Posts tagged ‘Massachusetts’

March 20, 2013

Quick Links – Pay to play in New York; academic standards rule at elite colleges; Massachusetts charter schools

by Grace

◊◊◊  Pay to play outlawed in N.Y., for now (lohud.com)

Unlike most states, including nearby Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, New York does not currently allow schools to charge students extra to participate in extracurricular programs.  But as the tax cap continues to put pressure on school spending, New York might join other states in requiring students to “pay to play”.

State Assemblywoman Amy Paulin, D-Scarsdale, expresses the concerns of many.

“I believe extracurricular activities provide children with extra opportunities and extra potential for learning. There’s enough disparity for poor families. They already have a disadvantage,” she said. “In my mind, pay-to-play means we all pay later on.”

The rules vary widely across the country, with some states/districts only requiring athletes to pay.  Even in New York, the spirit of the law seems to be violated in some cases.  For example, a student must pay $90 or sell program ads as a condition of participating in our local high school play.  Isn’t that a form of pay-to-play?

◊◊◊  In their first cut for admissions, academic standards rule for most elite colleges.

Before they’re holistic, colleges look at grades and test scores.

… The most common winnowing process (used by 76 percent of the colleges that answered Rubin) is some measure of academic merit. This may be based on grades, rigor of high school courses, test scores and so forth. While there is some difference in the relative weight given to various factors, there is a straightforward value on doing better than others in whatever formula the college uses.

The survey included responses from “63 of the 75 most competitive colleges, mostly private, with just a few public flagships”.

◊◊◊  Massachusetts has seen a 20% increase in charter enrollment over the last four years.

Legislation to eliminate a cap on the number of charter schools has been proposed by Democrat state senators.

BOSTON—Massachusetts lawmakers are considering eliminating a cap on the number of charter schools that can operate in the lowest-performing school districts, including here in the capital city.

While other states also have weighed lifting caps, charter advocates point to left-leaning Massachusetts as a somewhat unlikely model for the movement. “This demonstrates that charter schools are a viable reform,” said Nina Rees, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, a nonprofit aimed at advancing the movement. “If it can happen in Massachusetts, it can happen anywhere.”…

The 107,000-member Massachusetts Teachers Association is likely to oppose the bill, said union president Paul Toner. Under state law, schools’ funding is linked to the number of attending students, so charter schools divert much-needed funds from traditional schools, he said….

Because other states look to Massachusetts—where students overall routinely rank at the top of national and international tests—for lessons on academic achievement and innovation, the Bay State’s policies on charter schools are being followed closely, former Florida education commissioner Gerard Robinson told charter advocates gathered in Boston recently.

Nationally, charter schools are educating more than 2.3 million students in the 2012-13 school year, 275,000 more than last year, the largest single-year jump since the movement began 20 years ago, according to the National Alliance for Charter Schools.

More than 31,000 Massachusetts students attend charter schools, an increase of 20% in the past four years. …

Unlike many other states, advocates say, Massachusetts’ governance system designates state education officials as sole authorizers of independently run charter schools, overruling local mayors and unions.

December 11, 2012

Wisconsin law supporting phonics instruction will be better for students and teachers

by Grace

Sandra Stotsky writes that Wisconsin’s “Read to Lead” education reform law enacted earlier this year will have benefits for both students and teachers.  Among other provisions, this law steers education schools to provide instruction on the most effective methods of early reading instruction.  The expected benefits will be improved reading levels for students and more objective evaluations for teachers.

Education schools have been slow to include phonics as part of training new teachers.

Imagine a physics program that won’t teach the theory of relativity. Or an English department that shuns Shakespeare. That would be equivalent to how U.S. schools of education treat the most effective method for teaching beginning reading.

That method is called decoding, the shorthand word for the scientifically tested techniques for teaching children the relationships between symbols and sounds, often just called phonics. Reformers have fought for generations to have decoding skills taught systematically and directly, but schools of education will have none of it.

Instead, the education establishment prefers to teach beginning readers to guess at the identification of a written word using its context — the so-called whole-language approach. The people who run education schools hate the “code” because they say it requires a repetition of boring exercises — “drill and kill” — turning children off and discouraging them from “reading with meaning.” There has never been evidence for this view, however.

Wisconsin joins a few states, including Massachusetts, in making changes that require new teachers to pass the MTEL Foundations Of Reading Test, an exam that tests their knowledge of phonics instruction.

… The state Legislature passed a bill that will help ensure that teachers no longer receive inadequate training in their preparation and professional development. The Wisconsin Reading Coalition, the Wisconsin branch of the International Dyslexia Association, and a group of parents, educators, psychologists and other professionals supported the measure….

Supported by their state Department of Public Instruction, Wisconsin’s legislators followed the path taken first by Massachusetts, then by Connecticut in 2008, and most recently by Minnesota in 2011, to require the tests. Several other states are considering the requirement, as well.

The new law has positive implications for evaluating teachers.

Their efforts have broad implications. Many states are looking for objective ways to evaluate teachers at all levels. But the efforts by federal education officials to prod states into working out sound teacher-evaluation plans seem to be missing an important connection.

The policy makers in Washington want states to develop an appropriate professional way to determine which teachers are ineffective — a reasonable goal. But they have not made it clear that such evaluations need to judge whether a lack of adequate progress in children’s beginning-reading skills is the result of teacher incompetence or of deficient training….

Once the bill is signed into law and begins to affect training, Wisconsin will be able to evaluate teachers of beginning reading on their skills without worrying if they lack professional knowledge that could easily have been taught in their coursework. Let’s hope the work of the reformers in Wisconsin spreads to most other states.

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The introduction in recent years of “balanced literacy” to replace whole language instruction has been a step in the right direction, but limited in that it does not offer “systematic and explicit phonics instruction“.

Education schools whose coursework was once limited to whole-language approaches now have to explain the research support for a code-emphasis method and what systematic instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics means in practice. The schools have done this grudgingly, limiting their effort to test preparation workshops or including it as a small part of a “balanced literacy” approach that allows teachers to teach phonics but only in context, thereby ensuring that it can’t be taught systematically.

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