Education Best of the Blogs


October 08, 2013 6 min read
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|NEWS| State EdWatch

Mich. Website Survives Common Core ‘Freeze’

The Michigan Department of Education nearly had to shutter its website on Oct. 1—but it wasn’t because of the federal government shutdown. The state’s spending freeze on the Common Core State Standards began that day, and the state department was preparing to close down its Internet presence because of common core’s footprint throughout the website, the Detroit Free Press reported. But the decision ultimately was made that the website, including any pages dealing with the standards, could remain up and running. The department is barred from posting anything new about the standards, however.

The Michigan House, meanwhile, approved a resolution that would fund the standards and the associated tests. But the state Senate was in no rush to consider the resolution before the Oct. 1 “freeze” kicked in. Officials have said the freeze mostly affects the state’s work on assessments, since it’s ultimately up to districts and schools to implement the standards in classrooms at this juncture. GOP Gov. Rick Snyder supports the common core.

—Andrew Ujifusa

|NEWS| School Law Blog

Federal Judge Tosses Suit on FERPA Rules Change

A federal judge has a thrown out a lawsuit challenging 2011 regulations for the main federal education privacy law that added student identification numbers to the “directory” of information that may be disclosed by schools and colleges.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center and four individuals sued the U.S. Department of Education over the rules for the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974, or FERPA. But Judge Amy Berman Jackson, of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, ruled Sept. 26 that the plaintiffs lack legal standing to bring their suit.

FERPA governs the disclosure of student records by educational institutions receiving federal funds. Most records generally may not be disclosed without a parent’s consent, or the consent of an adult student. But schools and colleges may disclose some directory information without consent, including a student’s name, address, participation in sports and activities, dates of attendance, and degrees awarded.

—Mark Wlash

|NEWS| Curriculum Matters

Calif. Testing Bill Signed, Despite Duncan Warnings

Remember all the hubbub when California announced a plan to dump most of its existing state testing system for 2013-14 and instead use field tests developed by a consortium of states? It sparked a stern warning from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan that doing so could cost the state a chunk of its federal Title I money.

But that apparently hasn’t slowed down the Golden State in its plans to use the field tests from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown signed the pertinent legislation Oct. 2.

Cue a jubilant statement from California Superintendent Tom Torlakson, and silence from the U.S. Department of Education, where hardly anyone was working because of the government shutdown.

—Catherine Gewertz

|NEWS| Teacher Beat

Museum-Based Prep Has Graduates

The American Museum of Natural History, in New York City, graduated its first set of science teachers last week under a pilot residency program that has them working alongside scientists and in urban schools.

The 20 graduates in the inaugural class received a Master of Arts in Teaching under the auspices of the state board of regents. The New York institution is the first museum in the nation authorized to formally train teachers.

The museum was a winner in a program that the New York state education department sponsored with a cut of its winnings from the federal Race to the Top competition. New York’s goal was to set up “clinically rich” teacher education programs with at least a year of hands-on training in schools. One of its innovations was in opening the door to non-university-based programs.

The museum’s program prepares candidates to teach earth science in grades 7-12, a grade span that’s had a particularly hard time holding on to educators, according to state data. The program includes a summer working with educators at the museum, another summer working with scientists, and a full year of practicing in schools .

The experiment comes during a period of upheaval in teacher preparation.

—Stephen Sawchuk

|NEWS| Schooled in Sports

Researchers Rebut Case Against Sports

In this month’s issue, The Atlantic published an article from author-journalist Amanda Ripley that makes a case against the importance placed upon sports in U.S. high schools. Ripley argues that the costs of school sports (both in terms of time and money) outweigh the benefits.

Two education researchers have since rebutted Ripley’s article with their own Atlantic piece in which they highlighted studies about the positive relationship between school-sponsored sports and academic success.

The main study they bring up to support their point was published earlier this year in the Journal of Research in Education. Based on data from 657 public high schools across Ohio, the study authors discovered a positive correlation between a school’s commitment to athletics and academic success. Specifically, a 10-percentage-point increase in a school’s overall winning percentage was associated with a 1.3-percentage-point increase in an estimate of its high school graduation rate and a 0.25-percentage-point increase in the number of students achieving academic proficiency or better.

“Winning on the field and winning in the classroom tend to go hand in hand,” the study suggested.

The researchers also highlighted a study on the classroom results of high school coaches, which finds athletic coaches in Florida largely perform as well as their noncoaching peers in terms of raising students’ test scores.

—Bryan Toporek

|NEWS| Digital Education

LAUSD Deals With iPad Security Issues

The Los Angeles Unified School District has responded to a slew of media reports detailing security breaches in its high-profile rollout of student iPads, issuing a recent statement detailing a number of steps taken to “ensure it has 100 percent control over what is accessible” on the devices.

According to the district, the precautions include “limiting tablets from being taken off campuses,” “increasing technical capabilities of remotely controlling tablet content,” and “holding students, educators, and parents and guardians accountable for responsible technology use.”

But at least one prominent expert on such device deployments says that such fallout is “absolutely preventable” and that many of the measures that the district is pursuing do not reflect current best practices.

“I’ve been in this business for 12 years,” said Leslie Wilson, the chief executive officer of the One-to-One Institute, a Mason, Mich.-based nonprofit providing support for districts implementing 1-to-1 computing programs. “What we don’t do is deploy thousands of devices into a system that is not prepared from a human-capital, network, bandwidth, or security standpoint.”

The Los Angeles Times reported last month that nearly 300 students were able to hack through the security filters on their district-issued devices in order to access Facebook, Twitter, Pandora, and other unapproved websites when using the devices outside of school.

The school system has since revised that number upwards, now saying that “approximately 340 high schools students removed [mobile-device-management] software, thus potentially opening their devices to access content that was noneducational when they were outside the district’s firewall.”

The newspaper also reported last week that a total of 71 iPads—including 69 from a single campus—went missing during a 13-school pilot last spring.

After the hacking occurred, Superintendent John Deasy ordered an immediate moratorium on allowing students to take iPads off school grounds. A district statement said that “all tablets were re-routed through the district’s device-enrollment process ensuring the device-management systems were fully installed and functioning correctly. The district has also ordered that tablet deployments be delayed at any school that is unprepared to keep tablets on campus full time.”

—Benjamin Herold


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