Community College Guarantees a Spot in Class, for Those Willing to Pay

Many California community college students are starting to register for summer classes. In many cases there aren't enough classes to go around, and that means students might end up on long waiting lists. Long Beach City College in Southern California is experimenting with a plan, approved by the Legislature last fall, that guarantees students a seat in class. That is, if they're willing to pay more.

Online-Only Standardized Test Faces Early Glitches

California's new experiment in online testing is underway. State-mandated exams for school children are all on the computer for the first time. So far, these are just practice tests -- and that's a good thing.

PBS NewsHour

Are charter schools monopolizing public resources?


Watch Video | Listen to the Audio

GWEN IFILL: A little more than a decade ago, only about 300,000 students were enrolled in charter schools nationwide.

As their growth has soared, especially in cities, nearly 2 million students are now enrolled. In New York City alone, attendance has jumped from 2,300 children a year to nearly 70,000. But that expansion has created serious competition for limited public resources.

Special correspondent John Tulenko of learning matters reports.

PROTESTER: Save our schools! Save our schools!

JOHN TULENKO: In early March, thousands of charter school supporters rode buses for hours to come to Albany, New York’s state capital, to stop a school of theirs from being closed.

NARRATOR: Mayor Bill de Blasio is taking away a public school.

JOHN TULENKO: A $4 million dollar ad campaign drove the message home.

NARRATOR: Don’t take away our children’s future.

JOHN TULENKO: And it quickly became national news.

MAN: The mayor of New York wants to shut down the highest-performing school?

WOMAN: Correct.

MAN: It’s disgusting.

JOHN TULENKO: But what became known as New York’s charter school war had very little to do with the fate of one school. Instead, it was a fight over politics and money between two powerful people.

On one side was New York City’s Mayor Bill de Blasio, a believer in the power of government to change lives, and on the other, Eva Moskowitz, whose school the mayor wanted to close. A former city councilwoman, she’s founder and CEO of Success Academy, the city’s largest charter school network with 22 schools.

EVA MOSKOWITZ, Success Academy: I am a supporter of parent choice. He seems less so. I assume he has genuine reasons for that, but we have a difference of opinion.

PROTESTERS: Charters work! Charters work! Charters work!

JOHN TULENKO: The battle over charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run, began under de Blasio’s predecessor, Mayor Bloomberg.

MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, I, Former Mayor of New York: I, Michael R. Bloomberg, do solemnly…

CLARA HEMPHILL, He was very pro-charter. He thought we had an ossified bureaucracy that needs really shaking up.

JOHN TULENKO: Clara Hemphill runs, a Web site for New York City parents.

CLARA HEMPHILL: What Mayor Bloomberg did that was so unusual was he said for the first time you can have free space in the ordinary public schools.

JOHN TULENKO: Under what was called co-location, traditional public schools were forced to make room in their buildings for charters.

CLARA HEMPHILL: Sometimes, there are as many as five schools in one building, and in some cases, it’s a very amicable sharing, and in other cases, one school feels that the other school is kicking their kids out of the rooms that they used to be in.

JOHN TULENKO: As charters grew from seven to 182, so did tensions.

NOAH GOTBAUM, Community Education Council: Our experience has been routinely terrible.

JOHN TULENKO: School board vice president Noah Gotbaum represents Harlem, where the charters are concentrated.

NOAH GOTBAUM: They have been given the pick of the resources, the pick of the space. They have much better funding.

That whole wing gone.

JOHN TULENKO: He took us on a tour of a school that had been forced to give up space to one of Moskowitz’s Success Academy charters. We stopped at the physical therapy room.

NOAH GOTBAUM: This is an occupational therapy room? Please. OK, so, what happens? They provide the services in the hallway, in the stairwell, in bathrooms, because there’s no space and because there’s no equipment.

JOHN TULENKO: Compare that, he says, to Moskowitz’s school in this building.

NOAH GOTBAUM: They have smart boards in every room, new lights, bright shiny bathrooms. It’s a tale of two schools.

JOHN TULENKO: They get all this with help from private donations, about $500,000 for each Success Academy school, most of it from wealthy investors on Wall Street.

NOAH GOTBAUM: It is the hedge fund industry. It’s a privatization movement, unregulated.

JOHN TULENKO: And, Gotbaum says, there’s little regulation at the school level either. Charters have been accused of pushing underachieving students out.

NOAH GOTBAUM: Where do you think they have gone? They’re coming right back here.

JOHN TULENKO: Campaigning for office, de Blasio became charter’s most public critic.

BILL DE BLASIO, D, Mayor of New York: Charter schools often get, in co-locations, the very best parts of the schools, and they often do…

JOHN TULENKO: He promised to cap their growth, and make existing ones pay rent. And he singled out for criticism Eva Moskowitz.

BILL DE BLASIO: Time for Eva Moskowitz to stop having the run of the place. She has to stop being tolerated, enabled.


EVA MOSKOWITZ: It was kind of scary. I was worried for our kids. I was worried for the future of parent choice. I was worried for New York as the center of educational innovation.

WOMAN: Get into your rows.

JOHN TULENKO: Far from the disruptive force her critics have described, Moskowitz sees her schools as part of the solution, dismissing criticism that they monopolize space.

EVA MOSKOWITZ: I could take you rooms where we are turning closets into rooms that we use.

JOHN TULENKO: She denies pushing students out, and says private grants make up for public startup funds her schools don’t get.

EVA MOSKOWITZ: People think we have all these advantages that we don’t have. Everyone is trying to make an excuse and do a gotcha, instead of sort of looking at the teaching.

We try and create schools where kids want to fall in love with school. And to do that, you have to have a lot of art and music and dance and debate and chess and robotics.

ANDY MALONE, Principal, Success Academy: Every fifth grader gets computer science. Every sixth grader gets visual art. We’re really looking for a robust 21st century program.

JOHN TULENKO: For principal Andy Malone’s students, or scholars, as they’re called, the school day is two-and-a-half-hours longer. There’s a dress code, lots of rules to follow. And the work itself is demanding.

But the biggest difference, since Moskowitz’s schools are independently run, they’re free from the union and bureaucracy.

ANDY MALONE: If I decide that we’re going to do this radically different thing in reading, or the teachers are going to stay until 7:00 because we have, say, a culture crisis that we want to solve, I have the license as a leader to do that.

There’s sort of no rules. There’s just a high-performance standard that we get to drive after.

JOHN TULENKO: Last year, among the Success Academy scholars, nearly all minority, nearly all low-income, 80 percent scored proficient in math and 60 percent in English, compared to 30 percent in regular public schools.

But none of that swayed the new mayor, who declined our requests for an interview. Straight away, he canceled a co-location plan for one of Moskowitz’s schools, saying it would displace students with special needs.

EVA MOSKOWITZ: He is evicting us. You cannot educate children if you do not have a building.

PROTESTERS: Save our schools!

JOHN TULENKO: In response, Moskowitz shut her 22 schools for the day, sending everyone to Albany. Dozens of other charter schools did the same.

PROTESTERS: Eva, Eva, Eva!

JOHN TULENKO: They chanted her name, but Moskowitz had hardly been working alone.

Families for Excellent Schools, a pro-charter foundation backed by her supporters on Wall Street, paid for the rally, which included a surprise guest.

MAN: Governor Andrew Cuomo!

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO, D, New York: You are here 11,000-strong, and we are here today to tell you that we stand with you. You are not alone. We will save charter schools!


JOHN TULENKO: But, to some, the governor’s appearance had more to with his reelection campaign.

NOAH GOTBAUM: Oh, it’s very clear what brought Governor Cuomo to the rally: political contributions. The hedge industry has donated close to a million dollars.

JOHN TULENKO: What Wall Street wants in return, Gotbaum says, is worth far more.

NOAH GOTBAUM: It’s a money-making venture. Education is a $1 trillion business, huge. But they can’t get to it if the system isn’t privatized.

EVA MOSKOWITZ: It’s a very convenient narrative.

The folks who are giving philanthropically are giving to a variety of causes. They have no interest in making this a business. They’re interested in at-risk kids getting access to opportunity.

JOHN TULENKO: Governor Cuomo’s office denied he was influenced by contributions, saying they represent a fraction of his $33 million reelection fund, and pointing to statements like this one from 2010.

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO: I want you to know my beliefs. I believe public education is the new civil rights battle, and I support charter schools.

JOHN TULENKO: In late March, Governor Cuomo pushed through legislation prohibiting Mayor de Blasio from charging charter schools rent and requiring the city to provide room for them in regular public schools. The charter school fight was over, and Moskowitz and her allies had won.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Reporter John Tulenko has more on the politics of charter schools in New York City. Listen to his podcast, which is on our Education page.

The post Are charter schools monopolizing public resources? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Teacher evaluations without student test scores cost Washington waiver from school sanctions

Washington is the first state to lose its waiver from the No Child Left Behind requirement.

Washington was among the 43 states and the District of Columbia that the Department of Education freed since 2011 from sanctions placed on schools and districts that fail to meet the law’s timeline for improving student test scores.

In a statement released online, Gov. Jay Inslee said the loss of the waiver was “disappointing but not unexpected.”

To get one of the federal waivers, states had to submit plans that included adopting curriculum standards geared toward college and career readiness, developing teacher evaluation systems that incorporated student testing data and tracking and narrowing achievement gaps between groups of students. Washington’s waiver application included a plan to tie teacher evaluations to student scores on state standardized tests. But, Seattle’s KPLU explains , a bill to do just that failed to pass in the state legislature this year before the deadline to have Washington’s waiver renewed.

Without the waiver the state will have to use $40 million in federal education funding for the types of school fixes that the original No Child Left Behind law prescribes for schools that miss test score targets. The target, set by law for the 2014-15 school year, is 100 percent proficiency on math and English exams for all students. That — some call it unreachable — target is one reason the Department of Education began granting waivers from the law. It was up for reauthorization in 2007, but has yet to be rewritten.

According to Education Week, Arizona, Kansas and Oregon have been notified that they’re at “high-risk” of losing their waivers over similar teacher evaluation issues.

The post Teacher evaluations without student test scores cost Washington waiver from school sanctions appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

What does Common Core implementation look like? Ask a teacher

Students from Estes Elementary in suburban Asheville, North Carolina, live in a state that has adopted Common Core, a
         set of academic standards in mathematics and English language arts and literacy. Photo by Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour

Students from Estes Elementary in suburban Asheville, North Carolina, live in a state that has adopted Common Core, a set of academic standards in mathematics and English language arts and literacy. Photo by Mike Fritz/PBS NewsHour

While the 40-plus states that have adopted the Common Core State Standards agree what skills students should have at certain grade levels, the decision of how to teach the material is not prescribed. That is one of the reasons there has been uneven implementation across the country, and why some states are reconsidering the Common Core. Other states have pushed back dates when Common Core test results will be used in evaluating students, teachers and schools.

The PBS NewsHour is in a unique position to see how the implementation is going in classrooms across the country with the help of young journalists in our Student Reporting Labs. We asked our student reporters to interview their teachers about how Common Core is affecting what they teach and how they teach it.

Regina Lauricella, a third grade teacher at Philip’s Academy Charter School in Newark, New Jersey, said Common Core has changed the order she teaches topics in math.

“I used to just teach chapter one, chapter two, chapter three and I used to just go through the curriculum but now I know there are four areas that are most important for third graders to learn: they need to learn how to multiply; they need to know how to do fractions; they need to understand area; they need to understand geometric figures.” she said.

“So what I can do is make sure those topics are the big umbrella topics that I teach and I have jumped around now in my math curriculum. My students already have studied area and perimeter which is actually the last chapter in our math textbook.”

Jeremy Carroll is the Curriculum Leader at Las Vegas, Nevada’s Desert Pines High School, and has no doubt that more rigorous standards will benefit students.

“We don’t want only select students to be exposed to the types of ideas and the concepts you seen in A.P. (Advanced Placement), we want everybody exposed to them,” Carroll said.  “We want everybody to struggle a little bit in order to make themselves better.”

Sally Wojcek, a theater arts teacher at the Arts Academy at Benjamin Rush in Philadelphia, points to Common Core as the reason she’s incorporated a different kind of reading in her classes.

“As I’m planning my units I’m not only thinking about what the anchor fictional text is, generally a play, but I’m really forcing myself to think about what non-fiction texts I’m going to bring in,” said Wojcek.

Searcy High School geometry teacher Diana Beaty has changed some her instructional methods since Common Core was adopted in her state of Arkansas.

“It’s made me consider a little more of what my students are doing to get the answer rather than what I’m giving to them to get the answer,” she said.

But Beaty also believes getting everyone up to speed on the new standards isn’t going to happen overnight.

“I think it’s going to take a bit of time to find out what this animal is, and how we can tame it.”

English teacher Mike Cox of Shenandoah High School in Shenandoah, Iowa, also has concerns, and wonders how much current students will be getting the most out of the new standards.

“One of the things that we were told is that advantage of the Common Core and the literacy standards is that it’s seamless, and by that I mean that it starts in kindergarten and works its way up,” Cox said, explaining that standards build upon one another as a child moves ahead in school.

“My contention is that in order to really make the Common Core work it’s going to take a generation of students, that it will be 12, maybe 13 years, before we can see how effective Common Core is with our students at the 11th and 12th grade level where I teach.”

Dixie Ross teaches Algebra and Calculus in Pflugerville, Texas, a state that has not signed on to Common Core. But Ross has spoken with friends who are teachers in Common Core states about how implementation is going.

“Is the impact negative or positive, I think that’s a really hard question to answer,” Ross said. “I think it’s negative in that it’s really stressful to implement that greater level of rigor, but over the long run it will be positive.”

The post What does Common Core implementation look like? Ask a teacher appeared first on PBS NewsHour.

Is cursive handwriting slowly dying out in America?

A draft of the Declaration of Independence as prepared by Thomas Jefferson's, with notes from Benjamin Franklin.
         Image from the Library of Congress

A draft of the Declaration of Independence as prepared by Thomas Jefferson’s, features notes from Benjamin Franklin. The official version, which is on display in the National Archives, was handwritten by Timothy Matlack. Image from the Library of Congress

For centuries, the educated, wealthy and refined could be distinguished by their ability to put quill to parchment, vellum or paper and create beautiful, flowing letters. The delicately formed cursive letters of the America’s Declaration of Independence, as faded the current copy on exhibit at the National Archives may be, helped form a nation.

Extinction Week logoFounding Father Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the United States and renaissance man, gets implied credit for writing those words 237 years ago.

But the cursive handwriting on the document detailing the need to “dissolve the political bands” is not his.

“Jefferson is the one who developed many of the words, the really resounding words that we all love,” said Kitty Nicholson, the recently retired Deputy Director of the Conservation Labs at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. “Timothy Matlack is the man who engrossed it, wrote it out on parchment in a beautiful way with engrossed letters at the top and that was signed by the representatives.”

Matlack, according to Nicholson, was a professional scribe, the type of man who would use a practiced hand to pen important papers before printing presses were invented or readily available.

“They were professional clerks known for writing beautifully, clearly in a way that anyone could read so they took the place of a formally printed document,” Nicholson said.

Nicholson admires the penmanship of the scribes who wrote the many important national documents she has helped preserve, including the Declaration of Independence.

“If you’ve seen the elegant writing from the 18th century, elegant writing of many of the great significant documents in the National Archives and other places, to lose that elegance, that sense of elegance, it feels like losing a bit of civilization.”

That sense of elegance is seldom seen in daily handwriting. In fact, the handwriting tradition of cursive, taught in classrooms around the country for decades, has seen something of a slow demise in recent years. To be fair, it’s not quite nearing extinction level, but some might argue it is increasingly endangered.

With young thumbs furiously pounding out abbreviated words and internet slang while texting and with fingers flying across keyboards writing emails, reports and, yes, even news articles, the act of taking a pen and carefully crafting notes and letters is occurring less frequently in the modern world.

Many elementary schools across the United States have dropped cursive instruction altogether as increased testing, the implementation of Common Core State Standards and computers in the classroom take more time and resources. (The NewsHour will be airing a report on this soon)

Forty-five states and the District of Columbia use the Common Core’s English Language Arts standards. But a few states (California, Idaho, Kansas, Massachusetts, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee among them) have recently moved to make cursive mandatory.

North Carolina passed a “Back to Basics” law last year which mandated cursive (and multiplication tables) be taught.

Children in Cindy Hutchins’ second grade class at Estes Elementary School in suburban Asheville, North Carolina, have just begun learning their cursive letters. They first spent two years learning the D’Nealian manuscript alphabet, which is slanted and supposed to ease the transition. And even in the age of emails, typing and texting, some of the students at Estes Elementary still see potential practical applications for cursive handwriting.

“Maybe we won’t have electricity anymore and it might be a blackout so we have to write letters to each other,” said Jacob Fender, 8, after practicing at his desk in Ms. Hutchins’ class.

“You don’t always have your device wherever you go,” said Sammi Hascher, 9, who has started to use cursive writing in her third grade lessons. “If you want to write a fancy party invitation or something you can write in cursive.”

The cursive Hascher and her classmates are learning has played a crucial role in something most literate people tie to their identity — their signature or “John Hancock” (which can still be made out on the faded Declaration of Independence on view at the National Archives.)

“One of the bank managers recently I spoke with said there is an appalling number of high school students transitioning to college (and) they come in to open a bank account and they don’t have a signature,” said Marilyn Zecher, a former teacher and certified academic language therapist who uses cursive to help students dealing with learning difficulties including dyslexia. “That’s a problem.”

Not everyone sees losing cursive from the elementary school curriculum as a critical problem, including Steve Graham, a Professor of Education at Arizona State University who has studied handwriting extensively.

“You can write your name out in manuscript, that’s fine, it doesn’t have to be a signature,” Graham said. “We now have electronic signatures. We don’t use the signature in the same way that we did 20, 30, 50, 100 years ago. This really isn’t an impediment in terms of thinking about putting your (John Hancock) on something.”

There are still devotees who slowly and methodically create beautiful characters, such as those found in the document John Hancock is well-known for having signed. Christine Carneal spends a few hours each week learning calligraphy, highly decorative handwriting, in Washington D.C. in a class offered by Smithsonian Associates, the educational outreach arm of the national museum and research complex.

“I’ve always been interested in letters since I was a small child,” Carneal said. “I used to come up with new ways to draw letters that I learned in school. I would draw them as bubble letters or as block letters and it has turned into me being a graphic designer.”

Shane Perry is Carneal’s instructor who has spent many years learning, perfecting and later teaching how to write beautifully.

“I have a passion for the art form and I’ve always thought that calligraphy is a bona fied art form just like any other art form: drawing, painting, sculpture, but with an added element, and that is you can be very deliberate in what is that you want to say,” Perry said. “You can make it as clear or as opaque as you want but it’s also a tradition that’s begun since almost the beginning of human civilization.”

The post Is cursive handwriting slowly dying out in America? appeared first on PBS NewsHour.