By Sally Absher

Board of Education Races Heat Up

Last Thursday was the deadline for candidate petitions for the March 1 election, which includes the non-partisan Board of Education District 2, 3, 5, and 8 seats.

A total of 11 petitions were picked up, but only seven were turned in by the deadline.  In District 3, former educator and County Commissioner Tony Norman is running unopposed, along with 8th District incumbent Mike McMillan. For anyone counting, the McIntyre rubber stampers now have at best a 4-5 minority on the Board.

The most interest was shown in District 5, which Karen Carson has represented for the past 12 years. Lori Boudreaux, Susan Horn, and Reuben “Buddy” Pelot turned in petitions.

Candidates in District 2 include Jennifer Owen and Grant Standefer. What happened to Tracie Sanger? Was she asked not to run? Isn’t it interesting that three of the current BOE members who voted for the contract  renewal/extension decided not to run?


L&N Stem Academy to Participate in AP Computer Science Principles Pilot

L&N Stem Academy is one of 50 high schools across the country to pilot the new AP Computer Science Principles course this fall. This course offers a broad introduction to computer science that goes well beyond coding. The new course will officially launch in the fall of 2016, with the first AP Computer Science Principles Exam administration taking place in May 2017.

The Focus spoke with L&N Stem mathematics teacher Joe Foy, who is teaching the pilot course this fall. Mr. Foy told us that this initiative came from the White House. In December of 2014 the Administration announced new commitments that are aimed at giving millions of additional K-12 students access to computer science education. One of the items specifically mentioned in that announcement was support of a new Advanced Placement (AP) Computer Science course that emphasizes the creative aspects of computing with a focus on real-world applications.

Foy said the pilot course enrollment at L&N is 22 students; diverse in both gender and ethnic backgrounds.  The students are deliberately a mix of first time programmers, and those who have completed at least one other programming course.  Another distinctive of both the course and the pilot implementation is that it is not uniquely aimed at Seniors and Juniors.  In fact the pilot AP course includes seven sophomores.

While AP Computer Principles is not a programming course, students do acquire basic skill in a programming language in support of course objectives.  Students at L&N are learning “Swift”, a language released by Apple in June of 2014.

Mr. Foy has been selected to lead workshops in support of 2016 nation-wide course fan-out.  He will be facilitating the Oak Ridge High School workshop the week of 11 July 2016.  Mr. Foy has also been designated by College Board as a “Content Area Specialist” for the course.


President Signs Bill to Reform K-12 Education

Sadly, the misnamed “Every Student Succeeds Act” (ESSA) overwhelmingly passed both the House and Senate, and was signed into law by President Obama.

Since No Child Left Behind (and actually several decades before that), Washington has been promising “new approaches to K-12 education” that will help “every child in every school receive an excellent education.”

There is a lot of spin in the press releases about the passage of this bill. Presumably “Classrooms will no longer be micromanaged by the U.S. Department of Education. Instead, parents, teachers, and state and local education leaders will regain control of their schools, and children will have a better shot at receiving a great education.” The claim is also made that “…we repealed the federal Common Core mandate…”

But according to Emma Vadehra, Chief of Staff, U.S. Dept. of Education, this bill will embed “college and career ready standards” or as we know, Common Core©. They do not expect any states to get away from the standards. It also solidifies the Department’s plans for full pre-K expansion.  It was also stated that the pre-K grants were significant in moving the ball and that states are on the hook financially as well.  The DoE is giddy with excitement at the impending passage of ESSA.

The American people have grown to hate even the mention of the name “Common Core Standards.” Therefore, the people who put the NCLB rewrite bill together decided they would try to “fool” everyone by making erroneous claims, saying that the bill would give states control over the standards.

But Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project, explained that ESSA actually increases federal control instead of giving it to the states:

“The state plan (which includes the state standards) must be coordinated with 11 different federal statutes. These include the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act that’s designed to connect the K-12 education system to government-controlled workforce-development, the Head Start act that centralizes preschool standards, the Education Sciences Reform Act (which seeks to boost data-collection on students), etc. If the state standards must be coordinated to all these, that means the standards must be either Common Core or something like Common Core – standards that are focused on minimal workforce-development rather than academic knowledge. Standards based on a classical education model, for example, wouldn’t qualify. Given these requirements, states will almost certainly stick with Common Core rather than risk their federal money by trying something else.”

Robbins says the bill also requires that the standards chosen must be aligned to the requriements of higher education. “There’s obviously a huge disparity between the requirements of a community college and, say, Harvard,” she continues. “So since ESSA also requires that ALL students be held to these standards (with the exception of those with the most severe cognitive disabilities), states will obviously choose the community-college standards. Guess what standards are already out there that are (admittedly) designed to prepare students only for community college? Common Core.”