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Blogs of the Week

May 17, 2016 9 min read
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| NEWS | Inside School Research

See, Health Researchers Argue Over Methodology, Too

Methodology matters, and there’s not much to get folks in the research field as riled up as questions about which methods are better.

Education watchers have been arguing since before the dawn of the Institute of Education Sciences about the relative importance and role of randomized controlled trials versus implementation studies, big data analyses versus ethnographic studies, and so on. So it’s nice to know other fields can get just as heated over these issues.

That certainly was the case last fall, after the McGill Qualitative Health Research Group tweeted out a rejection letter from the British Medical Journal that suggested qualitative studies are “an extremely low priority” for the journal because they are not “widely accessed, downloaded, or cited.”

In response, the International Journal of Qualitative Methods published recommendations for researchers looking to be published. Stephen Porter, a higher education professor at North Carolina State University, has some interesting perspective on the kerfuffle over at his blog, where he argues: “In short, the future of qual research looks grim.”

I’m somewhat skeptical that qualitative research is on the decline, in education at least. The Every Student Succeeds Act pushes more authority to states and even districts to determine what kind of research they need most, and takes a more nuanced approach to what constitutes “high-quality education research.” Meanwhile, the IES seems to be pushing for more research on why interventions do or don’t work, how to scale them more effectively in different communities, and how different kinds of students respond differently to them.

Still, recent criticism over small sample sizes and a lack of findings that can be reproduced in educationresearch is unlikely to go away soon, and policymakers are pushing qualitative and quantitative researchers alike to make sure their research is more relevant to practitioners. Conversations like the one over the British Medical Journal’s acceptance policies may spur more practical consideration about how education research should evolve, too.

–Sarah D. Sparks

| NEWS | Rural Education

States Looking to Ramp Up Loan Forgiveness for Teachers

Several states are considering or enacting policies to forgive college loans for teachers who work in rural schools, in an attempt to mitigate a constant teacher shortage in those areas.

Nearly a third of the nation’s schools are in rural areas, and they often struggle to recruit and retain teachers. For years, rural districts have tried to offer incentives to lure teachers to hard-to-fill positions. Some of the latest:

•In North Carolina, a bill proposed this month would use profits from the state lottery to help teachers repay student loans, according to the Winston-Salem Journal. Teachers would receive between $5,000 and $10,000 through the program, with rural and low-income areas receiving the highest amounts. All teachers would have to commit to teaching in public schools for at least four years.

•In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker recently signed a bill that forgives 25 percent of the amount of higher education loans for teachers who work in rural districts.

•In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley recently proposed forgiving up to $30,000 in student loans for teachers who work in districts with high turnover rates.

Loan forgiveness has also recently been taken up on the national level. A bipartisan bill proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives would allow teachers to apply their years in the classroom to two federal loan-forgiveness programs at the same time.

–Jackie Mader

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Music Education Leader Is Out After Furor Over Racial Comments

After a blog post criticizing his comments about race and diversity went viral, Michael Butera is leaving his position as the executive director of the National Association for Music Education.

He’ll be replaced by Michael Blakeslee, the former chief operating officer of the association and one of the developers of the National Core Arts Standards.

In an interview with Education Week, Blakeslee said the turmoil had “given us a chance to reaffirm the association’s deep belief that all children have music education as part of their education and redouble our efforts.”

While the association does not directly hire music teachers or accept students into music education programs, he said, “we can promote the kind of professional development that gives [those who do] ideas about how they can approach diversity.” Up until this point, he said, “this is not an issue we’ve been ignoring, but this certainly pushes it to the fore for us.”

The music education community went into an uproar this month after Keryl McCord, the operations director for the Atlanta-based nonprofit Alternate ROOTS, wrote a blog post describing comments from Butera at a conference of the National Endowment for the Arts. McCord wrote that Butera said that African-Americans and Latinos lacked the keyboard skills required of music teachers, and that there was little he could do to help diversify the National Association for Music Education’s all-white elected board.

Butera responded with a Facebook post that disputed the accuracy of the post, but others backed up McCord’s account.

Jesse Rosen, the president and CEO of the League of American Orchestras, said that after attendees challenged Butera’s statements, he abruptly and angrily walked out of the room.

–Jaclyn Zubrzycki

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Congress Told Draft Spending Rules Appear to Exceed ESSA Language

A report from the Congressional Research Service says that spending regulations proposed earlier this year by the U.S. Department of Education appear to be outside what the statutory language of the Every Student Succeeds Act allows.

The May 5 report deals with regulatory language governing “supplement not supplant,” or SNS, a provision of ESSA that says federal Title I funds targeted at low-income students must be in addition to, and not take the place of, state and local spending on K-12. It concludes that “a legal argument could be raised” that the Education Department’s proposal is beyond the bounds of the law.

A team of educators, advocates, and experts representing various perspectives tasked with negotiating regulatory language to govern supplement-not-supplant failed to agree on that language, leaving it to the department to come up with regulations of its own.

Under language proposed last month by the Education Department to the negotiators for consideration, districts would be required to show that per-pupil spending in Title I schools (those with large shares of low-income students) is at least equal to average per-pupil spending levels in non-Title I schools.

State and district representatives vigorously objected, saying that would create an unfair burden on schools, and that the department was trying a backdoor method to change another part of the law, called “comparability,” that requires spending between the two types of schools to be comparable. Those supporting the language, however, including representatives from civil rights groups, said it represented a strong test of whether districts were violating supplement-not-supplant.

The report ultimately seems to take the side of stateand district negotiators on the issue of more-equalized per-pupil spending.

The CRS report also appears to side with state and local K-12 leaders who argued that a variety of school budgeting methods would be unfairly banned from use, and that the forced use of teacher salaries in per-pupil-spending calculations for supplement-not-supplant does not appear in ESSA.

On May 11, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., the chairman of the Senate education committee, took to the Senate floor and, citing the CRS report, blasted the department for “ignoring the law.” He reiterated that he would seek to overturn the proposed regulations, through either the federal appropriations process or the Congressional Review Act, if the department adopts them.

But the Education Department responded to the CRS report with the following statement: “The law is clear—Title I funds must be used to supplement state and local funds. ... If schools are being shortchanged before the federal dollars arrive, then those dollars are not supplemental.”

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Democrats Warn of Roadblocks To Public Input on New K-12 Law

The top Democrats on education committees in Congress are telling the U.S. Department of Education to help states gather an appropriately diverse level of feedback from civil rights advocates, teachers, and others, as states consider life under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

The May 11 letter from Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash. and the ranking member of the Senate education committee, and Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., who holds the same position on the House education committee, also expressed concern that there are roadblocks in the way of gathering important input from those groups.

“Unfortunately, as states embark on plan development, there are early reports of systemic barriers impeding the participation of teachers, paraprofessionals, specialized instructional-support personnel, parents, and other stakeholders in state and local plan development,” Murray and Scott wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. They cited as examples “lack of consideration for working parents and community members in scheduling meetings with stakeholders or the inability of teachers, paraprofessionals, and other school personnel to secure release time to enable full participation in plan development.”

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Learning the Language

Native American Students Focus Of Ed. Secretary’s Visit to S.D.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King Jr. traveled to Pine Ridge, S.D., last week for a firsthand look at the issues affecting Native American students.

The schedule included a stop at Red Cloud Indian School to meet with teachers and administrators and visit classrooms. (The private K-12 school was featured prominently in Education Week‘s 2013 multimedia reporting project on education on the Pine Ridge reservation in 2013.) He also was scheduled to visit Wolf Creek School, a preK-8 campus, to meet with teachers and tribal leaders and eat lunch with students.

More than a third of American Indian children live in poverty, and just two-thirds graduate from high school—the lowest of any racial or ethnic group in the nation. Those troubling statistics have drawn the attention of several federal agencies and the White House. In 2015, President Barack Obama launched his Generation Indigenous, or Gen I, initiative, a joint effort by the U.S. departments of Education and the Interior, which seeks to address barriers to success for Native American youths.

–Corey Mitchell

A version of this article appeared in the May 18, 2016 edition of Education Week as Blogs of the Week


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