Nasbe – headline review january 16-20, 2012

CONNECTICUT BOARD APPROVES DEPARTMENT-WIDE OVERHAUL — The Connecticut State Board of Education unanimously approved education Commissioner Stefan Pryor’s plan to revamp the state education agency. The reorganization will create several new high-level positions, including a chief operating officer and other chief officers who will oversee improvement efforts on academic achievement, the education workforce, and turning around low-performing schools. In addition, the state’s early childhood office will now be housed in the education department in order to improve coordination between the two agencies. State Board Chair Allan Taylor said, “The Board’s support for the reorganization of the department sets into motion a new era for education reform grounded in high expectations for every student….

Chief among our goals is to harness the strength to overcome deep achievement gaps in our system. This reorganization plan provides the right framework for progress.” The overhaul will be accomplished within the existing budget, state officials said. Sources: Boston Globe (1/18/12), Connecticut Department of Education press release (1/18/12)

NEW YORK GOVERNOR TELLS DISTRICTS: ADOPT EVALUATION PLAN OR LOSE FUNDS — New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo warned school districts statewide that unless they and their union locals agree to implement the state’s new teacher evaluation system, local schools will lose state money. Teachers’ unions are suing the state Education Department to prevent implementation of an evaluation system that includes student performance. Cuomo, using the power of the purse strings as framer of the state budget to push policy, said during his annual budget address that unions and the Education Department have a month to settle the lawsuit against the state before he asks the legislature to pass the plan and make it law instead of policy. Districts will have one year to implement the evaluations, and failure to do so could mean they will miss out on a 4 percent increase in state aid in 2013. Further, failure to apply the system could mean New York will lose almost $1 billion in federal Race to the Top grants contingent on their implementation. Source: Wall Street Journal (1/18/12)

U.S. SUPREME COURT DECLINES CASES INVOLVING ONLINE STUDENT SPEECH — The world of student free speech rights on the Internet will remain murky as the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up appeals covering three cases involving students’ off-campus activities. Two of the cases involve Pennsylvania students who were punished for ridiculing their principals online but were vindicated when lower courts ruled in their favor. In the third case, lower courts sided with school authorities who suspended a West Virginia student for bullying another student on her MySpace page. All the appellants noted the need for a U.S. Supreme Court decision on student Internet speech. Francisco Negron, general counsel for the National School Boards Association, said during an interview this week, “What, in the 21st century, is the meaning of the schoolhouse gate? What does it mean to have speech that not only transcends the classroom, but also flows back in?” Sources: Allentown Morning Call (1/17/12), Education Week (1/17/12)

INDIANA SUPERIOR COURT UPHOLDS STATEWIDE SCHOOL VOUCHER LAW — A Superior Court judge in Indiana ruled the state’s school voucher law is constitutional because the state is not directly funding religious schools. The law passed last year provides money to parents and allows them to use it for tuition at any school statewide. The plaintiffs contended the program is unconstitutional because it uses public money to support religious schools. Source: Education Week (1/17/12)

SIGNIFICANT CHEATING SCANDAL UNCOVERED IN SECOND GEORGIA DISTRICT — The Georgia Bureau of Investigation uncovered evidence of cheating in more than 40 percent of schools in the Dougherty County school district on the 2009 Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests used to determine adequate yearly progress. The investigation, ordered in 2010 by former Gov. Sonny Purdue, came about after cheating allegations were raised in both the Atlanta and Dougherty school systems due to an increased number of erasures on the standardized tests. Since the investigation in Dougherty County began, two principals and two teachers have resigned and many others confirmed they helped students cheat in 11 of the district’s 26 schools. State Superintendent John Barge said the results of the investigation point to the need for a new, “more thorough accountability system,” such as Georgia is proposing in its NCLB waiver request. “Relying on a single test to determine a student’s and a school’s academic success is plagued with problems,” Barge said. Source: Education Week (1/11/12)

NEW JERSEY EDUCATION DEPT. GRANTS EXTENSION FOR LOCAL BOARD MEMBER BACKGROUND CHECKS — The New Jersey State Department of Education granted an extension to local school board members who need to complete mandatory criminal background checks. A state law passed last year required the checks by Dec. 31, 2011, but more than 180 local board members and charter school trustees did not do so and would have been forced to vacate their board seats. The Department extended the deadline to January 27. Only a small number of members who completed the checks were disqualified because of a criminal record. Source: Press of Atlantic City (1/13/12)

NASBE KICKS OFF 2012 STUDY GROUP THIS WEEK — On January 20 – 21, incoming NASBE Executive Director Jim Kohlmoos, together with current Director Brenda Welburn, will attend the NASBE Board of Director’s meeting in Arlington, VA. Kohlmoos’s tenure at NASBE officially begins February 2. Also meeting this weekend are the NASBE Governmental Affairs Committee (representing 20 states) and the Study Group on the Role of Technology in Schools and Communities (representing 17 states). Sixteen states are represented on the Board of Directors.