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| NEWS | Politics K-12

Common Core and the Fiscal Fight: What Do They Have in Common?

Quick political quiz for edu-nerds: What do the shutdown/almost-default-on-the-national-debt and the common core have in common?

Give up? They're both issues that divide the GOP. In particular, they are areas on which the grassrootsy, tea party, activisty side of the GOP doesn't exactly see eye to eye with the business community.

The New York Times and The Washington Post have explained how the business community was putting big pressure on its GOP allies in Congress to end the shutdown and stop flirting with default. And many of those same folks in the business world are the ones touting the Common Core State Standards as a way to ensure that kids are prepared for the workplace, not some big Obama conspiracy to wrestle control from districts—the way some activists see it.

Mike Petrilli, a vice president at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, put his finger on the trend. "Common core is caught up in the same problems that we [saw] with the shutdown," said Petrilli, who served in the U.S. Department of Education under President George W. Bush. The two biggest-name business-lobbying organizations—the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Business Roundtable—have started to take up the mantle of the common core in the face of tea party opposition.

"What you end up having is business groups very much doing battle with the tea party," Petrilli said. That puts GOP governors in a tight spot.

—Alyson Klein

| NEWS | Time and Learning

Shift in After-School Programs Ignites Parent Pushback in Fla.

After-school programs are at the center of a fierce controversy in a district in the Naples, Fla., area.

Parents in the Collier County district are upset after officials decided to allow campus administrators to choose new after-school programs. According to news reports, some elementary principals decided to stop using a popular outside vendor called Sports CLUB (Children Learning Ultimate Balance) and replaced it with school-run programs that parents say are more expensive and focus more on schoolwork than physical activity. "We're paying for the service, and we should be able to select the service we're paying for," parent Erika Donalds told the local CBS affiliate.

Tensions were high at a recent school board meeting. Parents, concerned about how the district sought input on the new policy, yelled and booed. A local newspaper reported that the board chairwoman shot back, saying she'd rather not be in the after-school business.

Donalds, the founder of the group Parents ROCK (Rights Of Choice for Kids), said she believes that the district actually does want to be involved in the after-school business so that it can get the revenue that comes with it.

"Everyone wants a piece of the pie when it comes to the money," she told me last week. "But it's hard to collaborate when one side isn't being honest about what they are trying to do."

The district, meanwhile, has said its rationale for moving the after-school offerings in-house is to expand the academic focus and better ensure the safety of students. A final vote on the changes is to come.

This is not the first time there has been debate over what after-school programs should look like. But this case is interesting both because it raises questions about the extent to which after-school programs should focus on academics, and because parents are demanding to have more involvement in their selection (and design).

—Laura Mellett Heinauer

| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

After Going Vegetarian, N.Y. School Reports Health, Academic Benefits

Organic roasted tofu. Braised black beans. Such menu items would not surprise diners at a health-food restaurant. But in the school lunch line?

They are just some of the offerings at PS 244 in New York, which switched its cafeteria fare to an all-vegetarian menu in January. Officials report seeing benefits beyond those associated with students' physical health. Student attendance, test scores, and energy levels have reportedly improved at this Queens elementary school, which has been recognized as the first public school to change to an all-vegetarian menu, says the New York Daily News.

After a single semester, Principal Bob Groff said, the number of students classified as overweight and obese dropped 2 percent, and students have longer attention spans and better academic scores.

Despite these reported gains, there's concern that some picky eaters may not be getting enough nutrients. And there's no proof that the change in menu affected academic outcomes.

—Gina Cairney

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Reversal on Common-Core Forums Won't Solve N.Y. State Chief's Woes

After withering criticism for how the Common Core State Standards are being handled in the Empire State, New York Commissioner of Education John B. King announced last week that he was reversing an earlier decision to cancel public forums on the standards. The New York department now plans to hold a dozen forums across the state, which has been roiled by anti-common-core sentiment over the past several days.

The announcement that the common-core forums are back on might ease some of the pressure on King. But the commissioner's original decision to cancel the standards meetings is only part of his trouble with respect to the common core. The New York State Union of Teachers and the United Federation of Teachers (the teachers' union for the Big Apple) are demanding that the state adopt a three-year moratorium on using common-core-aligned tests in teacher evaluations. That's two years longer than what the U.S. Department of Education is allowing states that, like New York, have waivers from the No Child Left Behind Act.

The roots of the trouble, at least nominally, stem from the results of the first such assessments in New York state that were released earlier this year, which triggered a very mixed reaction. New York's experience has been rocky compared with the reaction in Kentucky to results from common-core assessments, the first such scores to be released about a year ago. The New York unions have supported the common-core standards themselves, but in the wake of the scores from the 2012-13 school year in New York, they've gone into attack mode.

Following the lead of the two state lawmakers—a Democrat and a Republican—NYSUT President Richard Iannuzzi has said that if King doesn't agree to the three-year delay, then he should be replaced. In the face of that threat, how will King head off a potential revolt from the powerful unions in his state?

—Andrew Ujifusa

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Advocacy Groups Urging Duncan to Get Tough on NCLB Waivers

Thirteen education advocacy groups, including Democrats for Education Reform, StudentsFirst, and the National Council of La Raza, want U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan to make the waiver-renewal process far more rigorous. In a letter sent to the Education Department Oct. 22, they express deep concerns about waiver implementation, from how graduation rates are factored into state accountability systems to how subgroups of at-risk students are being helped.

"It is crucial that the department uphold its responsibility to monitor waiver implementation and determine whether states and districts are adequately serving the students who are the intended beneficiaries of [the Elementary and Secondary Education Act's] policies; i.e., students of color, students from low-income families, English-language learners, and students with disabilities," the letter reads.

Earlier this month, the Education Trust sent a letter outlining similar concerns, while being especially critical of how vague the department's renewal guidelines for states are.

The department has already published its rules for states that want to renew their waivers. However, the Oct. 22 letter from the 13 advocacy groups outlines out exactly what the groups care most about in the renewal process—and offers a warning of the royal fuss they will put up if the department doesn't heed their advice. Among the things they want:

• Evidence justifying why states should get more time to implement their waiver plans;

• A closer analysis of "super subgroups" and if they are really necessary to get around the whole small-N-size issue;

• Increased accountability around graduation rates;

• Answers on exactly how each state's A-F or similar grading system is working; and

• Public transparency on any data analysis the department uses to inform its renewal decisions.

—Michele McNeil

Vol. 33, Issue 10, Pages 9, 17

Published in Print: October 30, 2013, as Blogs of the Week
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