California teacher challenges agency shop

“We’re asking that teachers be able to decide for ourselves, without fear or coercion, whether or not to join or fund a union,” says Rebecca Friedrichs in a Reason interview. A California public school teacher for more than 25 years, she’s the lead plaintiff in a challenge to the state’s “agency shop” law requiring her to pay union dues.

The Supreme Court will hear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association in the fall session. If agency shop is held to be unconstitutional, it will affect 26 states that require all public school teachers to pay union dues, even if they’re not union members.

New APUSH framework is ‘flat-out good’

College Board has released a new Advancement Placement U.S. History (APUSH) framework in response to critics. The rewritten framework isn’t just better, writes Rick Hess and Max Eden in National Review. It’s “flat-out good.”

World War II wasn't just about interning Japanese-Americans.

World War II wasn’t just about interning Japanese-Americans.

The 2014 APUSH framework was “an unqualified mess,” they write.

“Larry Krieger, a retired high-school history teacher, was the first to flag the single-minded focus on American wrongdoing, racial division, and left-wing heroics,” write Hess and Eden. Stanley Kurtz attacked the framework’s politicization of history.

After first dismissing the criticism, College Board “reached out to critics, solicited feedback from the public, promised that the framework would be reworked for 2015 — and asked to be judged on the result,” write Hess and Eden. The new framework is completely rewritten in a “more measured, historically responsible manner.”

In the section on World War II, the 2014 framework highlighted:

Wartime mobilization provided economic opportunities for women and minorities; American values were compromised by the atomic bomb and the internment of Japanese Americans; and the Allies won owing to our combined industrial strength.

. . . In the 2015 version, the first bullet now reads: “Americans viewed the war as a fight for the survival of freedom and democracy against fascist and militarist ideologies. This perspective was later reinforced by revelations about Japanese wartime atrocities, Nazi concentration camps, and the Holocaust.” The framework still notes the internment of Japanese Americans and the moral complexities of dropping the atomic bomb, but these are now situated in a broader, more textured tale.

In 2014, the first of seven organizing themes was “Identity” — with an “emphasis on race and gender grievances,” they write. Now the theme is “American and National Identity.” It deals with “our shared history — with racial divides and gender politics presented as one part of that larger story.”

The framework now addresses economic growth and American entrepreneurialism where before the only economics to speak of consisted of allusions to inequality and exploitation.

Astonishingly, discussion of religion and its import was largely absent in 2014. That is no longer the case.

Whereas in the 2014 framework one could be forgiven for thinking that the Declaration of Independence was consequential only insofar as it inspired rebellion in Haiti, the new framework makes clear that the Declaration “resonated throughout American history, shaping Americans’ understanding of the ideals on which the nation was based.”

A half-million students take APUSH every year. Their teachers now have an “honest, fair-minded framework for teaching the grand sweep of American history,” conclude Hess and Eden. “There is no effort to paper over the darker chapters of America’s past or its continuing struggle to live up to our founding ideals (nor should there be!) — but these are now presented alongside our nation’s ideals and staggering accomplishments.”

The new framework is better, but still flawed, writes Kurtz, who thinks College Board needs competition. The new AP European History framework has all the anti-West bias of the 2014 APUSH, he adds.

Mom billed $77K for disabled son’s records

Though diagnosed with an intellectual disability, Mitchell Smith passed mainstream classes in K-12, earned a high school diploma and planned to enroll at a local college with special-ed support guaranteed by Michigan law till the age of 26.

Mitchell Smith

Mitchell Smith

When Goodrich Area Schools denied his request and recommended a segregated program for disabled adults, his mother, Sherry Smith, filed a Freedom of Information Act request for all e-mails related to Mitchell. The school system claimed it would cost $77,718.75 and require 2 1/4 years of full-time clerical labor to provide the records, reports Reason‘s Hit & Run.

The college “would continue special services, life skills, employment skills, all the services that he needed and that he was receiving throughout his entire K–12 school career,” says Sherry Smith, “and it includes the academic component, which Mitchell strongly desires.”

Superintendent Michelle Imbrunone wrote:

Goodrich Area Schools believes the total cost to fulfill this FOIA will be $77,718.75…It will be necessary to hire someone to assist us with sorting through the email content you have requested. The current estimate is that it may require up to 4,687.5 hours at the current clerical hourly employee rate of $16.58 per hour.

On July 1, Michigan’s amended FOIA law went into effect allowing requesters to sue if they believe they’re being overcharged. The court must assign punitive damages if it finds a public body has “arbitrarily and capriciously charged an unreasonable fee,” reports the Detroit Free Press.

The Smiths hired an attorney who refiled the FOIA request on July 1 and added a Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) request. It took four weeks for the district to turn over hundreds of pages of emails. There was no charge.

If teaching was a sport

From Key & Peele: If teaching was covered like sports . . .

No Child’s lesson: We don’t know how to fix schools


Achievement gaps are closing at a glacial rate.

No Child Left Behind “forced states to identify schools that were failing according to scores on standardized tests,” writes Libby Nelson on Vox. But we don’t know how to fix low-performing schools.

NCLB set in place restructuring options for schools that failed to show progress year after year.

Research in North Carolina by Thomas Ahn and Jacob Vigdor found that the most effective interventions were at opposite ends of the spectrum: Schools that had missed the progress goal for only one year and weren’t yet facing consequences improved. So did schools that faced the biggest consequence, a total restructuring.

But everything in between — transfers, tutoring, a new curriculum or hiring consultants, threatening to restructure — didn’t help much.

The next steps — the various “corrective actions” ranging from firing staff to hiring consultants — were equally ineffective, Ahn and Vigdor found. It wasn’t until schools had to hire new leadership that schools made meaningful change.

Research shows that “No Child Left Behind improved fourth-grade and eighth-grade math test scores, but didn’t do as much for reading abilities,” writes Nelson. Black and low-income students gained the most.

But achievement gaps remain large, according to Sean Reardon at Stanford. “Comparing the magnitude of these effects is akin to comparing the speed of different glaciers,” he wrote. “Some are retreating, some advancing, but none so fast that one would notice a meaningful difference except over a span of decades (or centuries).”

67% back school testing

Two-thirds of the public — and two-thirds of parents — support federally required testing, concludes the annual Education Next survey. Teachers split evenly on the question, which asked, “Do you support or oppose the federal government continuing to require that all students be tested in math and reading each year in grades 3-8 and once in high school?”

Another question asked:

“Some people say that ALL students should take state tests in math and reading.  Others say that parents should decide whether or not their children take these tests. Do you support or oppose letting parents decide whether to have their children take state math and reading tests?”

Only 25% of the public like the idea, while 59% oppose it, the remainder taking a neutral position.  Among parents themselves, just 32% favored the opt-out approach, while 52% opposed it.  Fifty-seven percent of the teachers also reacted negatively to the idea, with only 32% lending it support.

Asked “what level of government should play the biggest role in deciding whether or not a school is failing?,” 18 percent chose the federal government, 50 percent the state and 32 percent local government.

Rise in autism tied to ‘diagnostic substitution’

As autism diagnoses rose, intellectual disability diagnoses fell, reports a Penn State study on  “diagnostic substitution.” Many of the “new” autism cases reflect changes in how children are labeled rather than a rise in kids with learning or communications problems, researchers concluded.

Autism prevalence rates rose from 1 in 150 children in 2000 to 1 in 68 children in 2010, according to a Centers for Disease Control report, reports Ed Week‘s Christina Samuels.autism_intellectual_disability_rates.jpg

The fastest-growing group of children with autism spectrum disorder are those with normal to above-average intelligence, said the CDC’s Jon Baio. It’s not likely these children would have been identified as having an intellectual disability, he said. “What has changed to put children today at an increased risk of having autism? We really don’t know.”

The CDC’s figures, which aren’t based on examination of children, may be unreliable, says David Mandell, associate director of the Center for Autism Research at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

Evaluation isn’t about firing bad teachers

Nearly all teachers receive high ratings in most districts. Teachers are in short supply in some parts of the country, writes Paul Bruno for the Brookings Institution.“The extent to which a principal is willing to dismiss (or give a poor evaluation to) a teacher will likely depend in part upon her beliefs about the probability of finding a superior replacement in a reasonable period of time.”

Teacher evaluation systems should be seen as a way to help teachers improve, not as a system to “dismiss teachers,” responds Bellwether’s Kaitlin Pennington.

New evaluation systems were meant to be a tool to reward excellent instruction, provide opportunities for targeted professional development, and create systems of support in schools in districts. Unfortunately, new teacher evaluation systems in many places were sold as ways to “get rid of bad teachers,” which greatly hurt implementation efforts.

Effective evaluation systems let a principal who’s hiring know “what effective teaching looks like and how it is measured,” writes Pennington.

Teacher evaluation isn’t included in either version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, Pennington points out. “States will not have the political cover from federal policy to move forward with teacher evaluation.” And if it’s seen as just a way to fire teachers, it will not survive.

Care for kids or flip a burger?

New York state will raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for fast-food workers at chains with 30+ restaurants. That means the state’s burger flippers will earn more than child-care workers and preschool teachers in most parts of the country, writes Anya Kamenetz on NPR.

Child care workers average $8.63 in West Virginia to $12.47 in Massachusetts, according to a 2014 Berkeley study. Wages have fallen slightly since 1989.

“Preschool workers, who are more likely to work with older children in licensed centers and in publicly funded, school-based programs, earn more — from $11.57 an hour in Delaware to $20.99 in New York City, writes Kamenetz.

“We desperately need educated young people to be working with young children, but they look at this job and say, ‘It’s a pathway to poverty. I can’t pay my student loans if I do this’, ” says Deborah Phillips, a Georgetown professor who’s studied the issue. When wages are low, turnover is high, affecting the quality of care.

If the New York law stands, restaurant owners will be able to replace low-skilled workers with automated order taking and cooking. It’s a lot harder to automate child care.

Can schools teach social skills?

Kindergarten teachers’ assessment of children’s “social competence” — cooperation, helpfulness, “understanding feelings” — predicted their future education, employment and arrest records, according to a long-term study.

The researchers had statistically controlled for the effects of poverty, race, having teenage parents, family stress and neighborhood crime, and for the children’s aggression and reading levels in kindergarten, writes David Bornstein in a New York Times blog.

Madison Reid, a student in Mrs. Neal's 2nd and 3rd grade combined class, leads a discussion on what is good listening during a morning session at Wade Park Elementary in Cleveland, Ohio on May 20, 2015. —Dustin Franz for Education Week

A Cleveland elementary student leads a discussion on good listening. Photo: Dustin Franz, Education Week

Helping children develop “core social and emotional strengths like self-management, self-awareness and social awareness” would have big payoffs, he argues.

But how much can schools do to improve children’s social competence? If parents aren’t doing their job, can schools make a difference?

The Chicago-based Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (Casel) is working with school districts across the country, writes Bornstein. A 2011 meta-analysis of studies on school-based social and emotional learning programs found significant gains in students’ social skills, attitudes, behavior and academics.

Cleveland uses Promoting Alternative Thinking Strategies to teach children “how to recognize, communicate and manage their emotions, read others’ emotions, solve problems and change patterns of negative thinking.”

School suspension rooms have been replaced with “planning centers,” where students work through problems or practice how to better handle conflicts. Schools have staff teams to lead social and emotional learning efforts and work with families.

Three years ago, graduating seniors said safety was the number one problem in high school, says CEO Eric Gordon. Two years ago, safety fell to second place. Last year, it dropped to number three.

I have mixed feelings about social and emotional programs. Schools should teach students how to behave in school, which includes self-control, cooperation and resolving conflicts peacefully. But emotional strength comes from being raised by good or good-enough parents. I don’t schools can do much there. For good or ill, it’s the parents.