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November 05, 2013 8 min read
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| NEWS | District Dossier

Superintendent to Stay in L.A., After Board Renews Contract

Los Angeles Unified Superintendent John Deasy is staying put.

After days of intense speculation that the hard-charging superintendent was about to resign or be forced out, the school board decided behind closed doors last week to extend his contract through 2016.

The board—which has increasingly been challenging Deasy’s agenda since two new members were elected last spring—also gave the superintendent a satisfactory performance review.

It was a bizarre ending to a feverish five days after the Los Angeles Times first reported that Deasy was planning to step down early next year. Deasy did little to tamp down the drama by telling reporters only that he had not submitted a letter of resignation.

The possibility that Deasy might be on his way out prompted a major public-relations campaign by business, civic, and philanthropic leaders who wrote letters and released statements warning that the school board was risking the futures of the more than 664,000 students in the district if it let Deasy resign or pushed him out.

After hearing one hour of public testimony that was overwhelmingly in favor of keeping Deasy, the seven-member board retreated to a nearly five-hour closed session to decide his fate.

Now maybe Deasy will stay on track to last longer than three years, a feat that the previous two superintendents did not achieve.

–Lesli A. Maxwell

| NEWS | K-12 Parents and the Public

Search for Test-Score Accountability Becomes a ‘Blame Game’ in Ky. Town

Editors of The Morehead News in Kentucky thought they were asking their readers a clear-cut question on the publication’s website this month: Who should be held accountable for the three Rowan County public schools that failed to meet their state testing goals this past spring?

The newspaper posted five possible answers: principals, faculty, superintendent, parents, or the school board. After the first week, and based on readers’ comments, editors added students. (According to the paper, some readers complained about “disinterested and lazy students” who don’t take the state tests—or school in general—seriously.)

Then, on Oct. 14, the paper announced in an editorial that it had pulled the poll from its website, citing a “rash of complaints and fingerpointing toward all six constituencies.”

Not surprisingly, most poll respondents blamed the superintendent, with 57 votes, followed closely by teachers with 47 votes. Parents received 30 votes, while students received 24.

The online poll of residents in the community in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains was small. Still, some of the responses about who should be held accountable for the schools’ struggles highlight concerns and challenges also faced by other schools across the nation: teachers who lack adequate support from the administration; teachers who are failing to prepare students properly for state tests; uninterested parents who emphasize sports and extracurricular activities over schoolwork; students too preoccupied with or distracted by social media to focus on academics.

Trying to find out who should be held accountable for a public school’s poor test scores can sometimes become a futile effort. Perhaps the more productive question for this community would be: How can you help these failing schools’ students meet and exceed their educational goals so that they can be successful in the future?

–Karla Scoon Reid

| NEWS | Teaching Now

Some Teachers Give ‘Thumbs Down’ On Teacher Gift-Giving Ideas

The ever-enticing social news and entertainment site Buzzfeed just published a list of “24 Thoughtful Gifts for Teachers.” (Early jump on the holiday season, I guess?)

While some of the suggestions are clever and/or useful—a wellness basket with tea, coffee-cup holders that hang onto the side of a table or desk, volunteer time, breakfast in a bucket—others are, well, cutesy. And not much else. For example: Classroom-themed decorations? Glass magnets? Homemade ornaments? A set of bookmarks?

Is this what you’ve been waiting for, teachers?

The comments are the best part of the piece. One self-proclaimed teacher writes that the recommendations “kind of suck” and asks for Starbucks instead. Another reader says, “Just give me booze.” And still another intones what many others may have been thinking: “Three words: cold, hard cash.”

–Liana Heitin

| NEWS | Politics K-12

New Mexico Teachers’ Unions Could Gum Up NCLB Waiver

New Mexico’s teachers’ unions are pressing the state to slow down implementation of its teacher-evaluation system, which is slated to get up and running this year, according to published reports.

The clash seems almost certain to complicate New Mexico’s bid to get its No Child Left Behind waiver renewed. The Land of Enchantment was among the first states to get a waiver from the NCLB law, so the dispute may well be a harbinger of what’s to come in other states. States are slated to file their requests for waiver renewal in January and February.

According to the Albuquerque Journal and the Associated Press, New Mexico unions—affiliates of the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association—have expressed big concerns about the new system, including that it puts too much weight on student outcomes in determining a teacher’s score.

Among AFT New Mexico’s requests: that the state take the federal department up on its offer of an extra year to get the teacher-evaluation system in place. That’s something U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan had offered most states that have already been granted flexibility from the NCLB law over the summer.

When the possibility of an extra year was announced, a number of state chiefs expressed concern that Duncan was opening the door to big-time pressure from state teachers’ unions.

—Alyson Klein

| NEWS | The School Law Blog

Education Groups Issue ‘FAQ’ Guide On Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

School districts and workers face a host of employment changes because of the U.S. Supreme Court’s June ruling striking down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Now, three education groups have joined on a “frequently-asked questions” guide to help administrators with the changes that bring new benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

U.S. school districts employ some 6.2 million teachers and other workers, “so it’s summarily important that they pay attention to this decision,” Francisco M. Negrón, the general counsel of the National School Boards Association, said in a conference call with reporters on Oct. 30. He spearheaded the effort among the NSBA, AASA, the School Superintendents Association, and the National Education Association.

“In its June 26 decision in United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the provision of DOMA that defined marriage as excluding same-sex partners violated the U.S. Constitution by interfering with the dignity of same-sex marriages. The school groups’ FAQ document notes that the decision affects more than 1,000 federal laws that deal with benefits to “spouses.” These include health benefits, family and medical leave policies, retirement benefits, pre-tax spending accounts, and others.

With the recent addition of New Jersey, 14 states plus the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. Negrón said a big question surrounds those states that don’t recognize them. “Those districts have to account for those employees who are legally married with regard to federal benefits, regardless of what state law permits,” he said.

—Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Will Obama’s K-12 Grant Contests Survive Beyond His Administration?

A big question as the Obama administration’s leverage begins to slacken: Will its signature grant programs, including Investing in Innovation and Race to the Top, continue beyond 2016, the president’s last year in office? The answer is still murky.

House Republicans have moved to zero out Investing in Innovation (aka i3), Race to the Top, Promise Neighborhoods, and the School Improvement Grants. And none of those programs were reauthorized under the House GOP bill to renew the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, approved by that chamber this summer. But Democrats have taken separate action to keep those programs going. For instance, all four of the marquee grant programs would be enshrined in law under a bill to renew the ESEA approved (with only Democratic support) by the Senate education committee.

Lawmakers have also introduced separate standalone bills that would keep the programs on the books beyond the Obama years. For instance, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has put forth legislation that would keep Promise Neighborhoods around, and there’s a House companion bill by a trio of Democrats, Reps. Donald Payne of New Jersey, Mike Honda of California, and Robert “Bobby” Scott of Virginia. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., has written a bill that would largely extend the SIG program, (with some modifications, including new money to reward high-performing schools with challenging populations).

The latest: Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, in February released a bill that would continue the Investing in Innovation program, which is meant to scale up promising practices at the state and district level. And Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., a key ally of the Obama administration on K-12 policy, has released his own bill that would extend the life of i3, which received more than $140 million last year. Polis has a similar bill on continuing Race to the Top.

Strictly speaking, federal authorizing legislation isn’t needed for a program to get federal funding. Programs can and have received federal dollars without being authorized. And just because a program is put into law doesn’t mean it will get funded (and vice versa). But it’s a demonstration of congressional support, which is never a bad thing for a program.

—Alyson Klein

A version of this article appeared in the November 07, 2013 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week

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