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December 03, 2013 4 min read
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| NEWS | Politics K-12

‘White Mom’ Spin Not New

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s common-core comments to a group of state chiefs last month created a firestorm of backlash after he said some of the opposition is coming from “white, suburban moms” who all of a sudden discover their kids aren’t as “brilliant as they thought they were and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”

The furious reaction led Duncan to say publicly that he regrets his “clumsy phrasing.”

It’s important to note that he has used this argument before—that the patchwork of academic standards ushered in during the No Child Left Behind era was dummied down and led to inflated test scores and an inflated sense of how good schools are. And he has said repeatedly that it’s not just a problem for minority or other at-risk students, but also for better-performing and “white” students.

Take his 2012 speech to the Oregon Business Association: “Now, when I talk about the mediocre performance of U.S. students, too many people respond that ‘my kid, my school is fine. Other people’s kids are the problem—it’s the disadvantaged students, minority children, and the immigrants learning English that are struggling.’ But the unexpected truth is that Oregon’s higher-achieving schools are not doing as well as some might think.”

To be sure, this seems to be the first time he’s invoked the “suburban mom” constituency. But his broader point is, indeed, not new.

–Michele McNeil

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Obamacare and Common Core

Since discussions about the forthcoming common assessments started, there has been concern about states’ and districts’ technological capacity to manage large-scale online testing. Those conversations have largely taken a concerned but measured tone.

But lately a doomsday tone has crept into those conversations. It’s seeped in from headlines about the rocky debut of President Barack Obama’s signature health-care initiative. Some folks seem to be saying now, what if the first operational tests in 2015 turn out like that?

Obamacare: a massive undertaking that depends heavily on technology for health-insurance enrollment. Common-core assessments: a massive undertaking that depends almost exclusively on technology for student testing.

There is hay to be made off such inevitable comparisons. I offer you this handy example from a press release from the American Enterprise Institute, with the subject line: “Can K-12 Schools Avoid an Obamacare-Like Catastrophe?”

Now the technology issues hanging over the tests are being smooshed together with the challenges—and inevitable bungles—of day-to-day standards implementation in the schools, and both of those are being smooshed together with the question of whether it’s right to tie accountability decisions to the results of the tests.

It’s easy to do all that smooshing and slap a big worry label on it and compare it to Obamacare. Much harder? Reasoned conversations that make appropriate distinctions among these things and explore each in turn.

–Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | Teaching Now

Classroom Plan Riles Teachers

As part of a new plan to expand a number of its highs schools, the Portland, Ore., district is looking into a design model that would be based on a “college style” use of classrooms, according to local news station KATU.

What this means, essentially, is that teachers would share classrooms but would have offices where they could meet with students and each other. The district calls this an “open-collaborative classroom” model and says it would promote more interaction among teachers, and make more efficient use of space.

But some teachers apparently aren’t so wild about the idea. According to KATU, one teacher broke into tears when reacting to the plan at a recent board meeting. She argued that the conventional one-classroom, one-teacher model helps educators build relationships with students and that many students would be deterred from seeking extra help if they have to seek out teachers in offices.

A district spokesman said the open-collaborative model was just one of a number of design proposals under consideration.

–Anthony Rebora

| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

Bullying Exercise Goes Awry

A Colorado charter school has angered some parents by holding a multiday bullying simulation designed to help students understand what it feels like to be “shunned,” teased, or called names by their peers, the Colorado Springs Gazette reported.

James Madison Charter Academy students in grades 4-6 wore different colors of stickers. Each day, school staff instructed students not to interact with those wearing a certain color. Principal Anna Shearer-Shineman hoped that a majority of the students would be able to put themselves in another’s shoes and decide to change their behavior as a result, she wrote in a letter to parents before the exercise. But some parents saw the simulation as an “eye for an eye” tactic, and some withdrew their children from the school.

Shearer-Shineman told the Gazette she’s staged similar simulations in the past, that students were given boundaries to avoid antagonistic behavior, and that the effort fit with the school’s general approach to teaching.

“We are a project-based school, so the kids are used to doing hands-on activities. The simulation fits with that,” she said. “We are trying to do something to change behavior.”

–Evie Blad

A version of this article appeared in the December 04, 2013 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week


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