California court overturns Vergara ruling

The Vergara ruling, which threatened teacher tenure, seniority and other employment laws, was overturned today by the California Appeals Court on a unanimous vote, reports Mike Szymanski in LA School Report.

The three-judge panel reversed Vergara v. California, finding that there wasn’t enough evidence to show that minority students were subjected more to ineffective teachers than others.

“Plaintiffs elected not to target local administrative decisions and instead opted to challenge the statutes themselves,” the decision states. “This was a heavy burden and one plaintiffs did not carry.”

The trial evidence “revealed deplorable staffing decisions being made by some local administrators that have a deleterious impact on poor and minority students in California’s public schools,” the decision concedes. However, “the evidence did not show that the challenged statutes inevitably cause this impact.”

Raylene Monterroza is one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

Raylene Monterroza is one of the student plaintiffs in Vergara v. California.

StudentsMatter, which represents the nine student plaintiffs, plans to appeal to the California Supreme Court.

A Vergara-like lawsuit filed yesterday charges that Minnesota laws on teacher tenure and dismissal violate children’s right to a quality education, reports The 74. Partnership for Educational Justice, a nonprofit founded by The 74 editor-in-chief Campbell Brown, is working with Students for Education Reform Minnesota on the lawsuit.

Partnership for Educational Justice also is challenging tenure protections in Wright v. New York, which is before the New York Supreme Court.

Charter school King

John King, Jr. won bipartisan approval as President Obama’s new U.S. Education Secretary this week. That shows “the mainstreaming of school choice and charter schools,” writes Lisa Snell in Reason.

U.S. Education Secretary John King, Jr.

U.S. Education Secretary John King, Jr.

A former school principal, John King helped found Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston and was managing director at Uncommon Schools charter school network, writes Snell. His schools have closed achievement gaps and raised college-going rates for low-income black and Latino students.

Yet, King’s charter school history wasn’t controversial in the hearings. His biggest obstacle was his support for Common Core as New York state education commissioner and his introduction of using student achievement in teacher evaluations.

Core testing moms plan ‘Opt Out, Shop Out’ 

Opponents of Common Core testing will stage an “Opt Out, Shop Out” event at a chic Long Island mall today, reports Newsday.

Participants wearing “Opt Out” T-shirts will urge parents to boycott state tests being given in April to students in grades three through eight.
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“The Stuart Weitzman boutique is having a sale on their popular “Mummy in Suede”sandals — only $465!,” notes Laura Waters on Head in the Sand, Education Post’s new blog.

Teachers’ union leaders are backing the “shop out.”

Opt-outers, please don’t mistake arrogance for awareness,” writes Tracy Dell’Angela, also on Head in the Sand. (The idea is that we need to get our heads out of the sand.)

 You don’t know what’s best for my biracial daughters. You don’t know what’s best for the families who are the real victims of the anti-accountability movement—black and brown students, disabled kids and students learning English, students from low-income families, all those students ill-served by our nation’s worst schools and some of our best schools too.

Opting out of testing is “a luxury, afforded to parents who are blessed with well-funded schools, stable teaching staffs, and some assurance that their privilege will pave the way for their child’s success,” she writes.

Untimed tests: ‘not such a crazy idea’

Untimed tests — aren’t such a crazy idea, opines Robert Pondiscio in the New York Daily News. In response to the opt-out movement — 20 percent of students skipped New York’s state exams — this spring’s test takers will be allowed as much time as they want.

Dropping time limits won’t invalidate the results, writes Pondiscio. Research shows extra time helps students with learning disabilities, but has no significant effect for students without disabilities.

Most state math and reading tests are “power” tests rather than “speed” tests, according to University of Pennsylvania psychometrician Andrew Porter. Power tests “are designed so that nearly all students will be able to complete all items within the allotted time.”

“Education officials seem to think that allowing unlimited time will give parents one less reason to complain about test pressure,” writes Pondiscio. He doubts it will work. “The real source of test pressure is not the clock, it’s adults pressuring kids to perform.”

Any leveling or reduction in the number of parents refusing to let kids sit for state tests this year will likely be a function of New York’s moratorium on linking test scores to teacher evaluations. School administrators and teachers are less likely to transfer their anxieties to students, wittingly or unwittingly.

The moratorium ends in 2020.

I’ve worked under deadline for most of my life. I do the best I can in the time and space I’ve got. Then I stop. I find unlimited time very stressful.

Opt-out leaders reject NY test changes

An anti-testing rally at Brooklyn New School and the Brooklyn School for Collaborative Studies in March. Photo: Justin Weiner

New York students will take untimed tests this spring, said Education Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia.

“Thousands of students boycotted last year’s tests, prompting Gov. Andrew Cuomo to form a testing task force that called for a complete overhaul of the state’s learning standards and assessments,” reports Chalkbeat NY.

Elia also promised to give teachers more say in reviewing test questions and to shorten the length of tests.

Opt-out leaders weren’t impressed, saying parents won’t be appeased by minor changes.

“This is a pretty useless response to the opt-out movement,” Brooklyn teacher Jessica Klonsky wrote on Facebook. “People were not opting their children out of the tests because they didn’t have enough time to take them. They opted out because the tests and their preparation take up too much time as it is. Now they are going to take up more time!”

“More time for students to be frustrated on flawed state tests isn’t the answer,” Carl Korn, a state teachers’ union spokesman, responded in a statement.

NY asks more on algebra test — and more fail

“If the percentage of students passing the Algebra I exam falls to 63 percent from 72 percent, and the passing grade is scheduled to increase by 9 points in coming years, should the test be made easier?” That’s the question facing New York state education officials, according to the New York Times.

In 2013, the State Board of Regents decided too many high school graduates were unprepared for college. They revamped English and Algebra I exams required for graduation and made plans to raise the passing score to a “college-ready” level.

Pass rates have fallen on new Core-aligned exams. Statewide, less than a quarter of students met the “college-ready” level in Algebra I. Here are sample questions, which seem easy to me.

It’s even worse in New York City, where “only 52 percent of students passed the 2015 exam, down from 65 percent the previous year on the old exam,” reports the Times. “Just 16 percent reached the ‘college-ready’ level.”

Among the ideas the city is considering: having fifth graders take math with a specialized instructor instead of one teacher for all subjects; teaming up with local universities to get more sixth- and seventh-grade math teachers certified in math instruction; creating summer programs for middle- and high-school students who are struggling in math; and training middle-school and algebra teachers in how to address students’ “math anxiety.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has pledged that all students will have access to algebra in eighth grade by 2022, and all students will complete algebra by the end of ninth grade.

At Park East High School in Manhattan, most students enter doing math below grade level, yet 91 percent of students who took the Algebra I Regents this year passed it.

Ninth graders have two periods of algebra each day, which crowds out art, music and health.

Duncan will resign as ed secretary


Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Arne Duncan, a member of President Obama’s original Cabinet, will step down as Education secretary in December.

His deputy John B. King, Jr., will replace him.

John B. King, Jr. in April. Photo: Michael Nagle, New York Times

John B. King, Jr. in April. Photo: Michael Nagle, New York Times

As New York’s state education commissioner, King was a staunch defender of Common Core standards and tests. reported the New York Times. He was shouted down at public forums. The state teachers’ union called for his resignation.

The son of a former principal and a guidance counselor, King grew up in Brooklyn. Both parents died of illness when he was 12.

He was a fourth grader at Public School 276 in Canarsie the year his mother died of heart failure, he told the Times. “His teacher that year, Alan Osterweil, was dynamic and creative, encouraging him to read Shakespeare and memorize the leaders and capital of every country in the world. Later, Celestine DeSaussure, a social studies teacher whom the children called Miss D, made him the sportscaster in a fake Aztec newscast.”

King earned his undergraduate degree from Harvard, his master’s in teaching of social studies from Columbia, his law degree from Yale and his education doctorate from Columbia.

He taught social studies, co-founded the high-performing Roxbury Preparatory Charter School in Boston and was a leader at Uncommon Schools, a charter network.

He is married and has two daughters.

Core support erodes, right and left

Common Core support is eroding on the left and the right, according to two new polls, writes Rick Hess in National Review.

Depending on how the questions are phrased, “it’s possible to argue that the public supports the Common Core by more than two to one or that it opposes it by more than two to one,” he writes.

“Support on the right melted away between 2012 and 2015, but Democratic support has also steadily softened,” writes Hess. In that period, “the share of Democrats opposed to the Common Core has increased about fivefold — from 5 percent to 25 percent.”

“New York was one of the first major states to implement Common Core state standards,” writes Casey Quinlan on ThinkProgress. Now Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who backed linking test scores to teacher evaluations, has launched a task force to review and revise the standards.

Statewide, 49 percent of New Yorkers do not support the standards, with more downstate suburban voters and Upstate New Yorkers opposing them, according to a Siena Rsearch Institute Survey.

. . . (Cuomo) “refuses to admit he was wrong to demand test-based teacher evaluations during this sensitive time. He is unwilling to level with parents about the need for higher standards and more honest assessments,” Michael J. Petrilli and Robert Pondiscio wrote in Newsday.

Core-aligned test scores are very low, especially for disadvantaged students. “A growing number of states across the country are walking back their commitments to the tests and even to the standards themselves,” reports U.S. News.

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.

Judge finds racial bias in NY teacher’s exam

Understanding liberal arts and sciences isn’t necessary to be a teacher, ruled a federal judge in rejecting New York’s teachers’ exam for racial bias. Blacks and Latinos failed the LAST-2 exam, given from 2004-12, at a much higher rate than whites, reports the New York Times. Education officials failed to prove it measured skills necessary to do the job.

“Instead of beginning with ascertaining the job tasks of New York teachers, the two LAST examinations began with the premise that all New York teachers should be required to demonstrate an understanding of the liberal arts,” Judge (Kimba) Wood wrote.

. . . With this ruling, the LAST-2 meets the same fate of the LAST-1, an earlier version of the test, given from 1993 to 2004, that was also found to be discriminatory.

Minority teacher candidates who failed the test may be entitled to back pay.

Judge Wood has questioned whether New York’s new exam, the Academic Literacy Skills Test ( ALST), also is “racially discriminatory,” reports the Times. A hearing is scheduled this month. (Here are sample questions.) The state Board of Regents has “agreed to postpone for a year the requirement that candidates pass the ALST.”

In New York City’s public schools, 41 percent of students are Hispanic, compared to 15 percent of teachers. The disparity is much narrower for blacks: 25 percent of students and 18 percent of teachers are black.

Research is mixed on whether students learn more with a same-race/same-ethnicity teacher. Of course, it’s not clear how to predict who’s going to be an effective teacher, but high verbal ability seems to be a plus.