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October 06, 2015 8 min read
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| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Online NCTQ ‘Consumer’s Guide’ to Education Schools Is Unveiled

Never one to avoid controversy, a Washington-based research and advocacy group has turned its grading of education schools into a searchable Web tool for aspiring teachers.

The National Council on Teacher Quality last week unveiled Path to Teach, an online site billed as a “consumer’s guide” to colleges of education.

Teacher-candidates-to-be can look up college programs and alternative programs from across the nation, comparing them by tuition costs, enrollment numbers, location, and a quality snapshot that looks at criteria like admissions selectivity, preparation to teach in different content areas, and student-teaching quality.

Path to Teach’s A-F grades are based on the NCTQ’s project to assess elementary, secondary, and special education programs in every education school. The rankings are often unsparing (“This program will not prepare you to teach young children to read,” says the typical warning for an F grade for early reading.)

I probably don’t need to remind you of the criticism swirling around the NCTQ’s efforts, so bear that in mind as you explore the site. The NCTQ’s nemesis, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, is not impressed.

–Stephen Sawchuk

| NEWS | High School & Beyond

Colleges Create Website to Ease Admissions Applications

Eighty-three colleges and universities, including some of the most elite in the country, have banded together to offer a shared college-application system that they hope will engage more low-income and traditionally underrepresented students.

The new system, from an organization called the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, will be available to high school students next summer, with the planning tools available in January, according to the group’s website.

The online platform is an alternative to the widely used Common Application, but it reaches further. While the common app is for applications only, the new coalition’s system will offer students information and support as they research college choices.

That’s an idea based on research showing that low-income students and those from other groups who have long been underrepresented on college campuses need more help and support making college plans, applying to schools, and enrolling than do their peers.

Some students, such as those from low-income families and those without a history of college-going in their families, also tend to “undermatch” or choose schools that aren’t as rigorous as their academic records suggest they could handle. That can hinder their success, since more-selective schools tend to have higher graduation rates.

The schools in the coalition, a mix of public and private institutions, all have high graduation rates and offer good financial-aid packages. Among them are Stanford, Harvard, Princeton, Yale, the University of Michigan, and the University of Virginia.

To be part of the coalition, colleges must show that they graduate at least 70 percent of their students within six years. Private colleges and universities must “provide sufficient financial aid to meet the full, demonstrated financial need” of all U.S. students, and public schools must have affordable tuition for in-state students and good financial aid, the website says.

The coalition’s portal will allow students to build an online portfolio of written work, photographs, video, artwork, or other projects as they progress through high school to submit with applications. Students can use the portal for free, but must still pay college-application fees, unless those are waived by individual institutions.

Several college officials said that widely publicized glitches with the Common Application in 2013 were a factor in their decisions to participate in the new portal. But they emphasized the need for a different system that engaged students earlier and offered more help.

“In creating this platform, these colleges and universities hope to recast the college-admission process from something that is transactional and limited in time into a more engaged, ongoing, and educationally reaffirming experience,” the coalition said in a statement.

–Catherine Gewertz

| NEWS | Teaching Now

The Hardest Part of Teaching Grammar May Be Unteaching It

Raise your hand if you liked sentence diagramming in school. Is your hand raised? If so: Really? Ewww.

For normal-ish people, diagramming, if not always a fun exercise, is one of many tools to help illustrate the grammatical foundations of English. Yet even as educators grind these rules into students, grammar can be and has been subverted for creative gain. How, then, do you teach students about breaking such rules?

Roxanna Elden, the author of the new book See Me After Class, discusses that notion in a recent blog post:

“In the pre-class questionnaires, I asked which writing ‘rules’ people wanted to discuss. Several students mentioned grammar and punctuation. Can you break the rules that your English teachers have spent years of sweat and tears reinforcing and still be a good writer? As an English teacher myself, I hate to say yes, but ... yes. It’s possible. And when it works, it works very, very well.”

Elden brings up examples of well-regarded books that break grammatical rules: Angela’s Ashes, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, and Happy Are the Happy. Celebrated works. Elden offers some practices for helping students navigate this subversion of grammar, which English teachers might find interesting.

There are, of course, regional and cultural reasons that someone might deviate from “proper” English already. And you probably have to know the rules of grammar in order to break them. But it is interesting to consider whether and how teachers might incorporate the sort of “unlearning” Elden describes into their instruction.

–Ross Brenneman

| NEWS | State EdWatch

N.Y. Task Force to Tackle Common Core, Propose Ways to ‘Overhaul’ Standards

In his latest attempt to calm the political storm over the Common Core State Standards in New York state, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has unveiled a new task force whose mission is to recommend ways to “overhaul” the way the standards work in that state. The task force will study the standards and aligned exams and make those recommendations by the end of this year.

Richard Parsons, the former chairman of the board for Citigroup, will lead the group. He also led the governor’s blue-ribbon task force to overhaul education policy in 2013.

The Democratic governor’s decision to seek changes in the way the common core works comes after bitter political fights over education policy in New York, and word from the state education department last month that 1 in 5 students in New York opted out of exams aligned to the standards.

During his re-election campaign last year, Cuomo claimed that he “had nothing to do with common core,” even though previously he had touted the standards as an important and positive shift for schools. He reiterated this charge in the Sept. 28 task force announcement, blaming the state education department for the common-core woes. (Cuomo does not appoint the New York board of regents, which oversees the state education department.)

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Charters & Choice

Latest Round of Federal Charter Grants Comes With Cautions on Fiscal Oversight

Even as the U.S. Department of Education announced the latest round of Charter School Program grants to fund new charters and expand high-performing networks, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan voiced concern about fiscal oversight in the charter sector despite what he called some impressive recent progress.

“We still see too many reports of unscrupulous behavior of charter schools and their authorizers,” Duncan said in a press call about the grants last week.

Along with the $249.2 million in grants promised to states, the department is also awarding $85 million to charter school management organizations, all over five years. The Education Department is asking recipients to closely monitor school quality, both on fiscal and academic issues. And states will be required to re-evaluate charter schools at least every five years.

Among the seven states and the District of Columbia to receive the grant money, Ohio is slated to get $71 million in total. The state has come under a lot of scrutiny following multiple federal, state, and press-led investigations into corruption among some Ohio schools and their charter-management organizations over the past few years. And a December study by the Stanford University Center for Research on Education Outcomes found that Ohio charter school students on average learn less in a year than their district school peers.

Arizona, Colorado, Illinois, Oregon, Nevada, and South Carolina are the other states receiving grants.

–Arianna Prothero

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Texas Receives NCLB Waiver Renewal, With Red Flag on Teacher Evaluations

Texas will get to hang on to its No Child Left Behind Act waiver for one more year, but it’s in danger of losing the flexibility if it doesn’t shape up when it comes to teacher evaluation. It’s the second state to have its waiver put on “high risk” status. The other is South Dakota, also over teacher evaluation.

Earlier this year, state officials seemed to be daring U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to pull its flexibility. Texas’ renewal is essentially proof that the Department of Education is most decidedly not in a waiver-pulling mood these days.

To be sure, the renewal comes with a long to-do list for Texas. Among the items on that list, the state has until Jan. 15 to explain how its teacher-evaluation system will meet the department’s parameters by next school year. And it will have to explain how it plans to measure student growth on state test scores in reading and math and use that data in evaluations.

Meanwhile, Michael Williams, the Texas education commissioner, made it clear he’s not going to comply with the department’s asks.

“Our state believes strongly in local control of our schools. As a result, we will continue discussing this specific point with the U.S. Department of Education, but they should not expect any shift in Texas’ position,” he said. And he said the state will contest the high-risk designation.

–Alyson Klein

A version of this article appeared in the October 08, 2015 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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