Duncan rules the waives

The Obama administration “waiver gambit” lets states — and now eight CORE districts in California –  “ignore poor and minority kids,” writes RiShawn Biddle on Dropout Nation.

The CORE districts’ waiver application doesn’t show how they’ll improve education, he writes, citing the review panel’s criticisms.

Kansas, Oregon, and Washington State — threatened by the feds with losing the waivers –  ”are unlikely to implement their proposed reforms,” Biddle writes.

It has also been clear that the administration’s decision to allow states to focus on the worst five percent of schools (along with another 10 percent or more of schools with wide achievement gaps) — and ignore those districts serving up mediocre instruction and curricula — will lead to widening achievement gaps.

The administration could have “worked within the imperfect yet successful accountability framework No Child put in place 11 years ago,” writes Biddle, “if Barack Obama used his bully pulpit and political capital.”

Instead, the CORE, Kansas, Oregon, and Washington State waivers show the administration’s “shoddy and irresponsible” policymaking.

“Education insiders’ ripped the CORE waivers as bad policy, according to Whiteboard Advisers’s survey, reports Politics K-12.

  • “Is there nothing they won’t permit? Why CORE but not Burlington, Vermont? Why push for common standards but permit so much local control in how you collect and use data and what you measure?”
  • “The waiver was not well put together, the process for approval wasn’t transparent, it doesn’t maintain accountability. In other words it does none of the things the Secretary of Education keeps piously saying that the waivers all do.”
  • “Terrible. At this point, the Department is just making things up as they go along. It’s impossible to discern a coherent strategy. [Race to the Top] for states, for districts; waivers for states, for districts. They are leaving federal education policy a complete shambles.

And the ultimate nightmare: “Just imagine what a Republican president will do with this authority and what Arne Duncan as a school leader would have said.”

Elementary kids get science grades, but no science

Science instruction is vanishing from elementary schools in Kansas and nearby states, according to a report to the Kansas Board of Education. As many as one in five elementary teachers puts science grades on report cards, but doesn’t teach the subject.

George Griffith, superintendent of a western Kansas district and a member of a committee writing new science standards, surveyed more than 900 elementary teachers in Kansas, Colorado, Missouri, Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Griffith said teachers responding to the survey said they reported grades in science because there was a spot on the grade card for it. But the teachers felt so pressured to increase performance in the high-stakes reading and math tests that they have cut back or eliminated class time for science.

More than 55 percent of K-6 teachers have decreased science education by 30 minutes to an hour per week, Griffith said.

How a Kansas farm town saved its school

With only 70 students in kindergarten through 12th grade, Walton School faced closure.  People in the small Kansas town saw the school as “the only thing standing between their community and a future as a ghost town, writes Susan Headden.  The district turned it into a K-4 charter school, the Walton Rural Life Center, with a hands-on curriculum linked to farming.

  One of only two such elementary schools in the country, Walton, which now has 170 students (it pulls from outside the district), is considered an unqualified success. It scores in the top 5 percent on the state’s standardized achievement tests; it has been celebrated by the U.S. Department of Education; and educators come from across the country to learn its secrets. The school is so popular that its waiting list, now at 40, extends as far out as 2015. Some parents try to register their children while they are still in the womb.

Natise Vogt, the principal, says her school “is not out to produce the next generation of American farmers.”

 Walton picked agriculture for three simple reasons: kids love it, Kansas is a farm state, and as it turns out, there is almost nothing in elementary education that can’t be explained by relating it to cows and plows.

Take eggs. If second-grade teacher Staci Schill were running a standard classroom, she would be drilling her students on double-digit addition with the help of a prescribed textbook. There is still some of this kind of instruction, but building lessons around the agricultural theme lets kids see how they use their math facts in daily life. In this case, the students sell eggs produced by a small coop of hens. Every morning they rush out to collect and wash the eggs, inspect them for cracks, and box them for sale for $2 a dozen.  (They recently bought a sheep with the proceeds.) The students learn not just how to tell the difference between a Delaware Blue and a Rhode Island Red, but also about profit and loss and, when the chickens don’t lay enough to meet projections, supply and demand.

Walton kids take their rulers and protractors to everything from tractor tires to goat horns. They learn their ounces, cups, and pints by measuring grain for animal feed and oats for granola. Math and science come alive with trips to the grain elevator and a cruise inside a modern tractor, complete with GPS. The fourth-graders recently made a mockup of a wind turbine, learning about things like torque and the behavior of different blades.

Walton is attracting students with disabilities such as Asperger’s syndrome and attention deficit disorder: 25 percent of students have special needs, nearly double the rate for the district.

 

Time, not tuition, is the enemy of completion

Time is the enemy of completion, argues Stan Jones of Complete College America.  Even if colleges rein in tuition hikes, students are unlikely to make it to graduation unless they commit to a study plan or pathway.

In rural Kansas, community colleges provide the only job training available. As Pell Grants expanded, more Kansans enrolled.

Teen tweeter won’t apologize to governor

An 18-year-old student won’t apologize for a rude tweet about Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback, despite her high school principal’s demand. Emma Sullivan said she isn’t sorry.

As the governor greeted Youth in Government participants in Topeka last week, Sullivan tweeted:  “Just made mean comments at gov. brownback and told him he sucked, in person (hash)heblowsalot.”

She actually made no such comment and said she was “just joking with friends.” But Brownback’s office, which monitors social media for postings containing the governor’s name, saw Sullivan’s post and contacted the Youth in Government program.

Which sounds awfully petty.

YiG contacted Sullivan’s principal, who gave her talking points for a written apology. It’s not clear if her refusal to apologize will have consequences. (Update: The governor has apologized for his staff’s overreaction, reaffirming his support for free speech, and the principal has backed down as well.)

Sullivan said she disagrees with Brownback politically, particularly his decision to veto the Kansas Arts Commission’s entire budget, making Kansas the only state in the nation to eliminate arts funding. Brownback has argued arts programs can flourish with private dollars and that state funds should go to core government functions, such as education and social services.

“I raised my kids to be independent, to be strong, to be free thinkers. If she wants to tweet her opinion about Gov. Brownback, I say for her to go for it and I stand totally behind her,” said Julie Sullivan, the student’s mother.

 

The trouble with debt-to-degree

The debt-to-degree ratio — how much students borrow per credential earned — favors selective colleges that enroll affluent, academically prepared students; colleges that serve low-income students look bad.

Also on Community College Spotlight:  At a Kansas college, artists from Ghana taught Ashanti weaving, pottery, bead-making and bronze-casting.

Immigrants learn to adapt in Kansas

On Community College Spotlight:  In Garden City, Kansas, the unlikely home of immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, Burma and Somalia, the local community college is teaching everything from English to how to shop at Walmart.