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| NEWS | Learning the Language

Utah Adds New Twist to Biliteracy Seal

Utah is the 15th state to adopt an official seal of biliteracy, an honor that promotes bilingualism among K-12 students by offering special recognition for graduates with fluency in two or more languages.

But it may the first in one respect. Following the recommendation of the nation's leading bilingual education groups, Utah officials will establish a two-tier biliteracy seal to separately honor advanced and intermediate speakers.

Using the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages' proficiency guidelines, the state will award platinum seals to students who reach an "Advanced Mid" level: speakers who "contribute to conversations on a variety of familiar topics, dealt with concretely, with much accuracy, clarity, and precision, and ... convey their intended message without misrepresentation or confusion. They are readily understood by native speakers unaccustomed to dealing with non-natives."

Gold seals will go to students at the "Intermediate Mid" level: those who are "able to express personal meaning by creating with the language, in part by combining and recombining known elements and conversational input to produce responses typically consisting of sentences and strings of sentences. Their speech may contain pauses, reformulations, and self-corrections as they search for adequate vocabulary and appropriate language. ... In spite of the limitations in their vocabulary and/or pronunciation and/or grammar and/or syntax, ... speakers are generally understood by sympathetic interlocutors accustomed to dealing with non-natives."

Utah will offer its biliteracy seals to students proficient in English and one or more world languages or the indigenous languages of Navajo or Ute. The honor is also available to English-language learners, starting with the class of 2017, said Gregg Roberts, a world-languages and dual-language-immersion specialist with the state office of education.

Other states that offer biliteracy seals have toyed with the idea of a two-tier system, but they face a quandary: Set the bar for proficiency too low, and the honor loses some luster because students aren't truly proficient in the language; or set the bar too high and make the seal nearly unattainable.

"We want to make sure that students are truly achieving in that second language," Roberts said.

–Corey Mitchell

| NEWS | Curriculum Matters

Facebook CEO: Tell Young Women To Be the Nerd, Not Date the Nerd

Facebook commenters are praising Mark Zuckerberg for his punchy comeback to a post about a woman's advice to her granddaughters.

Darlene Hackemer Loretto responded to Zuckerberg's New Year's status update saying she keeps telling her granddaughters to "date the nerd in school, he may turn out to be a Mark Zuckerberg!"

The co-founder and CEO of Facebook wrote back: "Even better would be to encourage them to *be* the nerd in their school so they can be the next successful inventor!"

BuzzFeed picked up on the string, and Loretto has since responded that she encourages her granddaughters to do well themselves, too. "I've done everything in my life MYSELF, my children's dad died at a very young age, and I did it all. Starting 2 businesses. I said it once to them in jest and NEVER did I think anyone would even see this, let alone get the attention it has gotten."

–Liana Heitin

| NEWS | Teaching Now

New 'Star Wars' Character Based on Beloved Teacher

Have you felt it? Not only has the Force awoken, it's knocked back a few espressos and power-lifted an Imperial cruiser. The latest episode in the "Star Wars" saga passed "Avatar" last week to become the highest-grossing movie at the domestic box office ever.

One of the characters introduced in the movie is Maz Kanata, a bar matron voiced by the Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o. Kanata offers refuge and wisdom to the movie's other heroes, but her basis is rooted in this galaxy: the late California high school English teacher Rose Gilbert, who taught both "The Force Awakens" director J.J. Abrams and the movie's production designer, Rick Carter.

"Early in the movie's development, Abrams and Carter discovered that they both had a mentor in the award-winning and adored Palisades High School teacher," according to The Art of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the movie's concept-design book. "In tribute to Gilbert, character-concept artists were tasked with creating Maz, whom our heroes first encounter at an Exotic City bar that she runs."

You can see the influence of Gilbert in Maz's short frame (Gilbert was 5 feet) and giant glasses. One would guess there's also a good deal of Gilbert's personality in there, too; she acts as a mix of sage and mentor.

An alumna of the University of California, Los Angeles, Gilbert became a benefactor of the university, endowing several awards and scholarships. She taught for more than 50 years in the Los Angeles Unified School District.

Abrams told California's Palisadian-Post that while Gilbert "was always at the center of the inspiration for Maz," they were unable to show their former teacher the character design before she died in 2013.

–Ross Brenneman

| NEWS | Education and the Media

'Child Genius' Is Back for Season 2

A year ago, when the reality competition show "Child Genius" had its first season on the Lifetime channel, I called it a guilty pleasure that was, in effect, the "revenge of the reality-show producers."

The producers shaped the stories around a group of often-pushy parents and not-always-adorable 9- to 12-year-olds.

In the end, the likable Vanya Vivashankar of Olathe, Kan., whose father was always beseeching her to stay hydrated ("drink some water!") won the $100,000 first-place scholarship prize.

Last week "Child Genius" returned to Lifetime for its second season, which will run 10 weeks.

Once again, the students are drawn from public schools, private schools, and home schooling. One boy is a musical prodigy who has played piano at Carnegie Hall. And one 11-year-old girl has already written her first novel.

The format of the show remains the same as the first season. The reality cameras follow the children and parents around their homes and in backstage moments at the competition site in Los Angeles. This footage is interspersed with carefully selected segments of the competition, which covers two subjects each week. Those include mathematics, spelling, geography, current events, literature and the arts, Earth science, and astronomy and space. The first episode of second season, which tested math and memory, seemed to have more of a high-pressure effect on some of the contestants than any episode in the first season. At least a couple appeared to suffer panic attacks, with one hiding under a table rather than take the stage.

So, one does have pause about enjoying the show, on a straightforward or guilty-pleasure level. But hey—school, reality TV, and life are full of high-pressure tests, right? And no one pushed these young people to participate in "Child Genius."

–Mark Walsh

| NEWS | Rules for Engagement

Obama Mentions School Shootings in His Push to Fight Gun Violence

President Barack Obama referenced school shootings—focusing especially on the 2012 attacks on Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.—as he discussed actions last week that he says will help reduce gun violence.

Surrounded by advocates for stronger gun laws and those affected by shootings, Obama on Jan. 5 discussed plans that include: closing loopholes on background checks required for firearms purchases; making the background-check system more effective; funding federal research into technology designed to make guns safer; and proposing to spend $500 million to increase access to mental-health care.

In his remarks, the president acknowledged failed efforts to pass new gun laws through Congress after the Newtown shootings, in which a gunman killed 20 children and six adults before turning the gun on himself.

"Every time I think about those kids, it makes me mad," said Obama, who spoke with tears in his eyes and was introduced by Mark Barden, the father of a boy killed at Sandy Hook. The president added that children on the streets of Chicago face gun violence "every day."

Obama's actions won praise from the Sandy Hook Promise, an organization founded by some Newtown families that has pushed for new gun laws:

"We are particularly appreciative of the president's focus on mental health and getting people more access to care. We have always stressed that gun-violence prevention cannot succeed without a comprehensive solution that goes beyond just firearms, and we are pleased to see the president offer a broad package of actions."

Mental health is of particular concern to many Sandy Hook victims' families. A November 2014 report by Connecticut's child-advocate office, which is tasked withreviewing child deaths in the state, detailed how gunman Adam Lanza's emotional and mental-health needs went unmet throughout his childhood.

Obama's plan also received support from the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the Council of the Great City Schools.

–Evie Blad

| NEWS | Politics K-12

Hillary Clinton Unveils Proposals to Aid Those With Autism

Hillary Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, wants to restrict the use of seclusion and restraints for children with autism and other students in special education. She also wants the U.S. Department of Education to help schools prevent bullying of students with autism, and to expand the use of early autism screenings.

On Clinton's wish list: enacting the Keeping All Students Safe Act, which was championed in previous Congresses by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, both now retired. The bill would limit seclusion and restraint as a means of controlling students in special education, particularly if there is a risk of injury, and it would prevent those practices from being included in students' individualized educational programs, or IEPs.

So far, the bill hasn't gotten much traction in the GOP-controlled Congress, but similar measures have gained in popularity in state legislatures.

That doesn't mean everyone is a fan of such policies. Back in 2012, AASA, the School Superintendents' Association, came out against the measure. AASA is still concerned about any legislation that would prohibit local districts from considering the use of seclusion and restraint, after other interventions.

Clinton also wants a national early-screening outreach campaign to encourage parents to get children checked for autism; bolstered federal guidance to ensure that students with autism and others in special education are protected from bullying; a new Autism Works initiative to help students with autism find employment after high school; and a push for states to require private insurers to cover services for children and adults with autism.

–Alyson Klein

| NEWS | State EdWatch

Effort to Remove Arizona's Chief Fails to Gain Enough Signatures

An effort to get rid of Diane Douglas, Arizona's state schools chief, has failed.

A petition that would have sparked an election failed to garner enough signatures, according to the Associated Press.

Douglas, a Republican, was elected in 2014 on a campaign to scrap the Common Core State Standards, beating out several establishment candidates.

Since being elected, she has waged several public battles with Republican Gov. Doug Ducey and his appointed state board of education. In February, she attempted to fire the education department's executive and deputy directors. The president of the state board of education opposed the move, and Ducey reversed the firings, determining that the department's employees worked for the board, not for the superintendent.

Douglas has also opposed a process the governor has launched to change the state's school funding formula.

The petition to remove Douglas, which was started a year ago by Phoenix teacher Anthony Espinoza, argued that she has used her position to increase her power rather than to improve school performance, the AP says. The petition garnered 40,000 signatures, far short of the 370,000 needed to force an election. Douglas told the AP she was too busy focusing on teachers and students to pay attention to the status of the recall petition.

–Daarel Burnette II

Vol. 35, Issue 17, Pages 10, 19

Published in Print: January 11, 2016, as Blogs
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