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January 06, 2015 7 min read
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| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Searching in Frustration For Common-Core Materials

We have for you what might be the most unsurprising bit of news: Denver education officials undertook a big search for good common-core curricular materials, came up empty-handed, and have to start all over again.

Chalkbeat Colorado says the Denver school system has been scouring the market for instructional resources in math and English/language arts, but hasn’t found anything it likes enough to justify the multimillion-dollar investment.

Denver’s hardly the first district to run aground in its search for common-core curriculum. Big publishers were quick to jump into the market, issuing instructional materials stamped “common-core-aligned”—even though they were virtually unchanged from previous editions—within nanoseconds of when the standards were finalized in 2010. Even later versions, which publishers claimed were built “from the ground up” to reflect the new standards, have drawn complaints from many teachers and curriculum developers.

The alternative, though—creating their own curriculum from scratch—is a mammoth undertaking. Still, the marketplace offerings are so unsatisfying that many districts are taking that route. Long Beach, Calif., undertook a lengthy process of curriculum writing with its own teachers because it couldn’t find materials it liked enough to buy. The Orlando, Fla., district, in contrast, found a solution in the marketplace, spending millions on common-core materials from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

In Denver, both routes seem to have failed at the moment. The district didn’t find its solution when it shopped around, and it tried writing its own, only to come up short there as well. As Alyssa Whitehead-Bust, the district’s chief academic and innovation officer, told Chalkbeat: “Now, we’re back to the drawing board.”

–Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Teach For America Is Facing Recruitment Challenges

Teach For America could have a smaller corps in its coming year because of recruitment challenges, potentially falling short of placement demand by 25 percent, the group said in a recent letter to its partner school districts.

Last year’s corps numbered 5,300 teachers who work in 50 regions across the United States.

The decline roughly parallels that seen in enrollments in traditional teacher-preparation programs, and the organization attributes the decline to many of the same causes: a fractious narrative about public education and the teaching profession, the economic recovery, and concerns about teacher pay.

“We’ve felt some of this same polarization around TFA,” co-CEOs Elisa Villanueva-Beard and Matt Kramer write in the letter. “At the same time, the broader economy is improving, and young people have more job options than in recent years.”

The immediate fallout: TFA will shutter its New York and Los Angeles institutes (the summer sites where the group’s intensive five-week training occurs), and teachers working in those regions will be trained at other institutes. What’s less clear is how potential recruitment shortages will affect numbers in particular regions.

The organization says it won’t lower the bar on its selective-admissions model in order to get more candidates. It also reports that, so far, its applicant pool is even more diverse than it was last year, when half of recruits identified as people of color.

–Stephen Sawchuk

| NEWS | Politics K-12

A Jeb Bush Presidential Campaign Would Make K-12 a Top-Line Issue

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s announcement on Facebook that he will “actively explore the possibility of running for president of the United States” in 2016 signals the likely entry of a candidate who would exponentially raise the profile of K-12 education as a campaign issue.

Bush, a Republican, was one of the most active governors on education in recent years, and after leaving office, started an organization, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, that’s geared toward K-12 policy. He also doesn’t see eye to eye with many of the more conservative members of his party on what’s arguably the biggest K-12 political issue of the day: the Common Core State Standards.

Far from backing away from the common core, as many in his party have, Bush launched a spirited defense of the standards in November, telling an audience at his foundation’s National Summit on Education Reform it’s fine if states don’t want to adopt the standards, but if they don’t, they should aim even higher.

Common core isn’t the only K-12 policy that’s closely associated with Bush. He’s an ardent supporter of school choice—he championed a program in the Sunshine State that extended vouchers to students in special education. And he was the main education adviser to Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential campaign, in which Mr. Romney made school choice his K-12 platform centerpiece.

Bush’s influence hasn’t been confined to Florida, either. After leaving office, he took his K-12 policy show on the road, calling on lawmakers in other states to lend support to vouchers and charter schools. He was the “godfather” to Chiefs for Change, an organization of chief state school officers that has helped bring some major changes to K-12 accountability through its members’ state waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act.

And at a time when some Republicans seem ready to run away from the federal mandate for annual statewide assessments, Bush defended testing in a recent, wide-ranging speech on K-12 policy in Washington.

–Alyson Klein

| NEWS | Politics K-12

N.Y. Schools Chief King Is Tapped As Senior Adviser to Arne Duncan

New York’s education commissioner, John B. King, has been tapped as a senior adviser at the U.S. Department of Education. He’ll essentially be performing the job of the deputy secretary, replacing James H. Shelton, who is leaving the agency this month. In that role, the No. 2 job at the agency, King will be in charge of operations, managing a diverse array of programs.

King has served as the Empire State’s top education official since 2011. His agenda there has generally been aligned with many of the Obama administration’s K-12 priorities, particularly when it comes to teacher evaluation and the Common Core State Standards. And, like his new boss, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, King has weathered plenty of opposition to both policies, especially from teachers’ unions.

In fact, New York State United Teachers, an American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association affiliate, called for his ouster last year. The union’s key complaint? The rollout of the common core. (The national NEA has also called for Duncan’s resignation.)

Before taking the helm of the New York state schools, King served as a senior deputy commissioner at the state education department. In that role, he was a lead architect of the state’s successful Race to the Top application, which netted New York nearly $700 million. And prior to that, he served as a managing director with Uncommon Schools, a nonprofit charter-management organization. (Emma Vadehra, Duncan’s chief of staff, also worked for Uncommon Schools, although the two don’t appear to have overlapped.)

–Alyson Klein

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Access to Highly Qualified Educators At Core of ‘Teacher Equity’ Profiles

As part of the Obama administration’s “50-state strategy” aimed at making sure that poor and minority children have access to as many highly qualified, experienced educators as their more advantaged peers, the U.S. Department of Education has released online the state-specific teacher-equity profiles given to the states in early November.

The profiles offer lots of information for states about the qualifications of teachers in high-poverty schools, compared with lower-poverty schools. There are data on the percentage of first-year teachers who work in high-poverty schools, and data on the percentage of teachers in high-poverty schools who aren’t state-certified or licensed. There’s information on the percentage of teachers at a school who have been absent for more than 10 days, as well as salary figures. The information is all broken down to the state and district levels. Much of it was collected from states and districts by the department’s office for civil rights.

So what do the data actually look like? It depends on what state you’re in. In some cases, however, there are deep disparities in teacher quality between high-poverty or high-minority schools and schools serving a lower proportion of disadvantaged or minority students.

What’s not in these profiles: any sense of how states and districts are actually progressing when it comes to the policy the department has been pushing as a priority for the past six years, through No Child Left Behind Act waivers and federal Race to the Top grants: teacher effectiveness.

–Alyson Klein

A version of this article appeared in the January 07, 2015 edition of Education Week


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