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Newtown Commission Issues School Safety Report

Improving the design of schools with an eye on safety is a key recommendation from the Sandy Hook Advisory Commission, put together by Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

The group of teachers, safety experts, and state and city officials—convened in response to the Dec. 14 shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.—released an interim report last week.

While state regulations already set school design standards for lighting and air quality, the commission's report notes, "no standard exists for the baseline of safe school design." But there should be at least minimum safety standards for K-12 schools, day-care centers, and colleges and universities, the commission says, acknowledging that cost will factor into schools' ability to improve security.

"As precious seconds matter in an episode like the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School," the commission says, the state should consider requiring that all classrooms in K-12 schools have doors that can be locked from the inside by the classroom teacher, and requiring that all exterior doors in these schools have hardware capable of implementing a full-perimeter lockdown.

All schools should develop emergency plans that say how information about emergencies will be shared and how, if necessary, children will be reunited with their parents. Sandy Hook Elementary parents gathered at a nearby firehouse, waiting for hours for information about their children after news of the shootings spread.

Specifically for cases involving an active shooter, the commission says that local police, fire, and other emergency-response agencies should have up-to-date copies of school building floor plans, maps of the surrounding areas, evacuation routes, shelter sites, and established procedures for addressing medical needs, transportation, and parent notification. Schools should evaluate cellphone coverage across their campuses and be encouraged to use surveillance cameras that can send images via the Internet—not just be viewed by someone monitoring cameras at the schools.

The commission wants the state to go beyond its recommendations and create another group that would come up with more-specific ideas for improving school building safety, especially measures for retrofitting existing buildings with additional security features.

The Sandy Hook Commission also recommended a host of new regulations about guns, including permits, the size of magazines, and background checks. In the coming months, it will shift its focus to learning more about what changes are needed in the state's mental-health-care system.

—Nirvi Shah


MOOC Technology Training Offered for Educators

A new, free online course is aimed at giving thousands of district administrators around the country help in using technology to meet their schools' needs.

The project—dubbed a "MOOC-Ed," or a massively open online course for educators—is the work of the Alliance for Excellent Education, a Washington-based advocacy organization that has been heavily involved in promoting digital education, and the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation, at North Carolina State University's college of education.

The course is to be the first of several massive, open online courses focused on education organized by the Friday Institute. It's a seven-week class that will run from April 8 through May 24 and is specifically designed for school and district leaders, including superintendents, principals, curriculum directors, tech directors, finance officials, lead teachers, and others responsible for planning the use of technology in K-12.

District administrators and others taking part need to commit between two and four hours a week to the class.

Participants in the administrators' MOOC will receive information on broad themes, such as how technology is changing the way students learn. They will also focus on how school leaders can set meaningful goals for digital learning based on student academic outcomes and other measures.

The alliance and the university say the course will integrate "crowdsourcing" or activities that allow participants to share ideas and resources and give feedback.

The course is a part of an effort called Project 24, which is aimed at helping districts plan and use technology effectively.

—Sean Cavanagh


Testing Group Reorganizes For Long-Term Survival

The two big groups of states that are designing tests for the Common Core State Standards have a lot more on their minds than the thorny work of test design. They're trying to figure out how they can survive once their federal funding runs out in the fall of 2014, before the tests are even administered.

One sign of this focus cropped up when PARCC (the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) announced that it had reorganized itself as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. This move facilitates the receipt of foundation funding, among other things, something that has been under consideration as a mode of survival once the group runs out of federal money.

PARCC and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium have teamed up to do some thinking about sustainability. They've got a heavy-hitting consulting firm working on sustainability plans, and the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers—the folks who spearheaded the common-standards drive four years ago—are playing roles as well.

The governing states of Smarter Balanced are scheduled to vote on their plan when they meet in the Washington area this week. PARCC states will soon do likewise.

The sustainability question is key to the long-term work of the consortia. No one really knows who will update the tests, for instance, as secure item pools dwindle. The research agenda is in question, too. Without a multiyear inquiry into how students at various cut scores perform in college, it's tough to validate the test as being a proxy of college readiness.

There is a bottom-line question of sustainability as well. The groups are mindful that in order to protect the $360 million in federal funding they won, they each need to have at least 15 member states. With 24 in SBAC and 22 in PARCC right now, that doesn't seem to be a looming issue. But if enough states get skittish and drop out, federal officials could—according to their own regulations—cut off the funding that is meant to carry the consortia's work through the fall of 2014. The sensitivity to preserving membership showed up not long ago in PARCC's contracting scuffle with ACT, as you might recall.

—Catherine Gewertz

Vol. 32, Issue 26, Page 14

Published in Print: March 27, 2013, as Blogs of the Week
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