Week of February 2, 2015

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Teacher Prep

A federal proposal to improve monitoring of teacher-preparation programs had drawn more than 2,300 public comments by the end of January, much of it critical feedback reflecting coordinated opposition from higher education officials. Ed Week covers main themes among the complaints. Despite major pushback from these groups, the Wall Street Journal reports that a coalition of teacher-preparation groups came together in support of the federal plan to track how well new teachers fare as they start teaching in the classroom.

Interested in understanding a bit more about why teacher prep programs are drawing increasing scrutiny from government agencies and advocacy organizations? Take a look at the Heartland Institute article for a good recap of concerns regarding the role of states and broadly low standards within teacher prep programs.

District Matters

Recently, both Boston and Philadelphia have made moves towardslonger school days. As Education Week reports, these districts represent a trend. Boston’s decision is just “the latest in a steady trickle of school districts looking to expand extended-learning-time initiatives systemwide.” Curious about teachers’ work days? Use the calendar questions in our Teacher Contract Database to see what they look like across the country.

Clark County School District in Nevada istaking a novel approach to address a teacher shortage. The superintendent of the district ziplined above a busy area in Las Vegas dressed as Clark Kent to kick of the district’s new campaign for teachers, “Calling All Heroes”. The Las Vegas Sun has the full story, including pictures. The district reports they’ll need to hire 2,600 teachers before school starts in August; they may need the whole Justice League to pitch in.

State Matters

Last Wednesday’s release of Doing the Math on Teacher Pensions: How to Protect Teachers and Taxpayers, made several appearances in the news this week. A couple of our favorites include aForbes article which looks at the number of teachers who walk away with their benefits, and a CBS story which focuses on the staggering half-trillion dollars of teacher pension debt.

In Tennessee, the Department of Education is fine-tuning the Tennessee Value Added Assessment System in response to educators’ feedback. The system is a key input in the state’s teacher evaluation, currently accounting for up to 35 percent of evaluation scores. As Chalkbeat Tennessee reports, one major change will be comparing student growth with test scores of comparable students in the current year, rather than using comparable student scores from previous years. 

The New Mexico Court of Appeals rejected a petition that argued the state’s teacher evaluation system violates state law, the Albuquerque Journal reports. In 2012, Education Secretary-designate Hanna Skandera instituted a new evaluation system by administrative rule that included switching from a binary, pass/fail evaluation to one with five ratings. The new evaluation system also includes student achievement as a factor. Plaintiffs argued that the secretary had overstepped with these changes, but the court disagreed ruling that the changes were within the secretary’s lawful authority.

In Other Ed News

Six Tennessee school districts are borrowing strategies from across the globe to learn from peer teachers in classrooms next door. Chalkbeat Tennessee describes the approach in which teachers plan together and then observe each other providing suggestions and feedback. The program is managed by Vanderbilt University but has roots in Shanghai. As our own Sandi Jacobs points out in the article, more and more districts are looking for additional strategies to provide useful feedback to teachers.