December 15, 2009

December 15, 2009


Update for December 15, 2009 — From Mary Cecconi, Executive Director

In This Issue

Legislative Kick-off
State Budget Deficit
Race to the Top

“These are all our children and we
will profit by or pay for whatever they become.”

— James Baldwin

Important Dates

Saturday, January 23, 2010, 9 am
Parents United’s Legislative Kick-off
TIES Building, St. Paul (directions)

Print and distribute the flyer at your next parent group meeting!

Thursday, February 4, 2010: Legislative Session Begins

Legislative Kick-off
Mark your calendar for the morning of January 23 and come take part in this sharing of what we know about the upcoming legislative session and be part of some crystal ball moments! All wisdom welcome!!

February 4 is the beginning of the 2010 legislative session, and it will by all accounts be a very difficult one. A growing state budget deficit, vanishing-in-a-year federal funding that was used to backfill the state budget, possible cuts to school funding and local government aid, federal health care legislation that will affect our state budget, and of course a lame duck governor and an election where all Constitutional, House and Senate seats are up!

These aligning stars do not come around often, so let’s talk about it. What is happening in your districts? What are you hearing? What kind of messages should we be using about our schools? What kinds of cuts will you see? Spend two hours together to Learn, Network and Act.

In this issue

 

State budget deficit
This is the kind of news that makes you want to climb back into bed and pull the covers over your head. Too bad our kids can’t do that for the next 80 or so years that they will travel on this earth. I just want to remind folks that Childhood has no Rewind.

I know it’s tough, but it won’t get better anytime soon and if we don’t invest in the basics for our state, our kids will wonder where we were for them—and we will wonder how to survive.

Another way to think about it…It’s not just school funding!
Local Government Aid (LGA) and school funding
I have been spending a great deal of time thinking about this issue. We hear about cuts to LGA and some seem to think local governments are getting a handout from the state. I think this is analogous to the situation for public schools.

When the state wanted to reduce property taxes, they passed the homestead credit tax. Homesteaded houses would pay less in property tax. Property tax revenues would be reduced, but state revenue would be shared with local municipalities so local units of government could still provide needed services for their communities like snow plowing, police and fire services.  Local governments were given discretionary authority to levy local property taxes for the lion’s share of local services, but the shared LGA dollars would help make up the difference. The deal was struck between local governments and the state.

For schools, the 1970’s passage of the Minnesota Miracle had the state provide adequate dollars for schools and if a local community was interested in something more, they would have to gain the permission from their voters—therefore voter-approved levies.

Another round of budget deficits means that the state does not have the revenue to keep these promises to either local governments or to school districts.

In this issue

 

Race to the Top Grants: Changes to the process
Our entire November update was dedicated to Race to the Top Grants (RTTT). Since that time, “Some 1,161 commenters submitted thousands of unique comments, ranging from one paragraph to 67 pages. Educators and members of the public from every State and the District of Columbia submitted comments, and the commenters included parents, teachers, principals, superintendents, school board members, chief state school officers, and governors. This outpouring of thoughtful input prompted the Department to make numerous changes and improvements to the final application” (Arne Duncan, U.S. Secretary of Education).

A reminder as to what RTTT grants are: Through these grants, the federal government is asking States to advance reforms in four specific areas:

  • Adopting standards and assessments that prepare students to succeed in college and the workplace and to compete in the global economy;
  • Building data systems that measure student growth and success, and inform teachers and principals about how they can improve instruction;
  • Recruiting, developing, rewarding, and retaining effective teachers and principals, especially where they are needed most; and
  • Turning around our lowest-achieving schools.

The grants will be awarded to States that are leading the way with ambitious yet achievable plans for implementing coherent, compelling, and comprehensive education reform. Race to the Top winners will help trail-blaze effective reforms and provide examples for States and local school districts throughout the country to follow as they, too, are hard at work on reforms that can transform our schools for decades to come. (Click here for source.)

In this issue

Here are a few of the substantial changes made from initial draft rules that I thought might interest you. (Link here to read more.) The following list is a paraphrasing of, and in some cases is lifted directly from, that document! You’ll notice that much of this is clarification language.

Note: The application deadline has been changed from December 2009 to January 19, 2010 with disbursements of the funds still in spring of 2010.

Changes that deal with the four reform areas:

Standards and assessments: Timing for states adopting common standards has moved from June 2010 to August 2010.

Data systems: This section was not meant to be all about statewide longitudinal data systems. The concern is also about local data systems, called “instructional improvement systems,” that allow districts to provide real time data to teachers and principals – data that will help them make better informed, day-to-day instructional decisions.

Great teachers and leaders: When building high quality evaluation systems that are used to inform key personnel decisions, the system needs to be designed to evaluate the effectiveness of teachers and principals based on multiple measures, with growth in student achievement as a significant factor.

These evaluations are the jumping off point for thinking about how to ensure that the most highly effective teachers and principals are in the schools, and working with the children, who need them the most. And the evaluation data is also used to inform effective and targeted professional development – and to assess the quality of teacher and principal preparation programs.

School turnaround:

  • People thought the U.S. Dept.of Education believed that charter schools were a “silver bullet” solution to school turnaround problems. According to this newest release: “In fact we believed that district leaders are responsible for this critical work, and that districts should have, as core competencies, the ability to turn around persistently low-achieving schools or to shut them down and open new ones in their place. Charters remain important potential partners to districts.”
  • States may create one list of turnaround schools, and choose to organize and align their funding sources in whatever ways work best for them.
  • All four school intervention models are allowed – although in large districts with 10 or more turnarounds, the “transformation” model cannot be used in more than 50% of the schools. The four intervention models:
    1) reconstituting the school;
    2)  closing the school;
    3) chartering it or turning it over to an Education Management Organization (EMO); 
    4) “To the extent that these strategies are not possible, implementing a school transformation model that includes: Hiring a new principal, measuring teacher and principal effectiveness, rewarding effective teachers and principals, and improving strategies for recruitment, retention, and professional development; implementing comprehensive instructional reform, including an improved instructional program and differentiated instruction; and extending learning time and community-oriented supports, including more time for students to learn and for teachers to collaborate, more time for enrichment activities, and on-going mechanisms for family and community engagement.”

The last section–the General section–includes three criteria:

  • The first concerns States making education funding a priority, both equitable funding and maintenance of effort. In recognition of the very tough economic year everyone has experienced, this criterion is not heavily weighted.
  • The second criterion is the charter criterion. These have not changed substantially, though the authorizer criterion was strengthened. They also added a fifth part to this criterion, which will give States credit if they enable innovative, autonomous schools – other than charters – to exist.
  • Finally, the third criterion asks States to tell what laws, regulations or policies they have in place – other than those asked about in the application – that they believe have contributed to creating conditions in the State that are conducive to education reform. Not only is this an acknowledgment that the list of critical conditions goes well beyond those asked about in the application, it is also the Department’s initial attempt to start gathering from States their thoughts on what works.

In this issue

Check out all the News and Hot Topics at our website!

Childhood has no rewind: Our children cannot go back to grade school and
get another education when times are better and we all have more to give.
When the playground is empty and the children are gone,
either we will have sacrificed for them, or we won’t.”
                                                                           
—from a Parents United poster

Questions? Email Mary Cecconi

Parents United for Public Schools
1667 Snelling Avenue N., St. Paul, MN 55108
651-999-7391
www.parentsunited.org