NEWS | State EdWatch

‘Tremendous Teacher Shortage’ Confronts Okla.'s First-Year Chief

How bad is the teacher shortage in Oklahoma? Well, it doesn’t get much worse.

Last month, the state board of education approved requests for 503 emergency teacher certifications on top of the Sooner State’s 1,000-person teacher shortage.

To put that in perspective, in the 2011 school year, the state issued fewer than 40 emergency certifications, which district officials apply for when they’ve exhausted all options in trying to find a teacher with the necessary credentials and there isn’t enough time before the start of the school year to test an individual who has agreed to fill in as a teacher.

“We have a tremendous teacher shortage,” said state schools chief Joy Hofmeister, who sat down with Education Week in Washington last week to chat about the first few months of her administration. “You can have the highest standards in the world, but if you don’t have the teachers to teach them, what good are they?”

Only Mississippi and South Dakota rank lower than Oklahoma when it comes to teacher pay. To change that, Hofmeister is calling for a $5,000 increase in base pay for all teacher salaries over the next five years.

“It’s certainly not something that can be solved in one year,” she said. “It takes a phase-in approach.”

–Lauren Camera

A version of this article appeared in the September 16, 2015 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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