Thursday, July 17, 2014

Common Core Becomes Touchy Subject for Governors Group

Organization Leaves Education Standards Off Its Meeting's Official Agenda

The National Governors Association was one of the founders of Common Core, a set of academic standards aimed at raising student achievement. But as Democratic and Republican governors gathered here for summer meetings, Common Core wasn't on the official agenda, a sign of how the bipartisan idea has become a political minefield.

Three Republican-led states recently abandoned Common Core, concerned that national standards would allow President Barack Obama too much power to affect education policy. They include the state represented by the current governors' association chairwoman, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin.

Now, the governors' group is staying out of the fray as states decide how to implement the Common Core into curriculum and whether to offer tests aligned to the new standards.

"Common Core has become a divisive issue in our nation, with the concern that the federal government is trying to mandate standards down to states," Ms. Fallin said Friday. "The governors are listening to their voters and their constituents back home who are concerned about the federal overreach into states, and each governor will do what's in the best interest of their states."

Complicating the issue is that both political parties are internally split over Common Core, making it harder for governors to find safe ground, especially if they are eyeing presidential bids in 2016.

The Republican Party is divided between business leaders who say the program would help build a more educated workforce and conservative activists wary that federal grants to states that adopt Common Core come with strings attached.

The Obama administration embraced Common Core by offering those financial incentives, but its allies in the labor movement want to delay provisions that would evaluate teachers based on test results. "Teacher voices have not been strongly enough represented in their development or their rollout," said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, which on Friday began debating a resolution at its annual convention condemning the implementation of Common Core standards.

The governors' association isn't taking a position on Common Core implementation, though the group was at the table when the standards were created in 2009. "I guarantee you there will be a lot of discussion this week about it among individuals and in governors-only meetings in terms of, 'Tell me what you are doing. What's the impact?' " said Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam, a Republican who has maintained his support for Common Core.

His state is one of several, along with North Carolina, Florida, Colorado, Ohio and Utah, that conservative advocacy group FreedomWorks is trying to pressure into dropping the standards. "We're watching the governors very closely on this," said Jacqueline Bodnar, a FreedomWorks spokeswoman. "This issue is provoking one of the strongest reactions we've gotten from our activists."

Indiana, led by Republican Gov. Mike Pence, was the first Common Core state to declare it would come up with its own standards, followed last month by South Carolina and Oklahoma. Republican Gov. Gary Herbert of Utah told reporters in March that states such as Indiana were essentially leaving the standards unchanged and merely rebranding them—a claim rejected by Mr. Pence, viewed as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.

Mr. Herbert stood by his assessment in an interview Friday and said he wants to help correct the "misinformation" about Common Core. He asked: "Is there something wrong with the standards, of knowing what you need to be able to do by a certain grade level?"

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, said he isn't worried about states modifying Common Core as long as they maintain high academic standards and measure student achievement.

"There are concerns from the right and the left about whether we are over-testing kids and whether that is getting in the way of their ability to learn," he said. "I think we're going to go through this for a year or two."

One governor with potential national ambitions, Louisiana Republican Bobby Jindal, is trying to pull his state out of Common Core testing, against the wishes of state lawmakers and the state education board. He also is facing backlash from former allies in the business community who see high academic standards as crucial to economic development.

"I hope these governors stay the course," said Paul Pastorek, the former schools superintendent in Louisiana under Mr. Jindal when he supported the standards. The governors group "was an original sponsor for good reason, because most people recognized that our standards are very inconsistent and often times very low."

In New Jersey, led by GOP Gov. Chris Christie, one of Mr. Jindal's potential rivals in 2016, opposition to Common Core is coming predominantly from the teachers union. A vote on a union-backed bill that would have delayed Common Core testing was called off this past week because Mr. Christie is unlikely to sign it and has indicated he would prefer to address concerns with an executive order

"This is one of the few pieces of legislation with co-sponsors who are very progressive and very conservative," said the bill's sponsor, Democratic state Sen. Jeff Van Drew. "It puts the governor in a place where he has to look at the issues very carefully."



Ofsted: top schools 'downgraded' for failing poor pupils

Top schools are being stripped of their “outstanding” status by Ofsted for failing to close the gap between rich and poor pupils, it emerged today.

For the first time, the education watchdog confirmed it had downgraded a number of schools in the last year because of concerns children from working class families had been allowed to lag behind.

It said weak leadership remained an “obstacle to narrowing the attainment gap in a significant minority of schools” in England.

The disclosure was made in an analysis of the Coalition’s flagship “pupil premium” – extra cash handed to schools to specifically raise standards among poor children.

The policy – championed by the Liberal Democrats – will see around £2.5 billion spent by 2014/15, with each state primary school handed £1,300 per pupil and secondaries given £935.

According to Ofsted, the reforms are starting to have a “positive difference in many schools”, with cash “helping to increase outcomes” for children from the most deprived families.

The study said head teachers “know that their schools will not receive a positive judgment” unless they can show sustained improvements in results for poor pupils.

It said the achievement gap between working-class pupils and their peers was closing in all schools judged “good” or “outstanding” by Ofsted, but insisted some had still been downgraded because money had been misspent.

The report said that in a “number of previously outstanding secondary schools that have declined to good or below, inspectors have judged that the pupil premium funding was not being effectively spent”.

The study also showed continuing gaps in results between poor pupils and their wealthier peers, combined with concerns over a “postcode lottery”.

Ofsted said only 38 per cent of poor pupils gained five good GCSEs, including English and maths, last year compared with 65 per cent of their relatively wealthy peers. The gap was narrowing at a “very slow rate”, it said.

The report also raised concerns over “considerable variation” between local authorities, with more than three-quarters of poor pupils in Kensington and Chelsea, west London, gaining good GCSEs compared with just over 20 per cent in Barnsley – the worst performing area.

Sir Michael Wilshaw, the chief inspector, said: “One of the greatest challenges this country faces is closing the unacceptable gap that remains between poorer children and their better-off classmates when it comes to educational outcomes.

“I am passionate about improving the prospects of our least advantaged children so I am encouraged by the clear signs in today’s report that more effective spending and monitoring of the pupil premium is starting to make a positive difference in many schools.

“The success of London illustrates vividly that poverty should not be an automatic predictor of failure and so the government needs to tackle those parts of the country like Barnsley where poorer children are still getting a raw deal.”

The pupil premium is handed to schools for every child eligible for free schools – those with parents on benefits or earning less than £16,000 a year.

The report – based on an analysis of 151 Ofsted inspections – said there were “encouraging signs from inspection that the concerted efforts of good leaders and teachers are helping to increase outcomes for pupils eligible for the pupil premium”.

Most schools use the money to pay for additional teaching staff, booster classes, reading support and aspiration-building programmes. It is also used to fund after-school, weekend and holiday sessions, typically in English and maths.

But Ofsted said it would “take time to establish whether this increased focus will lead to a narrowing in the attainment gap between those eligible for the pupil premium and other pupils”.

Today’s report said that weak leadership and governance “remains an obstacle to narrowing the attainment gap in a significant minority of schools, particularly in those judged inadequate for overall effectiveness”.

David Laws, the Lib Dem School Minister, said: “The pupil premium is transforming the life chances of pupils across the country, helping to build a stronger economy and a fairer society.

“This report shows that our reforms to make schools more accountable for how they spend the funding is revolutionising the way such pupils are given the best possible start to life... And where performance is an issue we are taking swift action to ensure all pupils are given the education they deserve."


Australia: School suspensions hits record high in NSW, system broken and in need of complete review

New NSW Department of Education figures showing a 35 per cent rise in the number of students being sent home from school for bad behaviour (SMH, p3), is a major concern because studies show the suspension system rarely creates positive outcomes for the pupil or the community, NSW's peak body for youth affairs warned today.

“We know suspensions are largely ineffective in improving student behaviour and in the majority of cases simply exacerbate root problems,” Youth Action Director Eamon Waterford said.

“What’s truly disturbing about this rapid recent increase is that suspensions used to be an option only in the case of violent or highly antisocial behaviour. But youth workers across the state are reporting a sharp rise in suspensions for 'persistent misbehaviour' in children as young as five.

"Youth workers are telling us they are encountering more and more students suspended for repeated truancy. You don’t have to be top of the class to recognise the logical blunder there.”

Mr Waterford said the suspension system was not just a problem for the students suspended.

“Suspension is a blunt tool and its impact ripples out widely,” Mr Waterford said.

“Struggling students sent home for 4 weeks are only ending up further behind in their classwork. This means that suspension is only further entrenching a young person’s lack of interest in school. This has impacts on long-term employment and increases the burden on our welfare system."

Mr Waterford said the NSW Government should use the startling statistics to immediately prepare for a complete review of the suspension system.

“The NSW Government should not waste this crisis – they should conduct a full review of the school suspension system,” Mr Waterford said.

“It doesn’t need to be too tricky. Thankfully, we already have a good idea of what works: and that’s good school counsellors and in-school youth workers. As things stand, NSW schools are chronically understaffed to support students in the school, which is why they’re being forced to suspend students.

“If we want better students, better citizens, and a better society we need to be actively addressing behaviour in schools – not just putting the problem out of sight and out of mind.”


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