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July 08, 2014 8 min read
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| News |Digital Education

U.S. Education Department Brings On Board Student Liaison for Tech

A big part of Erik Martin’s new job is to see technology through a student’s eyes. He has been named a “student liaison” for the U.S. Department of Education’s office of educational technology, a new position in which he’ll be asked to bring a young person’s perspective on digital tools and their capabilities.

The 20-year-old University of Maryland junior-to-be will not be paid for his part-time work. Martin, who has been involved in efforts to increase students’ influence, says the work will last through the summer, though he’s had discussions with agency officials about staying longer.

Richard Culatta, the director of the department’s educational technology office, compared Martin’s role as a student-ambassador in the ed-tech office to that of teachers the department has invited in to provide perspective on the educator’s role.

At the recent International Society for Technology in Education gathering, which was awash in apps, games, platforms, and devices being touted by companies of all sizes, Martin’s assessment of some of what he saw was blunt. “Most kids who tried to play the games at these things would just hate them,” he said.

The reason? Many of the games shown at the Atlanta event were created from a purely educational standpoint, with little concern for entertainment value, Martin said. The best ones are academically beneficial and yet engaging enough to hold students’ interest: For people designing those games, he said, “it comes from working with people who know what’s fun, first. Students know what’s fun.”

Sean Cavanagh

| News |College Bound

Concept of Online ‘Nanodegree’ Introduced as College Alternative

When most high school students think of a college degree, they envision going to a four- or two-year institution. Now, there is a new concept on the higher education landscape: the “nanodegree.”

AT&T and Udacity, an online education company, last month rolled out job-focused credentials that students can earn in six to 12 months through online courses. The first nanodegrees—to be offered this fall in the format of a massive open online course, or MOOC—will prepare students for jobs such as a front-end Web developer, data analyst, or Android mobile developer, according to the two companies.

With a price tag of $200 a month, a nanodegree could be an affordable alternative for someone who is seeking postsecondary training but doesn’t want to invest the time or money in an associate or bachelor’s degree.

A story in The New York Times suggests the move may be more than avocational twist to online training. “It may finally offer a reasonable shot at harnessing the Web to provide effective schooling to the many young Americans for whom college has become a distant, unaffordable dream,” it says. “Intriguingly, it suggests that the best route to democratizing higher education may require taking it out of college.”

Caralee Adams

| News |Teaching Now

Substitute Teacher Is Sought For School at Guantanamo Bay

Sunny, highly guarded beaches await the teacher who lands this prime opportunity: The U.S. Department of Defense needs a substitute teacher for the school at its naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, near the hotly debated U.S. prison for terrorist suspects.

The listing requires that you live within “commuting distance” of the base and be able to handle everything from preschool through 12th grade. The job pays between $50 and $100 daily.

Your future students can be a challenging segment of the population. Military children are the most mobile group of students, and numerous studies show student mobility diminishes engagement. Military families also tend to struggle for resources, especially for children with special needs. Yet a 2009 study by the National Center for Education Statistics also found DOD schools to have one of the smallest achievement gaps when compared with state school systems, and results from the National Assessment of Educational Progress show the schools also rank above average in student achievement.

One of the biggest areas of difficulty is likely the social-emotional support for military children living in possibly turbulent family situations. Military children have been a special focus for first lady Michelle Obama and second lady Jill Biden, who launched the Joining Forces initiative in 2011 to draw attention to the needs of military families and find ways of offering support.

Ross Brenneman

| News |State EdWatch

Okla. Chief Upset in GOP Primary; S.C. Ballot Set After Runoff Battles

Janet Barresi, the current Oklahoma state schools superintendent, was walloped in the GOP primary June 24 by a former state school board member, Joy Hofmeister.

Barresi, a dentist who was elected to the state chief’s office in 2010, was initially a supporter of the Common Core State Standards. But later, her campaign manager declared the standards “dead in Oklahoma.” And that was before Gov. Mary Fallin, the sitting governor who sailed to victory in her own Republican primary, signed a bill that would repeal the common-core standards in Oklahoma. Barresi has also come under fire during her tenure for her championship of the state’s A-through-F grading system for public schools.

Two Democrats—John Cox and Freda Deskin—will compete in an August runoff election for the chance to take on Hofmeister in the general election this fall.Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Molly Spearman, a former member of the legislature and the current head of the South Carolina Association of School Administrators, won the gop nomination for state superintendent, beating Sally Atwater in a runoff election. Both knocked out Meka Childs, a deputy superintendent who had the backing of Mick Zais, the current state chief, who did not seek re-election.

In the South Carolina Democratic runoff, Tom Thompson, a former dean of graduate studies at South Carolina State University, beat Sheila Gallagher, who advocated legalizing and taxing marijuana to raise money for public schools.

Alyson Klein

| News |Politics K-12

Unions Irked by Proposal in HEA On Teacher-Prep Ranking System

Teachers’ unions applauded the increased emphasis on on-the-job training in preparation programs for teachers and principals that’s included in a proposal from Senate Democrats to reauthorize the federal Higher Education Act. But they’re much less enthusiastic about a new grant included in the bill for ranking those programs.

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, introduced a discussion draft of the bill on June 25 that includes a proposed grant for ranking teacher colleges and leadership programs based in part on student test scores.

But American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, in a letter to the senator dated June 24, blasted the proposal, saying: “Student achievement tests are not designed for preparation-program assessment, and there is no proven link between features of teacher-preparation programs and differences in student test scores.”

The National Education Association was less irked. Mary Kusler, the NEA’s government-relations director, explained that teacher-evaluation systems based in part on student test scores are more or less already in place around the country.

Among the repercussions for ranking low in this new system: Programs identified as low-performing for one year would be required to develop and implement an improvement plan, and those identified as low-performing for four consecutive years would be shuttered.

–Lauren Camera

| News |Politics K-12

A Peek at Whom DFER Is Backing In 2014 Congressional Midterms

Democrats for Education Reform, a political action committee that was meant to help provide a counterweight to the influence of teachers’ unions on the Democratic Party, has launched a new website that makes it easier for the public to donate to DFER-backed candidates, just ahead of the 2014 midterm elections. So which congressional candidates is DFER throwing its weight behind in advance of the midterms?

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., a charter school champion who could face a tough contest for re-election, and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., a Race to the Top fan who is expected to sail to victory, are the top featured candidates. The organization is also backing Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, who introduced a proposal that would carve out a permanent place in legislation for the Investing in Innovtion, or I3, program (an Obama program that scales up promising practices at the district level).

Other DFER-backed candidates include Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., widely expected to get the ranking-member slot on the House education committee in the next Congress (It’s notable that Scott’s views don’t always seem to align with DFER’s—he’s been pretty skeptical of test-based accountability in the past.) And DFER is backing Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., who has his own i3 bill and may be the biggest Democratic charter school champion in the House.

Other candidates getting the nod: Rep. Susan Davis, D-Calif., who has authored legislation on teacher evaluation, and Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C., the assistant Democratic leader, who worked on student-loan legislation.

Alyson Klein

| News |State EdWatch

N.Y.'s Evaluation System Revised To Buffer the Impact of New Tests

New York state lawmakers have approved legislation sponsored by Gov. Andrew Cuomo changing the impact that assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards would have on certain teacher and principal evaluations for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

If teachers and principals are rated “ineffective” or “developing” because of state tests aligned with the common core, that portion of the evaluations will be set aside. Instead of the common-core-aligned tests, local assessments and other factors would be used in the teacher and principal evaluations for those years. In addition, teachers and principals won’t be at risk of losing their jobs or being denied certain job protections if they receive the two lowest ratings on the evaluation system for the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

Andrew Ujifusa

A version of this article appeared in the July 10, 2014 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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