Reformist unions – who would have guessed?

Teachers’ unions seem to be embracing educational reform almost everywhere you look these days. Maybe they’re trying to improve their image in the face of the Waiting for “Superman” movie. Maybe they’re responding to pressure from the Obama administration.

Or maybe progressive unionism was out there all along, but we just weren’t looking.

Let’s start with Education Secretary Arne Duncan. Last week, he met in Tampa, Fla., with American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten and National Education Association president Dennis van Roekel to announce plans for a national education reform conference on labor-management collaboration.

“In dozens of districts around the country — from Tampa to Pittsburgh to Denver — union leaders and administrators are moving beyond the battles of the past and finding new ways to work together to focus on student success,” Secretary Duncan said. He cited eight examples, Continue reading

New state tests coming; will they change the game?

The big news last week on the national education front concerned the U.S. Department of Education’s award of $330 million for the development of the “next generation of tests,” computer-based assessments tied to the Common Core State Standards.

Two consortia get the money: the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), made up of 25 states and the District of Columbia, which gets $170 million; and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium, a coalition of 31 states, awarded $160 million.

Indiana is one of 11 states leading the PARCC effort to develop the new tests, which are supposed to be on line by 2014.

“I am convinced that this new generation of state assessments will be an absolute game-changer in public education,” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in announcing the funding from the government’s Race to the Top program. “For the first time, millions of schoolchildren, parents and teachers will know if students are on track for colleges and careers.”

News coverage generally reflected Duncan’s optimism. Stories in the New York Times and the Christian Science Monitor described the initiative as a major step beyond the high-stakes “bubble” tests that came to define the No Child Left Behind era. Continue reading

PDK poll, teacher effectiveness, Friedman on ‘what works’

Results of Bloomington-based Phi Delta Kappa’s annual Poll of the Public’s Attitudes Toward the Public Schools were released this week, and they were, as usual, interesting.

Much of the news coverage focused on the fact that only 34 percent of the public gave President Obama a grade of A or B for his education policies, compared with 45 percent last year. But there wasn’t a lot of evidence that the public knows what the president’s education policies are.

In fact, only 20 percent of respondents were aware that any federal stimulus money went for education when the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act allocated $100 billion for schools.

The public claimed teacher effectiveness is the No. 1 issue facing the schools, putting it in synch with the Obama administration. The poll also found increasing support for charter schools, an administration priority.

But respondents did seem to disagree with the administration’s “school turnaround” approach, which prescribes closing failing schools or removing principals and/or teachers. Continue reading

National updates: Ed Jobs deadline, ‘turnaround’ money chase

Mitch Daniels and other governors have until Sept. 9 to apply for their states’ share of $10 billion from the Education Jobs Fund created last week by Congress, according to the U.S. Department of Education.

The House voted 247-161 on Aug. 10 for the funding to save teachers’ jobs, which had already been approved by the Senate. President Barack Obama signed the bill the same day it passed. (It also included $16 billion for state Medicaid expenses.)

Indiana will get $207 million in Ed Jobs funding, enough to keep 3,600 teachers from losing their jobs, according to the Democratic campaign group Organizing for America. Continue reading

Indy Star on pre-K, Daniels on education, Duncan on charters

Some interesting reading on education topics …

Sunday’s Indianapolis Star featured a front-page story about Indiana’s lack of support for early childhood education. The paper followed up with a Wednesday editorial. The Star reports that Pre-K Now, a national advocacy group, rates Indiana as one of the eight worst states for public pre-kindergarten programs. “It’s one of the few states where leadership has not made the smart investments other states have thought were important,” says Pre-K Now director Marci Young.

Karen Francisco, in the Learning Curve blog at the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, writes about the attitudes toward public education expressed by Gov. Mitch Daniels in his recent Weekly Standard profile. The profile got national attention for Daniels’ comment that Republicans should strike a “truce” on social issues if they want to win elections. Francisco’s headline: “No truce with public education.”

The U.S. Department of Education website posts U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s remarks on July 1 to the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools. Duncan offers a bit of tough love but makes clear he speaks as a member of the family. “There are a couple of things that I think we have to do much better, frankly, as a movement,” he says. That’s right, “we,” not “you.”