News

Teach for America cuts 100 positions, revamps organization

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bTeach for America, the national organization that helps to train college grads for placement in needy schools, is reportedly undergoing a structural reorganization in the midst of its second consecutive year failing to meet its recruiting targets.

First reported by education activist Diane Ravitch on her blog Monday, and later confirmed by The Washington Post, the news shows the nationwide nonprofit continues to deal with apparent structural instability.

From the Post:

Teach for America, the nonprofit known for placing idealistic and inexperienced teachers in some of the nation’s neediest schools, is cutting 15 percent of its national staff in what the organization described as an effort to give more independence to its more than 50 regional offices around the country.

The organization will cut 250 jobs and add 100 new ones, making for a net loss of 150 jobs.

Since [Teach for America CEO Elisa] Villanueva Beard’s initial announcement, some positions have been eliminated and other staff members have chosen to leave, according to one TFA staff member who asked for anonymity in order to speak candidly about the organization’s internal workings. Many are planning to depart on April 15.

The downsizing comes after a previous round of reductions in which TFA’s national staff shrank by more than 200 positions. The two shake-ups will leave Teach for America with approximately 930 national staff members in fiscal year 2017, 410 fewer than it employed in fiscal year 2015, according to the organization.

Despite years of support from the Obama administration and, at home, Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly, the national nonprofit has been a frequent target for critics who point to high turnover in the organization and short teaching stints for many TFA recruits as evidence for concern.

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Commentary

Teacher pens open letter, op-ed defending public education

Forsyth County high school teacher Stuart Egan has a couple of “must reads” you should check out this morning.

Number One is this open letter from the main N.C. Policy Watch site to State Rep. Paul Stam in which he dissects some of Stam’s recent comments about what’s needed in our public schools. Here’s Egan on Stam’s call to evaluate teachers and pay the “best” ones more:

“You said in the interview that ‘we do not pay our best teachers enough and we pay our ‘unbest’ teachers too much.’

I have not really heard the terms ‘best’ and ‘unbest’ used on actual teacher evaluations and would very much like to hear what how such labels might be applied in the real world. But I believe you are touching on teacher effectiveness and teacher evaluations as currently measured by the state.

The problem with teacher evaluation processes in the state of North Carolina is that they are arbitrary at best. No one single protocol has been used to measure teacher effectiveness in your tenure as a legislator. That’s because there has not been one that accurately reflects teacher performance. In fact, during your tenure in Raleigh we have switched curriculum and evaluation protocols multiple times. It seems that teachers are always having to measure up to ever-changing standards that no one can seem to make stand still, much less truly evaluate.”

Click here to read the rest of of the letter.

Number Two is an op-ed in this morning’s Winston-Salem Journal debunking the hokum state leaders have been peddling on the subject of vouchers and charter schools. Again, here’s Egan::

“The original idea for charter schools was a noble one. Diane Ravitch, in ‘Reign of Error,’ states that these schools were designed to seek ‘out the lowest-performing students, the dropouts, and the disengaged, then ignite their interest in education’ in order ‘to collaborate and share what they had learned with their colleagues and existing schools.’

But those noble intentions have been replaced with profit-minded schemes. Read more

News

Education advocates call for end to test-based teaching evaluation

school-busespng-91b35e2c325e0b5bHere is a conversation worth following at both the state and national level.

Following last year’s Every Student Succeeds Act, an update of 2002’s No Child Left Behind Act, which imposed rigorous standards and accountability measures for struggling schools, state schools now have the freedom to do away with some federal oversight measures that were less than popular with teachers and parents.

At the top of the list may be a system of teacher evaluations called Value Added Measurement, or VAM, which rates teachers based on standardized testing performance. Long assailed by some educators as inaccurate—due to a relatively small sample size of test scores that can produce wild swings in teacher evaluations on an annual basis—VAM may be on the chopping block this year in some states.

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Commentary

What the Right really has in mind for public education

School-vouchersIf you still harbor any doubts about what the American far right has in mind when it comes to the future of public education, there’s a helpful reminder in Texas right now where ideologues are seriously advancing a new proposal to commence the process of doing away with it. As public schools champion Diane Ravitch points out his morning on her blog, the latest voucher proposal under consideration in the Lone Star state appears to be a truly a frightening mess.

Ravitch points readers to a recent and critical op-ed in the Houston Chronicle by Republican politico Chris Ladd (a fellow who, rather remarkably, writes under the moniker “GOP Lifer”) in which he describes the proposal that would both allow vouchers and a new and parallel funding scheme whereby some taxpayers could simply earmark their taxes to fund private schools. Here’s Ladd:

“These two bills would not merely privatize schools. They would privatize the school funding system as well, creating an entire parallel world free from the liberal horrors of a real education infrastructure. Taxpayers could simply exit the existing public school funding system in favor of their own private school funding entities which they control entirely…. Read more

Uncategorized

Don’t visit the failures of high-stakes testing on special needs children

This week, Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan announced that the Department of Education will require states to make a comparison between students with special needs and their counterparts who have not been so-identified.

In the past, the United States Department of Education only asked that schools districts follow timelines and procedures by ensuring that correct paperwork was filed when it came to identifying and serving special needs children. Under those standards, most states and territories were in compliance. The new standards demand more.

Under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) jurisdictions fall in one of four categories Meets Requirements, Needs Assistance, Needs Intervention and Needs Substantial Intervention. The new framework means that only 18 states or territories received the label of Meets Requirements. North Carolina is in the Needs Assistance group.

The importance of ensuring that special needs children receive a quality education should, of course, go without saying. Because students may have special needs does not mean that they should be relegated to classrooms in which they are not educated with the same fervor as their non-special needs classmates. It’s good that Duncan seems to want to advance this cause.

Unfortunately, his plan includes a major flaw in that the measure of proficiency used for both exceptional children and students without special needs under the new standards is a standardized test. Simply put, it is hard to think of any recent educational policy that succeeded based on high-stakes testing. For instance:

  • No Child Left Behind failed because of the unrealistic proposition that there could be 100% proficiency demonstrated through testing.
  • Merit pay” for teachers is based on grades on standardized tests. There is little evidence, however, to show that teachers are more successful in raising test scores because they will receive extra pay.
  • Charter schools become less likely to be the “laboratories of innovation” they were supposed to be because their accountability is measured by the same high-stakes tests that traditional public schools are.
  • North Carolina’s Excellent Public Schools Act (ESPA), which passed in 2012, is rife with problems of high-stakes testing and over-testing – most notably the scheme to retain 3rd grade students who do not show reading proficiency on the End-of-Grade test. Indeed, the “Read to Achieve” section of the (ESPA) sent parents of 3rd graders and students themselves into a frenzy because students were being over-tested by mini-quizzes.

Fortunately, there are better models out there. Even under the flawed North Carolina law, the grades from the quizzes go into a portfolio that can show a child is proficient in reading if they do not pass the 3rd grade test. As noted previously in this space, a portfolio that includes a body of work over time would be the best way to assess and identify children for the services they need.

The students in North Carolina – both exceptional children and those without identified disabilities – should not be subjected to constant testing. All students should have a portfolio that will be evidence of proficiency with a body of work over time. While it is not only admirable but necessary that we investigate whether exceptional children are getting the same level of education as their classmates without identified disabilities, no child is done any favors by being subject to high-stakes standardized tests.