Education News Round-Up

This week’s Education News Round-Up focuses on education reform at various federal, state and community levels as the summer enters its final stretch and educators prepare for the coming school year. Read on for the latest in the world of education!

Obama Announces the Nation’s First African-American Education Office

President Obama announced to the National Urban League his plans to create the first White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans. The executive order will coordinate communities and federal agencies to improve the quality of education for African American students and place greater emphasis on college readiness. The goal is to produce a “more effective continuum” of educational programs “so that every child has greater access to a complete and competitive education from the time they’re born all through the time they get a career.”

According to the president, “A higher education in the 21st century cannot be a luxury. It is a vital necessity that every American should be able to afford. I want all these young people to be getting a higher education, and I don’t want them loaded up with tens of thousands of dollars of debt just to get an education. That’s how we make America great.”

How Do States Become Exempt from No Child Left Behind?

The controversial law for education reform, No Child Left Behind, expired in 2007, and Congress has yet to renew it. As a result, the Obama Administration has granted waivers from the most rigorous education standards of the law to 32 states and the District of Columbia. Waivers are granted providing the state proposes its own plan for education reform. Now, a report by the Center for American Progress examines the different plans states have proposed.

Each state must have a plan for preparing students for college and careers, and focus their standards for teacher accountability on students’ standardized test scores. The New York Times reports that states could “select from a menu of new goals.” The Center for American Progress also reports that eight states pledged to reduce the percentage of students testing below grade level in reading and math by half in six years.

Most states deviated significantly from the standards of No Child Left Behind. Half of the states rejected federal funding to lengthen the school day, though many have committed to pursuing education reform without additional funding. The report also outlines a number of suggestions for monitoring the progress of each states’ plan and ensuring a country-wide improvement of the education system.

Harvard Study Suggests Merit-Based Pay for Teachers Works
Determining teacher salary by teacher performance has been hotly contested by teachers’ unions and those skeptical of measuring effectiveness by standardized test scores. But a new study by Harvard, the University of Chicago and UC San Diego finds that teachers who are paid based on merit perform better than those who aren’t. According to The Washington Post: “The authors split teachers in the study into a control group, who were not offered any rewards, a ‘gain’ group, which was promised rewards of up to $8,000 at the end of the school year, and a ‘loss’ group, which was given $4,000 upfront and asked to pay back any rewards they did not earn. … The conclusion: It worked, and it worked almost twice as well when the money was given at the start and then taken away.”

New Teacher Certification Model Emphasizes Practice Over Theory
More than 25 states are beginning to experiment with new requirements for becoming a teacher. This new model of teacher certification focuses on a practical approach that places teachers in the classroom and requires them to prove themselves by practicing their teaching methods. Written tests and essays won’t determine if a teacher is qualified; they will become certified through through lesson plans, homework assignments and videotaped instruction sessions.

New York, Minnesota, Washington, Illinois, Ohio and Tennessee, along with about 20 other states, are experimenting with ways to implement this new model of teacher preparation for the 2014 school year. In New York, this will affect approximately 62,000 aspiring teachers. The state offers various paths to alternative certification, though candidates must usually complete a state-approved undergraduate program and pass three tests. This new system replaces two of the three exams.

17-Year-Old Writes Book About Education Reform
Nikhil Goyal is a 17-year-old student from Syosset High School in New York and has already made public his views on the education system by petitioning to become a student member of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Education Reform Committee. He has also written a book, One Size Does Not Fit All: A Student’s Assessment of School, which discusses solutions for education reform that include repealing No Child Left Behind, abolishing Race to the Top and de-emphasizing testing. In an interview with Fox Business, Nikhil says that the school system still follows the industrial model of the early 20th century and must be modernized in order to improve the quality of education. He would like to see a classroom model that operates like a start-up by facilitating collaboration between students and teachers through group work.

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