Between 26 states applying for waivers of federal regulations imposed by the No Child Left Behind Act and the wide release of controversial teacher data reports in New York City, this has been a very busy week in the world of education. Here are a few of the top stories:
NYC Teacher Ratings Incite Controversy
On February 24, the New York City Department of Education released the ratings of approximately 18,000 teachers. These “teacher data reports” attempt to measure the efficacy of educators over three school years ending in 2010. They rate teachers based on the scores of their students on standardized tests and are part of an initiative to improve the quality of education at 140 New York City public schools. The results were surprising: Teachers whose students demonstrated the most improvement were as widely distributed across the city as teachers whose students demonstrated the least.
These reports were met with uproar from teachers, unions, administrators and even parents. The fear is that they will be used to systematically weed out “bad” teachers, and the initiative is being likened to a modern day witch-hunt. By only assessing performance on standardized tests, opponents argue, these reports are not assessing every aspect of a teacher’s performance. Parents are skeptical about the ratings, and teacher unions are rallying against the Bloomberg administration. The Department of Education stands behind its decision, according to chief academic officer, Shael Polakow-Suransky, who said, “The purpose of these reports is not to look at any individual score in isolation, ever. No principal would ever make a decision on this score alone, and we would never invite anyone — parents, reporters, principals, teachers — to draw a conclusion based on this score alone.”
On February 29 the District of Columbia joined 26 states that have submitted requests to the U.S. Department of Education to waive certain regulations mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act. Eleven states have already initiated alternative education reforms in exchange for waivers, and these new 26 states and Washington D.C. have proposed their own plans to be exempted. The No Child Left Behind Act is a federal attempt at education reform that offers incentives for states that meet federal standards and hold teachers accountable for the performance of students. States who request waivers must promise to improve the quality of education in their own ways by raising standards, increasing accountability and bettering the effectiveness of their teachers and principals. The requests for waivers will be reviewed next month.
A new bill passed by the Georgia Senate on February 23 will require school districts to incorporate online education into the curriculum for all students in grades K-12. As of now, many school districts offer voluntary online classes, but starting next year, it will become a requirement for graduation. Schools will be allowed to choose between private online education providers, online college classes or the Georgia Virtual School: an online school run by the state’s Department of Education, which would charge schools $250 per student for tuition. According to the Senate Majority Leader, Chip Rogers, this is still a savings on the approximate $650 per student paid for in-person education.
The Union House Elementary School in Sacramento, CA, has become one of 228 schools in California to offer dinner to students during after-school programs. These schools now offer three meals per day to low-income students. These initiatives are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, in which schools receive federal funding to serve dinner if at least half of their students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. Dinners usually consist of some sort of sandwich, fruit and milk. More than 13 states are participating in programs such as these, which are proving to be very helpful to low-income families.
The U.S. Department of Education will be collaborating with the White House Office of Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Corporation for National Community Service on a new community engagement initiative. Together for Tomorrow will look to inspire and improve the quality of education in low-performing schools through community outreach, and by encouraging stronger relationships between schools and their communities. The focus will be on families and community groups to improve student attendance, behavior, performance and teacher accountability.