January 31, 2014

Connecticut Teachers Get Some Relief From Evaluations

Honestly I hadn't planned to report much on the Teacher Evaluations aspect of CC, but since the teachers are clearly stepping up and making a difference here in CT, it's time to follow their story too:

In June of 2012 the CT State Department of Education issued a press release:

The Connecticut State Board of Education Wednesday approved action items designed to elevate teaching and learning, improve educator effectiveness, and help develop comparable data on student absences from school.

In a unanimous vote, the Board approved consensus guidelines developed by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC). The guidelines will inform implementation of model teacher and administrator evaluation and support systems in pilot districts throughout the state during the 2012-2013 school year...

Public Act 12-116, An Act Concerning Education Reform, requires annual performance evaluations of principals, administrators, and teachers, based upon a new standard of “effective practice” and a consensus framework developed by PEAC. The University of Connecticut‟s Neag School of Education will analyze administration and results in the ten pilots and report back to the General Assembly by October 1, 2013. Statewide implementation of the new evaluation and support system will begin in the 2013-2014 school year...

Jump to the 2013-2014 School year. On January 29th the State Department of Education issued a press release:

...the state Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) today took action to provide significant relief to educators whose schools and classrooms are currently undergoing multiple and simultaneous changes... the council agreed to provide educators with additional flexibility in implementing new educator evaluation and support systems...

The recommendations agreed on today will enable districts to decouple state standardized test data in educator evaluations for the 2014-15 school year (extended from this academic year), pending federal approval. They also provide districts the option to reduce the number of time-consuming formal observations and further clarify that the minimum number of required student learning objectives for each educator can be one. PEAC also agreed to streamline the data management requirements at the classroom level while ensuring the protection of data from unauthorized users.

It's noteworthy that the words "pending federal approval" are included since in accepting money under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act for for NCLB (No Child Left Behind) waivers, we agreed to set up Statewide Longitudinal Data Systems and "Fully implement Educator Evaluation" by 2013-2014.

Here is a chart that PEAC released showing the Teacher Evaluation Issue, Current Requirement, and Flexibility Options; how life will be easier now. After we get federal approval.

January 30, 2014

Connecticut is Waking Up

OK I admit I've been slacking; I haven't been consistent in my postings here. But to be fair, so much of the attention regarding Common Core has been on New York, and there has not been much to report here in Connecticut.

Well times are changing. This has been a busy week.

This past Saturday, January 25th I attended a Common Core infomercial presentation, hosted by a myriad of organizations that I first mentioned here. I had actually gotten an email from my middle schooler's PTA telling parents about it.

I have to admit, Sandra Alberti, of Student Achievement Partners (founded by the lead writers of the Common Core State Standards) did a great job as keynote speaker. Much of what she was saying made good sense. For example, she talked about how it used to be possible to get by in Language Arts without having to read any of the assigned material because the questions asked afterward made it unnecessary, but under Common Core the questions relate to the material (click the image to see it larger):

And how can anyone really argue with that? In fact, Ms. Alberti did a great job talking about all the stuff surrounding Common Core that makes sense. And some of it actually does. But that's all she talked about. Although she never became visibly flustered during her presentation or during the Q&A afterwards, it was clobber-over-the-head obvious that she was evading the tough questions that people asked.

In fact, I have to say I was pretty darned thrilled with the questions people asked. I had a couple I had thought I would ask, but teachers were in the audience and really pressing for answers, so I kept my mouth shut. Questions were about the developmentally appropriateness of the material for the younger kids, income disparity and classroom size contributing to our problems but not being addressed, the SBAC testing and how so much time is being taken away from class to teach the kids how to take the thing, teacher evaluations, and on and on.  One "member of the audience said that Connecticut’s state standardized tests, the CMT and CAPT, already ask students for evidence — evidence that is a feature of the new Smarter Balanced Assessments tied to CCSS. The audience member explained that it does not make sense to switch to the CCSS linked tests when the Connecticut tests already do some of the same things;" she asked outright why we were switching.

It was so encouraging to see all those teachers voicing their concerns. It's an election year here in Connecticut and Governor Malloy needs the teachers' votes.

You can read more about the day, and the questions asked (including the one quoted above) here.

And come back here tomorrow to read more about the increasing awareness of the realities of Common Core. It's starting to get interesting.

January 18, 2014

The Weekly Quote

"HIPAA does not apply to health information that is subject to FERPA. That means if health information is maintained in school records—for example, in a school health office administered by an educational agency—its use and disclosure is governed by FERPA, not by HIPAA."

~ Data Quality Campaign
Complying with FERPA and Other Federal Privacy and Security Laws and Maximizing Appropriate Data Use

January 16, 2014

The Technology Factor in Common Core

Technology is playing an increasing role in education, especially as Common Core pushes it to. The new SBAC testing, which is replacing CMTs and CAPTs here in Connecticut, will all be done on computers. So obviously, the schools need computers. But where are they going to come from?

Connecticut is borrowing 25 million dollars to specifically "provide a grant-in-aid to various school districts statewide for the purchase of computers, tablets and other electronic devices in order to meet the requirements of Common Core. All capital purchases meet the Smarter Balanced Technology Strategy Framework and System Requirements Specifications to ensure that local districts are test-ready."

My town received $202,575 of that money. Recently at a PTO meeting our Superintendent admitted that he was surprised to have received it, since typically "towns like ours" do not get such grants, that those grants "usually go to more urban areas". Which basically means that districts that are more cash-strapped will not be getting more help to purchase all this equipment than the rest of the state. Nevertheless, the money is here, and my town plans to "provide all grade 7 and 8 students with Chromebooks to use throughout the school day in order to access the learning resources, Google Drive, and the Internet as needed in every class."

A while back I posted a link to an article about my town's purchase to a Facebook group I'm part of, expressing concerns about these things. I commented "No word from my kiddo yet on whether they will be allowed to bring them home. If not, I will have to buy him his own and refuse to allow him to use the school's."  People kept asking what the problem was with allowing my son to use it.

My response:
There are several issues. 13yo is already using online websites where the school has him use his real name, so I have privacy concerns. (Chromebooks aside, Google is already collecting lots of information about my kids via Google Docs since everything they do is submitted to teachers that way. So Google has a nice collection of all my kids' papers and opinions on a whole slew of topics.)

There is no way my kiddo will use the thing for school stuff only, even during school hours. So now the school will also have information about his surfing habits and interests.

Also, I will have no way to know what he's working on at school if he is not allowed to bring it home. Chromebooks that can't come home represent more and more parental exclusion from our kids' educations. This has already been a problem with Social Studies since in that class there are no textbooks, no worksheets, and only my kiddo to tell me what's going on in his classroom.

 And now, a month later, I'm reading an article that states:
Rival Google wants in on the game on the taxpayers’ dime, too.

The company’s “Chromebooks,” which use a cloud-based operating system mimicking the Google Chrome browser, are gaining market share rapidly. While they are cheaper than iPads, they depend on reliable WiFi. Google offers a suite of Google Apps for Education (GAFE) for “free.”
Google can collect student/family data to target ads through related services outside the GAFE suite, such as YouTube for Schools, Blogger and Google Plus. These are not covered under the already watered-down federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. Under the Obama administration, Grand Canyon-sized loopholes in FERPA have already opened data mining to third-party private entities.

One parent shared her kids’ experience with the Chromebooks online: “The biggest problems to date are that kids figured out quickly how to bypass security so they could look at non-approved web material… Many preferred traditional textbooks; others resented the teachers being able to spy on them with the software embedded in the Chromebook.”

Another savvy mom noted: “If you think Google won’t be handing over any and all data it gets from your kids using their Chromebooks, you’re nuts.”

My concerns stand. And others are finally waking up to the problem.

Are you?

January 13, 2014

Connecticut is going into further debt for Common Core

In his article entitled Malloy/Pryor Common Core Strategy - Hey, but we've got some computers! Jonathan Pelto, former member of the CT House of Representatives, writes:

"Governor Malloy's budget provides no additional state funding for major local educational expenses like special education and school transportation...

"Connecticut's Education Funding Formula (ECS) is approximately $2 billion underfunded... The result is that school budgets are hurting, teachers are being let go, class sizes are increasing and there are more and more reports of cut-backs in school programs and services...

"Governor Malloy has directed the State's Bond Commission to borrow $22,619,148 for Common Core equipment...

"The Malloy Administration writes, 'All capital purchases meet the Smarter Balanced Technology Strategy Framework and System Requirements Specifications to ensure that local districts are test-ready.'

"The ultimate cost that communities will have to pay to purchase Common Core computers and software, as well as expand internet capabilities, will be significantly more than the money that is being provided by state of Connecticut...

Read the entire article here.