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Education Best of the Blogs


May 12, 2015 7 min read
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| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Students Snap Pictures Of PARCC Tests; Teachers Disciplined

Teachers in three Colorado districts have been scolded or disciplined for lax security during the PARCC exam because students posted pictures of the test on social-media sites.

According to The Denver Post, two teachers from Denver got letters of reprimand, two from Pueblo were disciplined, and one teacher from Douglas County was told she couldn’t proctor another round of tests.

The tricky intersection of online testing and social media caused a furor in March, when a New Jersey student tweeted about parts of a test aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

Like the flurry of incidents in Colorado, the New Jersey story was about new ways of cheating in the age of computer-based tests and omnipresent social media. But it was also about the dawning realization that testing companies routinely monitor social media as a way of policing security and then pass information about breaches to state education departments, which ask districts to trace the violators.

Judging by the outcry, that gave a lot of people the creeps. State departments and assessment companies argued that their actions were simply an updated way to monitor test security and pointed out that they were doing broad sweeps of social media, not tracking individual students.

In Colorado, the current incidents stem from students’ actions, but include those of the teachers assigned to proctor the tests and make sure students don’t breach the security of the questions. And it’s not a large-scale problem, either: The Post reports that of about 540,000 Colorado students taking the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests, only 10 social-media breaches in five districts have occurred this spring.

–Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | Charters & Choice

Walton’s Market-Based Efforts In Education Said to Miss Mark

The Walton Family Foundation’s investments in market-based ideas to improve education—such as charter schools and voucher programs—are falling short, according to a new report. Although the foundation’s education initiatives have benefited individual families, those improvements aren’t spilling over into systemwide change, according to the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, a Washington-based research and advocacy group.

That limited impact is due largely to the foundation’s narrow focus on school choice through charters and vouchers, without a broader focus on quality, equity, and community, the report says. (The foundation provides support for coverage of parent-empowerment issues in Education Week.)

The report goes on to say that one of the best examples for the Walton Family Foundation to follow to improve its education philanthropy is itself, particularly the foundation’s work on environmental issues.

Walton’s market-based efforts in marine and freshwater conservation have been largely successful and have “achieved powerful and lasting results through its environmental portfolio, leveraging the power of markets as a key strategic element,” the report says.

The foundation has invested more than $1 billion in advancing school choice to date, the report says.

A spokeswoman for the foundation said that, overall, the report presents a learning opportunity for the philanthropy.

–Arianna Prothero

| NEWS | Early Years

New Federal Monitoring Process Revealed N.Y.C. Head Start Issues

The deficiencies found last year during an inspection of Head Start centers operated by New York City—and that prompted a letter from two House Republicans about whether the city’s multimillion-dollar Head Start grant should have been suspended—were discovered after the federal Head Start office implemented a new monitoring system that it says will provide a greater level of detail about how well Head Start centers are performing.

The federal Head Start office provided more information on the New York City inspections to Education Week in response to an inquiry about the April 10 letter from U.S. Reps. John Kline of Minnesota and Todd Rokita of Indiana, both Republicans. Kline is the chairman of the House education committee; Rokita oversees the subcommittee on early childhood.

In December, Head Start inspectors visited the centers operated by the city’s children’s services administration. The inspection uncovered a long list of deficiencies that were outlined in a Jan. 20 report. Those problems included allegations of children being shoved and struck by teachers, rodent and roach infestations in some centers, and unsafe buildings and playground equipment.

Almost all the problems are fixed now, said Jill Krauss, a spokeswoman for the New York City agency, and Head Start officials say they are continuing to work closely with the city.

The new monitoring protocol requires federal inspectors to examine each of the nearly 200 Head Start centers that are overseen by children’s services, not just a sample of centers as with previous inspections. A sample of New York Head Start centers was last monitored in 2009. The inspections then uncovered some safety problems, but not enough to indicate that problems were serious or systemic, officials at Head Start told Education Week.

The lawmakers’ letter said they want to know why New York didn’t face the same penalties as other Head Start grantees that had their funding revoked for violations that put children’s safety at risk.

New York didn’t lose its money because Head Start grantees are given time to fix problems first, the Head Start office said in a draft response to the Kline and Rokita letter. So-called “summary suspensions” without notice have been done only four times in the past two years, according to Head Start.

But there will be additional consequences for the city agency. The deficiencies found in December mean that New York City will once again be required to compete for continued Head Start funding in a few years, just as it was required to compete in 2012. All Head Start programs are moving to a five-year grant-funding cycle, with the goal of weeding out weak providers and bringing in new grantees.

After the first round of competition, federal officials pared down New York City’s Head Start service area: The city now receives $129 million to serve about 13,000 children. Before the 2012 results were released, it was funded at $192 million and served about 19,000 children. Some of the organizations that New York oversaw have become direct recipients of Head Start funds.

–Christina A. Samuels

| NEWS | State EdWatch

‘Gold Standard’ Among Subjects in ALEC-Inspired N.C. Legislation

North Carolina senators have approved a bill that would require the curriculum for high school students to include instruction about the gold standard and the “constitutional limitations on government power to tax and spend and prompt payment of public debt,” among other principles.

The bill the Republican-controlled Senate adopted late last month would require the state school board to oversee curriculum requirements that include the teaching of “money with intrinsic value,” a reference to the gold standard. The United States dropped the gold standard, which linked the value of the dollar to the value of gold, in 1933, and in 1971, the federal government barred people from exchanging dollars for gold.

The gold standard sometimes draws high-profile support from conservatives, who believe that money not linked to a commodity like gold drives inflation and unstable financial markets.

In addition to that requirement and the principle of constitutional limitations on government power, the bill would require the high school curriculum include instruction in:

  • A “strong defense and supremacy of civil authority over military;"
  • “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations, entangling alliances with none;" and
  • “Eternal vigilance by ‘We the People.’ ”

The five principles are nearly identical to those found in a model bill from the American Legislative Exchange Council, a conservative Washington think tank that supports free markets.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Immigration, Educational Equity Linked in Hillary Clinton Remarks

Presidential candidate and former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said at a Nevada high school that she wants to give students who came to the county as undocumented minors a path to citizenship. And she’d like to help their parents remain in the country legally, too, through a major overhaul of the immigration system.

Her May 5 remarks—especially the choice to champion the policy at a high school, surrounded by undocumented students who would benefit from it—makes it clear that the Democrat’s campaign for the presidency plans to link the issues of immigration and educational equity.

“We’ve got to do more to make sure every child has the best chance to do well in school,” Clinton said at a town hall meeting at Rancho High School in Las Vegas. “It is essential that we strengthen families and communities. That means we have to once and for all fix the immigration system.”

Clinton’s broad ideas, which she says she would like to see Congress consider, would build on the efforts of the Obama administration to offer legal status to immigrants who came to the country as children and lift the threat of deportation for their parents. President Barack Obama accomplished those goals through executive action, not legislation, and it’s unclear what will happen to the policies, and the immigrants who have benefited from them, when his presidency ends in early 2017.

–Alyson Klein

A version of this article appeared in the May 13, 2015 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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