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| NEWS | High School & Beyond
The Florida legislature is mulling a policy that's stirred up controversy in other places: allowing students to earn foreign-language credit by taking computer-coding classes.
The proposal still has a long way to go in the state legislature. But last month it cleared the state Senate education committee, according to the Miami Herald.
Senate Bill 468 would require high schools to provide coding classes, a provision that has some lawmakers worried about the cost of ensuring that schools have enough computers, and prepared teachers, to carry out the law.
It would allow students to earn credits toward their foreign-language requirement by taking coding instead of, say, Spanish or Chinese. And it would require Florida's public colleges and universities to recognize the coding courses as foreign-language classes.
Jeremy Ring, the former Yahoo executive-turned-Democratic-lawmaker who proposed the legislation, said it is an attempt to "recognize the reality of the world and give our kids a leg up" in an increasingly global world, where computer coding is yet another valuable language to know.
But some, including Miami-Dade County schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, don't like the idea of coding as a substitute for Russian or French.
"We cannot approach the importance of computer science and foreign language as an either-or proposition," Carvalho told the Miami Herald. "I absolutely disagree with the proposition that computer coding is an equal substitute—an equal and necessary substitute—for foreign language."
Kentucky and New Mexico also were considering similar provisions, and a California lawmaker introduced federal legislation that would recognize programming language as "critical foreign languages." Additionally, one portion of a Texas law allows computer-science courses to fulfill foreign-language requirements.
| NEWS | Early Years
New York City's universal prekindergarten program has topped out at 68,547 4-year-olds, more than 3,000 of whom enrolled after the official start of the school year—an increase that the city attributes to a strong push to enroll children who live in underserved parts of the city.
New York had about 20,000 full-day, full-year preschool seats in the 2013-14 school year. To handle the influx of thousands more, it converted many half-day seats to full day, created prekindergarten centers around the city, and worked with community-based organizations to offer more.
Mayor Bill de Blasio campaigned on a promise of universal preschool and persuaded the state legislature to provide $300 million to help launch it.
"Parents have voted with their feet. Pre-K for All is now part of the lives of tens of thousands of children," said de Blasio in a statement. "It will only get bigger and better."
In October, enrollment stood at about 65,000. But city employees were still actively recruiting families, with multilingual outreach specialists working the phones and the computers, directing families to conveniently located centers. The city said that nearly 90 percent of the increase since the first day of school is in ZIP codes with household incomes below the city's median of about $51,000 per year.
The city is stressing the point of its outreach in response to one of its persistent critics, Bruce Fuller, a professor of education and public policy at the University of California, Berkeley. Fuller has said that the new preschool seats have been spread evenly around the city, but in his view, children from less-affluent families should have been first in line.
The city has said its goal has always been for a universal program, and that it has come very close to meeting it.
The latest numbers haven't changed Fuller's view: "The enrollment rates [among income levels] are pretty even—like any good nonprogressive entitlement," he said in an e-mail.
–Christina A. Samuels
| NEWS | Teacher Beat
A committee of New York state’s board of regents has approved plans to scuttle the use of test scores in teachers’ performance reviews for four years, delaying them until at least the 2019-20 school year.
It voted last month in favor of the emergency regulations just a week after a panel set up by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to advise the state’s implementation of the Common Core State Standards favored the delay.
Under the regulations, teachers will still receive a growth score based on tests, but it won’t count toward consequences, such as whether they’ll be granted tenure or brought up for dismissal. Instead, they will receive a “transition” score based mainly on teacher observations.
The shift comes less than a year after Cuomo successfully pushed in budget legislation to increase to 50 percent the weight given to test scores in teacher evaluations and appears to have been prompted at least partially by the opt-out movement. One in 5 students sat out state standardized tests during the past year.
| NEWS | Politics K-12
The U.S. Department of Education has placed some of Massachusetts’ Title I funds on “high risk” status over its decision not to administer a single statewide exam this school year.
In its Dec. 21 letter to state schools Commissioner Mitchell Chester, the department said the state must show that it administered the same test statewide in English/language arts and math to students in grades 3-8 by May 31, 2016, or potentially lose a portion of its Title I funds.
For the 2014-15 school year, the state allowed districts to decide whether to administer the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, known as MCAS, or the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exams. The state board had been slated to pick one of those tests that Massachusetts would use statewide going forward.
Instead, last month, the state board declined to require a single statewide exam for all districts for the 2015-16 academic year and committed to developing a hybrid test that will draw on both MCAS and PARCC for the 2016-17 school year. Massachusetts had 10 business days, starting from Dec. 21, to appeal the high-risk status.
| NEWS | State EdWatch
A West Virginia funding agency has shot down a controversial proposal by state schools Superintendent Michael Martirano to close several dilapidated schools in Fayette County and build a new $56 million high school.
The state has run the rural county’s school system for the past five years and came up with the plan after residents couldn’t agree on how to consolidate when thousands of students left the district amid the collapse of the coal-mining industry. The agency, known as the School Building Authority, was asked to fund $39 million of the construction costs over three years.
But the agency’s board members said last month that the price tag was more than triple the average cost of new school construction projects and exceeded the agency’s available funds. Board members also said they were bombarded by phone calls and letters from community members who didn’t support the plan. Only two of 11 board members supported it.
The county hasn’t passed a school bond since 1973, and its facilities, more than a half-century old, are at risk of caving in, according to engineering reports.
–Daarel Burnette II
Vol. 35, Issue 15, Pages 9, 24Published in Print: January 6, 2016, as Blogs