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10-15-15 Education Issues in the News

Education Week - What's Arne Duncan's Legacy on Ed-Tech?

By Sean Cavanagh on October 5, 2015 1:42 PM

Arne Duncan has announced his plans to resign as U.S. secretary of education later this year, bringing an end to a long tenure in which he pushed for far-reaching and sometimes divisive changes in school policy. But what will be his legacy on educational technology?

Duncan served as secretary at a dynamic time in the ed-tech space. Private investors were pouringvast amounts of money into digital products, seeking financial returns, during his time in office. And districts were taking on ambitious and in some cases daring ed-tech projects in the hopes of leading to increased student learning and engagement.

But it was also a confusing time for many K-12 officials. Some struggled to implement sweeping ed-tech efforts, while others were vexed by digital projects they were obligated to implement, such as delivering state online tests.

As secretary, Duncan had limited ability to shape many of the forces at work in the ed-tech space. (The federal government, for instance, contributes only about 10 percent of the overall amount spent in K-12 education).

Caveats aside, here are a couple of the defining aspects of Duncan's time in office, as they pertain to ed-tech:

  • The Loss of the Enhancing Education Through Technology Funds Program

In 2010, the Obama administration recommended and Congress ultimately agreed to anelimination of the program, over the objections of many K-12 organizations. The EETT once provided $700 million in yearly funding, supporting a range of tech activity in school districts, including professional development. The Education Department provided a temporary $650 million infusion of money to the EETT through the economic stimulus in 2009, but did not propose maintaining its $100 million annual support for it after that. (The Obama administration has since recommended reviving the EETT, but that's certainly no sure thing.

Many ed-tech advocates have been dismayed  by the disappearance of the program, saying it left a major void in supporting state and local efforts in ed-tech, and led to a loss of expertise on digital issues.

"It was an unfortunate decision, and it slowed us down as a country" in addressing K-12 tech needs, said Keith Krueger, the CEO of the Consortium for School Networking.

Doug Levin, the president of EdTech Strategies, who consults on K-12 issues, argued that the Education Department wrongly assumed that states and districts could easily find ways to manage rapid changes in tech curriculum, assessment, and instruction without federal support.

"There was a belief that there was more capacity in the schools than, in fact, there actually was," Levin said. With the EETT cut, he said, a lot of "state and district leadership was lost."

  • Support for States' Migration to Online Testing

As part of the stimulus, the Education Department created a Race to the Top assessment program, which ended up supporting about $350 million in test-development work by two big coalitions of states: the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

The department encouraged the use of technology in assessment in its call for applications for funding, and both consortia used federal funds to focus heavily on putting together tests that can be delivered online. Whether states will be able to deliver online tests without major breakdowns (several states have weathered disruptions over the past year) remains to be seen.

  • Helping Districts Gain Faster Web Connectivity.****

This one carries multiple asterisks. The biggest infusion of federal money into ed-tech during Duncan's tenure was delivered by the Federal Communications Commission, not the department of education. The FCC overhauled the E-rate program and provided $1.5 billion more annually to the program. Both Duncan and President Obama praised the commission's work, arguably mustering political support for the plan, but the redesign of the E-rate was an FCC production.

Duncan also promoted the Obama administration's Connect-Ed program, which arranged for industry to support K-12 districts' digital needs. But that program has largely been associated with the White House, not the education department.

  • Encouraging Tech Developers to Work in Schools

Duncan and the agency he leads have publicly encouraged the tech industry to focus on creating innovations that can work in schools. Their efforts included the posting of a host of web resources for companies, including an "Ed Tech Developers' Guide," offering a primer on the K-12 arena. 

Those efforts essentially challenged tech innovators to take a chance on the market. Selling in that space remains tough, but Duncan's agency encouraged companies to bring new ideas to schools, not just to the consumer arena. "They certainly portrayed [the school space] as a good market," Levin noted.

  • Promotion of Open-Ed Resources

Obama's administration has backed open ed. resources across government. And the department of education had championed the concept on several fronts. Most recently, the agency named what it said is the first-ever adviser focused specifically on open educational materials. It has also backed the Learning Registry, an open, online information network meant to bring vetted, organized academic content to educators on sites they already use.

Districts around the country, meanwhile, are testing open resources as alternatives to traditional commercial content. State efforts such as EngageNY are pushing open content to audiences around the country. Initial funding for EngageNY was provided by the federal Race to the Top program, a major effort championed by Duncan.

  • Tech Development Through Competitive Grants

The Race to the Top program, as well as the Investing in Innovation (i3) program, both created opportunities for applicants to use federal money to bring digital strategies to the classroom.The upshot of these efforts on school technology probably won't be known for some time. But it's clear that many districts incorporated tech in their plans to refashion teaching and learning.

For instance, an EdWeek analysis last year of grants awarded to school districts through Race to the Top found that many of them used the money to design "personalized learning" tech-based strategies for helping schools and students.

  • Public Backing for Ed-Tech's Ability to Help Students and Schools

Through the secretary's use of the bully pulpit, and through the plans laid out by his agency in its national ed-tech plans, Duncan and many of his staff conveyed that they believed in the power of digital tools and systems to fundamentally change and help schools—even if they recognized that progress was far too slow, maintained Krueger. 

"From the moment this administration came in, they saw technology as a catalyst for a different kind of learning," Krueger said.

That's my working list. Now it's your turn: What did I miss?

See also:

Follow @EdWeekSCavanagh and @EdWeekIandI for the latest news on industry and innovation in education


Star Ledger – Violence in N.J. schools: 5 facts we learned from new report

By Kelly Heyboer | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on October 14, 2015 at 12:30 PM, updated October 14, 2015 at 12:31 PM

TRENTON — Cases of violence, vandalism and substance abuse in New Jersey schools fell slightly last year as districts stepped up training and programs to combat bullying, according to a new report.

New Jersey schools self-reported 18,332 incidents – ranging from students with handguns to marijuana possession and verbal harassment – during the 2014-15 school year. That is a 4 percent decrease compared to the previous year.

"I'm pleased to see school districts are reporting a steady, continued decrease in harmful incidents. The efforts at the local level, coupled with initiatives at the state level, help to promote a safe and supportive learning environment in schools," said state Education Commissioner David Hespe.

RELATED: N.J. violence commission report puts spotlight on mental illness, gun violence

The state education department gathers the violence, vandalism and substance abuse data each year and presents it to the state Legislature and Gov. Chris Christie. Totals for each county and school district can be found on the education department's website.

Among the findings in this year's report:

Most bullying happens in middle school.

New Jersey rewrote the rules on reporting bullying incidents several years ago, requiring schools to do a better job combating harassment and intimidation.

Last year, schools reported 6,214 cases of harassment, intimidation and bullying – representing about a third of all incidents reported in New Jersey schools.

The number of bullying incidents peaked in middle school, as it has in previous years, state officials said.

Meanwhile, New Jersey schools continued to report increases in anti-bullying programs and training sessions.

Marijuana is the top drug among students, by far.

Schools reported 2,292 cases involving marijuana last year, a slight decrease. But pot remains the top reported drug among students.

"I'm pleased to see school districts are reporting a steady, continued decrease in harmful incidents," Hespe said.

Alcohol, with 405 cases, was the next highest reported substance. Other drugs were rare. Heroin and other opioids were reported 62 times statewide. There were also 17 cases involving cocaine and crack and 23 cases involving synthetic or designer drugs.

Steriod cases were also rarely reported, with only one incident recorded last year. 

More fights were reported.

Fights were the most commonly reported violent incident by schools, with 3,122 incidents last year, a 3 percent increase.

The number of reported assaults (2,639 incidents) and threats (1,281 incidents) fell slightly. There were also 192 sex assaults reported by schools, about the same as last year.

Handguns in schools are rare, but air gun and imitation gun incidents rose.

Schools reported six cases of handguns last year. But the number of students bringing air guns, pellet guns and BB guns on or near school grounds rose to 110 cases, compared to 81 the previous year.

The number of reports of fake guns by schools rose slightly to 28 incidents last year.

Suspension was the top punishment in bullying cases.

Students caught bullying, harassing or intimidating classmates were most commonly given out-of-school suspensions, followed closely by detention and in-school suspensions. Schools reported three students were expelled for bullying last year.

Schools also offered "remedial" actions to students caught bullying, including 4,513 cases of individual counseling and 4,344 parent conferences. Districts reported 59 students were transferred to another school after they were cited in bullying cases.

Kelly Heyboer may be reached at kheyboer@njadvancemedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @KellyHeyboer. Find NJ.com on Facebook.

Star Ledger - Charter school network announces plans to expand in Newark

By Dan Ivers | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 
Email the author | Follow on Twitter 
on October 14, 2015 at 1:18 PM, updated October 14, 2015 at 2:52 PM NJ Advance Media for NJ.com 

NEWARK – The KIPP charter school network is planning to open five new schools in Newark in the years to come – a decision that is likely to deepen an already sizeable divide in city education circles.

The organization announced its plans Wednesday morning at TEAM Academy, the first of its Newark schools, saying it will file an application to the state Department of Education on Thursday to renew its certification and seek permission for the expansion.

If successful, the plan would give KIPP the ability to operate up to 15 schools in Newark, and to add 5,440 new seats, nearly tripling their current enrollment of approximately 3,200.

In a statement, KIPP Executive Director Ryan Hill said the applications are the result of sustained success at the privately run schools that have consistently convinced parents to enroll their children there, and created a waiting list thousands of names deep.

"Today's filing represents an affirmation of our commitment to the families we already serve, and those who have made it clear that they want to be a part of the KIPP New Jersey family as well," he said.

MORE: State: Jersey City decision has 'no bearing' on Newark schools' path

The announcement is the latest sign that steady climb of charters, which now enroll nearly 40 percent of Newark children, shows no sign of letting up. New York-based Uncommon Schools recently filed an application with city planning officials toestablish a 12th North Star Academy school in the city on a former Star-Ledger property in the Central Ward.

But many education advocates argue that the growth of charters have made things anything but steady for the city's public schools. Falling enrollment in the state-controlled district has forced many of the facilities to shut down, and students in those that remain often face overcrowding or other adverse conditions.

South Ward Councilman John Sharpe James, who attended this morning's announcement along with council colleagues Gayle Chaneyfield Jenkins, Anibal Ramos Jr. and Eddie Osborne, said he was uneasy about any charter expansions impact on a perception that students in public schools were being left behind.

"I've never been anti-charter, but all of the expansion without a solution for the public schools is tearing our community apart," he said. "What is the state's solution? We're not hearing the answers."

Superintendent of Schools Christopher Cerf, a longtime school reform advocate and former state education commissioner now overseeing the public school district, declined to comment, saying he had not seen KIPP's application.

KIPP spokeswoman Jessica Shearer said the network expects to receive a decision on both its renewal and proposed expansion by March. The proposed five new schools would include two elementary schools, two middle schools and one high school, which would likely be placed in the South, West and Central Wards.

The organization is currently approved to operate up to 10 schools in the city. Only eight are currently in use, though another building on Littleton Avenue in the West Ward is currently under construction.

Newark School Advisory Board member Rashon Hasan, who also attended Wednesday morning's announcement, said he felt that efforts to stem the expansion of charters were unlikely to bear fruit given the demand from families. However, he resolved to ensure that the city's educational system did not devolve into a stark contrast of haves and have-nots.

"At the end of the day, it's our job to make sure that every school in the city of Newark is a great school," he said.

Dan Ivers may be reached at divers@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @DanIversNJ. Find NJ.com on Facebook.



OCTOBER 15, 2015

Teachers, educators and students will offer their take on what has changed – and what has remained the same – in city’s classrooms

Few books have shaken up the education establishment in New Jersey quite like “The Prize.”

Written by former Washington Post reporter Dale Russakoff, the best-selling book released this summer is an unsparing accounting of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s $100 million donation to the state-run Newark public schools -- and all the drama and politics that surrounded it.

Now, NJ Spotlight provides a new take, as Russakoff joins our ”NJ Spotlight on Cities” conference tomorrow at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center to moderate her own discussion of the book with those on the frontline of the topic: teachers and educators.


What do they think? How has education changed in the five years since the Zuckerberg gift was announced on “Oprah” and touted as a transformative force in the city’s public education? And how have things not changed in Newark’s schools in the ensuing years?

Russakoff will be back in the reporter’s seat, posing questions to several key figures in her book: Dominique Lee, head of the innovative Brick Avon School in the Newark district; Joanna Belcher, a leader in the KIPP charter school network; and Princess Fils Aime, a kindergarten teacher who proved to be a hero in Russakoff’s narrative.

And those attending the conference will get an extra bonus, immediately after the Russakoff-led discussion, when two students from model high schools in the district -- Dennis Rodriguez, a student at the Newark Leadership Academy, and Aaliyah Armani Barnes from Newark’s Bard High School -- will offer their perspectives on growing up on the city and attending its schools.

In addition, throughout the conference, we will solicit questions that you want answered by panelists and others about New Jersey and the fate of our cities.

The conference is focusing on education, economic development, and quality of life, but we are open to all inquiries and hope to include them throughout the day and into the future.

Feel free to post questions or comments at the end of this article, or write to us at oncities@njspotlight.com.

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