Career tech ed vs. bureaucracy

Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act, a bipartisan update on the Perkins Act, is moving through Congress. Among other things, the bill is supposed to give states more flexibility and less paperwork.

Bureaucracy isn’t just a federal program, writes Monica Disare on Chalkbeat. In New York, it takes four to six years for schools to get state approval for a multi-year career-focused curriculum.

Students design products at Urban Assembly Maker Academy in New York City.

Students design products at Urban Assembly Maker Academy in New York City.

The delay turns off business partners and makes it hard to match career courses to new job markets. “If schools choose to forgo the certification process, they may have a tougher time securing federal funding and cannot provide their students with a CTE-endorsed diploma,” reports Disare.

At New York City’s Urban Assembly Maker Academy, Principal Luke Bauer wanted to start a program in “interaction design,” which focuses on how users interact with technology, writes Disare. Industry partners hoped it would lead some of his students to full-time jobs. But “the idea didn’t fit into any of the typical categories approved by New York state,” and getting approval was too difficult.

State certification requirements also make it hard to find CTE teachers — especially in emerging fields.

Unions win on dues, may lose on tenure

Unions breathed a sigh of relief when the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition in to rehear Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, reports Louis Freedberg on EdSource. The court had issued a 4-4-opinion in March upholding mandatory “agency fees” for non-union members.

“If the plaintiffs – Rebecca Friedrichs and nine other California teachers – had won, it could have inflicted a potentially devastating financial blow against the CTA, and by extension all public employee unions,” writes Freedberg.

Plaintiffs will have to file a new lawsuit in a lower court to get back to the Supreme Court.

Unions won a victory in April in Vergara v. California, a 2012 lawsuit that challenged the state’s teacher-tenure laws. However, copycat cases in New York and Minnesota “have a much better chance of success,” writes Joshua Dunn, a political science professor at University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. in Education Next.

. . . the Vergara plaintiffs concocted a clever but dubious constitutional rationale against the tenure laws. They contended that California’s brief 18-month window for awarding tenure, onerous teacher- dismissal policies, and last-in, first-out requirements adversely affected minority students. This alleged “disparate impact,” they claimed, violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause. The unions suffered an embarrassing defeat when the plaintiffs won at trial—but the judge’s ruling was heavy on political rhetoric and light on legal reasoning (see “Script Doctors,” legal beat, fall 2014).

A California appellate court overturned the trial judge because “the plaintiffs only showed that the teacher- tenure protections potentially harmed all students,” not just minority students, writes Dunn.

In New York and Minnesota, plaintiffs are using the strategy pushed by teachers’ unions in suits challenging the adequacy of education funding, he writes. In New York, they have to show “the policies deprive some students of a sound basic education,” he writes, while the Minnesota suit relies on the state’s guarantee of a “thorough and uniform” education.

Who opts out?

Opt-Out Reflects the Genuine Concerns of Parents, argues Scott Levy, a New York school board member and parent, in an Education Next forum.

New York State’s high opt-out rate reflects parents’ worries about testing time, test quality, transparency and the link to teacher evaluation, he writes.

Outside of New York City, where nearly all students took the tests, the opt-out rate reached 30 percent, he estimates.

This Issue Is Bigger Than Just Testing, counters Jonah Edelman, who runs Stand for Children, which advocates for college and career readiness.

ednext_XVI_4_forum_fig02-smallAlthough 2015 opt-out students were much less likely to be economically disadvantaged or English Language Learners, they also tended to be modestly lower-achieving than those who took the test, he writes.

Stand for Children works with many low-income parents who think their children are doing well because they earn good grades, writes Edelman. Without standardized test scores, they don’t know their kids are behind.

“I’m talking about the African American grandmother in Memphis who was horrified to discover after we taught her how to interpret standardized test results that her four grandchildren—all of whom were getting As and Bs in school—were up to three grades behind in reading. With the assistance of Stand for Children, she found the children extra help right away, and they’ve caught up.”

Latino immigrant parents in Phoenix’s Murphy School District “were dismayed to learn their district was chronically failing to educate their children,” he writes. “Armed with that information and empowered by the state’s open-enrollment law, they moved their children to better public schools.”

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.
mummy_blasue_alt05

“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.