In the News – September 30, 2013

In this edition of In the News:

  • The Biggest Experiment
  • The Price of Inaction
  • Common Core Updates
  • National Stories
  • Louisiana Headlines
  • Local News

The Biggest Experiment

Inside the Nation’s Biggest Experiment in School Choice
Wall Street Journal – September 29, 2013
The Wall Street Journal explores school choice in New Orleans, where parents are empowered but must work to be informed and to find the right fit for their children. A lot has been done to help families and to simplify the process, but it’s still laborious for some parents to navigate the new system of schools.

The Price of Inaction

My Students Died While We Debated Education Policy
Next City – September 26, 2013
A New Orleans teacher expresses her frustration with the combative atmosphere surrounding the education debate in New Orleans. She believes a single approach can never address the complex and varied issues that face our children and families, and we are deluding ourselves if we think one policy or program will fix youth violence – not college readiness, not data-driven instruction, not even caring relationships. “I no longer care about winning the debate,” she says. “I just want kids to stop dying.”

Common Core Updates

State superintendent would limit school letter grade drop under new tests
Times-Picayune – September 19, 2013
Test scores are expected to drop this year as Louisiana institutes new standardized tests more in line with tougher Common Core state standards. Responding to fears that the new tests will result in a spike of F-rated schools, Superintendent John White has proposed a transitional phase that initially limits the negative consequences for elementary schools. He is working on a similar proposal for high schools.

In Louisiana, mixed signals on Common Core heighten schools’ anxiety
Hechinger Report – September 27, 2013
The future of Common Core in Louisiana is uncertain and this is causing confusion among teachers and families. Louisiana was an early supporter of Common Core, which aims to promote critical thinking, but political opposition is rising in the state. Gov. Bobby Jindal recently distanced himself from the Core. This raised the possibility that teachers may have to put the brakes on standards they’ve been working on for years, although this risk may be overblown. Catholic schools, which voluntarily signed on to Common Core several years ago, are also responding to concerns from families. For answers to some basic questions about Common Core, read this article in the Times-Picayune.

Common Core rollout in Louisiana a ‘train wreck,’ state Democrats say
Times-Picayune – September 26, 2013
Louisiana’s Democratic Party is calling the rollout of Common Core “a train wreck” and criticizing the state for not providing educators with the tools they need to be successful under the new standards.

National Stories

Charters Adopt Common Application Systems
Education Week – September 25, 2013
To combat confusion and make applying to charters easier and more transparent, a growing number of school districts, as well as charter school organizations, are implementing programs to streamline the enrollment process, such as universal enrollment systems and common applications. New Orleans is now entering its third year of a unified lottery system for enrollment.

The Educational Value of Field Trips
Education Next – September 19, 2013
Culturally enriching field trips are on the decline, but a recent study of over 10,000 students showed that a simple, half-day visit to a local art museum can have a significant, positive impact on students. The students who went to the museum could remember important details about what they saw, displayed a stronger ability to think critically about art, had a better understanding of what life was like for people who lived in a different time and place, and had an increased interest in returning to a cultural institution in the future.

Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results
Wall Street Journal – September 27, 2013
This Wall Street Journal reporter argues that a more old-fashioned approach to teaching is often better. She points to a variety of studies that show: the most highly effective teachers are strict, expertise in something requires teachers who give constructive and even painful advice, rote learning is essential in subjects like math, and grit (which can be taught) can trump talent.

Bridgeport Schools Chief Faces Dual Threats
Wall Street Journal – September 20, 2013
In Connecticut, Paul Vallas is appealing the ruling that he be removed as Bridgeport Superintendent of Schools because he didn’t obtain a proper waiver of state certification requirements. Meanwhile, a November election will likely usher in a school board antagonistic to Vallas.

Louisiana Headlines

Fight Over Louisiana Voucher Program Continues
Education Week – September 25, 2013
The U.S. Department of Justice wrote to House Republican leaders explaining its rationale for suing to block vouchers for students in parishes that are under federal desegregation orders. The Justice Department said it’s not against vouchers but wants to be sure they are implemented legally, and it needs court involvement to ensure Louisiana releases the necessary data on voucher students.

GED exam retiring after seven decades
The Advocate – September 29, 2013
After seventy-one years, Louisiana is preparing to replace the GED, the alternative credential to a high school diploma, with a new equivalency test called HiSET. One reason for the switch is that soon the GED will offer only computer and not written tests. The state was worried this might prevent some people from taking the test and getting their equivalency certificate.

Local News

Call for Innovation in Special Education
Recovery School District – September 18, 2013
The RSD is partnering with New Schools for New Orleans (NSNO) to expand successful programs, and create new programs, that serve special needs students. The Special Education Fund will provide support for existing programs beginning in 2014-15 and will expand to fund new offerings in 2014-15. Interested schools need to apply by October 11. For more information on the Special Education Fund, view the RFP.

Orleans superintendent search firm says it will take the School Board’s contract
Times-Picayune – September 23, 2013
The OPSB voted earlier this month to hire the Chicago-based firm Hazard, Young & Attea to lead the search for its new school superintendent, but HYA had to agree to partner with a local DBE to meet the OPSB’s minority contracts goal. HYA said they don’t usually partner with local companies, but they agreed, so long as they don’t have to contract out core parts of the search process, such as generating the pool of candidates.

RSD drops BellSouth school plan, asks Orleans Parish School Board for help
Times-Picayune – September 25, 2013
The RSD has dropped its plan to turn the BellSouth building in eastern New Orleans into a school, due to community opposition to the site. RSD Superintendent Patrick Dobard says more classrooms are still needed in eastern New Orleans, and he is asking the OPSB for help in developing an alternative.

Orleans Parish School Board approves city’s first blended-learning charter
Times-Picayune – September 18, 2013
OPSB has approved the city’s first “blended learning” charter school despite concerns that the charter board plans to hire a for-profit company to help manage the school. TMCF@SUNO will combine in-person and online coursework and is a joint venture of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund and Southern University at New Orleans.

The Great Charter Tryout
Daily Beast – September 20, 2013
Reporter Andrea Gabor says evaluating the progress of New Orleans public schools is complicated because some students have thrived in the new mostly charter system, while others feel they’ve been left behind. In response, NSNO’s Neerav Kingsland agrees that it’s important to highlight the issues we continue to struggle with (teacher burnout, serving students with severe emotional needs, educating students for whom college isn’t the best goal), but he criticizes Gabor for focusing on the stories of a few over the experiences of many. “This is not a complicated picture,” he says. “Is there any ambiguity that increasing high school graduation rates by 44% is positive? Or that increasing 8th grade proficiency by 239% is a benefit for New Orleans students? To argue otherwise is misguided.”

New Orleans inspector general has authority to audit School Board, judge rules
Times-Picayune – September 25, 2013
A Civil District Court judge has ruled that the New Orleans inspector general does have the power to audit the Orleans Parish School Board. The Times-Picayune says this is good news for taxpayers who deserve an outside audit of how the school board spends public dollars.

NET school reviews new policy for alternative schools
The Lens – September 25, 2013
The RSD is working on a new framework to measure the performance of its three alternative charter high schools – Crescent Leadership Academy, ReNEW Accelerated, and NET Charter High School – to evaluate whether these charters should be renewed. All three received an “F” for their performance in 2012-13, but current measures don’t take into account the student population of alternative schools. RSD will send the new framework to BESE in January for its approval.

Orleans Parish School Board administrative staff size debated
The Advocate – September 29, 2013
Before Katrina, OPSB had a central office staff of about 750 people – a bureaucrat to student ratio of 1:167. Today they have 75 central office staff, which gives them a bureaucrat to student ratio of 1:86 if you count all OPSB schools and 1:41 if you count just OPSB direct-run schools. OPSB says they have a lot of responsibilities beyond running schools. This has led some people to call for changes in OPSB budgeting to help differentiate school-related expenses from other administrative costs.