Weekly Roundup 9/19

Newsletter5Wow! What a week! It seems as though every time we saw a news story about education, new questions and debates were raging about teacher tenure, the Common Core, and now AP U.S. History. There was some really encouraging news this week, in terms of support for teachers and public education and an increase in opposition to testing, standardization, and evaluating teachers using test scores. With all of the noise out there about education, don’t let these ten stories pass you by:

The fight against teacher tenure laws in New York (as championed by Campbell Brown) never was meant just for New York, as confirmed by David Boies, the superlawyer who is now the chairman of the Partnership for Educational Justice. The interesting thing about Boies, besides the fact that he is not a teacher any more than Campbell Brown is, is that he helped lead a legal team that already won a Supreme Court battle to legalize same-sex marriages in California. Even more fascinating is the fact that he worked with Ted Olson and Ted Boutrous on that Supreme Court Case; and recently, Olson and Boutrous challenged and won a case against California’s tenure laws, because “the judge found that tenure laws violate students’ civil rights under the state constitution.” In an interview with the Washington Post, Boies said he is “crafting a state-by-state strategy regarding teacher tenure because many state constitutions explicitly require the provision of an equal education to all public schools.” Boies claims that arguments in state court can help get a case to the Supreme Court, and, given his continued association with Olson and Boutrous, that’s probably going to happen. But, Boies has his hands even deeper into ed reform than that. He is on the board of StudentsFirstNY, part of the national organization founded by Michelle Rhee, and he supports Teach for America. Read the full Washington Post article.

When Florida teacher Susan Bowles announced on Facebook that she would be refusing to administer the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading (FAIR) to her kindergarten students, she was not sure if she would be fired or not. But, she took a stand for her students and her beliefs as an educator. The good news is that not only was she not fired, but the superintendent of Alachua County schools, where Bowles teaches, sent a letter to Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart declaring that he decided not to require FAIR testing for any students in grades K-2. In response, Stwart has decided not to require FAIR testing for any students in grades K-2. Read the full article and view the letter from superintendent Dr. Owen Roberts to Alachua County parents and families in Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog.

There just doesn’t seem to be a happy medium in Florida regarding high-stakes assessments. While we celebrate Susan Bowles’ victory in Alachua, we feel for the Broward County students and teachers who face up to possibly 1,500 new tests because of Florida’s requirement for end-of-course tests to evaluate the state’s teachers and determine their merit pay. A school district spokeswoman tried to soften the blow by saying the number is more likely around 800 as opposed to 1,500. The discussion surrounding the number of new tests is rich, and brings to light the fact that Governor Rick Scott signed merit pay into law years ago but recently called for a “thorough investigation” of all testing in Florida schools. Read the Sun Sentinel article and see what parents, educators, and board members have to say.

Peter Greene and his Curmudgucation blog is one of our favorites around here, and his latest post poses an excellent question: “Is Standardization a Virtue?” In this era of national standards and the push to measure education and its success, Greene worries that we are making too many compromises and losing sight of demanding excellence. In the name of standardization, maybe all we get is mediocrity. Read the post and see where you fall in the debate over standards.

Here’s an idea: Let kids choose what they read in school, and they will read what they enjoy, so they will read more. But, with the standards being ushered in, schools in large part no longer give students any choice in what they read. In a post to Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet blog, one-time Principal of the Year in Wisconsin and past president of the National Council of Teachers of English, Joanne Yatvin explains the problem with no longer allowing students to choose the materials they read. Yatvin also describes the challenges facing schools in implementing independent reading time, as well as some of the failed attempts at SSR in past years, but points out that schools feel the pressure of cutting independent reading time because of the standards and testing. Yatvin does offer suggestions for giving students choice in reading materials and points out that independent reading is going to do more good than direct instruction and the Common Core because we won’t be “boring kids to death or persuading them that they’re dumb.” We highly suggest that you choose to read the full post to get the complete case that Yatvin makes for reading choice.

We are technically cheating with this one, because it is a Roundup itself, but Diane Ravitch is putting out a weekly Fairtest report on the nation’s progress in rolling back high-stakes testing. The school year may be in its infancy, but some progress is being made. The post also includes some commentary and editorials supporting a rollback of testing, as well as questions to ask school districts in regards to testing. Check out the report for some good news, and keep in mind just how much more work needs to be done.

Typically, we see stories about teachers readying to strike and hear about the community backlash, complete with the old “They’re overworked, underpaid” mantra being thrown about. This time, things are different in Reynoldsburg, Ohio. As the teachers issued notice that they will strike beginning today, the community is rallying behind them. Teachers are hoping to limit class sizes and stop a merit pay plan that bases teacher evaluations largely on student performance on a single standardized test. The teachers also cite “an exodus of teachers because of the board’s heavy-handed tactics and the hiring and highly visible presence at schools of Huffmaster, a firm that specializes in providing temporary staff during strikes.” Notably, the board’s tactics are being questioned by more than the parents, teachers, and community members; “last week, the State Employees Review Board ruled that the school board and superintendent have engaged in unfair labor practices by ‘posting details regarding bargaining proposals concerning insurance and compensation on its website during ongoing negotiations.’” Community members and parents have been holding rallies, attending school board meetings in record numbers, seeing the superintendent during open office hours, and spreading their message on social media. With more than 1,400 yard signs distributed, people wearing T-shirts supporting the teachers, and local businesses adding their support, Reynoldsburg teachers are so fortunate to have the support they do, as they face their strike. We stand with them, too. Read the full article and consider following the Facebook pages mentioned to show your support, too.

It’s nice to receive some validation from the public that they don’t want to see teacher evaluations based on test scores, either. We’ve seen it in Ohio and some other places where community members and parents are rallying around teachers, but a new PDK/Gallup poll released Tuesday confirms that the public is rejecting the push to evaluate teachers using student test scores. Only 38% of the public – and only 31% of parents – support using the scores for evaluations. This study also confirms a PDK poll from August that showed the public was becoming more “fed up with high-stakes testing’s impact on how and what students learn.” Interestingly, the poll also shows the public wants to see new ways of improving teacher recruitment and preparation. One other key finding that we found interesting was that 87% agree that high school students should receive more education about possible career choices, but less than 50% say a college education is very important. Read the article to get a full picture of just how much the public and parents support what is happening in public schools today.

Texas is once again forging the way with its own curriculum and tossing national testing aside (Texas still has not adopted the Common Core, either). The Texas Board of Education has approved “a measure declaring that the history curriculum its members set trumps that covered by the AP U.S. history course created for classrooms nationwide.” The board decided Wednesday to require its high school students to learn state-mandated curriculum, rather than be taught to the national test. Opponents of the revamped AP history course’s framework and test claim that it contains liberal themes and focuses too much on the negative aspects of U.S. history. The board’s decision means that students taking the course will still take the end-of-course exam, but they will prepare for it using the Texas-sanctioned curriculum. Read the article to see the full debate.

Two school districts in Pennsylvania – Wilmington Area School District and West Jefferson Hills School District – have publicly opposed the Common Core Standards. Also, Haverford Township’s school district publicly opposed the testing and curriculum associated with the Common Core. Wilmington’s resolution “states the private groups, including the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, spent millions of dollars advocating the new academic standards which were developed through a process ‘not subject to any freedom of information acts or other sunshine laws.” The district also is concerned about  the collection of student data under the Common Core for non-educational purposes. Read the full New Castle News article.

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