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January 27, 2015 8 min read
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| NEWS | Education and the Media

Television Networks Present Quirky Education Fare

Network TV newsmagazine shows continue to highlight education in quirky ways. Yet they rarely air reports on the biggest policy issues in education.

Instead, ABC’s “20/20" recently reported on a set of parents who feuded with the PTA president of their children’s school, and “CBS Sunday Morning” ran a sweet profile of a custodian who has been counseling students on the side for years.

On “20/20,” Chris Connelly reported on a war at Plaza Vista School in Irvine, Calif., between parents and the PTA president. The parents launched a “vitriolic campaign” against the PTA president that included letters to school officials, lawsuits —and something more.

One day in 2011, the show reported, the Irvine police received a tip that there were drugs in the PTA president’s car. The police searched it and found marijuana and pills. In the end, the parents were convicted of planting the drugs.

It doesn’t say much about the state of education in Irvine or anywhere else, but it is the kind of story that “20/20" loves.

On “CBS Sunday Morning,” which did broadcast a piece last year about the common-core standards, there was a story by correspondent Steve Hartman of the type that he specializes in—uplifting profiles of hard-working folks who just go about doing their jobs and do good.

Hartman profiles Charles Clark, the custodian at Trinity High School in Euless, Texas. Clark takes to his job with dignity, taking pride in how clean he keeps things. But for the past 25 years, the custodian has also informally counseled students at risk of failure, particularly boys in need of a father figure.

He helps those who “may be falling through the cracks,” Hartman says, all with the OK of the school’s regular counselor.

“Who do you think gives me my clients,” Clark jokes about the professional counselor.

The segment is short, but it speaks volumes about the good people who can be found working in the nation’s schools.

–Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Teacher Beat

California Districts Ignoring Law On Teacher Reviews, Report Says

Four years after a major lawsuit in California brought attention to districts ignoring a teacher-evaluation statute, many continue not to include student achievement as a measure of teacher quality, a new report says.

The findings come from EdVoice, an advocacy group that funded—and won—a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District in 2011. The lawsuit argued that the district was ignoring student achievement in violation of state law.

Following that suit, EdVoice investigated other districts’ policies, resulting in the report released last week that says student achievement continues to be ignored by districts in spite of legal obligations.

“Evidence from many large districts suggests little movement from their elected leaders, senior management, or staff unit representatives to change noncompliant district practice and culture, except when legal violations are brought directly to their attention,” the report says.

Specifically, the EdVoice report looks at district compliance with the Stull Act, which outlines teacher-evaluation standards for the state. The report dissects both formal evaluation forms and collective bargaining pacts to see whether student achievement is included.

Of the 26 districts investigated, only two—Clovis Unified and Sweetwater Union High School—were found to comply fully on official evaluation forms, if not in the collective bargaining agreements for those districts.

California has 1,028 districts, but EdVoice used 26 of the largest in its study. The San Ramon Valley and Upland districts were found to be “explicitly in violation” of the Stull Act, because of pacts that purportedly ban consideration of test scores in teacher evaluations. Representatives of both districts told the Los Angeles Times that they disagree with the report’s findings and are in compliance with state law.

The report acknowledges that the forms studied generally have comment sections where evaluators could add in details on student growth, but further analysis of completed teacher evaluation forms (with names redacted) showed that no district used the comments to address student achievement in a consistent manner.

–Ross Brenneman

| NEWS | Schooled in Sports

Girls’ Basketball Coach Suspended Two Games After Winning 161-2

Tip to all girls’ basketball coaches in California: Egregiously running up the score against an opponent could be detrimental to your job.

The Arroyo Valley High School girls’ basketball coach, Michael Anderson, recently earned a two-game suspension after his team blasted Bloomington High School to the tune of 161-2 earlier this month, according to local media.

Anderson and Bloomington head coach Dale Chung met before the game, with Anderson saying that he planned on running his full offense for the first half.

“This was our last game before we started league, and we were going to come out playing hard,” Anderson told the San Bernardino Sun. “I wanted to let him know there was no harm intended, ... and he seemed fine with that.”

According to the paper, Anderson tried to have the officials implement a running clock in the third quarter, but they didn’t do so until the fourth. He also claimed to have told his team in the second half not to attempt a shot unless there were seven seconds or fewer remaining on the shot clock.

Those concessions were little consolation to Chung. “People shouldn’t feel sorry for my team,” he said. “They should feel sorry for his team, which isn’t learning the game the right way.”

–Bryan Toporek

| NEWS | Politics K-12

House Education Committee Outlines Head Start Overhaul Recommendations

The U.S. Senate education panel might be ready to rumble on a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act, and the House is expected to follow suit. But it’s clear that K-12 isn’t the only thing on lawmakers’ minds: The House education committee kicked off the new Congress with some background proposals for revising the Head Start Act.

The white paper was put forth by the committee last week, the day after President Barack Obama made a pitch for helping parents cover the cost of child care in his State of the Union Address.

It outlines the panel’s principles for revising the Head Start Act, which last got a face-lift in 2007. They include: reducing unnecessary regulatory burdens, encouraging local innovation, boosting coordination between Head Start and state and local programs, improving the quality of eligible providers, and enhancing parental engagement to support children’s best interests.

In making its recommendations, the committee cited a Government Accountability Office report showing that the feds currently operate 45 different programs aimed at early-childhood education.

It also cited a 2012 federal study of the Head Start program that showed the program’s impact largely dissipated by the 3rd grade. Critics, however, said the study didn’t take into account factors that were likely to have a big impact on student results, such as how much time they spent in Head Start classrooms and the quality of those programs.

–Alyson Klein

| NEWS | The School Law Blog

U.S. Supreme Court Case Highlights Link Between Housing and Education

The U.S. Supreme Court last week took up a case about lawsuits over racially discriminatory effects in housing, an issue that has important implications for education in two ways.

The issue before the justices is whether plaintiffs may bring so-called disparate-impact claims under the federal Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Several groups filed briefs stressing the link between housing opportunities and racial diversity in schools, arguing that the unavailability of disparate-impact claims would worsen racial isolation in the nation’s classrooms.

The Supreme Court’s ruling could also potentially limit the power claimed by the U.S. Department of Education to sue over racially disparate effects in schools.

Texas, which is fighting a disparate-impact housing claim in the case before the justices, cites in its brief a “dear colleague” letter from the Education Department’s assistant secretary for civil rights in October, claiming authority under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to enforce against, as the letter put it, “facially neutral policies that are not intended to discriminate based on race, color, or national origin, but do have an unjustified, adverse disparate impact on students based on race, color, or national origin.”

In Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs v. The Inclusive Communities Project Inc., the high court is weighing whether a Dallas organization may press its claim that the state housing agency disproportionately allocated federal housing tax credits for projects in minority-populated areas.

The Inclusive Communities Project favored spreading the projects around to wealthier neighborhoods around Dallas so that racial integration would improve in those areas.

A federal district court found that the suit failed to prove intentional discrimination by the Texas agency, but that the agency’s actions had racially discriminatory effects. An appeals court ruled that such disparate-impact claims may be brought.

–Mark Walsh

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Condoleezza Rice Tapped to Lead K-12 Advocacy Group Founded by Jeb Bush

Former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has been picked to be the next leader of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, the influential education advocacy organization founded by former Florida governor and potential presidential candidate Jeb Bush, the Associated Press reported.

Rice has close ties to Bush’s family, having served as secretary of state under Jeb Bush’s brother, former President George W. Bush, from 2005 to 2009. She is currently a professor of politics and a senior fellow at Stanford University. The AP reported it had obtained a letter from Bush to the foundation’s staff introducing Rice as the group’s new leader.

Jeb Bush, who started the Foundation for Excellence in Education in 2008 soon after his eight years as Florida governor ended, has turned the group into one of the most influential education organizations in the nation, lobbying states ranging from Maine to Oklahoma to adopt a broad suite of policies, including A-F accountability and online learning. But at the start of this year, he announced that he was leaving his role as chairman of the foundation in order to explore a run for the White House in 2016.

–Andrew Ujifusa

A version of this article appeared in the January 29, 2015 edition of Education Week as Blogs

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