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Education News Round-Up

Though the academic year may be coming to a close, the world of education still gathers momentum as reform policies aim to improve the quality of education across the country. Check out five of this month’s important education news stories.

Connecticut Plan for Education Reform Signed into Law

On May 16, Governor Dannel Malloy of Connecticut signed into law a comprehensive education reform bill that will raise the budget for education funding by $100 million. In addition, the law seeks to turn around failing school districts and increase teachers’ accountability through more rigorous evaluations. This will allow school districts to consider teacher performance when awarding or withholding tenure. School administrators and principals will also be held to new standards of evaluation. Decisions will be made by the newly created Commissioner’s Network, which will take charge of reforming the 25 schools in Connecticut that are considered severely underachieving.

New Jersey State Exam Crosses the Line

A writing prompt on the New Jersey Assessment of Skills and Knowledge asks third grade students to write about a secret they’ve had difficulty keeping and explain why. While it may seem like a simple prompt, parents across New Jersey are outraged, claiming that the question strays too far into their children’s personal lives and has no business being on the test. The New Jersey Department of Education insisted that this question was being “field tested” and that the students’ answers would not reflect on their final grade. Nonetheless, people were angry that the department refuses to disclose both the question’s exact wording and the districts whose tests have the question. To assuage angered parents, the question has been removed from the test.

Two New York City Schools Suspected of Cheating

Public School 31 and Public School 257 are two of the highest-ranking public elementary schools in New York City, though they are currently under investigation for possibly cheating on standardized tests. The investigation began when staff members at Intermediate School 318, where many students from the two elementary schools go for middle school, noticed that students’ performance in class was much worse than it should have been according to their fifth-grade test scores. “In some cases, students with perfect scores dropped from being in the 99th percentile to the 30th percentile,” one staff member said.

When the report cards for 1,200 elementary and middle schools in New York City were released last year, P.S. 31 ranked number one among elementary schools. This February, when individual teacher scores were released by the city, nearly 60 percent of teachers at I.S. 318 (where many P.S. 31 students now go) scored below average. This large inconsistency prompted an investigation by the Department of Education into the possibility of teachers from P.S. 31 and P.S. 257 improperly coaching students on standardized tests to boost their own ratings.

Secretary Duncan Announces New Race to the Top Competition

The Department of Education’s Secretary Arne Duncan recently announced a new Race to the Top District Competition that aims to strengthen the relationship between individual students and teachers. The Race to the Top Fund is an initiative of the Obama Administration that allocated over $4 billion in grants to education reform and invites states to apply for funding to create their own education improvement plans. This new district competition offers almost $400 million in grants for school districts to create individualized instruction plans that personalize education and encourages schools to adopt a model of teaching that considers the needs of each student.

Fordham Institute Suggests Digital Schools over Charter Schools

The Fordham Institute for education research and analysis has release a new publication called Education Reform for the Digital Era that seeks to highlight the inadequacies of charter schools and explore the possibility of digital learning as a solution for revolutionizing education. The report analyzes policy issues like quality control, staffing, funding and governance while suggesting the changes that would be necessary for educational technology to become the wave of the future. Charter schools, it argues, were created as a way to reform the education system but have only succeeded in duplicating the system’s mistakes. Digital learning, however, is innovative and has the potential to redefine the way the think about education. The report posits a blended learning strategy as the most effective way to improve the quality of education.