States will vote on vouchers, charters, ed reform

Across the nation, voters will have a chance to change state education policies, notes the Hechinger Report.

A ballot initiative in Florida would amend the Constitution to allow religious schools to receive vouchers.

Georgia is voting on a special commission to authorize new charters.

Washington voters have rejected charter schools three times, but another charter measure is on the ballot, along with a “trigger” that would let a majority of parents, or teachers, vote to convert their traditional public school into a charter.

Idaho’s teachers union hopes voters will reject three recently passed education laws.

Proposition 1 aims to repeal a law mandating that 50 percent of teacher evaluations be tied to student growth – an increasingly common policy nationwide. The law also abolished teacher tenure, limited collective bargaining and eliminated incentives for early retirement. Proposition 2 would end Idaho’s new merit pay plan, which provides bonuses for teachers and administrators based on student growth on standardized tests. The law also allows for bonuses to be given to teachers who take hard-to-staff positions or leadership roles. And if a majority vote yes on Proposition 3, a law mandating that all students take two online classes before graduating high school will be repealed.

Voters in Maryland will decide on in-state tuition at public universities for undocumented immigrants.

Indiana Superintendent Tony Bennett’s re-election campaign is “being watched nationally as a referendum on reform,” Fordham’s Mike Petrilli told AP. “If Tony Bennett can push this type of aggressive reform agenda and win, it will give a big lift to other politicians eager to enact similar reforms.” Indiana now has the biggest voucher program in the country.

Also keep an eye on Michigan, where a union-sponsored measure would put collective-bargaining rights in the state constitution. That would block education reforms, argues Michelle Rhee, who’s put Students First PAC money into the “no” campaign.

When students grade teachers

When students evaluate their teachers, they’re remarkably good at identifying who’s effective and who’s not, writes Amanda Ripley in The Atlantic. Students evaluations have proved to be “more reliable than any other known measure of teacher performance—­including classroom observations and student test-score growth,”  researchers have found, Ripley writes.

Some 250,000 students participated in a Gates Foundation study of student evaluations, using a survey developed by Harvard economist Ronald Ferguson.

The responses did indeed help predict which classes would have the most test-score improvement at the end of the year. In math, for example, the teachers rated most highly by students delivered the equivalent of about six more months of learning than teachers with the lowest ratings. (By comparison, teachers who get a master’s degree—one of the few ways to earn a pay raise in most schools —delivered about one more month of learning per year than teachers without one.)

Students were better than trained adult observers in evaluating teacher effectiveness, probably because students spend a lot more time with each teacher. And there are more of them.

Five items were linked strongly with student learning:

1. Students in this class treat the teacher with respect.

2. My classmates behave the way my teacher wants them to.

3. Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time.

4. In this class, we learn a lot almost every day.

5. In this class, we learn to correct our mistakes.

Teachers were surprised that caring about students was less important than controlling the classroom and challenging students, Ripley writes.

At McKinley Technology High School in Washington D.C., the same students “gave different teachers wildly different reviews” on Control and Challenge.

For Control, which reflects how busy and well-behaved students are in a given classroom, teachers’ scores ranged from 16 to 90 percent favorable; for Challenge, the range stretched from 18 to 88 percent. Some teachers were clearly respected for their ability to explain complex material or keep students on task, while others seemed to be boring their students to death.

Memphis now counts student survey results as 5 percent of a teacher’s evaluation in the annual review; 35 percent is linked students’ test scores and 40 percent to classroom observations.

The use of student surveys is spreading to Georgia and Chicago — and possibly Pittsburgh — Ripley writes.

Teen sues over Facebook bullying

Two classmates created a fake Facebook account in 14-year-old Alex Boston’s name, using it to suggest that the Georgia girl is fat, promiscuous, a drug user and a racist. Her middle school principal said the school can’t regulate off-campus activity. So the girl and her parents are suing the cyberbullies for libel.

The page features a distorted photo of  Boston.

The account was also used to post a racist video to YouTube that implied that Boston hated African-Americans, and to leave crude comments on the Facebook pages of other friends, suggesting she was sexually active and smoked marijuana.

. . . The activities exposed Boston to “hatred, contempt and ridicule by her classmates and peers,” according to the complaint, which accuses the teens of defamation and intentional infliction of emotional distress, and seeks punitive damages. The parents of the defendants are named in the suit because they paid for the internet access that allowed their children to create the account and post the messages, and allegedly failed to supervise their activity.

Georgia law doesn’t penalize cyberbullying and schools have no authority over students’ off-campus behavior.

According to the lawyer, Facebook did not respond to requests to delete the false account until after the lawsuit was filed and publicized on CNN.

Is remedial ed necessary?

Connecticut colleges would stop requiring unprepared students to take remedial courses by 2014, under proposed legislation. All students could take college-level classes with “embedded” remedial support.

Remedial courses are holding students back instead of helping, said participants in a Georgia conference.

Fighting obesity — or picking on fat kids?

Ads attacking childhood obesity look a lot like ads attacking obese children. Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta is running TV commercials and billboards with overweight children to make Georgians worry more about the problem, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The state ranks second in the nation for childhood obesity: Forty percent of children are overweight or obese. But half of adults don’t see it as a major health issue and 75 percent of parents with overweight or obese children don’t think their kids need to slim down.

Some public health experts, however, say the approach could be counterproductive when it comes to childhood obesity. The commercials and billboards do not give families the tools they need to attack the problem, some critics say. Others say the images will simply further stigmatize obesity and make it even less likely for parents and children to acknowledge that their weight is unhealthy and should be addressed.

“We know from communication research that when we highlight a health risk but fail to provide actionable steps people can take to prevent it, the response is often either denial or some other dysfunctional behavior,” said Karen Hilyard, a University of Georgia health communication researcher.

The President’s Fitness Award will be given to any child who can eat without sweating, reports The Onion.

Finally conceding it is unrealistic to expect today’s children to complete a pull-up, run a mile, or touch their toes, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports, and Nutrition announced the new standard.  “We want our kids to set more pragmatic, real-world goals for themselves, and being able to run back and forth across a basketball court one time is no longer realistic,”  said Shellie Pfohl, executive director of the council.

It’s satire, but uncomfortably close to reality.

Oklahoma may cancel graduation requirements

Oklahoma may repeal its brand-new graduation requirements for fear of high failure rates, reports the Tulsa World.

The class of 2012 is the first group of students to face the state graduation requirements created by lawmakers in 2005 as part of Achieving Classroom Excellence legislation.

Each student is required to pass four of seven end-of-instruction exams to get a high school diploma. The exams are in Algebra I and II, English II and III, Biology I, geometry and U.S. history.

Rep. Jerry McPeak, D-Warner, predicts 80 percent of legislators will support repealing the higher standards.

Even Rep. Jeannie McDaniel, D-Tulsa, a co-author of the original bill, wants to rethink the legislation. Schools haven’t been able to give students enough remedial help, she said.

Several states are backing off on higher graduation requirements, notes the Hechinger Report. Georgia eased its requirements last year, cutting the number of exams from four to one.

Other states are raising standards to ensure a passing score signifies college readiness.

New York has vowed to make its high-school graduation exams tougher after a study last year showed that even students who pass the math test may be placed in remedial math classes in college. Florida recently raised its cut-off scores on all standardized exams, including those in high school, and is developing additional end-of-course assessments.

Statistics showing that large numbers of high-school graduates are unprepared for college coursework have fueled the push to make tests more difficult. Right now, many of those who do earn a diploma must enroll in at least one remedial course in college.

Nearly a quarter of high school graduates who seek to enter the military fail the entrance exam, which tests subjects such as word knowledge, paragraph comprehension, arithmetic reasoning and general science, Hechinger reports.

Public schools go online

States and districts are launching online public schools, reports the Wall Street Journal in My Teacher Is an App.

In just the past few months, Virginia has authorized 13 new online schools. Florida began requiring all public-high-school students to take at least one class online, partly to prepare them for college cybercourses. Idaho soon will require two. In Georgia, a new app lets high-school students take full course loads on their iPhones and BlackBerrys. Thirty states now let students take all of their courses online.

Nationwide, an estimated 250,000 students are enrolled in full-time virtual schools, up 40 percent in the last three years, and more than two million take at least one class online.

Achievement appears to be lower for virtual students, though it’s possible apples are being compared to oranges.

Districts hope to save money by outsourcing classes to online providers, reports the Journal.

In Georgia, state and local taxpayers spend $7,650 a year to educate the average student in a traditional public school. They spend nearly 60% less—$3,200 a year—to educate a student in the statewide online Georgia Cyber Academy, saving state and local tax dollars. Florida saves $1,500 a year on every student enrolled online full time.

If your teacher is an app, you’d better have an educated, at-home parent, who can answer questions immediately.  Not every student has that.

 

Georgia may require ‘career clusters’

Georgia students would be required to choose a career focus at the end of 10th grade, under a proposal to be decided this fall.  The state’s single-track college-for-all focus is pushing some students to drop out, says State Superintendent John Barge.

Under Georgia’s plan, students would take the same general core of classes with basics like algebra, English and history. At the end of their sophomore year, students would choose a cluster to determine what advanced classes they take.

For example, a student in the health sciences career cluster wanting to be a certified nursing assistant would take nutrition and wellness, chemistry and physical science — and go straight into a job after graduation. A student wanting to be a doctor would take Advanced Placement biology, physics and biotechnology and go to a four-year college.

Students will be able to switch clusters if they change their minds and all graduates will be able to go to college, according to Mike Buck, chief academic officer at the Georgia Department of Education.

The plan includes internships in students’ chosen career fields, which will be difficult to set up. Not every business wants a 17-year-old hanging around. Teachers — presumably relieved of some teaching duties — will serve as counselors.

While I’m no fan of college for all, I’m dubious about career clusters for all.

 

LIFO is out

Last-in, first-out layoffs are out in Georgia, reports Teacher Beat. It’s a trend.

The bill, SB 184, prohibits local boards of education from using seniority as the “primary or sole” determining factor when implementing a reduction in force. Boards that don’t comply can have some of their state education funds withheld.

Georgia’s action follows that of Utah, where a similar bill was recently signed into law. Other states that have recently ended LIFO through legislation include Oklahoma, Colorado, and Arizona, in addition to the District of Columbia through its recent teachers’ contract.

Illinois teachers’ unions have agreed to an anti-LIFO bill that allows both performance and seniority to be taken into account in deciding who get laid off.

Dennis Walcott, New York City’s new schools chancellor, wants a LIFO exemption from the state, but the teachers’ unions and Democrats in the legislature are opposed.

Not surprisingly, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has a no-LIFO plan as part of his education reform bill.

Detroit Public Schools is sending layoff notices to all teachers and administrators. Robert Bobb, the emergency financial manager who’s running the troubled district, said he’ll use a new law that lets him  modify or terminate collective bargaining agreements.

Detroit is losing enrollment. By pink-slipping everyone, Bobb opens the door to non-LIFO layoffs. He can  retain the teachers and administrators he thinks are best and lay off the rest.

Georgia spends millions on remedial ed

On Community College SpotlightGeorgia spends millions on remedial college classes. Some legislators call for limiting third and fourth chances.

Florida unveils a college readiness test.