NEA Today The National Education Association online news and information resource. Thu, 30 Oct 2014 14:17:24 +0000 en hourly 1 As More Schools Have Their Head in the Cloud, Privacy Concerns Persist Thu, 30 Oct 2014 13:56:16 +0000 twalker By Luke Towler

Not too long ago, Anne Smith, like most other teachers, used regular class periods to offer feedback and guidance  to her students on their classwork. After she began using Google Apps for Education (GAfE), things began to change. Soon, students were seeking feedback from her after school hours. Initially, Smith, a high school English teacher in Centennial, Colorado, was surprised to be receiving messages about schoolwork from her students, but she quickly appreciated what the technology made possible.

“It is amazing to me to see students collaborating at night with one another – revising, writing, asking questions and even inviting their teacher in on the process,” she said.

Every student in Smith’s class has access to a Chromebooks, which they use to write, edit and reflect using Google Apps, which eliminates the need for paper. They can add multimedia elements – videos, audio, images, etc. – to their papers by publishing them on Google Sites. They can read books and stories online, extinguishing the need for textbooks. Essentially, for Smith’s class, students only need to pack a Chromebook.

Cloud-based computing – the process of storing data on a remote, Internet-based server, providing access from any device and location – is wildly popular in the private sector and has been steadily making inroads into public schools. GAfE, in particular, is becoming more prevalent in education, especially since Google sold over 1 million Chromebooks to schools earlier in 2014. What’s more, Google recently released a specific app called Google Classroom, which is its designed to help teachers better organize their classes.

Even as Smith and countless educators have found it an enormously valuable tool – a game changer even – some experts caution that the cloud computing comes with a quite a bit of baggage.

The fact that these programs are online makes them less secure than the standard paper and pencil teaching and schools transfer large quantities of student personal data including transcript information to third party providers. According to a 2014 study by the Center on Law and Information Policy (CLIP) at Fordham Law School, 95 percent of school districts use cloud service providers for such things as data mining and classroom support. All but 7 percent of the contracts between districts and cloud service providers allow the providers to sell or market student information, the study states.

“School districts throughout the country are embracing the use of cloud computing services for important educational goals, but have not kept pace with appropriate safeguards for the personal data of school children,” Joel Reidenberg, founding director of CLIP, said in a statement. “We believe there are critical actions that school districts and vendors must take to address the serious deficiencies in privacy protection.”

Schools and educators are storing student data on these cloud companies’ websites, instead of placing the information into file cabinets. Some companies also offer quizzes and homework that collect data from students. According to, Google admitted that it did data mine student emails for ad-targeting purposes outside of school.

In Greater Clark County Schools (GCCS) in Indiana, teachers save and share lesson plans on the learning management system My Big Campus, Additionally, the district posts grades and attendance to PowerSchool – and parents can log in to view the information.

According to its web site, “PowerSchool is agile, easily managing student records, schedules, attendance, transcripts and much more.” But there have been complaints about the tool’s consistency, which is used by 13 millions students and over half a million educators. As the Charlotte Observer reported, PowerSchool was, among other pitfalls, producing inaccurate student transcripts across the state.

While school districts can work to protect student data privacy through district-wide systems such as email and records management, other privacy challenges emerge over the use of applications available to individual staff and students through a simple Internet connection and a handheld device, which the district may not have as much control over.

GCCS Director of Technology Brett Clark says schools and districts must work to minimize the hazards over privacy, but the benefits of cloud computing are too great to ignore.

“You do everything you can to protect the privacy of students, but you also have to do what’s best for your students,” explains Clark. “It’s the direction that not only education but also where the business world is going.”

And it can save money, potentially at least. Littleton Public Schools in Colorado started using Google Apps  in 2010, issuing accounts to students in grades 4-12. LPS Chief Information Officer Mark Lindstone and Mike Porter, director of technology, cite savings from file servers to reduced labor to email licensing. Eliminating email licensing, for example, saves the districts thousands of dollars: LPS comprises 15,000 students and email licensing can cost between $2-$3 per person, according to Porter and Lindstone.  State education officials in Oregon, the first state to adopt Google Apps for Education in all of their public schools, claim the move will save $1.5 million annually.

The transition to cloud-based learning can be a slow process, though, said Brett Boyles, who teaches at an alternative high school in Littleton. More experienced teachers are less likely to embrace technological advances, and even some students had trouble with it, Boyles said.

“Sometimes we assume that the younger generation welcomes change with open arms and that is not always the case,” Boyle explains. “Sometimes comfort wins out over new and efficient.”

“But cloud computing makes sense, as do web-based applications,” Boyles adds. “The very notion of purchasing software that has to be installed on machines is a 20th Century idea to me.”

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Teacher Poll: Yes to Common Core Standards, No to Being Evaluated Based on Test Scores Linked to Them Thu, 30 Oct 2014 12:58:47 +0000 twalker Do teachers like the Common Core, or do they hate it? A new poll from Gallup has found the answer is “both.” Teachers like the idea of national standards for what students should know and be able to do in reading and math, and the survey shows most think the Common Core is as rigorous as the old standards it replaced. But the Gallup data shows that they don’t want to be evaluated on how students perform on tests linked to those standards, a project underway in many states. Source: Vox

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This Is What Happens When You Criticize Teach for America Thu, 30 Oct 2014 11:07:42 +0000 twalker In a recent interview, Wendy Heller Chovnick, a former Teach for America manager, Wendy Heller, referenced the extent to which TFA manufactured its public image, explaining, “Instead of engaging in real conversations with critics, and even supporters, about the weaknesses of Teach For America and where it falls short, Teach For America seemed to put a positive spin on everything.” An internal media strategy memo, obtained by The Nation, confirms Chovnick’s concerns. While Teach For America has failed at providing the nation with many long-term educators, they have provided a stream of very expensive political operatives, who have gone on to help fuel their former organization’s expansion and codify its narrow, corporate vision of education reform. Source: The Nation


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Away From ‘Test and Punish,’ Toward a New Accountability System Wed, 29 Oct 2014 06:17:20 +0000 twalker When even the federal government questions whether there’s too much testing, a new question surfaces: how should students, teachers and schools be held accountable? The nation’s two largest teachers unions – along with school administration organizations, business advocacy groups and school equity leaders – on Tuesday announced a new framework for accountabilitythat focuses more on a holistic ”support-and-improve” model than the longstanding “test-and-punish” mindset that’s commonplace in schools nationwide. Source: U.S. News


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The Economic Impact of School Suspensions Wed, 29 Oct 2014 06:05:17 +0000 twalker A recent report finds African-American girls were suspended at six times the rate of white girls, and more than any other group of girls (and several groups of boys). In 2013, 43 percent of African American women without a high school diploma were living in poverty, compared to 29 percent with a high school diploma and just 9 percent with a bachelor’s degree, U.S. Census data show. Helping African-American girls successfully complete high school, then, could stave off a lifetime of poverty for them and their families. Source: The Atlantic

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Make It Count: Providing Feedback as Formative Assessment Wed, 29 Oct 2014 05:22:22 +0000 twalker Anyone involved in standardized testing knows two things: the results take entirely too long to get back and are completely impersonal, making that kind of feedback essentially irrelevant. In short, feedback needs to be personal, and it needs to be fast. To that end, educators are beginning to refocus their attention on relevant, practical feedback for students during lessons or very soon after, rather than relying only on summative assessments. Source: Edutopia

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All in the Family: How Teacher Home Visits Can Lead to School Transformation Tue, 28 Oct 2014 13:40:14 +0000 twalker By Mary Ellen Flannery

Barbréa Finney has something to tell the two teachers who have settled into her living room couch.

Finney, 70, has been fostering children in the Detroit area for 40-plus years and she’s probably welcomed more than 50 boys and girls into her home. But the four girls, ages 6 to 11, living with her now are her adoptive daughters. Last year, after decades of drug addiction and domestic violence, their biological mother was stabbed to death by their father.

As Judge Judy rules on the television nearby, Finney dabs at her eyes, and then tells sixth-grade teacher DeAnn Covert, “The girls took it real hard… and sometimes, when they’re thinking back, there are days when they get sad. They loved their mother and she was a nice, nice woman.”

This is not the typical parent-teacher conference, conducted in a classroom with test scores or discipline reports passed across a table, and another parent waiting nearby for her 10 minutes. Instead this reciprocal conversation, shared in a cozy home with a hand-penciled portrait of Barack Obama on the walls, is part of a coordinated home-visit program. Finney’s visitors are from Romulus Middle School, a NEA Priority School on the outskirts of Detroit, and they have trained with the national Parent Teacher Home Visit Program.

“With all of the children I’ve had, I’ve never before had a teacher come to my home,” said Finney. “When she called me, I was like, ‘Okay, this is different. This is nice!’”

It’s more than nice, actually. A home-visit program like Romulus’ can build meaningful parent-teacher partnerships — the kind of family engagement that research has shown to boost school attendance and willingness to do homework, reduce discipline problems and dropout rates, and raise student achievement and social outcomes. It also can end the cycle of parent-teacher blame, especially in communities where children have traditionally underachieved, by building trust between teachers and parents.

This isn’t “parent involvement,” in the form of Valentine’s Day parties, or “parent communication,” in the form of one-way emails. Rather, this is about identifying parents and teachers as “co-educators,” who share respective knowledge about that student. It’s about helping teachers become culturally aware and parents seriously involved in their child’s education.

When Romulus teacher Kathleen Forrest sits down at another mother’s dining-room table, she says simply, “The purpose of this visit is to build a relationship…”

Teacher DeAnn Covert (middle) and Romulus Education Association President Shawn Shivnen (right) visit Barbréa Finney at her home.

Union-led Collaboration
Across the U.S., the Parent/Teacher Home Visit Project (PTHVP) trained nearly 5,000 teachers in 2014. Its partners include NEA Priority Schools in Alabama, California, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oregon, and Washington State; and also two of the NEA Foundation’s “Closing the Achievement Gaps Initiative” sites: Seattle and Springfield, Massachusetts.

“NEA is the place where people are investing most effectively,” said Carrie Rose, PTHVP executive director — and that includes NEA Priority Schools, where NEA has paid for PTHVP training to help local educators in their broad efforts to build community partnerships, improve teacher quality, and transform their low-achieving schools into the schools that every child deserves.

“We realized early on that stronger relationships with families and communities would be key to transforming some of our most struggling schools, so we made the investment,” said Andrea Prejean, Director of NEA’s Priority Schools. “The partnership with THVP just made sense.”

“This is where it starts, folks,” said Romulus fifth-grade teacher Julie Hirchert, who helped kick-start Romulus’ home-visit program three years ago. “This is the foundation for everything you want to do, as a teacher… Whenever I’ve had powerful change in a student, whether it’s academic or social, it’s because I’ve worked hand in hand with a parent.”
And it’s not just anecdotal evidence. Studies also support Hirchert’s findings.

  • In Sacramento, a three-year study found that teacher home-visits corresponded to a 6.5 percentage point gain in reading tests and 9.8 in math, plus improved graduation rates.
  • In Mason County, Kentucky, after seven years of home visits, researchers found the district had moved from 126th to 30th on statewide tests, and that discipline referrals had reduced significantly.
  • And, in Maplewood Richmond Heights, Missouri, discipline referrals declined by 45 percent and parent involvement improved by 20 percent. Not surprisingly, student achievement followed.

What is a Home Visit?

Leave your paper and pencil in the car. When you walk through that front door, it’s just you. Actually, it’s not just you. Bring a partner. And both of you must be trained and paid for your time.

These are the shared traits of all home-visit programs, said Rose. Also, and this is important: Focus the conversation on building trust and relationships. This is not the time to talk about test scores or bring up that cafeteria fight. Ask parents about their “hopes and dreams” for their children, and share your own hopes and dreams for your students.

Teachers Kathleen Forest and DeAnn Covert (right) meet with a parent and her child.

Erica wants to be a chef. Davvion’s mom won’t settle for anything else than a college degree. And Michael’s parents want to raise a “man of integrity.” “To ask parents about their hopes and dreams, and to know that it might be the first time they’ve been asked that question and that you’re getting that thought process started… it’s very powerful,” said Nick Faber, vice president of the St. Paul Federation of Teachers, a joint NEA-AFT affiliate.

Four years ago in St. Paul, after an NEA grant provided training, about six teachers visited 15 homes. This year, “it looks like we’ll reach 1,000,” said Faber.

But the most impressive number in St. Paul is this one: $75,000. That’s how much the district must set aside to pay teachers for home visits, according to their collectively bargained contract. (It’s $50 per visit.) Teachers asked the union’s bargaining team to put the program into their contract, forcing administrators to commit to the program. “We really wanted to be able to say that we, as a union, are stepping up to get our members out into the community to better understand our students, especially our students of color, so that we can start to break down some of the disparities in academic achievement and behavior,” said Faber.

Ninety percent of the St. Paul visits “have been to black and brown families,” he said, and many are poor or working-class. Meanwhile, 90 percent of the visiting teachers are White. With those cultural and socio-economic differences in mind, home visits can be a powerful tool. In a recent program evaluation, nearly eight out of 10 St. Paul home-visit teachers said it “changed assumptions they had about parents.”

After You Say Good-bye

In both St. Paul and Romulus, teachers usually conclude a home visit with an invitation — “Please come to school for…” And parents do. “If I invite them, they always come,” said Romulus’ Forrest, who coordinates a quarterly academic-focused Parent University.

More immediately, teachers return to school with great information. They have a better understanding of a child’s behavior, and more appreciation of how a child’s home environment may be related to school performance.

“When you have a kid walk into class, you just see the kid,” said Hirchert. But after a home visit, when that student walks into class “you see his aunt, his uncle, the drawing pad that he brought to share with you — it’s a whole picture. I get immeasurable data about what inspires them and motivates them.”

Before the Romulus teachers sat down on Finney’s couch, they had no idea of the previous trauma in the girls’ lives. It is information that is very valuable to them. “As I teacher I can now say to this mother, ‘I see your daughter withdrawing… Is it about that time of year?’ And it’s something this mother and I can talk about, and work together on,” said DeAnn Covert, who reached across the couch to Finney and told her, “I am blessed to be in your home.”

When the conversation turns to the “hopes and dreams” of the four girls, Finney tells Covert, “I want these girls to go to college.”

From around the corner, a small voice says, “I want to be at a teacher.”

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Schools With No Playgrounds Teach Kids Not to Play Mon, 27 Oct 2014 15:32:47 +0000 twalker Many communities have moved away from valuing pay, particularly outdoor play. Societal changes (video games; increased access to high-calorie, processed foods), educational changes (more time in classrooms and less active time, despite all evidence suggesting that the more time children spend engaged in physical activity and play, the higher their academic achievement), and economic pressures (increased work hours for adults, decreased active and leisure time) have all made for a less active, playful society from childhood up. Source: The New York Times

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Speak Up for Teacher Due Process! Mon, 27 Oct 2014 14:45:35 +0000 twalker As you may already know, the cover story for the November, 3rd issue of Time Magazine is titled, “The War on Teacher Tenure.” This article, along with the accompanying cover photo, are both misleading and sensational. More importantly, the story itself didn’t feature the voice of a single educator!

If the author of this article had asked a teacher, she would’ve learned that due process policies like tenure are still very much needed to protect good teachers from being fired for bad reasons.

Do you have a story to share about how due process policies like tenure have protected your students? Tell NEA here. We’ll reach out to you if we end up using your story in anything public-facing.


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Is it Getting Better for LGBT Students? Yes, Just Not Fast Enough. Mon, 27 Oct 2014 13:38:48 +0000 twalker By Richard Naithram

Although schools remain a hostile environment for many lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students, real progress has been made in providing greater support and resources. That’s the takeaway from the new 2013 National School Climate Survey, published by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN).

Even though the survey shows that physical assault, verbal and physical harassment has trended down in the last 12 years, there is always room for improvement.  “Progress is being made in our nation’s schools, but when more than half of LGBT youth continue to report unsafe or even dangerous school climates, we all have a responsibility to act,” explained GLSEN Executive Director Dr. Eliza Byard.

Sixty-five percent of the LGBT students surveyed said that they often heard derogative slurs, and 55 percent said that they generally feel unsafe at school because of their sexual orientation – a fear that 30 percent said caused them to miss at least one day of school.

LGBT students are often the subject of harassment at school. Sixteen percent were physically assaulted (punched, kicked, or injured with a weapon), 36 percent were physically assaulted by being pushed and shoved, and 49 percent were harassed on social media. An anonymous student reported, “I have been so hurt at that school. I have gotten beat up, almost killed, and no one there would do anything about it, except one teacher”

One of the biggest issues found was the lack of support provided LGBT students by faculty and staff in many schools.  Sixty-one percent of the students who did report an incident said that school staff did nothing in response. Twenty-five percent of the students would not report anything at all because they believed doing so would only make the situation worse.

This victimization and harassment of LGBT students cuts through into students’ academic careers.

Source: 2013 GLSEN School Climate Survey

In addition to having lower grades, LGBT students were more than three times as likely to have missed school in the past month and were twice as likely to report that they did not plan to pursue college.

The encouraging news in the survey is the increased availability and proven effectiveness of  many LGBT-related school resources.  LGBT students reported a lower incidence of homophobic remarks than ever before – from over 80 percent hearing these remarks regularly in 2001 to about 60 percent now. Half  of the students surveyed said that their school had a Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) or similar club. According to the survey, students who had a GSA in their school were less likely to hear “gay” used in a negative way often and less likely to hear homophobic slurs.

An inclusive school curriculum can also make a major difference. While only  18.5 percent of LGBT students were taught positive representations about LGBT people and history, the vast majority (72 percent) reported that their peers were “accepting of LGBT people.” Only 40 percent of those LGBT students at schools without an illusive curriculum could say the same. Across the board, the availability of LGBT-related resources and supports was higher in 2013 than in all previous years.

“This most recent report shows that there has been progress in improving the school experience for LGBT students and that positive LGBT resources in school can make a difference in the lives of these youth,” said Dr. Joseph G. Kosciw, GLSEN’s Chief Research & Strategy Officer.

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