Education Week - January 22, 2014 - (Page 6)

Funds to End For Little Rock Desegregation By Evie Blad A federal judge approved a settlement be- tween Arkansas and three Little Rock-area school districts that sets an end date for decades of state desegregation aid that has totalled roughly $1 billion. Some praised the agreement as the end of a long chapter in the history of a city whose struggles with school segregation date back to the tumultuous 1957 integration of Central High School by nine black students. That event, following on the heels of the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark 1954 ruling in Brown v. Board of Education, was seen as pivotal in the national movement to desegregate schools. "Let's put this case in the books and move on with being partners in education rather than adversaries in court," Arkansas Attorney General Dustin B. McDaniel said after U.S. District Judge D. Price Marshall Jr., the latest judge to oversee the case, approved the agreement in a Jan. 13 bench ruling. Others lamented persistent achievement gaps between black students and their higherachieving white peers in the Little Rock area and said progress toward integration could erode without continued financial support and court oversight. "The situation is pretty much the same as it was many years ago when we began," John W. Walker, an attorney who represents an intervening group of black students in the case, told reporters after the hearing. The agreement replaces a 1989 settlement under which the state collectively paid the Little Rock, North Little Rock, and Pulaski County Special districts about $70 million annually to support programs designed to rebalance the racial composition among the three school systems, including interdistrict magnet schools and transportation for students from areas where they are the majority racial group to schools where they are in the minority. That settlement followed a 1982 lawsuit by the Little Rock school district, which alleged that the state fostered policies that led to concentrations of black student enrollment in the city's public schools. Under the newly approved agreement, the state will continue providing the desegregation aid for four years, with the fourth year's funding earmarked for facilities projects in the school systems. The Pulaski County Special School District-the only one of the three that hasn't been deemed fully unitary, or in compliance with its court-approved desegregation plan- will work with the black student intervenor group to meet its remaining desegregation goals, which include improving the poor conditions of facilities in parts of the district that enroll more black students and evening out disparate discipline rates, Superintendent Jerry D. Guess said. 'Served Its Purpose' Mr. Guess, a longtime Arkansas educator, previously led the state's Camden district as it achieved unitary status. "I believe that this case has served a very important role in Arkansas education," Mr. Guess said of the Little Rock case. "It has kept the issue of racial equity before leaders, not only in Pulaski County, but across the state. As Judge Marshall said, it has served its purpose, and it's time to move on." The districts will adjust to the funding loss as they also ease out of the programs created by the 1989 plan, said Mr. Guess. The new agreement allows for the city of Jacksonville, which is a part of the county system, to form its own district. The town's leaders have long argued that independence will allow the community to raise property taxes Union, District Clash in Pittsburgh Over Teacher Evaluation By Stephen Sawchuk A dispute in Pittsburgh between the school district and teachers' union over the city's jointly designed teacher-evaluation system shows the stark distinction between ambitious policy plans and implementation- a lesson for an active philanthropic community that has invested millions of dollars in rethinking evaluation nationwide. "I thought we were partners in reform, but the partnership [with the union] has been rocky, let's just say that," Superintendent Linda S. Lane said. "In theory, it sounds fine, but when it gets to the execution, it's tough." The disagreement concerns the 26,000-student district's decision to set the bar so that an estimated 9 percent of teachers would receive the lowest evaluation score. The Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers insists that that figure is too high. The new system has largely been funded out of a $40 million grant from the Seattle-based Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which na- tionwide has put nearly $700 million into grants to reshape the teaching profession. (The Gates Foundation also supports Education Week's coverage of business and K-12 innovation.) With no immediate resolution in sight, concerns are brewing that the dispute could scotch the remaining $15.8 million in the grant, though the Gates Foundation indicates that the funding is not yet in jeopardy. Scoring Snafus? The union and district spent four years devising a new evaluation system-the centerpiece of a new approach to teacher promotion and pay in the city. It influenced the shape of a 2010 teachers' contract, hailed then as a landmark agreement and proof of what a collaborative relationship could yield. Those paper victories appear to be falling victim to reality. At issue is where to set the score benchmarks to determine whether teachers pass or fail their evaluations. Ms. Lane said she has twice lowered the bar on the assessment 6 | EDUCATION WEEK | January 22, 2014 | in response to teachers' concerns. To be deemed proficient, teachers now need to earn at least half of the 300 total points available on the system, which couples several observations of teachers with data from student test scores and surveys. Those scoring fewer than 140 points would earn a "failing" rating, a designation that can trigger dismissal after two years. Last year, in a dry run of sorts for the evaluation system, the district gave teachers an advanced look at how they'd fare. Under the score benchmarks set by the superintendent, some 9 percent of teachers would have been in the lowest category. Eighty-five percent would have passed muster, while another 5 percent would have been in the secondlowest category. The union protested, contending that at that level, the number of teachers deemed failing would be 10 times higher than the national average, thought to be below 1 percent of teachers. Representatives from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation expressed disappointment at the impasse, declaring the evaluation framework "one of best in the country for supporting, developing, and evaluating teachers." "It is now time for implementation, and I am frankly puzzled about why there would be objections to this very approach that gives even the lowest-performing teachers intensive support and two years to improve their practice," Vicki Phillips, the director of Gates' college and career-ready strategy, said in a statement. "We have not made any decisions about the future of the grant, but we are continuing to watch this very carefully." Tension Mounts It is not the first quarrel between the district and the union over teacher-related policies. In 2011, Ms. Lane scuttled a program for preparing new teachers after she could not get the union to agree that graduates would be sheltered from senioritybased layoff policies in the contract. A year later, the two again sparred over whether the data gathered on teacher performance should be factored into furloughs. Teachers have received "value added" information on their performance, but while that data now count towards bonus pay and promotion, it only this year began to be factored into evaluations. Some of the tension might be re- flect the changing context in Pittsburgh. Both the superintendent and union chief who negotiated the Gates-funded plan have since moved on. The national appetite for such initiatives has changed, too, with more teachers criticizing evaluations based on test scores and the role of the Gates Foundation and others in funding those systems. The leadership of the American Federation of Teachers, of which the Pittsburgh union is an affiliate, has itself been growing gradually more critical of testing. Its president, Randi Weingarten, cited the Pittsburgh situation as one factor behind her recent decision to oppose the use of value-added infor

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - January 22, 2014

Education Week - January 22, 2014
50 Years Later, Verdicts Are Mixed On the Nation’s War on Poverty
A K-12 Titan in Congress to Move On
Fla. Pushes Longer Day With More Reading In Struggling Schools
Personal Danger of Data Breaches Prompts Action
News in Brief
Report Roundup
Funds to End For Little Rock Desegregation
Union, District Clash in Pittsburgh Over Teacher Evaluation
Revised GED Ushers in New Era With More Testing Competition
In Five States, Districts Bail Out on Race to the Top Grants
K-12 Publishing, Ed-Tech Markets Experiencing Rising Revenues
Blogs of the Week
Still Segregated After 50 Years: A Visit To Cincinnati’s West End
Among States, Spending Gaps Have Widened
Spending Plan Aims to Relieve Some K-12 ‘Sequester’ Pain
Calif. Transgender Law Takes Effect In Schools, Amid Efforts to Repeal It
State of the States
Wash. Governor Pledges School Aid Boost
BRUCE FULLER: Is Small Beautiful? New York’s tiny high schools lift kids, harden segregation
RUFINA HERNÁNDEZ: A Common Cause for the Common Core
JEFFREY D. WILHELM & MICHAEL W. SMITH: Don’t Underestimate the Power of Pleasure Reading
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
XU ZHAO, HELEN HASTE, & ROBERT L. SELMAN: Questionable Lessons From China’s Recent History of Education Reform

Education Week - January 22, 2014