Education Best of the Blogs


September 22, 2015 8 min read
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| NEWS | Marketplace K-12

U.S. Education Department Names Its First Open-Resources Adviser

The U.S. Department of Education has hired an adviser to focus on helping schools use “open educational resources,” as districts around the country experiment with the free, flexible materials.

Andrew Marcinek, a longtime educator, will be the first staff member at the agency to serve in the role. He will work out of the office of educational technology under its director, Richard Culatta.

The move will “greatly enhance our ability to support states and districts as they move to using openly licensed learning resources,” Culatta said.

A number of school districts in recent years have embraced open educational resources, generally defined as materials created on licenses that permit their free sharing, repurposing, and alteration.

Some districts have taken up open resources out of dissatisfaction with curricula offered by commercial providers, or because of concerns about the costs.

In some cases, districts’ interest in open educational materials has been driven by the need for content aligned to the Common Core State Standards and their lack of conviction that commercial resources hit the mark.

Some open-resource projects have already had a major reach. EngageNY, a website created by the state of New York, is estimated to have received more than 20 million downloads so far.

Commercial publishers and content producers say there’s reason to doubt the quality of open resources, and they question whether those resources can be maintained and updated without a business model for supporting them.

And to be sure, some districts that tossed out commercial lessons in favor of open materials have been forced to devote big chunks of time and money to organizing the new content to their liking.

–Sean Cavanagh

| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Delaware Eyes Revamp to Teachers’ Pay and Roles

In recommendations to Gov. Jack Markell, a panel of Delaware leaders and education officials has recommended shifting to a pay system that recognizes a variety of roles for teachers—and moves away from the traditional “steps and lanes” approach, in which teachers are paid solely on experience and credentials.

The panel, which includes lawmakers, state school board representatives, and the head of the state teachers’ union, recently released a report outlining how such a plan might work. In essence, it would raise beginning salaries and collapse the number of incremental “steps.”

Teachers with good teacher-evaluation scores and a record of experience could apply to move to higher tiers as “teacher leaders” or “senior teacher leaders,” for which they would be given release time from some classroom duties to take on additional responsibilities, such as mentoring new teachers and devising student interventions.

Delaware’s Committee to Advance Educator Compensation and Careers was established by 2014 legislation and charged with making recommendations on alternative compensation.

Radio station WHYY recently looked at the system, and it’s clear from its reporting that the plan required all parties to rethink a lot of sacred cows. “I would have walked a picket line for [steps and lanes] 10 years ago,” Frederika Jenner, the president of the Delaware Education Association, told the station.

Iowa launched a statewide career-ladder initiative in 2013 but made it optional for districts to participate. Idaho also has a statewide career-ladder system, although it’s brand-new and the details are still fairly sketchy. But, as WHYY notes, there can be a whole host of additional wrinkles in crafting a system statewide, rather than district by district, given variations in local living costs, teacher supply, and so forth.

To be clear, these are just preliminary recommendations in Delaware. The legislature has formed several new working groups to begin hashing out all the nitty-gritty, but this is an initiative to watch.

–Stephen Sawchuk

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Early PARCC Results in Illinois: Most Fall Short of Expectations

Illinois released preliminary results last week from its PARCC tests, and they showed that fewer than 4 in 10 of its students met or exceeded grade-level or course expectations.

Proficiency rates hovered at about one-third for English/language arts and were a bit lower in math, from just 17 percent on the high school exam to 36 percent in 3rd grade.

The release was only the second, after Ohio, from a state that gave the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers tests. Neither set of scores is final, because they don’t include results from paper-and-pencil versions, and not all groups of students are included yet. Some changes are anticipated with the final results.

But the glimpse of student performance in Illinois confirms what many policymakers had been warning about new tests aligned with the Common Core State Standards: proficiency rates lower than those seen on previous tests.

Schools Superintendent Tony Smith braced state school board members for a less comfortable set of results than the ones they’ve been used to.

“The percentages have been comforting in some ways: ‘Oh good, we’re at 85th.’ Well, not necessarily,” he said. “Does that mean you’re really ready for what’s next?”

One board member said the PARCC results will “blow parents’ minds.” But Smith said he and his staff will be “up, down, and around the state” in the coming weeks to explain them.

–Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Federal Judge Denies Injunction in Jindal’s Common-Core Lawsuit

A federal judge has turned down Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s quest for a preliminary injunction to get the Common Core State Standards blocked on a national basis, stating that the standards don’t represent an improper intrusion into education by Washington.

In a lawsuit filed last year, Jindal, a Republican, claimed that the U.S. Department of Education illegally used the Race to the Top grant program to coerce states to adopt the standards. The governor also said in his suit that the standards were part of an illegal attempt by the federal government to intrude into classroom instruction, and that states faced punishment under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act if they tried to drop the standards.

But in her 33-page ruling Sept. 16, Judge Shelly Dick of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana comprehensively rejected Jindal’s arguments and denied Jindal’s quest for a preliminary injunction to block the common core.

Jindal’s attorney announced that he will appeal Dick’s ruling on his request for a preliminary injunction, the Associated Press reported. The attorney, Jimmy Faircloth, said, “the district court interprets the statutes to allow the federal government to construct a scheme to avoid clear, constitutionally based restrictions on federal authority over state sovereignty.”

On the subject of the Race to the Top grants, Dick wrote that, “the evidence showed that Jindal knowingly and enthusiastically committed the State to both the CCSS and the PARCC [Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers] assessments, with full knowledge of their purposes, in order to receive federal RTT dollars. There is simply no evidence that the State of Louisiana was forced to apply for the RTT grant or forced to adopt a particular set of standards.”

Dick also wrote that states had received flexibility from the No Child Left Behind Act, the current incarnation of the ESEA, without adopting the common core, and had not lost federal money unfairly after deciding not to use the standards. (Oklahoma lost its NCLB waiver last year after dropping the common core, but regained it after the state’s institutes of higher education signed off on the state’s replacement standards, which happen to be the standards the state used right before the common core.)

Jindal, a GOP presidential candidate, has led a multifront opposition to the common core in Louisiana, but so far with limited success.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | On Special Education

Pre-K Inclusion Guidance Issued On Children With Disabilities

All young children with disabilities should have access to high-quality preschool programs, and states and local programs both have a significant role to play in making that happen, says new guidance on creating inclusive preschool programs released by the U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health of Health and Human Services.

In announcing earlier this year that they would develop the guidance, the two departments said that too often, young children with disabilities are provided preschool options that separate them from their typically developing peers, even though research suggests that inclusive settings are particularly helpful for such students.

The Sept. 14 guidance includes recommendations that states plan for inclusion, ensure that quality-rating systems for early-childhood programs support inclusive practices, and make the inclusion of young children with disabilities part of the professional development system. Early-childhood providers were urged, among other things, to partner with families on advocacy and policy development, ensure access to specialized supports, and collaborate with community partners.

–Christina A. Samuels

| NEWS | School Law Blog

Ohio Charter-Management Firm Prevails in Equipment Dispute

Ohio’s highest court has ruled that 10 charter schools must reimburse the school management company that formerly ran the schools for computers and other equipment purchased at taxpayer expense.

The Ohio Supreme Court ruled 5-2 that contracts between the governing authorities of the schools in Cleveland and Akron and White Hat Management LLC, a charter-management firm that operated the schools beginning in 2005, require that the schools “buy back” certain equipment and supplies.

The 10 schools are now closed, and their governing authorities—essentially nonprofit boards that still have control of the school buildings—sued White Hat and various subsidiaries. The school authorities claimed that the equipment belongs to them because it was purchased with state funds, while White Hat contends it retains the right to the property under the terms of the contract.

In its Sept. 15 decision in Hope Academy Broadway Campus v. White Hat Management LLC, the state high court said that while it questioned the wisdom of the buy-back contract terms, the contract was enforceable.

“The schools were represented by their own legal counsel, and they agreed to the provisions in the contracts,” the court majority said.

The court said the trial court could consider the issue of the “unconscionability” of the contract.

–Mark Walsh

A version of this article appeared in the September 23, 2015 edition of Education Week as Best of the Blogs


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