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June 07, 2016 7 min read
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| NEWS | High School & Beyond

Anti-Common-Core Assessment to Compete With SAT, ACT

A new test is positioning itself as a non-common-core alternative to the SAT and the ACT.

Word about the Vector Assessment of Readiness for College, or Vector ARC, has been making its way through the conservative blogosphere, which is pitching it as a tool for families who don’t want their children taking college-admissions tests that reflect the Common Core State Standards.

On its website, Vector ARC goes on the attack against testing “giants” that have gained a “virtual monopoly” over widely used tests such as the SAT and the ACT, and markets itself as “the antidote for common-core-aligned college-entrance exams.” Vector also appeals directly to the local-control sentiment that fueled the fight against the common core, using this tagline on its website: “Working to preserve both your academic freedom AND your college options.”

The assessment is in beta-testing mode. Students who attended a national home-schooling convention in Cincinnati last spring were given the opportunity to take the test so developers could refine it. For that testing, Vector sought students who had SAT or ACT scores, presumably to facilitate study of how performance on the new test compares with performance on those established exams.

Vector says on its website that the test was developed by “educators, policy developers, and subject-area experts,” and that “there are colleges and universities interested in and willing to accept the ARC once the scores are validated.” But it offers no further details.

The Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank, has been spreading the word about Vector ARC in a bid to get more families to sign up their children for beta testing and for the finished exam. Justin Haskins, the group’s executive director, writes that Vector ARC “will only test students on the information they actually need to be successful in college and later in life, focusing heavily on the classical Western educational standards of the past. ... If students have the skills that have been considered essential for centuries in Western nations, they will do well on the Vector ARC test.”

–Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Teachers Tap Crowdsourcing to Underwrite Lawsuit Over Pay

A group of Miami teachers is looking to raise $100,000 to take on their school district over millions of dollars in what they claim are lost wages.

The educators—who are using the popular crowdsourcing platform Go Fund Me to raise money for the lawsuit—contend that the Miami-Dade County school system is ignoring a 2011 Florida law that requires districts to give pay increases to teachers deemed “highly effective” or “effective” based on student-test scores and classroom observations.

Miami-Dade was a pioneer in a national movement to base teachers’ compensation on performance. In 2011, with much fanfare, thousands of Miami teachers received pay bumps, and longtime Superintendent Alberto Carvalho presented 120 educators with large novelty checks for amounts ranging from $4,000 to $25,000. Those payouts were funded by the district’s share of the Obama administration’s $4.3 billion Race to the Top program.

During the same year that Miami began experimenting with merit pay, state lawmakers passed a bill that mandated all districts implement similar programs by 2014. Miami’s federal funds for its merit-pay program ran out the same year that the state mandate kicked in.

In Miami-Dade, that meant highly effective teachers would receive $6,000 raises, while effective one would receive a smaller share. In 2014, 39 percent of the district’s 20,000 teachers were deemed highly effective, creating, officials say, an untenable financial position. In neighboring Broward County, meanwhile, just 5 percent of the school district’s 14,000 teachers were rated highly effective.

Last September, United Teachers of Dade and the district agreed to a new pay scale that shrunk the raises promised.

The teachers behind the Go Fund Me campaign say the new contract is illegal, charging that it violates the law’s provision that entitles tenured teachers to the “grandfathered salary schedule.” The district counters that raises are never guaranteed, but are instead negotiated regularly between districts and unions.

–Emmanuel Felton

| NEWS | K-12 Parents and the Public

Parent Volunteers Compensated to Act as Liaisons With District

A North Carolina district was looking for ways to get more parents involved. So school officials decided to pay select parents to volunteer.

The Guilford County district now gives financial incentives to parents to act as go-betweens between their schools and the district, assigning them to relay information and set up programs for their campuses.

It’s not much—up to $150 a month. But as a result, parents have launched their own initiatives, such as English-as-a-second-language classes for parents, Saturday lessons, and child care, said Lindsay Whitley, the director of the Guilford Parent Academy.

The district received federal money to pay for the first liaisons—24 parents in middle schools in 2013-14. The following year, it expanded the program with federal Title I funds for low-income children to pay for 65 liaisons in elementary, middle, and high schools.

Parents attend monthly meetings to discuss such issues as the importance of attendance, and receive handouts or PowerPoint presentations to take back to their schools.

“What we feel is,” Whitley said, “we are reaping huge benefits from a small investment.”

–Sarah Tully

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Who Has Donald Trump’s Ear on Education-Related Policy?

Remember when we said that presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump had no K-12 advisers that we could find? Well, it would seem that someone does have his ear on higher education and other domestic policy issues: Sam Clovis, a professor of economics at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa, and conservative radio talk show host. (Hat tip: Inside Higher Education and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.)

Clovis, who is Trump’s national co-chairman, is also a fan of civics education, and has started a lecture series called “serious civics,” according to a profile in the Omaha World Herald. And he has founded a nonprofit, Serious Civics, which a campaign profile calls a “nonprofit focused on raising civic awareness and enhancing education reform.”

Clovis, who ran for Iowa State Treasurer and the U.S. Senate in 2014, is a fan of charter schools and of funds following children to the school of their choice, according to the political issues site OnTheIssues. And like Trump, he is not enamored of the Common Core State Standards.

Inside Higher Education interviewed Clovis and found that on higher education he’s in favor of having student loans originate with banks, not the federal government.

It also sounds like a potential Trump administration might consider shifting the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights to the Department of Justice. And Clovis (as well as Trump) is interested in taking a look at whether there needs to be a federal education department at all.

–Alyson Klein

| NEWS | The School Law Blog

High Court Seeks More Views in Case on Special Ed. Benefits

The U.S. Supreme Court has asked the Obama administration to weigh in on whether it should grant review in a special education case about the level of education benefit required under federal law.

The case, Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District RE-1 (No. 15-827), raises an important question about which federal appeals courts are divided: What level of educational benefit must a child receive under his or her individualized education program to satisfy the demands of the main federal special education law?

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit, in Denver, ruled in the case of a Colorado child with autism that because the child’s public school IEP provided him with “some educational benefit,” the Douglas County district had provided a “free, appropriate public education” under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. (The 10th Circuit court thus rejected a private school reimbursement for the parents of the boy identified as Endrew F., who had pulled him from public school after the dispute over his 5th grade IEP.)

In its August 2015 decision, the 10th Circuit court panel acknowledged that several other courts of appeals have adopted a higher standard that requires an IEP to result in a “meaningful educational benefit.”

The Supreme Court on May 31 asked the U.S. solicitor general’s office to provide its views. The solicitor general’s office is under no particular deadline to file a brief, and it would seem unlikely that a response would come before the court adjourns for the summer.

–Mark Walsh

A version of this article appeared in the June 08, 2016 edition of Education Week as Best of the Blogs


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