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April 27, 2016 9 min read
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| NEWS | Teaching Now

Digital-Classroom Simulations Signal New Teacher-Prep Frontier

Imagine a student-teacher in front of a classroom, trying to get control of it. A student might pull out his phone or make a comment that disrupts the rest of the class. The prospective teacher will then use classroom-management techniques that she has learned in her own classes to re-engage the students.

Nothing out of the ordinary. But at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education, that classroom is a computer-based mixed-reality simulation. The students are avatars, programmed to be unruly as a test of prospective teachers’ classroom-management skills.

This semester, about 60 education students took part in the school’s pilot program. In the fall, students will use the simulator for practicing instruction, and next spring, the focus will be on behavior management, Stephanie Van Hover, the chairwoman of Curry’s department of curriculum, instruction, and special education, said in an email.

“To be able to start teaching on day one with more proficiency in classroom management and more confidence in your management skills could not be more valuable to a beginning teacher and the students with whom they work,” Robert Pianta, the dean of the education school, said in an article about the program on the university’s news site.

Sure, teachers in training can and do learn these skills in real-life classrooms. But researchers say the classroom simulation has some advantages.

First, it allows teacher-candidates to experiment with different classroom-management techniques, honing their own skills instead of having to use a veteran teacher’s rules and structures during student-teaching. Second, it allows an opportunity for immediate feedback—at UVA, faculty supervisors are evaluating the student-teachers’ implementation of classroom-management strategies while the simulation is happening. Third, student-teachers can feel free to make mistakes in a low-risk environment—they won’t hurt a real child’s feelings by saying the wrong thing.

University researchers are measuring the prospective teachers’ heart rates and blood pressure during the lessons to see how they react when a student is misbehaving.

Being aware of their responses to students’ behaviors can help teacher-candidates work to become less reactive and more strategic, said Jillian McGraw, a doctoral student who supervises the teacher-candidates using the simulator.

In 2011, the University of Central Florida was on the cutting edge of the simulations. That program, TeachLivE, has spread to more than 85 U.S. college campuses—including Virginia’s flagship university.

–Madeline Will

| NEWS | The School Law Blog

Bullying Suits Face High Legal Bar For Holding Schools Responsible

Even as a new lawsuit seeks to hold the New York City district liable for failing to reduce violence and bullying in schools, recent court decisions show how difficult it is for plaintiffs to win on bullying claims.

A group of parents and other guardians of students is seeking class-action status for their suit against the New York system. The suit in Doe v. New York City Department of Education, filed April 6 in a federal district court, alleges that the school system is not adequately responding to in-school violence, harassment, and bullying.

The “acts and omissions” by the New York City system, it alleges, “reveal a custom and practice of deliberate indifference to in-school violence, creating a culture of indifference to continued, violent assaults.”

The suit’s claims are based on the 14th Amendment’s due process and equal-protection clauses, as well as New York state constitutional and statutory provisions.

Meanwhile, two federal appeals court decisions in recent weeks rejected efforts by students and families to hold school systems legally responsible for bullying by students. On April 8, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit, in Richmond, Va., ruled that a Maryland district could not be held liable for the alleged bullying of a student with disabilities by other students.

School administrators and officials of the Harford County, Md., district investigated complaints made by the student’s parents and disciplined the offenders, court papers say.

The parents sued under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, alleging that the district had failed to prevent the bullying.

Both a federal district court and the 4th Circuit court agreed that the school district did not respond to the bullying with “deliberate indifference,” the standard required under U.S. Supreme Court precedents to hold the district responsible.

“While we sympathize with students and parents who face school bullying issues, we agree” that the student “has provided no evidence that the [district] acted with the deliberate indifference necessary to hold it liable for student-on-student harassment,” the 4th Circuit court ruled in S.B. v. Board of Education of Harford County.

On March 25, another federal appeals court reached a similar conclusion that school officials did not respond with deliberate indifference to an alleged pattern of repeated bullying and sexual harassment of a Tennessee student.

In its decision in Stiles v. Grainger County, a three-judge panel of the 6th Circuit court, in Cincinnati, unanimously ruled that the bullying and sexual-harassment pattern was not met by deliberate indifference by school officials.

“At the conclusion of each investigation, the administrators disciplined students found guilty of wrongdoing,” the appeals court said. “We acknowledge that the school’s remedial measures did not eliminate [the student’s] problems with other students. ... But the school’s efforts here went beyond merely talking to the offenders. They consisted of multiple investigations, several in-school suspensions, and class scheduling that separated [the boy] from his harassers.”

–Mark Walsh

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Kentucky Schools Chief Would Like to Jettison School, District Rankings

Kentucky’s schools superintendent says he doesn’t want to rank the state’s schools under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.

Stephen Pruitt said that the model the state currently uses, which ranks schools and their districts by a percentile score, is oversimplistic and unfair. He instead wants to use a “dashboard” approach that measures schools in several categories, such as chronic absenteeism or graduation rate, allowing parents to draw their own conclusions.

The new system needs to be “fair, reliable, easier to understand, and more meaningful for kids,” said Pruitt, who is touring the state to gather feedback on what the state’s education accountability plan should look like under ESSA.

Several states are considering using dashboard approaches for their next accountability system. While using a dashboard will be permissible under ESSA, states must still rank their bottom 5 percent of schools. That means states will still have to incorporate some sort of index in their new accountability system.

California officials, who are at the tail end of building their next accountability system, are refusing to rank schools or identify the state’s worst-performing schools. Officials there say that schools are too complex to come up with one number or grade to convey to parents how their children will be served. The U.S. Department of Education has yet to respond to a letter California officials sent describing their concerns.

Critics of the dashboard approach, particularly school choice advocates, say poor and minority parents need a more direct way of drawing conclusions about the schools their children attend.

–Daarel Burnette II

| NEWS | Politics K-12

New Legislation Aiming To Solve What Some See As Shortage of Teachers

A new bipartisan bill in Congress is designed to address what some argue is a national teacher shortage by making it easier for educators to get forgiveness from higher-education loans.

The House bill from Reps. Richard Hanna, R-N.Y., and Mark Takano, D-Calif., would allow teachers to apply their classroom-service time to two federal loan-forgiveness programs simultaneously, making it easier for them to get out from under their college-loan debts.

The Stafford Student Loan Forgiveness and Public Service Loan Forgiveness programs are the two federal ones available for teachers. The former provides debt relief after five years in the classroom, and the latter discharges any remaining debt after 10 years of public service. But right now, teachers can’t participate in both at the same time.

According to a statement released by the two members of Congress, teachers seeking a loan discharge through the public-service program have to serve an additional 10 years in classrooms if they previously qualified for the Stafford program, making it a 15-year proposition for teachers to participate in both. The proposed bill would allow teachers to apply their time teaching to both programs concurrently.

The bill, introduced this month, would amend the Higher Education Act.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | District Dossier

Decades of Policy Failure Impeded School Diversity, Ed. Secretary King Says

Decades of education, housing, and transportation policy have left the nation’s schools at a crossroads, U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. told a forum put on by a Washington think tank last week.

Even as the nation’s population of students is increasingly diverse, public schools are becoming more segregated, with a majority of black and Latino students attending poor-performing, racially isolated schools with high concentrations of poverty. That has happened despite research showing that students do better academically in racially and socioeconomically diverse schools.

School attendance zones that snake through neighborhoods, housing policies that isolate the poor, and transportation policies that limit access to jobs have all played a role, King said. While acknowledging the past, he said policies that isolate children in poor-performing schools aren’t etched in stone.

“The decisions were a set of choices we’ve made. Just as they were made, they can be changed,” King said while delivering the keynote at the event hosted by the Century Foundation.

Since his appointment last fall, King has championed diversity as a route to produce better outcomes for all students, arguing that more racially and socioeconomically balanced schools can help address big gaps in resource equity. During the April 19 forum, he touted Stronger Together, the Obama administration’s proposed $120 million competitive-grant program intended to help schools become more socioeconomically diverse.

The emphasis on school integration pops up several times in President Barack Obama’s budget request. Obama also wants $115 million for magnet schools, up from $96 million currently, in part for competitive grants to support desegregation efforts.

–Corey Mitchell

A version of this article appeared in the April 27, 2016 edition of Education Week as Best of the Blogs

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