County Schools to get laptops

System to invest $100,000 a year

*Andalusia Star News* written by Kendra Majors, Wednesday, December 9, 2015

 Covington County Schools to Get Laptops

Superintendent Shannon Driver said the board voted Monday night to purchase up to 250 laptop computers as a pilot for the long-range initiative.

“My recommendation is to start with the 10th grade and have a laptop computer for every kid in the classroom,” he said.

Driver said the goal of the initiative will be to give access to laptops for every student in grades three through 10th grade.

“We hope to get the laptops in the students’ hands by the end of January,” he said. “We will be incorporating it into the classroom for the second semester.”

Driver said the plan is to supply all the grades in the next three to five years.

“We will continue to add a set of laptops until we have one for each kid until we get to the elementary school,” he said.

Driver said the students would not be assigned the laptops to take home.

“They will use them in academic classrooms,” he said.

Driver said they were beginning in the upper grade levels because they typically have the fewest computers available.

“Our ultimate goal is to better equip our kids for jobs,” Driver said. “In most any job, they will have to operate some kind of computer program. We want to give our teachers the tools they need to better prepare our students for success.”

While other nearby school systems have implemented “1-to-1 initiatives,” where they supply iPads for their students, Driver said their goal is to better prepare students for careers.

“The iPad is a great tool for interactive learning,” he said. “We have a lot of these devices that our teachers already use in the classroom. They are using tablets extensively. We want to prepare our students for careers and most are built around computers.”

To prepare for the new initiative, the system just completed a $250,000 infrastructure upgrade.

ESEA Rewrite Passes Senate, Heads to the President's Desk

The end of NCLB?

ESEA Rewrite Passes Senate, Heads to President's Desk




Hear that collective whoop from the Capitol? That's the sound of education advocates and lawmakers cheering at the finish line as the first rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in more than a dozen years sails through Congress and on to the White House. 

The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved the rewrite of the withering No Child Left Behind Act—the current version of the ESEA—by a huge bipartisan margin, 85 to 12, mirroring the vote of 359 to 64 in the U.S. House of Representatives just days earlier. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill tomorrow.

But even as educators and policymakers toast the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act, the next set of battles—over how the measure will be regulated in Washington and implemented in states—may just be getting started. 

The bill, sponsored by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Reps. John Kline, R-Minn., and Bobby Scott, D-Va., would roll back the federal footprint in K-12 education for the first time in nearly a quarter century, putting states in the driver's seat when it comes to accountability, teacher evaluation, school turnarounds, and more.

At the same time, it seeks to maintain what Murray and Scott call important "guardrails" to fix flailing schools and help close the achievement gap between traditionally overlooked groups of students—those in poverty, racial minorities, students in special education, and English-language learners—and their peers. (Everything you ever wanted to know about the bill here.) 

And ESSA slims down the U.S. Department of Education—consolidating nearly 50 programs into a giant block grant—and aims to crack down on the U.S. Secretary of Education's authority when it comes to standards, assessments, school turnarounds, teacher evaluation, and other areas.

It's an open question how the prohibitions on the secretary's power will square with the bill's accountability requirements. Scott said last week he's confident the secretary of education will have enough power to enforce the new law.

But some policy analysts still see plenty of ambiguity and unanswered questions. (More on that below.)

Gearing Up For Implementation 

More important even than the regulatory process in Washington, though, may be the work that goes on in statehouses across the country over the next year as implementation begins.

Under ESSA, states will get to decide whether to stick with teacher evaluations through student outcomes (in place in 42 states and the District of Columbia) and the common-core standards in place in more than 40 states. The Obama administration pushed both those policies—plus aggressive school turnarounds—under its waivers from the NCLB law. 

And, even though ESSA would maintain annual tests, states could dial back the role those assessments play in school ratings and accountability, in favor of other factors, like school climate, teacher engagement, and access to advanced coursework.

The changes to teacher evaluation and the potential rollback of testing's importance have Lily Eskelsen Garcia, the president of the 3 million member National Education Association, pretty excited. (See who else supports the bill here.) 

"We will see the end of test and punish," she said in an interview Tuesday. "We will see the end of hit your cut score or somebody gets punished." 

Despite claims that Congress is broken, NEA was able to work with a "really thoughtful group" of lawmakers to get many of the changes to ESEA it had been seeking for years, Eskelsen Garcia said.

The next task? Helping state affiliates pull off the same thing. "If we can do that in Congress, our counterparts on the state level have some hope of doing something with even a hostile legislature," she said.

Teachers' unions aren't the only ones who see ESSA as an opportunity to influence the direction of state and local systems going forward. 

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which offered a measured endorsement of the bill, is taking seriously language calling for broad community engagement in developing state and district plans to implement the law.

"This [bill] provides leverage about what needs to be done differently, but it is not the end all and be all. It is a framework," said Liz King, the conference's director of education policy Tuesday.

The civil rights community can help local advocates work with districts, states, and educators to make sure traditionally overlooked students get access to their fair share of resources, and that accountability plans call for district and state supports to kick in when they are falling behind, King said.

Of course, there will be work to do inside Washington as well, King said. "On the accountability side, we're going to be there at the table on the development of regulation, helping partner [organizations] understand where they can be engaged." 

Regulatory Head-Scratchers

The regulatory process, slated to kick off in coming months, could call for the department to puzzle through some wonky head-scratchers—with potentially serious implications for the future of accountability, one former education department staffer said.  

"The bill leaves a lot of gray, murky areas and uses some words that are open to interpretation," said Chad Aldeman, now an associate partner at Bellwether Education Partners. "Depending on what the secretary tries to do, I think it could open him up to lawsuits."

Case in point: In what could be a win for the civil rights community, ESSA calls for states and districts to flag, and help fix, schools where traditionally overlooked groups of students are "consistently underperforming." But what, exactly, does that phrase mean? And do states get to define it, or does the Education Department? 

Questions like that could be complicated by the bill's lengthy laundry list of prohibitions on the secretary's authority. That language is largely seen as a rebuke to Duncan, who Republicans say overstepped the bounds of his office big time in issuing conditional waivers (aka flexibility from NCLB in exchange for certain policy promises).

Duncan, who gave a sunny speech on the bill Tuesday, is stepping down this month, leaving John B. King Jr., the former New York commissioner, as acting secretary. King will put the Obama administration's final stamp on the law.

But ESSA won't be fully in place until the 2017-18 school year, which could leave a lot of the work of monitoring and implementation to the next administration. 

Bipartisan Balancing Act 

For his part, Alexander, who championed the provisions clamping down on the education department, doesn't think there's room for the agency to overstep its bounds.

"This bill specifically prohibits the secretary from issuing regulations that aren't authorized by law. That's in there several times," he said in a quick interview Tuesday. And he isn't expecting a stormy implementation process. Instead, he said, it will likely build on the law's bipartisan support in Congress—and be largely handled in states and districts.  

When it comes to school turnarounds, standards, and teacher evaluation, "school districts and states can immediately make those decisions again without having to come to Washington and play 'Mother May I' and ask the U.S. Secretary for permission," Alexander said.  

And Murray sees ESSA as hitting a particular sweet spot: It's meant to get away from the "one-size-fits-all" nature of NCLB, without stepping back from of the law's focus on protecting vulnerable kids. States and districts will still have to set high expecations for all children and put in place "evidence-based" interventions when schools need them, she said in a quick interview Tuesday.

She'll be watching closely to make sure the legislation's balance is maintained, she added. 

"Passing a bill is not the end of your job here," Murray said.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., center, joined by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., right, and Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to reporters Tuesday after the Senate voted overwhelmingly to end debate on the makeover of the No Child Left Behind Act, setting up a final vote on the legislation on Wednesday.  Murray was a chief architect of the bill along with Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn. 

--J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Common Core: Myths vs. Facts

Myths vs. Facts

Successful implementation of the Common Core State Standards requires parents, educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders to have the facts about what the standards are and what they are not. The following myths and facts aim to address common misconceptions about the development, intent, content, and implementation of the standards.

Myths About Content and Quality: General

Myth: Adopting common standards means bringing all states’ standards down to the lowest common denominator. This means that states with high standards are actually taking a step backwards by adopting the Common Core.

Fact: The standards are designed to build upon the most advanced current thinking about preparing all students for success in college, career, and life. This will result in moving even the best state standards to the next level. In fact, since this work began, there has been an explicit agreement that no state would lower its standards. The standards were informed by the best in the country, the highest international standards, and evidence and expertise about educational outcomes. We need college- and career-ready standards because even in high-performing states, students are graduating and passing all the required tests but still need remediation in their postsecondary work.

Myth: The Common Core State Standards are not internationally benchmarked.

Fact: Standards from top-performing countries played a significant role in the development of the math and English language arts/literacy standards. In fact, the college- and career-ready standards provide an appendix listing the evidence that was consulted in drafting the standards, including the international standards that were consulted in the development process.

Myth: The standards only include skills and do not address the importance of content knowledge.

Fact: The standards recognize that both content and skills are important.

The English language arts standards require certain critical content for all students, including classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s founding documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare. Appropriately, the remaining crucial decisions about what content should be taught are made at the state and local levels. In addition to content coverage, the standards require that students systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

The mathematics standards lay a solid foundation in whole numbers, addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, fractions, and decimals. Taken together, these elements support a student’s ability to learn and apply more demanding math concepts and procedures. The middle school and high school standards call on students to practice applying mathematical ways of thinking to real-world issues and challenges. They prepare students to think and reason mathematically. The standards set a rigorous definition of college and career readiness not by piling topic upon topic, but by demanding that students develop a depth of understanding and ability to apply mathematics to novel situations, as college students and employees regularly do.

Myths About Content and Quality: Math

Myth: The standards do not prepare or require students to learn algebra in the 8th grade, as many states’ current standards do.

Fact: The standards do accommodate and prepare students for Algebra 1 in 8th grade by including the prerequisites for this course in grades K-7. Students who master the K-7 material will be able to take Algebra 1 in 8th grade. At the same time, grade 8 standards also include rigorous algebra and will transition students effectively into a full Algebra 1 course.

Myth: Key math topics are missing or appear in the wrong grade.

Fact: The mathematical progressions presented in the Common Core State Standards are coherent and based on evidence.

Part of the problem with having different sets of state standards in mathematics is that different states cover different topics at different grade levels. Coming to a consensus guarantees that, from the viewpoint of any given state, topics will move up or down in the grade level sequence. What is important to keep in mind is that the progression in the Common Core State Standards is mathematically coherent and leads to college and career readiness at an internationally competitive level.

Myths About Content and Quality: English Language Arts/Literacy

Myth: The standards are just vague descriptions of skills and do not include a reading list or any other reference to content.

Fact: The standards do include sample texts that demonstrate the level of text complexity appropriate for the grade level and compatible with the learning demands set out in the standards. The exemplars of high-quality texts at each grade level provide a rich set of possibilities and have been very well received. This provides a reference point for teachers when selecting their texts, along with the flexibility to make their own decisions about what texts to use.

Myth: English teachers will be asked to teach science and social studies reading materials.

Fact: With the ELA standards, English teachers will still teach their students literature as well as literary nonfiction. However, because college and career readiness overwhelmingly focuses on complex texts outside of literature, these standards also ensure students are being prepared to read, write, and research across the curriculum, including in history and science. These goals can be achieved by ensuring that teachers in other disciplines are also focusing on reading and writing to build knowledge within their subject areas.

Myth: The standards do not have enough emphasis on fiction/literature.

Fact: The Common Core requires certain critical content for all students, including classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s founding documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare. Appropriately, the remaining crucial decisions about what content should be taught are made at the state and local levels. The standards require that a portion of what is read in high school should be informational text, yet the bulk of this portion will be accounted for in non-ELA disciplines that do not frequently use fictional texts. This means that stories, drama, poetry, and other literature account for the majority of reading that students will do in their ELA classes. In addition to content coverage, the standards require that students systematically acquire knowledge in literature and other disciplines through reading, writing, speaking, and listening.

Myths About Process

Myth: No teachers were involved in writing the standards.

Fact: The Common Core drafting process relied on teachers and standards experts from across the country. In addition, many state experts came together to create the most thoughtful and transparent process of standard setting. This was only made possible by many states working together.

Myth: The standards are not based on research or evidence.

Fact: The standards have made careful use of a large and growing body of evidence. The evidence base includes scholarly research, surveys on what skills are required of students entering college and workforce training programs, assessment data identifying college- and career-ready performance, and comparisons to standards from high-performing states and nations.

In English language arts, the standards build on the firm foundation of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) frameworks in reading and writing, which draw on extensive scholarly research and evidence.

In mathematics, the standards draw on conclusions from the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and other studies of high-performing countries that found the traditional U.S. mathematics curriculum needed to become substantially more coherent and focused in order to improve student achievement, addressing the problem of a curriculum that is “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

Myths About Implementation

Myth: The standards tell teachers what to teach.

Fact: Teachers know best about what works in the classroom. That is why these standards establish what students need to learn but do not dictate how teachers should teach. Instead, schools and teachers will decide how best to help students reach the standards.

Myth: Teachers will be left to implement the standards without any support or guidance.

Fact: Decisions on how to implement the standards are made at the state and local levels. As such, states and localities are taking different approaches to implementing the standards and providing their teachers with the supports they need to help students successfully reach the standards. To learn how states are supporting teachers and implementing their new standards, visit the Standards in Your State section for a map linking to the state-specific implementation page.

Myth: The standards will be implemented through No Child Left Behind (NCLB), signifying that the federal government will be leading them.

Fact: The Common Core is a state-led effort that is not part of No Child Left Behind or any other federal initiative. The federal government played no role in the development of the Common Core. State adoption of the standards is in no way mandatory. States began the work to create clear, consistent standards before the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which provided funding for the Race to the Top grant program. It also began before the Elementary and Secondary Education Act blueprint was released, because this work is being driven by the needs of the states, not the federal government. Learn more about the development process here.

Myth: The Common Core State Standards were adopted by states as part of the Race to the Top grant program.

Fact: Recognizing the strength of having high standards for all students, the federal government gave competitive advantage to Race to the Top applicants that demonstrated that they had or planned to adopt college- and career-ready standards for all students. The program did not specify the Common Core or prevent states from creating their own, separate college- and career-ready standards. States and territories voluntarily chose to adopt the Common Core to prepare their students for college, career, and life. Many states that were not chosen for Race to the Top grants continue to implement the Common Core.

Myth: These standards amount to a national curriculum for our schools.

Fact: The Common Core is not a curriculum. It is a clear set of shared goals and expectations for what knowledge and skills will help our students succeed. Local teachers, principals, superintendents, and others will decide how the standards are to be met. Teachers will continue to devise lesson plans and tailor instruction to the individual needs of the students in their classrooms.

Myth: The federal government will take over ownership of the Common Core State Standards initiative.

Fact: The federal government will not govern the Common Core State Standards. The Common Core was and will remain a state-led effort. The NGA Center and CCSSO are committed to developing a long-term governance structure with leadership from governors, chief state school officers, and other state policymakers to ensure the quality of the Common Core and that teachers and principals have a strong voice in the future of the standards. States and local school districts will drive implementation of the Common Core.

Myth: The Common Core State Standards will result in a national database of private student information.

Fact: There are no data collection requirements for states adopting the standards. Standards define expectations for what students should know and be able to do by the end of each grade. Implementing the Common Core State Standards does not require data collection. The means of assessing students and the use of the data that result from those assessments are up to the discretion of each state and are separate and unique from the Common Core.

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