Some of the News Fit to Print
CRUCIBLE OF CHANGE IN MEMPHIS AS STATE TAKES ON FAILING SCHOOLS
Last fall, Tennessee began removing schools with the lowest student test scores and graduation rates from the oversight of local school boards and pooling them in a special state-run district. Memphis, where the vast majority of public school students are black and from poor families, is ground zero: 80 percent of the bottom-ranked schools in the state are here. Tennessee’s Achievement School District, founded as part of the state’s effort to qualify for the Obama administration’s Race to the Top grant, is one of a small handful of state-run districts intended to rejuvenate chronically struggling schools. The achievement district is a veritable petri dish of practices favored by data-driven reformers across the country and fiercely criticized by teachers’ unions and some parent groups. Most of the schools will be run by charter operators. All will emphasize frequent testing and data analysis. Many are instituting performance pay for teachers and longer school days, and about a fifth of the new district’s recruits come from Teach for America. The article is in The New York Times.
WHAT WOULD HAPPEN IF THE STATE TOOK OVER YOUR SCHOOL DISTRICT?
The looming prospects of state takeovers are making headlines from Maryland to Ohio, as lawmakers express frustration with the glacial pace of school improvement and stagnant student achievement. Proponents of state takeovers say this drastic measure is the best way of promoting radical change in failing schools, improving accountability, and giving students access to better programs and services. State officials contend there must be consequences when schools continue to fall short of expectations, and that they have a constitutional obligation to step in. In some cases that means replacing the superintendent with a new (and ideally more effective) leader, and reallocating resources to target the areas of greatest need. But critics contend that there can be significant downsides, including an over-reliance on test scores as the determining factor in whether a takeover is warranted. These takeovers also often focus on reorganizing the central office, which can have little direct impact on whether schools do a better job of meeting the needs of struggling students critics contend. The article is in The Atlantic.
STATES LOOK TO ‘IMPROVING THE PIPELINE’ ON TEACHER QUALITY
Although David Rock didn’t pursue his own dream to become a teacher, he is now using his position as the dean of the School of Education at the University of Mississippi to train and graduate some of the best new instructors in the country. To that end he has pioneered the Mississippi Excellence in Teaching program thanks to a $13 million grant from Robert M Hearin Support Foundation that will give 20 incoming students full scholarships in exchange for a commitment to teach within the state for the first five years after they graduate. School around the country are having a difficult time retaining new teachers as more than half typically leave the profession before their first five years are up. That is the reason why MET is asking for such a long commitment – the popular Teach for America only requires three years – since learning on the job is a large part of what makes a teacher successful in the long run. And MET gradates will get a lot of chances to learn, since they’ll be assigned to some of the toughest schools in the state – those located in minority and low-income neighborhoods. The article is in Education News.
ABOUT HIGHER ED
STANFORD TO HELP BUILD EDX MOOC PLATFORM
Stanford University will team with a nonprofit founded by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University to develop an open-source Web platform for free online college courses. The Stanford alliance with the nonprofit venture edX, announced early Wednesday, signaled a new twist in what has become a race to open up the highest levels of higher education to the world. The nonprofit edX, which launched nearly a year ago, offers MOOCs from Harvard, MIT and other elite universities. Stanford has no plans to put its own courses on edX. But the university will team with edX developers on a platform that edX hopes will become “the Linux of learning,” referring to a major open-source computer operating system. The article is in The Washington Post.
STARTUP TAKES AIM AT OLD-SCHOOL WAYS
Tim Cook is fighting the sky-high cost of a college education by constructing his own school here without expensive buildings or well-paid deans. Classes are taught in local coffee shops. The administrative staff of two works in a church basement. The Saxifrage School, Mr. Cook's two-year old experiment, is seeking to upend the traditional notion that college students need a sequestered, ivy-covered campus—and will endure the price tag that comes with it. He is gambling that for a nominal tuition—$395 a class—they will use the public library, the neighborhood YMCA and existing apartment buildings to study, play and live in. With just four classes and 60 part-time students so far, Saxifrage is still a long way from competing with established universities. It doesn't yet offer a degree or have accreditation. But it reflects a larger antiestablishment surge beginning to reshape higher education. In the last decade, the average cost of a public four-year school including tuition and fees has climbed to $17,860 a year from $12,304 in 2012 dollars. Student debt has soared as a result, and some are looking beyond traditional institutions. The article is in The Wall Street Journal.