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Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Don't Miss This Next Week

Here's a lecture at the Clinton School educators and those who care about education won't want to miss: "What We Must Do for Our Students and Public Schools” by Barnett Berry, who is founder and CEO of the North Carolina-based Center for Teaching Qaulity.
The lecture will be at 6 p.m. next Thursday, Nov. 8, in the Great Hall of the Clinton Center. It's sponsored both by the Clinton School and the Arkansas Education Association.
Berry, who earned his Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is a former high school teacher who also worked as a social scientist with the RAND Corporation.
His new book, “Teaching 2030,” has receieved rave reviews from respected leaders in education, including Linda Darling-Hammond, who said, "Teaching 2030 is a brilliant look at the future of teaching in America from the perspective of those who know most about what it is and should be.  Everyone who cares about teaching and learning should read this book.”
Or go hear him speak.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Common core changes testing landscape

No doubt, Common Core is changing the ways public schools operate. One of those changes is the approach many states take for testing, specifically for the exit exams students must pass to graduate.

Under federal rules, states adopting Common Core must use the accompanying tests for school, district and state-level accountability as well as for teacher evaluations. But the decision to use them as high-stakes tests for individual students remains with each state.

Twenty-five states have some form of exit exam, according to Education Week. That's more than 34 million students -- 69 percent of all students in the U.S. -- who take the tests in order to graduate high school.

In Arkansas right now, our students must pass a high-stakes end-of-course exam -- Algebra I -- before they can graduate. Starting in 2014-2015, the state will add a high-stakes English II (sophomore English) end-of-course exam to that requirement.

Some states, however, require students to pass a single exam that covers the basic subjects taught in high school.

With the Common Core, students are tested throughout the year in English and math courses as well as at the end of them. This allows teachers to ensure students are mastering material along the way (or to re-teach when necessary) as well as to measure final mastery.

That's why many states are considering dropping their own versions of exit exams. According to an article in Education Week earlier this month, Arizona, Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Rhode Island already plan to do so.

In addition to reducing test loads for students, this approach should be good news for states' testing budgets. Common Core states are already aligned with one of two testing consortia, allowing for much greater efficiency in the development and grading of exams.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Don't let negative labels label you

From fiscal distress to school improvement, from former mismanagement to crisis situations – such labels and pesky perceptions can zap a school’s or school district’s reputation.

First Class Communication works with school personnel to identify and implement "rebranding strategies" that will best counteract negative messaging. We help you impress your communities with positive portrayals of your efforts and successes...and improve community involvement with you to boot.

First Class Communication recently won an International Association of Business Communicators' Award of Excellence for our recent rebranding work with the Osceola School District.

We'd love to work with your district as well!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

5 big differences in the candidates' education policy views

Only one presidential debate is left, and so far, the questions about education have been few.

Never fear. Here's a breakdown of the major differences between President Obama's and former Governor Romney's education stances. It's an abbreviated version of a terrific analysis in the Christian Science Monitor's DC Decoder: Politics, Unlocked and Explained... 5 Differences on Education. Go to the link and read the full article if you can.

The first four deal with K-12 policies, the fifth with higher education.

1. Spending. 
OBAMA: Obama’s 2013 budget proposal requested $69.8 billion in discretionary spending for the US Department of Education, a 2.5 percent increase.
ROMNEY: Romney's spending proposals include an immediate 5 percent cut to all non-security discretionary spending, and an eventual reduction of federal spending to below 20 percent of gross domestic product.

2. Accountability
OBAMA: His revisions to No Child Left Behind laws put emphasis on improving lowest-performing schools. Obama also has granted waivers so states can design their own accountability plans as long as they meet criteria such as narrowing achievement gaps.
ROMNEY: Romney would replace NCLB's school-intervention aspects with a requirement that states provide more transparency. He wants school and district report cards to show scores both from state tests and the National Assessment of Educational Progress. (NOTE: Problem here is that only a sample of students in a sample of schools take NAEP. JJH)

3. School choice
OBAMA: Obama has been more supportive of charter schools than many Democrats. Case in point: states had to have charter laws with no charter caps to win part of the $4 billion Race to the Top. He also included support for charter schools in his budget proposals.
ROMNEY: Romney wants federal funding to follow low-income and disabled students to public schools outside their district, charter schools and private schools. This would necessitate an overhaul of Title I and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.

4. Teachers and unions
OBAMA: Obama has used competitive funding and other incentives to get states and school districts to reform teacher evaluation systems and to reward teachers for increasing student achievement. Both of these rely heavily on students' performance on standardized tests.
ROMNEY:  Romney's for:
  • consolidating federal teacher-quality programs
  • giving states flexible block grants if they eliminate or reform teacher tenure
  • establishing student-achievement focused evaluation systems
  • rewarding effective teachers
  • prohibiting seniority-based transfer and dismissal policies
  • removing “highly qualified” teacher certification requirements from NCLB. 
The latter, he says, deters many in other careers from making the switch to teaching.

5. Higher education
OBAMA: Obama has:
  • created a tax credit for college students worth up to $10,000 over four years
  • pushed for a law that make it easier to repay student loans by capping payments to 10 percent of their disposable income and granting loan forgiveness after 10-20 years of reliable payments
  • reformed the loan system so that all federal loans originate directly with the federal government, rather than through private banks. The change is expected to save about $60 billion over 10 years.
ROMNEY: Romney proposes to:
  • reverse the nationalizing of student loans and put it back in the hands of private institutions
  • work with the above-mentioned private partners to do a better job in making college cost and outcome data available to consumers
  • roll back Obama’s “gainful employment” rule, which ties federal aid eligibility to an institution’s ability to show that its graduates can earn sufficient income to repay loans

Read more here:

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

More teens need computer science, magazine says

Too few U.S. high schools offer Advance Placement Computer Science courses. That's the point of an article in the current U.S. News & World Report. It goes on to state that where computer science is offered, often the course does not count toward a student's graduation requirements.

Meanwhile, the need for STEM education in this country is great.

According the magazine, only nine states allow computer science to satisfy mathematics or science graduation obligations, :
  • Georgia
  • Missouri
  • New York
  • North Carolina
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Texas
Actually, we're not sure that Arkansas doesn't fit somewhere on this list. While we haven't heard back from the Arkansas Department of Education, some poking around on the site found a 2004 document outlining the framework for a Computer Math class. It's designed as an option for the fourth year of math, so to follow Algebra II.  It's even listed by name as an option on the 2014 Smart Core requirements.

And while that course is not the AP Computer Science course mentioned above, there are codes for "ADE approved courses," so if a district wanted to offer AP Computer Science, that would probably count as well. (Let us know if there are any of you out there with that option in your high school.)

Still, the point of the article is well-taken. Interest in STEM fields need to be stimulated during high school (as 15 Arkansas school districts are doing with recenly awarded Project Lead the Way and New Tech grants). Here's why:

Just next year an estimated 120,000 new jobs will require a bachelor's degree in computer science. Right now, nearly 3.7 million jobs in STEM fields are sitting empty.