In the News – Summer News Updates

News on High School Performance

New Orleans high school exam results, graduation rate near state average
Since Katrina, New Orleans has gone from having the worst public schools in the state to performing close to the state average on high school End of Course exams. Eighty-six percent of students passed their tests, and 61% met the higher bar of proficiency. The state averages were 88% passing and 62% proficient. And while New Orleans graduation rate dropped to 72.8%, it was close to the record high state average of 73.5%.

Record-high graduation rate, slight test-score increase reported for Louisiana high schools
Louisiana’s high school students saw gains in three key performance areas: End of Course exams, ACT scores and the 4-year cohort graduation rate.

Latest News on Common Core

After Governor Jindal issued his executive orders and suspended the Department of Education’s contract with its testing vendor to prevent Louisiana’s implementation of Common Core, the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) voted to hire outside legal counsel for guidance and a possible lawsuit against the governor.

BESE’s plan could be derailed, however, because they may need the governor’s approval to hire legal counsel. Any state agency, board or commission that hires outside lawyers must get written approval from the attorney general and the governor. In addition, the Jindal administration recently notified Superintendent John White that he could no longer approve contracts for more than $2,000.

Meanwhile, the Choice Foundation charter school board voted to join a pro-Common Core lawsuit against the governor should BESE file one and might go to court on its own if BESE doesn’t sue.

In an effort to prevent legal action, BESE proposed a plan to the governor they believe would address his concerns about testing, comply with laws requiring tests based on “nationally recognized content standards” and provide teachers and parents clarity on academic expectations for the next two years. The Department of Education would request new proposals for LEAP testing services for 2015-16, with tests based on “nationally recognized content standards.” For 2014-15, Louisiana would remain with its current vendor, and LEAP questions would be supplemented with questions created by Louisiana as part of the PARCC process. BESE’s plan appears to be a nonstarter with the Jindal administration.

In a Times-Picayune op-ed, Mayor Mitch Landrieu says “If New Orleans and Louisiana are going to lead the nation in public education, then we must hold ourselves to the same high standards as schools in the other 44 states that have signed up for Common Core.”

National Stories

Flipped learning skyrockets across the nation
A growing number of teachers are trying flipped learning as a way to boost engagement and make classes more interesting and organic. Flipped learning is a form of blended learning where students learn new content online, usually at home, and what used to be homework (assigned problems) is done in class, with teachers offering guidance and interaction instead of lecturing.

‘Google Thursdays’ and the Power of Self-Directed Learning
A Mississippi high school teacher shares the lessons she learned when she implemented nine weeks of “Google Thursdays,” when her students could learn, explore, and discover any topic they wanted. She says giving her students the opportunity to practice self-directed learning was an exciting experience and made her classroom more student-centered and less teacher-centered. The “Google Thursdays” were modeled after Google’s practice to give its employees one day a week to learn about anything they want (all on company time).

Study: Too Many Structured Activities May Hinder Children’s Executive Functioning
A new study of six-year-olds found that when children spend more time in structured activities, they get worse at working toward goals, making decisions, and regulating their behavior. Children who spend more time in less-structured activities have a more highly-developed, self-directed executive function.

Louisiana schools, libraries to get more federal funding for Wi-Fi in classrooms
The Federal Communications Commission approved a broad series of changes to the E-rate program meant to boost support for Wi-Fi technology and create more efficiency. These changes will increase funding for schools and libraries by $1 billion a year over the next two years and set an annual “funding target” for that amount for years after that.

Louisiana Headlines

Feds wary of La. special ed law
A new Louisiana law allows advisory teams for special education students to devise an alternative path to graduation, despite how the students fare on standardized tests. Local disability advocates praised the passage of the measure, but the U.S. Department of Education says it may violate federal laws and could jeopardize Louisiana’s public school aid. Two national groups denounced the measure saying it gives the advisory teams too much authority and allows them to establish low standards for students, which would distort Louisiana’s graduation rates.

La. school bus law could add costs and travel time
A new state law aims to protect children by prohibiting bus drivers from picking up or dropping off students in locations where they would have to cross traffic lanes, but officials warn it could cause a big increase in school bus costs and travel times across Louisiana.

Nearly 9,000 students receive vouchers
More than 13,000 families applied for Louisiana’s school vouchers, up 1,000 students from last year, and nearly 9,000 students were approved for the program, although the state won’t know how many will accept the vouchers until after school starts.

Local News

Children with mental illnesses struggle to find help as schools, hospital systems are decentralized
New Orleans has become a case study in how children and families are affected by the decentralization of public education and mental health systems. The problem is particularly urgent because more children suffer from mental health issues here than in other parts of the country. Some New Orleans schools are taking extra steps to reach students with mental health needs. ReNEW Charter Network has intensive in-school support for students and is helping one family tackle the mental disorders of three siblings.

Hundreds of New Orleans parents try again at summer enrollment center after Wednesday breakdown
Earlier this month, hundreds of parents were turned away from the OneApp summer enrollment center after waiting for hours because there weren’t enough staff members there to help them. The Recovery School District, which oversees the OneApp process, tried again the next day at a different, larger location, but many parents remained frustrated by long lines and slow service. Jarvis DeBerry was very discouraged by the RSD’s lack of preparation, saying the OneApp system is supposed to make it easier for parents, not harder. In a letter to the editor, the RSD says it should never be the case that parents are not serviced promptly, and they promised to fix the process so it will not happen again.

Xavier to offer new education degree
Xavier University has approved a new doctor of education program that will focus on urban education and school turnaround. The degree is designed for educators who want to become an “agent of change” dealing with challenges facing many urban schools. The new Ed.D. program is scheduled to enroll its first class in fall 2015, although it must still be approved by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges.

Auditor says Singleton Charter failed to enroll employees in teacher pension plan, doctored records
The state legislative auditor reported that James M. Singleton Charter School failed to enroll 27 employees in the state teacher pension plan and doctored records to avoid paying the retirement system $690,000. The school is disputing the charges.