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February 04, 2014 5 min read
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| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Is Skimming a Literacy Skill In the Common-Core Standards?

Skimming may seem counter to close reading and using textual evidence to support analysis, two major skill requirements of the Common Core State Standards in English/language arts. But author and literacy consultant Sarah Tantillo makes the argument on Middleweb, a website for teachers, that it is actually a “crucial skill” for close literary analysis, and one that should be explicitly taught.

She describes a lesson she observed in which the teacher asked students to explain how they knew a character in the novel they were reading was frustrated. The students put their noses in their books, and Tantillo realized many were trying to reread the entire chapter. She quickly taught them to look for key words that signal characterization. “We need to teach students how to skim!” she writes. “Ironically, we often overlook this skill.”

It may seem obvious, but I know it’s something that I, during my years as a classroom teacher, really did overlook.

An area ripe for skimming and scanning, it seems, is news literacy. Only half of high school civics and American government teachers devote one or more units to teaching students to critically analyze the news, including determining which news sources are credible. In an online world, it’s hard to imagine how that can be done without being taught to skim and scan.

And with some predicting that news-literacy programs will proliferate under the common standards (because they focus on nonfiction and critical thinking), again it may prove even more crucial to teach skimming and scanning outright.

—Liana Heitin

| NEWS | Learning the Language

Call for Immigrants to Revive Detroit Could Pose Challenge to Schools

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder is pledging to push an initiative to bring 50,000 skilled immigrants (and their families) to Detroit—an effort he says is critical for saving the city from economic extinction.

On its face, the proposal seems pretty far-fetched. But it also signals just how desperate things have become for battered Detroit, which declared bankruptcy in 2013 and has lost hundreds of thousands of residents in recent years.

While the sort of immigrants Snyder is seeking would be highly educated and equipped with skills that employers are after, a massive influx of these workers and their families could present challenges and opportunities for the city school system, which has been hobbled for years by declining enrollment, shrinking budgets, and dismal academic performance. The school system—with about 40,000 students—is currently run by an appointed emergency manager.

So, in the long-shot event that Detroit would suddenly become a hotbed of immigrant skilled labor, how equipped would it be to serve more immigrant children, a number of whom would presumably need English-as-a-second-language services?

And, perhaps more importantly, how seriously would highly educated immigrants consider placing their children in Detroit’s public schools? If they opted for charters or private schools, a critical part of the city’s resuscitation needs would be missed.

—Lesli A. Maxwell

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Georgia Loses Access to Nearly $10 Million in Race to Top Funds

More than six months after the U.S. Department of Education told Georgia it planned to withhold nearly $10 million of the state’s Race to the Top grant over teacher-evaluation problems, federal officials have done just that.

Effective Jan. 15, Georgia lost access to $9.9 million of its $400 million Race to the Top grant—money that the state promised in its winning application to use for a merit-pay system tied to new teacher evaluations. The state has eliminated that merit-pay plan, has chosen not to appeal the department’s decision, and is forfeiting the money—at least for now.

This marks the first time the federal department has withheld money as part of its signature, high-profile Race to the Top contest. Georgia and 10 other states plus the District of Columbia shared a $4 billion jackpot in 2010.

Georgia Department of Education spokesman Matt Cardoza said that the state chose not to appeal because it has until September to resubmit a merit-pay play and possibly get the money back. Any unused Race to the Top money reverts to the U.S. Treasury in 2015.

—Michele McNeil

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Luna Declines Re-Election Bid For Third Term as Idaho’s Chief

Idaho Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna announced Jan. 27 that he will not seek a third term in 2014. At his announcement, the Associated Press reported, the Republican said that not running again would actually help the policies promoted by the state’s Task Force for Improving Education, which issued broad recommendations for K-12 changes last August. Those recommendations, which he planned to implement, would do better, according to Mr. Luna, if they weren’t attacked by opponents in the course of a re-election effort on his part.

Mr. Luna was first elected as state superintendent in 2006, then re-elected in 2010. He survived a recall push after that second election, but his tenure will always be remembered in part for his failure to obtain voter approval for the “Luna Laws,” which the legislature passed in 2011. Those laws, which included new restrictions on collective bargaining in the state and more money for technology in schools, were defeated as ballot initiatives in 2012 after stiff opposition from teachers’ unions.

The survival of the Common Core State Standards might come into question with Mr. Luna’s departure at theend of the year. He’s been a consistent defender of the standards, which have aroused some opposition in Idaho. Roughly a month ago, on Dec. 20, Chiefs for Change, an affiliate of the Foundation for Excellence in Education that promotes data-based teacher evaluations and school choice, announced that Mr. Luna had become a member.

—Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Teachers’ Union Wants Removal Of N.Y. Schools Superintendent

The board of the New York state teachers’ union has delivered a unanimous “no confidence” vote on state education commissioner John B. King Jr. and demanded his removal, one more blow to the common-core standards effort in the state.

Meeting in Albany on Jan. 25, the 80-member board of the New York State United Teachers also declared its opposition to the way the common standards have been implemented and called for “major course corrections to its failed implementation plan.”

The union has argued for many months that teachers have not uniformly had enough time to get acquainted with the standards, or curriculum designed for them, before being judged on how their students perform. The board’s vote now faces a vote by delegates of the rank and file of the 600,000-member union in April.

—Catherine Gewertz

A version of this article appeared in the February 05, 2014 edition of Education Week as Blogs

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