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Pubic Education Weekender: 3/02/2014

Public Education Weekender
Sunday, March 2, 2014

MORE PUSHBACK FOR CONTROVERSAL RHODE ISLAND HIGH-STAKES TESTING 

This week Providence Schools Superintendent Susan Lusi spoke out publicly against using the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) test as a graduation requirement.  The controversial policy that ties a student’s performance on the standardized test to receiving a diploma was approved 10 years ago, but this is the first year that the policy will be enacted.  Lusi “concluded that the way NECAP is administered disadvantages the very students in our state who are already the most disadvantaged — those who are poor and those who have special learning needs….”  Currently, 515 seniors, the majority of which come from low-income backgrounds, have English acquisition needs or special needs, will not graduate this year because of the new requirement.   While Lusi appears to be the first superintendent to openly speak out against the graduation requirement, the Rhode Island Public Education Working Group Team, led by Rep. Frank Ferri, has been vocal in their concerns about the graduation requirement and opposition to using testing to punish students rather than improving the learning experience.   Last September, Reps. Ferri, Teresa Tanzi, Maria Cimini and Art Handy invited parents, students, educators and advocates to a community forum to address concerns about the graduation requirement as part of the PSN National Week of Action.  And just last week Rep.Tanzi introduced the Student Investment Initiative Bill, which would bring greater transparency and accountability to Rhode Island's use of standardized testing.   

A VIDEO THAT SHOWS WHY SO MANY TEACHERS ARE FRUSTRATED & DEMORALIZED 

Recent Gallup polling shows that more than 70% of Americans have trust and confidence in the men and women who teach in public schools.  Yet the public’s overwhelming confidence in our educators does not always translate into policies and practices that acknowledge the professionalism and expertise that educators bring with them into the classroom. The latest proof is a recent video of Chicago teachers in a professional development session in which the outside consultant leading it instructs the teachers to repeat words in unison, much like in a kindergarten class. Commentators noted that the approach is "insulting, demeaning," reflecting a condescending and disrespectful view among corporate reformists that educators should be treated like children themselves rather than highly educated professionals. 

PUBLIC SCHOOL SPOTLIGHT! 

Quil Ceda and Tulalip Elementary School are two schools that reside together on the campus of the Tulalip Reservation, located 35 miles north of Seattle.  Sixty-three percent of students are American Indian and the majority of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch.  In  2010 the schools were in the bottom  5% for student achievement.  Both schools were awarded School Improvement Grant (SIG)  funding, which was used to cultivate a culture of collaboration among teachers, link  academic achievement and cultural traditions and develop data literacy through professional learning community structures.  Anthony Craig and Kristen DeWitte, Co-administrators of these NEA Priority Schools, had a vision for their school community.  “We want to catch the gaps before they begin,” said DeWitte.  School data teams analyze information at both the individual and school level and teachers share learning strategies.  Teachers were also empowered to try out innovative ideas, such as the concept of “flooding” or devoting all resources to one grade level to meet a very specific learning target. So, for example, when 35 percent of the school’s second graders were losing ground on reading fluency, a decision was made to “flood” those students with support.  The results were eye-opening: the gap closed for almost every student in just 17 days.  “We know theoretically that all students can perform at high levels.  What flooding taught is that with the right resources, intentional planning and targeted instruction, the results can be achieved virtually overnight” said DeWitte. The broader implications for other schools, especially those in high-poverty areas, are also significant. Click here to watch a video documenting the district’s transformation.  

SETTLEMENT IN 7-YEAR SPECIAL EDUCATION SEGREGATION LAWSUIT 

On Wednesday, the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) settled a federal disability rights lawsuit involving claims that too many students with disabilities were separated from their non-disabled peers. The plaintiffs, a coalition of disability rights advocacy groups, filed the lawsuit in 2007, charging that the state placed special education students in restrictive settings at a rate that was twice as high as twenty-six other states.  While federal law requires that students with disabilities be placed in the least restrictive environment, data from NJDOE showed that 3.8% of the nation’s students receiving special education services were in New Jersey, yet the state had 9% of students nationally in restrictive placements.” The settlement requires the state to conduct a least restrictive needs assessment for about 75 school districts and to train, monitor, and support those districts for compliance with special education laws.   Once the corrective plans are developed, districts have three years to fully comply. “It’s a big case and very exciting to be at this point” said Ruth Lowenkron of the Education Law Center, one of four plaintiffs. “We have been working a long, long time on the case and the settlement, and this is the final piece of it.” 

ADVOCACY ALERTS!!  

POWER IN NUMBERS:  PSN ECONOMIC SECURITY NATIONAL WEEK OF ACTION
People working together are greater than they can ever be working apart. Last September, more than 20 legislators from 12 states came together for the first legislator-led National Week of Action for Public Education.  The movement continues  next month when progressive legislators nationwide will come together to take part in Progressive States' National Week of Action for Real Prosperity Across America. Public Education working group leadership members Sen. Nan Orrock and Rep. Mandela Barnes and working group members Sen. Dwight Bullard and Rep. Susan Fisher have already signed on.  Will you join them?  If you are interested, please reach out to me or our Campaign Director  abailey@progressivestates.org.

INEQUALITY FOR ALL OFFICIAL RELEASE
Last September PSN partnered with the Center for Popular Democracy and the Roosevelt Institute to host a special film screening of Inequality For All, a gripping documentary in which Labor Secretary Robert Reich lays out an immense challenge facing America today: the growing divide between the wealthiest few and the rest of us.  Starting this weekend, Inequality for All is available on Netflix. Watch it.  Tell your friends.  Build the movement.   

A MICROSCOPE OF FOR PROFIT EDUCATION: CA$HING IN ON KID$
On Thursday, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and In The Public Interest director Donald Cohen unveiled Cashing in on Kids—a one-stop shop for the facts about for-profit education in America.   The new site puts a microscope on the impact of for-profit education and curates news and information about five charter-school operators: K12 Inc., Imagine Schools, White Hat Management, Academica, and Charter Schools USA.     

 

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