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SBAC Pilot Test

Last week Chicago-based Urban Prep Academies, which operate three all-boy charter high schools, held an assembly to honor its senior class, 100% of whom had been accepted at four-year colleges all across the country. Mayor Rahm Emanuel attended the celebration and was visibly moved (which is unusual for our ultra-self-possessed mayor) as he delivered a short address praising the group's accomplishment. I tend to be skeptical about our nation's generally silver-bullet approach to charters, but this is an example of a charter that is accomplishing its mission. (And I am aware of the advantage that charters have in terms of admission and discipline policies.) Read More »

FY13 Budget Settled, FY14 Looms

Well, some progress is being made. This week Congress passed and the President signed a long-term continuing resolution that will fund the operations of the Federal government - at levels equal to FY2012 - through the remainder of FY 2013. Though many people hoped otherwise, for the most part Congress let the sequester stand, though it did provide some flexibility for selected programs. That means that all Federally appropriated programs, including most education programs, will see a 5.1% reduction in their FY2013 budgets. Not great, but not as bad as it might have been. Now it's on to FY 2014. I'll expand a bit more on that in a minute, but in the end, unless the economy suddenly goes into overdrive or we see fairly substantial tax increases, the federal budget is a zero sum game. I advise focusing your attention and energy at the state level. Though state economies are recovering slowly and unevenly, education remains a state priority; in FY 2013, 36 states enacted general fund spending increases for K-12 education totaling $4.9 billion. In states where your company does a significant amount of business it may be worth lobbying a bit in support of increased education funding. Read More »

ASCD, Digital Learning Report Card

I spent some time this weekend at the ASCD Conference which was here in Chicago. It wasn't one of the city's prettier weekends, cold and blustery, but that didn't dampen the enthusiasm of the nearly 11,000 educators in attendance. This is a very well-run meeting, with more than 40 concurrent sessions running in every time slot not dedicated to a keynote or Exhibit Hall time. Featured speakers included Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, Charlotte Danielson, Michael Fullan, Andy Hargreaves and Maya Angelou. There were the expected sessions on the Common Core Standards and assessment, but the ASCD crowd is as interested in social-emotional learning, civic education, multiple intelligences and project-based learning. ASCD promotes a whole child approach to education, an effort to change the conversation about education from a focus on narrowly defined academic achievement to one that promotes the long term development and success of children. Read More »

Deferred Maintenance Bill, Charter Studies

This week the Center for Green Schools released its first "State of our Schools" report focused on the need to modernize school facilities to meet current health, safety and educational standards. The report states that schools are currently facing a $271 billion deferred maintenance bill just to bring the buildings up to working order - approximately $5,450 per student. It would take another $542 billion to modernize schools to be sure that they meet current education, safety and health standards. The numbers were arrived at by extrapolating from a number of secondary sources. The last comprehensive report on American school facilities was conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in 1995. The Center calls on the GAO to conduct an updated survey on the condition of America's schools in order to paint a more complete picture of the scale and scope of today's needs. Read More »

Amplify Tablet, inBloom Gets Real

It's been a busy week. Amplify Learning took the stage at SXSWedu to introduce its new tablet, claiming it to be the first of its kind, the only tablet designed for K-12 education. There are a few people that might dispute that claim, including Jeff Cameron at Brainchild and the people behind the ER LearnPad. Amplify describes the tablet as "similar to ASUS Transformer Pad TF300TL." It features a 10-inch display, an NVIDA Tegra 3 quad-core CPU, a 5MP auto-focus camera with back-illuminated CMOS sensor, a lithium-polymer battery providing up to 8.5 hours of battery life on a single charge and runs on the latest version of the Android Jelly Bean OS. Read More »

The SAT and College- and Career-Ready Issues

Well, at least one shoe appears to have dropped as the sequester goes into effect today. Clearly, if allowed to stand unmitigated for any length of time, people and programs will be deeply affected, though the political posturing on both sides this last week makes it hard to judge how quickly cuts will be implemented and how much intra-departmental discretion there might be. The numbers being thrown around about potential teacher layoffs are highly suspect. Since many Federal education programs are forward funded, schools will not face major cuts until next school year. And we're not through. The opportunities for continued fiscal wrangling abound. Congress still has to authorize an increase in the debt ceiling just to keep the government operating and the Continuing Resolution that has been substituted for a real FY 2013 budget through the first half of the year expires at the end of March. The President's FY 2014 budget request, which was due on February 4, has been delayed. It's hard to develop a budget when you don't have a baseline or much real hope of raising additional revenue. Read More »

Value in Higher Ed; Met Life Teacher Survey

A reader pointed out that in focusing on early childhood education last week I had covered only part of what the president had to say about education in his State of the Union Address. The President also talked about the other end of the spectrum - higher education. For the second State of the Union in a row, the President told institutions of higher education that they had to hold down tuition or suffer the consequences. Details were sparse, even in the follow-up fact sheet released after the speech. Noting that the federal government provides more than $150 billion each year in direct loan and grant aid for America's students, the President argued for better allocating the federal investment in student aid to promote opportunity in higher education and ensure the best return on investment. Read More »

Preschool for All

President Obama called for universal preschool during his State of the Union address, calling on Congress to help expand access to high quality preschool for all American children. And he has since taken his show on the road to begin to drum up support, spending part of Thursday visiting a preschool program in suburban Atlanta. Using a cost sharing model with the states, the President wants to guarantee preschool for all four-year olds from low- or moderate-income families, while also expanding these programs to reach additional children from middle class families and incentivizing full-day kindergarten policies. The President's plan also calls for a significant investment in a new Early Head Start-Child Care partnership. Competitive grants will support communities that expand the availability of Early Head Start and child care providers that can meet the highest standards of quality for infants and toddlers, serving children from birth through age 3. A final component of the plan calls for expanding home visiting programs, allowing nurses, social workers, and other professionals to work directly with families, connecting them to additional services and educational support that will improve a child's health, development, and ability to learn. Read More »

TCEA Wrap

Finishing up a long day at TCEA, so this will be a brief note. All I have at this point is first impressions. The Texas educators who attend TCEA are technology enthusiasts and advocates and typically pretty savvy about technology. The Exhibit Hall was often quite busy, though there were slow times as teachers attended the myriad workshops and sessions for their own professional learning and with the mission of bringing what they learned back to their colleagues at schools across the state. Lots of exhibits with tablets in prominent positions, lots of tablet and IPad-specific sessions featured in the conference program. The exhibit floor itself had every flavor of tablet imaginable present, including ER's LearnPad, which they describe as purpose-built for education. Read More »

Graduation Rates

There appears to be some good news on the graduation/dropout front, though beyond the headline number, the good news is nuanced. The National Center for Education Statistics released a First Look (http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2013/2013309.pdf) report on graduates and drop outs for the 2009-10 school year. The good news number is a calculated Averaged Freshman Graduation Rate (AFGR) of 78.2%, the highest rate since 1974. Even better, high school graduation rates are up for all ethnic groups in 2010 -- especially for Hispanics, whose graduation rate has jumped almost 10 points since 2006. The more nuanced news is that there are still significant differences in terms of graduation rate among ethnic groups and significant variance from state to state. Read More »