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November 03, 2015 9 min read
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| NEWS | Teacher Beat

Final Teacher-Prep Regulation May Reduce Testing Demands

The U.S. Department of Education says it plans to ease up on test requirements as part of its pending teacher-preparation regulation.

That regulation, slated to appear in December, aims to put more teeth in federal accountability requirements by requiring each state to classify all its teacher-prep programs into one of four categories, from “low performing” to “exceptional.” The rule was greeted with howls of protest from the higher education community, largely because all programs must be judged in part on how well K-12 students taught by graduates of those programs perform.

But in its announcement, the department promised the reg’s testing requirement would get a second look: “In the coming weeks, we will release a final rule that maintains a focus on student learning, but provides states flexibility on how to weigh the results of statewide standardized tests and measures of student learning more broadly in any teacher-preparation accountability system that it develops.”

Just what does that mean? The regulation itself was unclear on this point.

Of the required indicators, states would have to weigh student achievement “in significant part” in making their determinations. The proposed reg also stated that, in English/language arts and math, student growth must be based in part on state standardized-test results and/or teacher evaluations that incorporate those results. (More flexible measures can be used for other subjects.)

So, will a final reg remove this “significant” language? That’s one approach. But it would also pretty much be a symbolic one, because the feds have never specified exactly what “significant” is supposed to mean in the first place. Less likely, but still possible: It will drop the requirement that state tests of K-12 students be used for the growth measure.

–Stephen Sawchuk

| NEWS | Marketplace K-12

Competency-Based Education Gets Employers’ Attention

As U.S. businesses continue to express concerns about the ability to hire people with adequate job preparation, a group of executives met in Washington recently to discuss how competency-based education could fill the gaps to meet workforce needs.

The Committee for Economic Development, a nonpartisan public-policy group of business and education leaders, convened the panel after a survey identified the skills most needed and most difficult to find in the workplace. The conclusion: Critical thinking and problem-solving in job applicants are the most essential, but hardest to find.

Jack Lynch, the CEO of Renaissance Learning, noted that an ongoing issue is how quickly skills are outdated. “I hire a lot of engineers and [people with] computer science degrees,” he said. Within about 48 months, their skills are obsolete, he said. He identified “learning how to learn” as one of the chief skills for students in higher education.

Among the top competencies being sought are “the ability to work with others of diverse backgrounds,” and “teamwork/collaboration.”

Earl Graves Jr., the president and CEO of Black Enterprise, a multimedia company, cautioned the audience that “the biggest gap in this country, which disproportionately affects black and brown kids, is with educational opportunities.” Gaining certification for competency-based skills should not come at the expense of making sure students get a strong foundational education, he said.

Competency-based education is a “real opportunity” to match what employers need with people who already have what they need. “As people progress through their lives, they learn ... [but] if you go to many universities, they don’t care what you’ve learned,” said Betty Vandenbosch, the president of Kaplan University.

–Michele Molnar

| NEWS | Teaching Now

San Francisco Working to Make Housing Affordable for Teachers

In a bid to improve teacher retention in the city, San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and school district leaders have announced an affordable-housing plan that includes building a designated housing complex for educators and paraprofessionals by 2020.

The San Francisco district, which faced teacher shortages this year, is looking into the new plan partly because many educators and staff are struggling to afford to live in the city as the housing market, one of the costliest in the nation, becomes even more expensive.

Besides financing a 100-unit housing complex for educators, officials are developing a rental-assistance program. Other strategies include renewing a federal loan-assistance program and investing in a counseling program that connects teachers with eviction-prevention services and other resources, the San Francisco Examiner said.

The plan aims to help provide affordable housing for 500 teachers. San Francisco wouldn’t be the first city in California, or the nation, to take this approach. The Los Angeles Unified district recently moved to construct three apartment complexes for its teachers. Santa Clara’s district created a teacher-housing project back in 2002.

The long-term impact of teacher-housing complexes on school systems is unclear, but some local studies point to positive early results. Since 2006, a group of rural districts in North Carolina has constructed four apartment complexes exclusively for teachers. In a 2013 survey conducted by the state education department, the majority of the teachers reported that affordable housing influenced their decision to stay and teach in the area. More than half said that the low rent allows them to live comfortably and that the housing program contributed to their job satisfaction.

–Elisha McNeil

| NEWS | Politics K-12

New House Speaker’s K-12 Record And What It Portends for Policy

After some tricky political negotiations, Rep. Paul Ryan was elected last week as the next Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. So what does the Wisconsin Republican’s record indicate he could do regarding education policy?

There’s the immediate and momentous question of how he’ll deal with reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. The political climate in Congress could make it tough for a new speaker to put a bill on the floor that will need support from Democrats to pass. But Ryan’s connections with the legislation’s sponsors (including Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., the House education committee chairman), his distaste for the Obama administration’s ESEA waivers, and his record as a dealmaker open up the possibility that he’ll move a compromise forward.

Ryan, who had most recently been the chairman of the House budget committee, has also pushed to reform student loans for low-income borrowers. And he backed K-12 choice on the 2012 campaign trail, when he was the GOP nominee for vice president, and Mitt Romney’s running mate.

On the fiscal front, Ryan hasn’t been so kind to the Education Department’s budget, and education spending in general. In his April 2014 budget blueprint, for example, he sought to consolidate a number of federal programs, and called the department’s structure in general “fragmented and ineffective.” To wit, he supported converting two federal programs, Head Start and the Child Care and Development Fund, into block grants for states.

He also criticized the growth of Pell Grants under the Obama administration, and sought to tighten eligibility rules for the grants, among other changes.

In addition to being a supporter of the voucher program for students in the District of Columbia, Ryan also made it a point to back school choice back in 2012 on the presidential campaign trail.

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Arizona’s Common-Core Reversal Leaves Standards in Effect for Now

The Arizona state school board voted 6-2 to repeal the Common Core State Standards last week. But if you think the situation is as simple as that sentence makes it sound, you haven’t been following the twisted political travails of the common core over the past few years.

The board voted to approve the motion put forward by state Superintendent Diane Douglas, a Republican who was elected last year in large part due to her opposition to the common core. That motion, contained in her Oct. 20 letter to board President Greg Miller, says it would “sever the tie” between the state and the standards.

By State EdWatch’s count, Arizona would become the fourth state to, at least officially, repeal the common core, joining Indiana, Oklahoma, and South Carolina.

But Arizona’s action doesn’t immediately take the standards off the books. The common core will remain in classrooms despite the formal reversal by the state board. In fact, a statement from GOP Gov. Doug Ducey’s office said that the vote was “symbolic” even though he would like to see the common core itself replaced. (Arizona lawmakers rejected a common-core repeal bill earlier this year.)

Last April, the state board agreed to create a committee to review the standards at the request of Ducey and others the committee is taking public comments through Nov. 20.

It’s possible that, following the review, Arizona will essentially throw out the common core in favor of new standards. But based on the track record of many states, such as Florida, Arizona might make some superficial tweaks or additions to the standards, and effectively keep them. (And note: Former Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer already had changed the common core’s name in 2013.)

–Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | On Special Education

Go Ahead and Use Term ‘Dyslexia,’ Ed. Dept. Guidance Tells Districts

States and districts should not feel reluctant to use the terms dyslexia, dyscalculia, or dysgraphia when describing a particular child’s learning needs, says guidance released Oct. 23 by the U.S. Department of Education.

For those outside of the special education field, such guidance may seem obvious. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act names dyslexia as an example of a disability that would be included in the broader term “specific learning disabilities.” About 40 percent of the students who are covered under the IDEA are classified as having a specific learning disability.

But the department’s action was prompted by concerted efforts from parent groups such as Decoding Dyslexia and other advocacy organizations, which have recently rallied around the Twitter hashtag, #saydyslexia. Those groups say that the specific needs of students with dyslexia are too often glossed over, because educators don’t know enough about the disorder, or that they lump dyslexic students along with struggling learners who may have different challenges.

Advocates, who cheered the release of the guidance, have been pushing states to define dyslexia in state law (Iowa is one recent example). They have also made efforts to have dyslexia placed in the draft of a bill to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. That effort has thus far been unsuccessful.

–Christina A. Samuels

A version of this article appeared in the November 04, 2015 edition of Education Week as Blogs


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