National Scene

February 20, 2020 - Volume 40 Issue 7

National Scene

Standards

The Tampa Bay (FL) Times (2/12) reports the Florida Board of Education on Wednesday “unanimously replaced the state’s expectations for language arts and math with new ones that Gov. Ron DeSantis has touted as eliminating the Common Core.” However, some board members said before the vote “that the changes were not as monumental as advertised.” Critics on social media have suggested that the new standards, called Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (BEST), “in many ways are merely reshuffling the same deck.” Board members were also concerned about implementation.

Policy

Chalkbeat (2/18, Fittes) reports Indiana lawmakers are expected to discuss a proposal to “let schools count as graduates certain students now labeled as dropouts.” If the measure is approved, “graduation counts in several districts would include students who pass a high school equivalency exam and take steps toward career training.” Supporters say that it is “better for students to leave with a high school equivalency, Indiana’s version of the GED, and a workforce credential than to walk away empty-handed.” However, Russel Rumberger, a professor emeritus at the University of California. Santa Barbara, “rebuked the idea that passing a high school equivalency exam offers the same value as graduating high school, pointing to research that links a diploma to more job opportunities and higher annual earnings.” The proposal also “raised concerns about whether schools would quietly track students toward earning their equivalency rather than provide interventions earlier in high school.”

Strategies

Chalkbeat (2/18, Kebede) reports three Memphis elementary schools have improved test scores by “using lessons from the Innovation Zone, Shelby County Schools’ flagship improvement program — even if they aren’t directly a part of that expensive program.” Some of the schools have “added instruction time, increased collaboration among teachers and administrators, hired academic coaches, and sought new ways to engage parents with job fairs and meetings on topics such as establishing credit. The schools use the same curriculum that schools across the district do, but leaders say these various strategies make the difference.”

The AP (2/18) reports, “New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has signed legislation that she says will clear the way for a monumental investment in the health, education and well-being of the state’s youngest children.” The creation of an early childhood trust was among Grisham’s “top priorities for the 30-day legislative session.” The state Legislature is currently working on the details of the state budget, but the “governor’s office said the spending blueprint includes a $320 million appropriation that will be used to launch the trust fund. The fund will be sustained by surplus oil and gas related revenues, and officials say it will begin making distributions to support early childhood programs in fiscal year 2022.”

The Week (2/13, Gillespie) reports, “Recent years have seen a swell of support for ditching homework altogether; more than one teacher has gone semi-viral for sharing a no-homework policy that prioritizes family time, outdoor play, and early bedtimes.” Some studies have shown that homework limits kids’ leisure time, “can cause emotional and physical fatigue and fuel negative attitudes about learning.” However, Duke University psychology professor Harris Cooper has proposed a “10-minute rule” for homework endorsed by the National PTA and the National Education Association. The rule allots a “daily maximum of 10 minutes of homework per grade level.” Cooper noted in his 2006 report on homework “that homework is thought to offer numerous benefits besides academic performance, such as study habits, attitudes toward school, self-discipline, inquisitiveness, and independent problem-solving skills.”

Education Week (2/12, Will) reports that strong student-teacher relationships are “linked to both short-term and long-term improvements on multiple measures: higher student academic engagement, better attendance, better grades, fewer disruptive behaviors and suspensions, and lower school dropout rates.” Furthermore, experts contend that “forging positive relationships with the full range of students, including the aloof, withdrawn, and even defiant ones, is not necessarily an intuitive skill—it comes with training and experience.” In cases where teachers need to connect with a student who may be difficult to like, they are advised to not take any rude comments personally and to “try to show support to students, even if they’re resistant.” It is also key for teachers “to confront their implicit biases” and to also “build a relationship with parents.”

Special Needs Students

The Chicago Tribune (2/19, Richards, Cohen) reports the Illinois State Board of Education “voted unanimously Tuesday to adopt permanent rules that prohibit the use of locked seclusion rooms and stop schools from using prone restraint, making Illinois’ rules more restrictive than they’ve ever been.” Schools will now be allowed to place students alone in seclusion rooms when they are “engaging in extreme physical aggression” and it would be unsafe for an adult to be in the room with them. Seclusion rooms are no longer allowed to have locks and employees cannot hold the doors shut to keep children inside. However, under pressure from special-education activists, the board “stopped short of enacting a ban of involuntary, closed-door timeout in the state’s schools as it had planned.”

NJ Spotlight (2/18, Mooney) reports US District Court Judge Noel Hillman was expected to hear oral arguments on Tuesday in a year-old complaint against the New Jersey State Department of Education “and specifically Commissioner Lamont Repollet for failing to meet federal and state timelines for hearing and moving disputes between families and school districts over services provided special-needs children.” The class-action lawsuit contends thousands of New Jersey families have suffered from what the plaintiffs call “systemic flaws in (the state’s) system for timely resolving special education cases,” allowing disputes to go unresolved for months and sometimes years

Politics

A Washington Post (2/18, Strauss) analysis examines President Trump’s reference of public schools as “government schools” in his State of the Union address. Trump and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos use the term often with the adjective “failing” attached as a “broad denunciation of the public school system, which advocates see as the nation’s most important civic institution.” Trump and DeVos now invoke the term “as they push their No. 1 education priority: Getting Congress to pass a $5 billion tax credit program that would allow use of public money for children to attend private and religious school.” To conservatives, “schools should be operated like businesses because the private sector and competition always produce better results, which critics say is not supported by evidence.” The Post notes DeVos and her husband Richard have been using the phrase in speeches for at least two decades.

Research/Studies

USA Today (2/13, Testino) reports about 2 percent of educators nationwide are African American men, “but research shows that for black boys in particular, having a teacher of the same race is correlated with a greater likelihood of college attendance.” Johns Hopkins University and American University researchers found that “same-race teacher representation sparks positive outcomes that last into adulthood, potentially shrinking the academic achievement gaps for these students.” The article discusses initiatives by a Memphis district to “recruit, retain and support new teachers of color.”

Education Week’s (2/14, Will) “Teaching Now” blog reports that a new study published by the Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research “found that eliminating state testing did not have an effect on overall teacher turnover and attrition. Early-career teachers, however, are less likely to leave the profession when there are fewer required tests.” Tim Sass, an author of the study and a professor at Georgia State University, said, “You hear a lot of talk about how teachers are leaving the profession because of high-stakes testing and the related stress and time spent on so-called teaching to the test.” However, the researchers “compared changes in mobility over time in grades and subjects that discontinued testing with grades and subjects that are always tested” and determined “that the removal of statewide tests had no effect on the likelihood of changing schools within a district, moving between districts, or quitting altogether.”

The Seventy Four (2/18, Zinshteyn) reports a new survey by the nonprofit by Digital Promise found that school staff “who coach teachers to become better at their craft can be one approach to improving student outcomes, but few coaches have the time and administrative support to do their jobs effectively.” Many teachers “report finding value in receiving biweekly coaching,” but most “see their coaches less frequently and in shorter durations than teachers would like.” The report’s authors “recommended several reforms to how coaching is coordinated and funded at schools and districts,” including allotting “dedicated funding from state or federal coffers for coaching.”

Education Week’s (2/13, Mitchell) “On Special Education” blog reports, “Most secondary school principals—especially those in schools that serve primarily black and Latino students—think their schools can do a better job of serving students with disabilities, a new nationally representative survey of school leaders finds.” A web-based survey of the RAND Corporation’s American School Leader Panel reveals “that student racial demographics are a significant predictor of principals’ access to materials and tools to support students with disabilities.” According to the survey, “in middle and high schools with the largest share of black and Latino students, principals self-reported significantly less access to each type of support.” Only 25 percent of surveyed principals rated their support as “completely sufficient.”

In a more than 5,000-word analysis, the Washington Post (2/13, Natanson, Cox, Stein) says that President Trump’s “inflammatory language – often condemned as racist and xenophobic – has seeped into schools across America. Many bullies now target other children differently than they used to, with kids as young as 6 mimicking the president’s insults and the cruel way he delivers them.” According to “a Washington Post review of 28,000 news stories,” Trump’s “words, those chanted by his followers at campaign rallies and even his last name have been wielded by students and school staff members to harass children more than 300 times since the start of 2016. ... At least three-quarters of the attacks were directed at kids who are Hispanic, black or Muslim, according to the analysis.” The Post adds that more than 45 times during the same period, students were “victimized because they support the president.”