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Education Roundup: Teachers Unions, States Clash Over Evaluation Systems

In this week's roundup: New York gets tough with school districts, teachers rebel against technology.

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Welcome to the High School Notes weekly roundup of education news. Every Friday, you'll find out what's making headlines around the Web.

Teacher evaluations and tenure

The new year has started off much the same way 2011 ended—with some vicious battles between teachers' unions and state governments. New York's government suspended funding for 10 school districts—including New York City, which stands to lose up to $60 million—because those districts and local teachers unions couldn't agree on an evaluation system for educators. Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been a proponent of creating teacher evaluation systems statewide.

Meanwhile, teachers in New Jersey may soon lose tenure. Gov. Chris Christie has long discussed reforming the state school system, and his advisers say that will be the administration's main focus during the first half of 2012.

College readiness

In Washington, D.C., city council Chairman Kwame Brown introduced a bill that would require all public high school students to apply to college in order to graduate. Currently, 11 states require students to take the SAT or ACT exam, but the D.C. bill would be the first to actually require students to apply to a college.

Brown acknowledged that requiring students to apply for college is problematic because of application fees. "There's certain areas we have to flesh out. I understand that," he told The Washington Times.

Even if more students from Washington go to college, that doesn't mean many of them will graduate. In Connecticut, for example, just 40 percent of students who graduated from high school in 2004 had earned a college degree or certificate in six years or less. Of the more than 26,200 Connecticut students who attended college, nearly 12,000 dropped out. An additional 9,000 students who graduated from Connecticut high schools in 2004 didn't ever enroll in college.

Education technology 

New innovations in education technology have changed classrooms around America, but some teachers in Idaho insist on using more traditional methods, according to The New York Times. Last year, the state mandated students complete an online course to graduate.

One of the teachers, Ann Rosenbaum, told the paper that "technology is being thrown on [teachers]. It's being thrown on parents and thrown on kids." Other teachers raised concerns that their jobs could be eliminated when online classes become more prevalent, because many more students can potentially be taught by just one teacher online.

In Maryland, Mark Blom, general counsel to the Howard County public school system and a former district superintendent, argues that plenty of classrooms have advanced technology, but teachers lack the training necessary to take full advantage of that technology. Once they're trained, educators will be able to personalize education for each student. "By using technology as a teaching tool, we add a resource that easily individualizes, and we free teachers to differentiate as well," Blom writes.

Meanwhile, Chuck Dietrich, CEO of SlideRocket, which creates webinar software, argues in a Forbes op-ed that classrooms need to become "digital" in order to get students accustomed to the technology they'll use in the workplace. "Collaborative technology is a valuable aid in teaching students to engage in meaningful discussion, take responsibility for their own learning and become critical thinkers in a rapidly-shifting world—skills necessary for success in the 21st century workforce," he writes.

Charter schools 

A new report by the pro-charter Center for Education Reform found that since 1992, of the 6,700 charter schools that have been closed, financial problems and mismanagement were the two most prevalent reasons for closures. Just 18 percent of shuttered charter schools were closed due to academic underperformance.

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