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June 03, 2014 10 min read
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| NEWS |K-12 Parents and the Public

Parents, L.A. Form Partnership, Avoiding Parent-Trigger Law

A partnership agreement brokered between an elementary school parent union and the Los Angeles Unified School District to improve student achievement is being hailed as the first-of-its-kind for the nation’s second-largest school system.

Members of the parent union at West Athens Elementary School and schools Superintendent John Deasy signed the agreement last month.

West Athens parents opted to avoid using the state’s so-called parent-trigger law, which allows them to petition to force the district to implement sweeping changes at chronically low-performing schools.

Yet the mere existence of California’s Parent Empowerment Act, and the contentious struggle some schools experienced using the parent-petition process, may have influenced the negotiations with West Athens’ parents, even if it was unspoken.

Gabe Rose, deputy executive director of Parent Revolution, a parent-trigger advocacy group, said the partnership signals an “interesting shift” regarding how Los Angeles administrators interact with organized parents. Parent Revolution helped organize and support the parent union.

The agreement calls for a $300,000 investment to hire more staff, including a school psychologist, a part-time psychiatric social worker, attendance officers, and playground aides. In addition to more professional development for teachers, the plan includes strategies to improve Common Core State Standards implementation.

Negotiations between the parent union and the school’s principal and district officials began last fall. Rosalinda Lugo, an instructional director for the district, said parents received training and worked with the school’s teachers and principal to discuss their concerns and goals. Parents observed classrooms to learn how instruction was being delivered. Throughout the eight-month process, Lugo said a mutual understanding of the school’s needs was developed.

— Karla Scoon Reid

| NEWS |Time and Learning

School in U.K. Plans to End Early Classes for Older Students

Feeling lucky because you work for a school system with a relatively late start time — say, 8:30 a.m.?

Sorry to burst your bubble, but a private school in the United Kingdom recently announced that, next year, it will start the school day at 1:30 p.m. for students in 6th form (two years equivalent to grade 12 in the United States plus a grade 13 year). Classes will last until 7 p.m. Students in earlier grades at Hampton Court House will continue to arrive at 9 a.m.

The school in Surrey was inspired to make the change by research from the University of Oxford’s Sleep and Circadian Neuroscience Institute, Headmaster Guy Holloway told the U.K.'s Daily Mail.

Paul Kelley, an honorary research associate at Oxford, and Clark Lee, a senior law and policy analyst at the Center for Health and Homeland Security at the University of Maryland, recently released a report arguing for later school start times. Older teenagers are biologically programmed to go to sleep later and wake up later than adults, they explained.

Other British schools that have pushed back start times to 10 a.m. or later have seen improvements in student concentration levels and test scores, according to the Daily Mail.

Meanwhile, late-start crusaders have set more modest goals in the United States, with districts thinking hard about starting the school day an hour or so later.

The Fairfax County, Va., school board, for example, recently approved four later-start options for community discussion that range from 7:50 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. Currently, high school starts at 7:20 a.m., requiring some students to get on buses as early as 5:45 a.m., which one board member described as “inhumane,” The Washington Post reported.

While the school board is committed to starting the school day later, having passed a resolution in 2012 promising to make a change, some board members are wary of the 9:15 a.m. option, worrying that it would interfere with after-school activities.

The proposals would cost $2.8 million to $7.6 million to implement, mostly due to bus purchases.

— Samantha Stainburn

| NEWS |Teaching Now

Common-Core Conspiracies May Be Muffling Real Issues

America, we’ve had the wool pulled over our eyes.

All this time we’ve been debating the Common Core State Standards, we thought we were talking about lofty ideas like achievement, pedagogy, curriculum, and learning. And there’s been healthy, reasonable cynicism here and there, too.

But suddenly, I realized what a scam it all is: The common-core standards are about profits — the profits of America’s leading butter-alternative companies.

The companies currently field-testing exams aligned to the common core? Smarter Balanced. Come on, people — it’s right there in the name! And oh, yes, there’s the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC. Please — more like Parkay. This plot has been spreading out faster than Land o’ Lakes on toast, leaving the opinions of the country’s people marginalized. And it feels like a kick in the “dairyière.”

Still, some people out there are fighting the good fight, offering a variety of similarly imaginative reasons for why these standards must be stopped.

There’s Wyoming Against the Common Core, for instance, which believes that common standards are just a way for President Barack Obama to teach children about global warming,

Others, like Florida Rep. Charles Van Zant, are convinced that the common core exams being developed in his state will turn children gay.

Radio show host Glenn Beck, similarly, has his interesting theories about the common core and asked some important questions of the Obama administration (which didn’t actually write the standards) on a recent program:

“Why are they dumbing us down? Why are they teaching us not to read Huck Finn? Why are they teaching us not to listen to another point of view? They need to get our critical thinking erased. ... If you can no longer critically think, then they can do whatever they want — this is slavery. They are breeding an entire new generation of slaves.”

You heard that right: President Barack Obama is pro-slavery.

The bigger and, perhaps, more moderate complaints against the common core have generally been related to testing and faulty implementation, and about the developmental appropriateness of the standards themselves. There are additional arguments, too, about whether common standards will or should lead to a common curriculum, or even to a national curriculum. All of these issues directly affect the people charged with executing the common standards—teachers.

When there are arguments about the standards promoting slavery, homosexuality, science(?), and butter(!), who has time to worry about the minutia of classroom instruction?

So it might be necessary for moderate common-core opponents to ask themselves if it matters which kind of opposition policymakers and the public are listening to, or if the ends justify the means.

There are a lot of voices speaking for and against the common core. The question is, how much of the debate is about education, and how much is actually just a slab of Country Crock?

— Ross Brenneman

| NEWS |Politics K-12

Florida Districts Seeking Guidance As NCLB Waiver Renewal Looms

With the clock ticking on the renewal of Florida’s No Child Left Behind Act waiver—and with what they say is little information from the state—a coalition of districts is trying to get answers directly from the U.S. Department of Education before the waiver expires June 30.

Among the questions the districts are looking to have answered: If the waiver isn’t approved, would districts have to start providing supplementary education services and school choice immediately? And what would be the timing on determining adequate yearly progress in a school when the timeline has been interrupted by the waiver?

“We’re in a vacuum of information, and everybody’s speculating,” said Cheryl L. Sattler, the president of FedNet, a consulting agency that provides assistance to Florida districts on the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and the author of a May 27 letter to the federal Education Department.

Cheryl Etters, the press secretary for the Florida education department, said the state’s waiver-renewal application was due June 4. But the waiver-renewal draft doesn’t reflect changes to Florida education law that were recently approved by the state legislature, Ms. Sattler said.

Time is running out for districts that are in the process of planning spending for the 2014-15 school year, Ms. Sattler said. Students will be returning to the classroom in late August.

“Districts in Florida are starting to write their Title I budgets for next year,” she said. Setting aside 20 percent of those Title I budgets to implement tutoring and school choice, as would be required under No Child Left Behind if the waiver expires, “is a big deal.”

– Christina A. Samuels

| NEWS |Curriculum Matters

Okla. Lawmakers Approve Bill to Repeal Common Core

Oklahoma is teetering on the edge of repealing its adoption of the Common Core State Standards.

A bill passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature last month to revoke the standards is now awaiting action by Gov. Mary Fallin.

Whether she’ll sign the measure was an open question as of last week. The Republican chief executive has been a strong supporter of the standards. She has until June 7 to sign the measure. Her spokesman, Alex Weintz, said she can sign it, veto it, or let it die by not signing it, a move known as a “pocket veto.”

News reports on the debate in the two chambers showed a wide variety of concerns about the bill, from fears of federal overreach to concerns that revoking the standards could threaten Oklahoma’s waiver from the No Child Left Behind Act. Some lawmakers are also worried that putting a new set of standards in place now would be disruptive for educators and students, since common-core implementation had already begun in many districts.

Oklahoma is one of a handful of states considering reversing their decisions to adopt the standards. Missouri and South Carolina were also thinking about it as of late last month. And Indiana has already undone its adoption.

– Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS |Marketplace K-12

FTC Acts to Protect Student Data In Ed-Tech Firm’s Bankruptcy Case

The potential sale of 20 million student records by ConnectEDU, an ed-tech company that filed for bankruptcy in April, has prompted the Federal Trade Commission to step in to protect the student data, the agency has announced.

ConnectEDU, a 12-year-old Boston-based company, provides interactive tools to help K-12 and postsecondary learners make academic and career decisions. In its privacy policy, ConnectEDU promised that—prior to any sale of the company—registered users would be notified and have the ability to delete their personally identifiable data.

Now, the FTC says that promise appears to be compromised by the potential sale of the company’s assets, including the student data, to North Atlantic Capital, a Portland, Maine-based venture-capital fund. As a result, the commission—by a vote of 5-0—authorized its consumer-protection bureau to write a letter to the bankruptcy court that will rule on the asset sale.

The letter indicates that the terms of the sale of the company and its subsidiary, Academic Management Systems Inc., in bankruptcy do not provide consumers the notice and choice set forth in the privacy policy and could potentially run afoul of both the FTC Act and the U.S. Bankruptcy Code.

The U.S. Department of Education applauded the move. “Users of online educational tools should be able to trust that companies will use their personal information in accordance with both the companies’ stated privacy policies and applicable federal legal requirements, including the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act,” said Dorie Nolt, a department spokeswoman, in a written statement.

ConnectEDU filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in April, listing between $10 million and $50 million in liabilities against less than $10 million in assets, according to its petition.

– Michele Molnar

| NEWS |Teacher Beat

Federal Teacher-Prep Grants Emphasize STEM, Common Core

The U.S. Department of Education wants its upcoming $35 million investment in teacher preparation to focus on two main areas: producing effective teachers in the stem fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, and preparing teachers to instruct to the Common Core State Standards.That’s the gist of a notice that was published in the May 28 Federal Register announcing the availability of new awards under the federal Teacher Quality Partnerships grant program—the first since 2010.

The competitive-grant program is authorized under the Higher Education Act. It makes grants to teacher colleges, districts, and nonprofits that promise either to revamp their undergraduate teacher education programming or establish “residency” programs. Residencies are typically for career-changers and couple a yearlong dose of student-teaching with coursework.

– Stephen Sawchuk

A version of this article appeared in the June 04, 2014 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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