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Saturday, 5-May-2012 02:07 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Sandoval Public Education Reform Agenda For 2013 Outlined By To

Establishing school choice for parents and ending social promotion for students are two top priorities in Gov. Brian Sandoval’s education reform agenda for the 2013 legislative session, an administration official said today.
Linking pay to performance and providing professional development to ensure students have the best possible classroom teachers is a third major priority, said Dale Erquiaga, senior adviser to Sandoval.
Erquiaga briefed the Nevada State Public School Charter Authority on the governor’s education reform agenda being readied for the next session.
Erquiaga said Sandoval is a strong believer in parental choice for schools and that he will again pursue that objective. Whether it will be through a voucher system or by providing opportunity scholarships directly to parents to pick a private or public school has yet to be determined, he said.
Implementing a voucher program would likely require a change to the state constitution, a time consuming process. A scholarship option might circumvent the need for a constitutional change. Florida implemented school choice by giving tax breaks to corporations that provide scholarships to parents for private school, including those operated by religious organizations.
“Fortunately though, we now, really for the first time, have a superintendent of public instruction who supports those concepts and will be working hand-in-hand with the governor’s office to present the best bill,” he said in an interview after his briefing. “The superintendent the governor has hired is a national expert with a national network, and we’re going to bring all of that intellect to bear on providing the very best bill that we can.”
James Guthrie, formerly the senior fellow and director of education policy studies at the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas, Texas, was named by Sandoval as the new state superintendent of public instruction in March. He started his new job April 2.
Erquiaga said Sandoval was disappointed that the 2011 Legislature failed to act on his proposal to end social promotion. His bill would have required children to be reading proficient by the end of third grade or they would not advance to the fourth grade.
The bill had a hearing but never made it out of the Democrat-controlled Assembly.
“We already provide class size reduction dollars in grades one, two and three,” Erquiaga said. “We have smaller class sizes and it is the intent of those dollars that those children receive the special attention. And yet we’re still passing on thousands of children who can’t read. We’re dooming them to failure.
“We may need to draw a bright line in the sand there,” he said.
Ensuring that each classroom has a highly effective teacher is Sandoval’s other major priority, Erquiaga said.
“We have a performance pay framework but the new superintendent has great ideas around a career ladder so that teachers can see a progression in their career and so we’re really going to look at that as well,” he said.
“We recognize that if we have an effective or highly effective teacher in the classroom, there is almost no better gift that we could give a child than that,” Erquiaga said.
The intention is to reward highly effective educators, including principals, and find ways to keep them, he said.
One element of Sandoval’s education agenda that was well received by the Charter Authority was the idea that many of the existing separate funds designated for specific needs such as textbooks, be placed instead in performance-based block grants that would give school districts more flexibility in how to use the money. Charter schools would be eligible for these block grants as well, Erquiaga said. A bill to accomplish this was introduced in the 2011 session but did not win approval.
The State Public School Charter Authority, itself created by the 2011 Legislature and viewed as a major education reform success by Sandoval, will have at least one bill draft, he said. The authority, created to focus on the creation and oversight of quality charter schools in Nevada, met today and had a discussion about what proposals to bring to the 2013 Legislature.
One of the key issues for the Charter Authority is the creation of “performance-based” charter contracts, which would link accountability to outcomes.
Erquiaga said Sandoval is a strong supporter of accountability throughout the public education system.
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Friday, 4-May-2012 01:46 Email | Share | | Bookmark
LAUSD Special Education Services Are Suffering, But Is It A Prob

After failing for the eighth straight year to meet service delivery targets for special education, Los Angeles Unified School District has begun interviewing staff to understand why records indicate thousands of students with disabilities are not receiving their prescribed services.
The effort, led by the district's Office of the Independent Monitor, seeks to determine whether the shortcomings are due to documentation problems, actual failures to serve students or both. Jaime Hernandez, the office's research director, said the goal to show a student received any service was "really a very low bar to meet."
"We would have expected some more progress," said Hernandez, who believes the problem is likely both bad data and lack of services.
Attorneys who represent special education students and their families said many children with special needs receive few or no services and that the true service delivery rate in LA Unified, which enrolled more than 82,000 special education students in 2010-11, could be worse than records show.
"My guess is about 60 percent of services are being delivered," said Valerie Vanaman, an attorney with Newman Aaronson Vanaman, a Los Angeles firm that joined the American Civil Liberties Union in filing a 1993 class-action lawsuit that led to independent oversight of LA Unified's special education program.
Under the terms of the lawsuit's "modified consent decree" – a settlement enforced by court order – the independent monitor tracks the district's progress toward 18 goals designed to bring the district into compliance with federal special education law. The goals were supposed to be achieved in 2006. The district has met all but three, including delivery of special education services.
To meet the service delivery target, the district must show 93 percent of special education students receive service at least once in an eight-week study period. It reached 91 percent for students with a specific learning disability and 95 percent for those with other disabilities in 2010-11.
LA Unified also seeks to have 85 percent of its services meet the frequency and duration prescribed in a student's individualized education plan, also known as an IEP. An IEP is a federally mandated document that identifies a student's disability, sets goals and guides related services. In 2010-11, 82 percent of services were delivered as frequently as prescribed and 69 percent for the required length of time.
The independent monitor in April published focus group findings [PDF] to begin identifying areas to study for next year's service delivery report.
The participants – 39 special education managers, supervisors, providers and information technology staff – said inaccurate or lack of documentation, a buggy web-based software system used to monitor and track IEPs and services, and other demands of their jobs, such as more and longer IEP meetings, were challenging their ability to meet service requirements.
Beginning this month, the independent monitor will send surveys to all the district's special education providers to better understand service delivery roadblocks. Hernandez said he anticipates the results, to be published in October, will indicate problems similar to those found by focus groups.
The district also plans this month to assemble a working group of 12 to 15 providers, particularly resource specialist teachers, to begin a deeper examination of service delivery challenges, said Sharyn Howell, executive director of the district's special education division.
Howell said she believes providers "are probably giving far more service than is showing up on this tracking system." Still, she said, there probably are some special education students who really are not receiving services. Staffing shortages and caseloads that must juggle different student schedules make it difficult to serve all students as prescribed, she said.
"It is difficult to keep fully staffed, there's no doubt about that," Howell said, noting that LA Unified contracts with many private agencies to provide services. "There's not enough speech and language specialists coming out of universities to adequately staff all of us, not enough occupational therapists or physical therapists."
The district has no substitutes for any of its providers, with the exception of adapted physical education providers, site-based resource specialist teachers and contractors from private agencies. One supervisor in the focus groups said 15 schools did not have an assigned occupational therapist because 15 providers were on maternity leave.
In such instances, if no providers can be hired or contracted and caseloads cannot be redistributed among existing staff, students are provided compensatory services another time, such as after school or over the summer, Howell said.
To meet special education service needs, the district over the last few years has increasingly allowed IEPs to prescribe broader ranges of service frequency. So, for example, instead of an IEP calling for one hour of speech therapy a week, it may prescribe four hours over a month.
"We're trying to provide flexibility so staff can actually implement services for the students, even if a day is missed for some reason – like say a student is on a field trip or something – there's a flexibility for someone to give those services," Howell said.
Services must still be offered in a timely manner, Howell said, noting that the district has not had problems with providers waiting until the end of the year to give services.
But attorneys for special education students worry that using broader ranges for service frequency undermines services' effectiveness.
"We think it actually has a bad effect," said Maronel Barajas, a senior staff attorney with the Disability Rights Legal Center in Los Angeles. "What's clear when I speak with the different providers … (is) the best practice is for them to be delivering (services) on a weekly basis."
Vanaman said LA Unified's flexible service prescriptions are an outgrowth of the modified consent decree's compliance demands rather than a true effort to meet the needs of students.
"What they're trying to do is reduce services so they can look like they're more in compliance, and they've found a clever way to do it," she said. "And it's tragedy."
Howell said the district's use of broader ranges for service frequency was a response to provider feedback.
"The providers years ago felt that it gave them more flexibility," she said. "Over time you have to go back and look at things again. This is an opportunity for us to go back and look. Are the ranges the most effective way or not? If not, then we'll change it."
Joanna Lin is an investigative reporter for California Watch, a project of the non-profit Center for Investigative reporting. Find more California Watch stories here.

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Thursday, 3-May-2012 02:14 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Gregoire to successor: New revenue is necessary

Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire challenged her future successor Wednesday to pursue new revenue in support of education, saying that she wished the state had committed more money to that this year.
The leading candidates to replace Gregoire - Democrat Jay Inslee and Republican Rob McKenna - have both said they don't see the need for new revenue. But Gregoire said the budget they will have to adopt shortly after taking office is already in need of $1 billion for education.
"To the candidates that are running: We can say, `No new revenue.' But the reality is, we cannot live up to our responsibilities without new revenue," Gregoire said.
Inslee and McKenna believe the state can save money through efficiencies and lower health care costs. And Inslee particularly said he thinks the state can grow its revenue with a strong economy.
Gregoire dismissed that idea, saying political leaders need to be realistic. Economic growth will be slow, she said.
"The idea that we're going to turn the economy around in a split second and get ($1 billion) - there is absolutely nothing in terms of a forecast to suggest that would suggest that to be true," Gregoire said.
Gregoire's comments came as she signed what is likely to be the last spending plan of her eight-year tenure. She will propose a new budget before leaving office in January, but it will likely be left for her successor to finalize.
That budget cuts state spending but avoids further cuts in education. Budget negotiators relied on a $238 million accounting maneuver in which the state will temporarily claim control of local sales taxes before they are redistributed back to jurisdictions at their usual time.
Gregoire also approved major policy bills that conservative lawmakers had pushed as part of a final budget compromise. One of those requires that lawmakers pass budgets that are projected to remain balanced over a four-year period, instead of the current two years.
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Saturday, 28-Apr-2012 02:06 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Free preschool education in Israel - a cautionary tale

A little girl, a bright red schoolbag with a pink princess and two excited parents make their way to the preschool for the first day of the academic year. She is their eldest child, three and a half, entering the public school system for the first time. How they have looked forward to this day.
In the summer of 2015 they did not go abroad, didn't even rent a vacation room up north - as they had once, before the girl was born. They spent most of their summer along Tel Aviv's shady boulevards. An entire neighborhood was there on the northern boulevard near their house: parents like themselves, in their late 20s or 30s, with a child or two - high-tech workers, lawyers, television producers and the like, all fearful for their children's future. Every evening, delighting in a passing breeze that slipped in from the sea, they would all sit together and listen to riveting lectures as the kids played in the sand. It was a sweet routine.
As they did every year, they also marched occasionally in mass protest demonstrations. Once to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and once to Rabin Square. There were terrific concerts there. Aviv Geffen was a regular performer. And they never tired of hearing him. After all, they were Moonlight Children. The girl loved to sit high up on her father's shoulders, and when he grew tired she went back to sitting in her stroller.
She particularly liked the line "The People Demand Social Justice," but knew a variety of other slogans too. And she especially made everyone laugh when she yelled in her high, squeaky voice: "Kindergartens Right Now!"
Life had never been so cheap for a young couple in Tel Aviv. They dispensed with a car, and came to the boulevard on foot. They bought a bicycle for each of them and for the girl, in case they wanted to get to distant Rothschild Boulevard, or the beach. For two weeks they even rented out their apartment at an outrageous price to French tourists. They lived in a tent and thereby saved a whole month's rent. Instead of a restaurant, they made do with sandwiches at the kiosk on the boulevard and iced coffee. Lots of iced coffee. Along the boulevard, the coffee shops were full of parents and children like themselves. Spirits were high, like at a carnival.
But at the end of the summer it was too hot for them. The sand stuck obstinately to their clothes and the girl's curls, even though they tried rinsing it off in the shower at the end of the day. They longed for September 1 and for autumn almost in the same breath. They weren't apprehensive for a moment. They knew, of course, about the chronic shortage of space in Tel Aviv preschools. But they were realistic and aware of themselves and the situation, and kept their cool.
They had no intention of going crazy waiting for an answer from the desired freebie preschool. They could understand the parents who were literally desperate every September for the last three years, when they realized that their outcry in the summer had fallen on deaf ears. And that, come autumn, they were still compelled to pay a fortune for their children's education.
The protest movement had already been dubbed by the press the longest and most consistent protest Israel has ever seen. And even the foreign media sent representatives to cover it every summer. January 2012 was remembered as a touchstone in its history. When the parents watched the press conference with the prime minister festively announcing the Compulsory Education Law for 3- and 4-year-olds, they felt the flutter of history's wings.
They looked at one another excitedly, because they knew that the day was not far off, and when the little one crawling at their feet would reach that age, they would send her without any worries off to preschool. For the past few years, when the girl was with a nanny and then in day care, they paid considerable sums of money. But they knew it was temporary, the horizon was in the offing. And soon they would be able to breath easy. Maybe try to buy an apartment.
But more and more it became clear to them that this had been a mirage, and they returned to the boulevard to protest. Implementation of the new law in Tel Aviv moved at a snail's pace. Tel Aviv suffers from a dearth of buildings. The number of children between the ages of 3 and 5 grows steadily each year, and for their daughter's birth year, there were already 19,000 children who needed a municipal preschool. They knew the figures by heart and kept tabs on every detail. They knew to prepare in advance for registering the girl for preschool. They had a strategy. They joined the Facebook page "Parents Disappointed in Education in Tel Aviv." They wrote blogs, took part in discussions on parents' forums, signed petitions.
But to be on the safe side, they also tried using tricks to infiltrate a municipal kindergarten - as parents in Tel Aviv had done since the beginning of time. To that end they rented apartments in several areas of Tel Aviv . In other words, they resided in the north, but, knowing about the overcrowded preschools there, submitted a fictitious rental contract - which they got from one of their friends - and tried to gain admission to the big cluster of preschools in central Tel Aviv.
But all of this happened before the municipality's agreement with the tycoons. In 2015 it seems that, in Tel Aviv, the rich are embarrassed to be rich. The protest arose again. The young people stopped playing nice. They directed the protest at focused targets. They demonstrated all year round underneath the towers. The strollers, the bicycles and the kids marched from Akirov Towers to the Yoo towers. Around Passover they took over the green lawn in the expanse between the buildings, on the banks of the Ayalon Highway. Lots of kids learned to ride a bike in those days on the paved plazas, and lots of babies breast-fed on the stone benches in the shade cast by the buildings. The occupants of the buildings looked down in fright from the tower windows at the encampment that was erected down below.
When the residents of these towers emerged from the underground parking lot in their comfortable and silent cars, their windshields were pelted with organic tomatoes and eggs. It wasn't pleasant. It took some time, but then the managers of the two tower groups on Pinkas Street came down and spoke to the parents, heart to heart. "We are parents too," they said, "and we too want good education for our children. We identify completely with your protest." It was moving for everyone. But the protesters did not agree to stop the picnic and leave.
One day, however, the buildings' managers arrived with representatives from City Hall and, in front of everybody, from the podium promised to allocate a suitable space with grass to new preschools in every area with towers in Tel Aviv. They even cut a ribbon.
The first harbinger - what luck! - was in the north, near the Yoo towers. And thus, on September 1, the excited parents came with the girl and the red schoolbag to 72 Pinkas Street, to the place that had been allocated for their new preschool - but the preschool was closed.
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Friday, 27-Apr-2012 02:16 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Closing schools is no way to save them

Since Mayor Bloomberg took office, the city Education Department has closed 140 schools. There are 26 more currently on the chopping block; these are the subject of Assembly hearings as well as protests throughout the city.

I am not opposed to closing persistently failing schools, but it is time we take a step back and ask ourselves whether this drastic measure has produced significant results for our students.

Unfortunately, the answer, in my experience, is no.

The Bloomberg administration treats the closure of a school as a victory. In reality, it should be considered a failure. The mayor trumpets his school closure record; instead, he should be deeply contrite to the students, parents and community suffering through a great loss and disruption.

A school doesn’t shutter overnight. When the Education Department announces that a school is being slated for closure, parents with the ability to navigate the system transfer their children out. If a student has no exceptional needs, this is fairly easy to accomplish.

But as a just-released report from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform and the New York City Working Group on School Transformation highlights, the students left behind are disproportionately poor, have special needs, are English-language learners or are older students who have been held back. Instead of getting the help they need, they languish until they are eventually transferred.

It is all too easy to figure out what is bound to happen at their new schools. The schools begin to get lower grades on their progress reports and they, too, start down the road to closure. It’s a terrible cycle.

This is not the fault of the students, who face significant educational and socioeconomic challenges. This is not the fault of the new school, which receives an influx of challenging students without the corresponding resources and assistance to maintain its school improvement while helping its new students succeed.

This is the fault of an administration run by the educational equivalent of chicken hawks: Quick to call for the closure of schools and the disruption of students and families without the willingness to help the students ultimately succeed.

We need a whole new approach to failing schools, one that ends in closure only after we have invested in trying to turn the school around. A reformed system would include:

A real early warning system. We should not wait until a school is “too far gone” to begin intervention. When a school begins to show signs of slipping, we need a SWAT team led by district superintendents and backed by Education Department resources and human resources that can jump in and assess the challenges and needs facing the school.
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