Online schools go after ‘cyber-truants’

Minnesota’s online schools are pursuing cyber-truants, reports AP.

Stacy Bender, dean of students at Minneapolis-based Minnesota Virtual High School, uses software that analyzes the time students spend on lessons and their progress, so slackers are identified and quick learners aren’t penalized. She runs a web site on fighting cyber-truancy.

When a Minnesota school considers a student habitually truant, it’s legally obligated to notify the authorities in the students’ home county — meaning an online school may work with all 87 Minnesota counties. The notification triggers a process that typically includes meetings between educators, county officials and the student’s family to write a court-approved plan to get the student back to school. Violators can be sentenced to community service or fined. In very rare cases, parents can lose custody of the child.

State truancy law was written to force students to show up at bricks-and-mortar schools and has to be “interpreted” to go after online students who stop doing the work. With online enrollment growing, Minnesota legislators are working on updating the law.

 

States may un-adopt Common Core

New Hampshire, Minnesota and South Carolina legislators are considering bills that would block or reverse the adoption of Common Core Standards, reports Curriculum Matters.

Merit pay is ‘blocked, diluted, co-opted’

Merit pay plans are blocked, diluated and co-opted, according to an Education Next study by Jay Greene and Stuart Buck of the University of Arkansas.  Even “symbolic” plans are rare. Only 3.5 percent of districts have some form of merit pay, including token plans.

To be truly effective, pay for performance must mean in education what it does in other industries—salary increases for the successful, and salary reductions, even dismissals, for poor performers. State laws governing teacher tenure in most states make implementation of such plans unlikely.

Many plans reward teachers “mostly or entirely for inputs (e.g., professional development, graduate degrees, national certification) rather than for outputs (test scores, graduation rates, or even supervisor assessments).”

Arizona’s Classroom Site Fund (CSF) required districts to allocate 40 percent of the money to “teacher compensation increases based on performance and employment related expenses.” Only 29 of 222 districts created “strong performance pay plans” that linked teacher pay to student achievement, according to a 2010 report from the Arizona Auditor General.  One example:

One district awarded performance pay to eligible employees if freshman students’ algebra test scores increased by at least 10 percent between a pre- and post-test. The actual increase in test scores was almost 90 percent. Since the pre-test is given to freshman students who have never been exposed to algebra and the post-test is given to them after receiving a full year of algebra instruction, it should be expected that scores would increase significantly more than 10 percent.

Denver’s much-hyped ProComp program rewards earning a degree more generously than improving student learning.

The largest monetary award is for earning a graduate degree: a $3,300 permanent salary increase plus a tuition or student loan subsidy of $1,000 per year for up to four years. By comparison, teachers receive a one-time award, not a bump up in base salary, of up to $2,403.26 if their students exceed “district expectations” for student growth.

Moreover, as Paul Teske, a principal evaluator of the ProComp program, noted in the Christian Science Monitor, bad teachers face no penalty under the ProComp or similar merit-pay programs: “I guess your salary stays low, and maybe that sends the message that you should look at another career. But ProComp doesn’t directly address that.”

Many districts turn merit pay into a small across-the-board pay boost, write Green and Buck. In Houston, 88 percent of teachers qualified for a small “merit” bonus. That’s nothing compared to Minnesota, where 22 school districts gave Q Comp bonuses to more than 99 percent of teachers.

Schools that don’t need to compete for students have no incentive to design pay schemes that attract the best teachers, Greene and Buck write.  In the 1999-2000 Schools and Staffing Survey, only 6 percent of traditional public school administrators said they used salaries to reward “excellence.” By contrast, 36 percent of charter administrators and 22 percent of private school heads offer performance pay.

Would-be teachers show their skills

Would-be teachers are teaching on video as part of a new licensing system being tested in 19 states.  Student teachers must must show they can prepare a lesson, tailor it to different levels of students and teach it effectively, writes AP’s Chris Williams.

Most states only require that would-be teachers pass their class work and a written test. Supporters of the new system say the Teacher Performance Assessment program is a significant improvement, while others are a little more cautious in their praise, warning that it’s not guaranteed it will lead to more successful teachers.

The assessments also place responsibility for grading the would-be teachers with teams of outside evaluators who have no stake in the result. Currently, the teachers-in-training are evaluated by their colleges, which want their students to get their teaching licenses.

Minnesota will adopt video assessments in 2012. Massachusetts, Ohio, Tennessee and Washington plan to make the switch in five years.

Stanford University, the American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education and the Council of Chief State School Officers developed TPA.

California and Arizona are the only states that currently require performance testing to license teachers. Two of California’s three different performance tests use video review. The third California test and the one in Arizona requires evaluators to sit in the classrooms and observe the teachers-in-training.

The consortium plans to track teachers to see if the assessment accurately predicts their students’ performance.

Minnesota’s Board of Teaching plans to use the data to track how well teaching colleges are preparing students.

Tom Dooher, president of the Minnesota’s teachers’ union said the group supported it because of its emphasis on developing real-world teaching skills. “This is what education reform should look like, for practitioners by practitioners,” he said.

Sandi Jacobs, vice president of the National Council on Teacher Quality, warned that passing scores on performance assessments often are set so low that nearly everyone passes.

1, 2, 3 strikes you pass

Minnesota demands that juniors pass a demanding math test to qualify for graduation. Or they can flunk three times and get a diploma. Rather than drop the questions, which really are difficult, and write easier ones next year, the Legislature decided on the three strikes and you graduate plan.

Via Education Gadfly.

‘Merit pay’ for 99% of teachers

Is it ‘merit pay’ if nearly all teachers get it? Minnesota’s Q Comp was supposed to give bonuses to the most effective teachers. But . . .

In 22 school districts whose Q Comp practices were examined by the Star Tribune, more than 99 percent of teachers in the program received merit raises during the most recent school year.

Only 27 of the roughly 4,200 teachers eligible did not get a pay raise.

Raises are based primarily on “whether teachers successfully complete evaluations and training, rather than on student performance,” reports the Star Trib.  There’s no sign that Q Comp has improved teaching or learning.

Via NCTQ Bulletin.

ACLU sues ‘Muslim’ charter school

Calling it a “pervasively Muslim school,” the ACLU has filed suit against Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy, a public charter school in Minnesota that shares space with the Muslim American Society of Minnesota.

TiZA, founded in 2003, teaches 430 K-8 students. Although most students come  from low-income immigrant families — many are African — test scores are higher than the state average.

The lawsuit contends TiZA endorses Muslim religious practices by:

# Permitting prayer sessions during school hours and having teacher-sanctioned religious material posted on classroom bulletin boards.

# Allowing students and teachers to gather for 30 minutes of communal prayer every Friday.

# Giving preference to Muslim clothing rules. Girls, but not boys, are prohibited from wearing short sleeves. Girls also must wear skirts or pants of a certain length, depending on their grade level. Female teachers must be covered from neck to wrist and ankle.

A state investigation called for running buses for students who don’t wish to stay for the after-school religion classes and holding the Friday prayer service after school. School officials say they’ve complied.

Joe Nathan, director of the University of Minnesota’s Center for School Change, puts TiZA “in the top 5 percent of schools he has reviewed in terms of academic excellence and commitment to tolerance.” As a Jew, Nathan says, he’s strongly committed to the separation of church (or mosque) and state.

Immigrants choose ethnocentric charters

In charter-friendly Minnesota, Immigrants See Charter Schools as a Haven, reports the New York Times. Immigrant parents are seeking schools that shelter their children from American youth culture with its droopy pants and disrespect.

The curriculum at the Twin Cities International Elementary School, and at its partner middle school and high school, is similar to that of other public schools with high academic goals. But at Twin Cities International the girls say they can freely wear head scarves without being teased, the lunchroom serves food that meets the dietary requirements of Muslims, and in every classroom there are East African teaching assistants who understand the needs of students who may have spent years in refugee camps. Twin Cities International students are from Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Sudan, with a small population from the Middle East.

Parents are especially eager for schools to teach respect for elders.

Perhaps nothing more vividly demonstrated the students’ enthusiasm for American democracy than a debate this fall in Elizabeth Veldman’s eighth-grade social studies class about the presidential race. The two teams of students had spent days preparing.

“Look at our history — look at what happened with the Vietnam War,” said Yaqub Ali, 13, a fervent supporter of Senator John McCain who arrived four years ago from a Somalian refugee camp in Kenya, knowing no English. “Do you want to lose a war?”

“Sit down, Yaqub!” commanded Ridwa Yakob, who describes herself as “a girl who loves to talk.” She argued that Senator Barack Obama would fix everything from education to the economy.

Yaqub, wearing a dark suit for the occasion, rose again. “John McCain is old,” he said. “It is better to be old.”

At the International school, where elders are revered, even Ridwa was silenced.

Thirty of Minnesota’s 138 charter schools are designed to serve specific immigrant or ethnic groups, including Hmong and Latino students.

Refugee students, especially the children of poorly educated parents,  often struggle to adapt to U.S. schools. If the international charters are teaching academics well, I’m willing to forgive the self-segregation.

I’m dubious about plans for a Hebrew-English charter school in Brooklyn. Founders promise to pick a non-Jewish principal to ensure the state-synagogue divide is respected, but it seems very unlikely the school will attract non-Jewish students. It’s hard to argue that an all-Jewish public school serves an educational need.

New York City does have an Arabic-English school run by the district, which has attracted many black students who speak no Arabic.  After a Muslim principal was forced out and a Jewish principal appointed as an interim pick, the school now has a non-Arab principal, raised as a Methodiest, who speaks Arabic and has taught in the Mideast.

Update: If Twin Cities International is for East African refugees, Powerline asks, why teach Arabic? It’s not their native language. Another Minnesota charter primarily serving students from Africa, has skated very close to the mosque-state line.