Raising the Bar for Teacher Training

Teacher training is critical to student success. But despite high-profile education reforms such as Common Core standards and a new state education funding formula, teacher preparation is still not getting the attention it deserves. That's one of the conclusions of "Preparing World Class Teachers," a new study by the education think tank EdSource. We talk to the report's co-author and other education experts about model programs and the best way to reform teacher preparation and credentialing.

New State Law Defines Consensual Sex, Aims to Fight Campus Assaults

Gov. Jerry Brown has signed a law that makes California the first state in the country to legally define consensual sex. The "yes means yes" law aims to improve how colleges investigate and prevent sexual assaults by requiring "an affirmative, conscious, and voluntary agreement" for sex. Victims' advocates are cheering the measure -- but critics say it's too broad and puts an unfair burden of proof on those falsely accused of sexual assault.

PBS NewsHour

On campus, fight Ebola panic with information

         by the NewsHour's American Graduate Project

Students work in class at the School of Health Professions at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center, where students prepare for careers in health services. Photo by Joel Aguilar

How does an off-hand comment about Ebola turn into campus-wide panic? Like this:

teacherslounge“Mr. Aguilar, we have students texting and saying that a student on campus has Ebola,” Nurse Belk told me after a student was sent home for an ear problem.

“Why are they saying that?”

“The student sent a text to his friends that he was sent home by the nurse and then the students started saying in class that he had Ebola.”

I told Nurse Belk that we needed to talk to the class immediately and contact the sick student to make sure he was not spreading misinformation.

Meanwhile, in our Veterinary I class, Ms. Ortega, who has firsthand knowledge of hospitals’ preparations for Ebola, presented the facts about Ebola: its origin, how it “jumped” from animals to humans and current practices for dealing with the virus. Students were able to use their medical background from their freshman and sophomore years to put the current situation in perspective, keep the facts about viruses in mind and stay informed.

Social and local media have saturated the airwaves with so much information on Ebola events that it gets difficult to focus on what is true and not. Like Nurse Belk and Ms. Ortega, educators across the country are listening to what information is being shared at school and stand ready to counter misinformation with facts. The worst thing we can have is a misinformed student body, which creates opportunities for bad choices.

We are fortunate to be a health-related magnet high school — because our students are science-oriented, they are well-prepared to deal with a possible Ebola outbreak. Our students are taught to research, evaluate information and then make a final determination on how to proceed; they understand that making a wrong diagnosis can harm individuals entrusted to their care.

But schools that are not health-focused can still provide a great deal of information through biology, health education and other sciences that expose students to relevant topics. School nurses and counselors can provide presentations to staff and students to educate them further on precautionary measures on Ebola. Staying updated also helps avoid panic. In Dallas, our district has sent out updates each time a specific event makes the news and has provided us with information on what we were doing to assist and support our community.

The Ebola situation is serious, but panic can lead to other health problems such as anxiety and stress. I would caution educators not to ignore questions or hide information from students. If we don’t tell them what is happening, they will hear it from someone else — someone who may not have their best interests in mind. Students and parents entrust us to provide a safe and secure environment in times of uncertainty, and we are their lifeline to accurate information.

Joel Aguilar is principal at the School of Health Professions at Yvonne A. Ewell Townview Center in Dallas.

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More college campuses swap ‘No means no’ for ‘Yes means yes’

A poster from Ohio State University's Yes is Sexy Campaign.

A poster from Ohio State University’s Yes is Sexy Campaign.

When the sexual assault prevention group Culture of Respect attended the Dartmouth Summit on Sexual Assault in July to promote its forthcoming website, the group went by a different name. The nonprofit passed out business cards and marketing all emblazoned with the phrase “No Means No.”

For the last two decades, that’s been the slogan of choice for sexual assault prevention efforts, and just a few months ago it seemed like a perfect fit for the new organization. But in the weeks leading up to No Means No’s official launch, the organization began having second thoughts.

“The swiftly evolving conversation about defining sexual assault signaled to us that we needed to reframe our name as something more positive,” said Allison Korman, the group’s executive director. “And it’s even possible that ‘No means no’ will be an outdated or irrelevant concept in 10 years. Students may not have even heard of the phrase by then.”

That’s because at a growing number of colleges, “No means no” is out, and “Yes means yes” is in. And it’s more than just revising an old slogan — from coast to coast, colleges are rethinking how they define consent on their campuses.

Last month, California Governor Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed legislation requiring colleges in the state to adopt sexual assault policies that shifted the burden of proof in campus sexual assault cases from those accusing to the accused. Consent is now “an affirmative, unambiguous, and conscious decision by each participant to engage in mutually agreed-upon sexual activity.” The consent has to be “ongoing” throughout any sexual encounter.

On California campuses, consent is no longer a matter of not struggling or not saying no. If the student initiating the sexual encounter doesn’t receive an enthusiastic “yes,” either verbally or physically, then there is no consent. If the student is intoxicated, there is no consent.

California is the first state to make such a definition of consent law, but other states may soon follow suit. In New Hampshire and New Jersey, state legislators have introduced bills that would also link state funding for colleges to their definition of sexual assault, requiring the use of affirmative consent. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, plans on proposing legislation that would require a uniform definition of consent similar to California’s to be used for all of the state’s private colleges.

Earlier this month, the State University of New York system adopted that same uniform definition at all of its 64 campuses. The California State University System adopted its new definition months ago. Every Ivy League institution except Harvard University has adopted some form of affirmative consent. According to the National Center for Higher Education Risk Management, more than 800 colleges and universities now use some type of affirmative consent definition in their sexual assault policies.

“There’s quite a surge in support of a ‘Yes means yes’ formula,” said Ada Meloy, general counsel for the American Council on Education. “It’s certainly an ongoing movement, and is likely to be a generally positive thing. At the same time, it’s not easy to develop a good definition of affirmative consent. We wouldn’t want a one-size-fits-all approach for a variety of institutions.”

Moving From ‘No Means No’

Victims’ rights advocates continue to praise the idea of affirmative consent and the momentum the concept has recently gained. Laura Dunn, executive director of SurvJustice, said campus sexual assault policies could even “fill in some of the holes” in criminal laws regarding consent. In many states, consent is still based on a victim verbally or physically resisting, even as colleges within those states adopt affirmative consent policies.

Because colleges use a lesser burden of proof than criminal courts — preponderance of evidence rather than beyond a reasonable doubt — it makes sense to have a different definition of consent on campus, Dunn said, though she would ultimately like to see states adopt similar definitions at the criminal level as well. In order to comply with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, colleges must investigate complaints of sexual assault, even if students decline to go to the police.

“Traditionally we’ve focused on a lack of consent as someone fighting off an attacker,” Dunn said. “You looked for evidence of resistance. We only talked about what consent was not, which is not a very helpful paradigm. From the victims’ side, it says we have to resist. But even looking at this from the perspective of someone being accused, the traditional definition is telling them that it’s O.K. to do this until the victim says ‘no.’ That’s not really a helpful definition for them either because it can really be too late at that point. With affirmative consent, it’s simple. Consent is consent.”
“No means no” hasn’t always had such a negative connotation.

The Canadian Federation of Students popularized the phrase as part of a well-received, and still ongoing, sexual assault awareness campaign it launched in 1992. The group even owns the trademark in Canada, wielding it to stop the production of clothing and other merchandise that make light of the phrase (like a 2007 t-shirt that said “NO means have aNOther drink”). The same year the campaign was launched, the Canadian government adopted affirmative consent as the country’s legal standard, making “No means no” just a slogan, not a binding definition of consent.

The slogan has become well-known in the United States as well, though over time some college students began to use it as fodder for offensive jokes. A Yale University fraternity was suspended for five years in 2011 after its members marched around campus chanting “No Means Yes, Yes Means Anal” during a pledge initiation event. Just last week, a fraternity at Texas Tech University was stripped of its charter after painting the same phrase on signs during a party.

Unlike Canada, “No means no” is both a slogan and, in some states, the definition of consent. While there were efforts to create a uniform affirmative consent definition for all colleges during the recent reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, they were not successful. Meloy, of ACE, said she’s supportive of affirmative consent but believes that the final definition of what that phrase means should be left up to individual campuses or college systems. “I think institutions’ governing boards are the place for this to be discussed and considered,” she said.

But it’s that lack of a standard definition for affirmative consent that has led some colleges like Harvard not to adopt it.

Harvard’s policy forbids what it calls “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature,” stating that “conduct is unwelcome if a person did not request or invite it and regarded the unrequested or uninvited conduct as undesirable or offensive.” Earlier this week, 28 current and former Harvard law professors said the policy could deny due process process to those who are accused and that its definition of unwanted conduct was too broad and vague. Student activists, meanwhile, said the definition doesn’t go nearly far enough, and urged Harvard to change its definition to one of affirmative consent, saying in a petition that “the absence of a ‘no’ does not mean ‘yes,’ and our university policy should explicitly recognize that.”

Mia Karvonides, the university’s Title IX officer, said that Harvard uses a standard that is “consistent with the standard in all federal civil rights laws that apply in an education setting,” and that even its peers in the Ivy League don’t truly use an affirmative consent standard as they don’t require a verbal yes at every turn
“The closest any college comes to a defined affirmative-consent approach is Antioch College,” Karvonides said. “Under their policy, consent is given step by step at every point of engagement during an intimate encounter. You must verbally ask and verbally get an answer for every point of engagement. ‘May I kiss you? May I undo your blouse?’ ”

‘An Absurd Policy’

When the Antioch approach was introduced in 1991, it was widely mocked, including in a “Saturday Night Live” sketch, for what some saw as reducing a sexual encounter to a series of robotic yes and no questions. That critique of affirmative consent has been renewed in recent months as more colleges began to adopt similar policies. John Banzhaf, a law professor at George Washington University, said, the idea that students would ask for permission at every point of a sexual encounter is “unreasonable.”
“It just isn’t the way things work,” Banzhaf said. “How would this work in practice? Suppose the guy asks, ‘May I touch your breast?’ Does that mean through her shirt? Over her bra? Does that mean he can touch her bare breast? Does it mean he can touch it with his hand or his lips? What if this all happens in succession? As things escalate, is he supposed to ask before each of the 20, 30, 40 steps? Nobody talks like that, not even lawyers.”

Earlier this month, anti-sexism group UltraViolet tried to illustrate that affirmative consent can be natural and sexy by releasing an online video ad that mimicked retro pornography. In the purposefully grainy clip, a college-aged pizza delivery boy brings an unwanted pizza to a young woman’s apartment. When the man apologizes for his mistake and refuses to force the pizza on her, she finds his seeking of consent attractive and one consensual act leads to another. As the couple moves from kissing, to lying on top of one another, to removing their clothing, they often pause to quickly — breathlessly — ask “Is this O.K.?”

The Consent is Sexy Campaign offers campuses a series of posters making the same point, and some institutions have established campaigns of their own to explain why asking for consent is not a mood-killer.

Others are not so concerned with whether affirmative consent policies are awkward or un-sexy, but whether they’re dangerous and unjust. In a position paper, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education argued that there is “no practical, fair, or consistent” way for colleges to ensure an affirmative consent standard was followed. “It is impracticable for the government to require students to obtain affirmative consent at each stage of a physical encounter, and to later prove that attainment in a campus hearing,” FIRE stated.

Furthermore, most campus policies state that yes does not mean yes if a student is intoxicated. At Cornell University, for example, a student cannot consent if he or she is highly intoxicated. At the same time, if the accused is also highly intoxicated, he or she cannot use intoxication as a defense. In the case of two intoxicated students, Cornell’s rules place the responsibility on obtaining consent with whichever student is the “initiator of further sexual activity,” saying that “the inability to perceive capacity does not excuse the behavior of the person who begins the sexual interaction or tries to take it to another level.”

“It’s an absurd policy,” Joe Cohn, FIRE’s legislation and policy director, said. “How can the dean of the English department or a physics professor or whoever else is on the panel at a hearing know who was the initiator and who was not? What it really means is that if someone accuses another student of sexual assault in a situation like this, then the student who did not do the accusing is immediately considered to be the one responsible for initiating the conduct.”

Banzhaf said switching to a “Yes means yes” standard that includes nonverbal cues only adds more ambiguity to obtaining consent. What colleges and states should actually focus on, he said, is removing any remaining ambiguity around “No means no.”

“I don’t think the problem is the definition of consent,” Banzhaf said. “The problem is that too many guys simply don’t take no as no. They’re either drunk or stupid or have been conditioned by our society to believe that no means maybe and that if they keep pressing that no may turn into a yes. In most states still, for it to be rape, the guy must use force or threat of force or the woman must be totally incapacitated. That’s what needs to change. We have to have a unified understanding of consent and that should simply be that no really means no.”

Inside Higher Ed is a free, daily online publication covering the fast-changing world of higher education.

PBS NewsHour coverage of higher education is supported by the Lumina Foundation and American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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‘Terrific students can be found anywhere’: One scholar’s path from homeless shelter to halls of Georgetown


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JUDY WOODRUFF: The U.S. Department of Education recently released data that showed there were more than 1.2 million homeless students enrolled in public schools last year, the highest ever.

As the nation’s educators continue to struggle with the problem, the “NewsHour”‘s April Brown tells the story of one Washington, D.C., teenager who defied the odds and may well inspire other kids in similar situations.

This story is another in our American Graduate series funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

APRIL BROWN: In many ways, Rashema Melson is a typical Georgetown University freshman. She graduated top of her high school class last year and now makes it a point to come early every day, so she can sit in the front row.

But Rashema’s path toward success has not been an easy one. Her father was killed when she was 7 months old, and she spent much of the last three years in a Washington, D.C., homeless shelter with her mother and two brothers, facts that she kept mostly secret while in high school.

RASHEMA MELSON, Georgetown University: It was nobody’s business. And if it was, I didn’t want to be pitied, I didn’t want to be looked down upon as if I couldn’t do it, because I’m a strong person.

CHISA PERRY, Anacostia High School: She was always smiling, very bubbly, very friendly, always the good morning or the hello.

APRIL BROWN: One person she eventually told was Anacostia High School teacher Chisa Perry, who was Rashema’s track and field coach. But for a long time, Perry didn’t know. And she says, regardless of what was happening at home, Rashema always remained upbeat and focused at school.

CHISA PERRY: The best way to describe Rashema would be determined. Anything she sets her mind to do, she will do it.

WOMAN: Rashema Melson!


APRIL BROWN: That grit and determination was on display last June, as the 18-year-old gave her valedictorian speech at Anacostia High, a school that sits in one of the poorest sections of Washington.

RASHEMA MELSON: Life is not fair, but despite that harsh reality, you must keep striving for success.

APRIL BROWN: Rashema began taking classes at Georgetown this summer after receiving a full scholarship to the nation’s oldest Catholic university. She moved out of the homeless shelter and into student housing.

The homeless shelter where Rashema lived during the last few years of high school is only a few miles away from Georgetown, but the atmosphere could hardly be more different. That’s why she spent five weeks of her vacation here in a program designed to help ease the transition.

DENNIS WILLIAMS, Georgetown University: Schools like Georgetown, elite schools, sometimes, we need to remind ourselves that terrific students can be found anywhere, and to give ourselves the mechanism, the means to find them, bring them in and make sure that they are OK. And that’s what this program does.

APRIL BROWN: Dennis Williams, the associate dean of students at Georgetown, runs the summer bridge program that Rashema took part in. Known as Community Scholars, the program offers students tools to help them make it all the way to graduation.

These types of programs have become relatively common in universities across the country, particularly for students like Rashema, first-generation college-goers. Rashema has thus far been adjusting well academically. But Williams warns it can take a bit longer to adjust to some things outside the classroom.

DENNIS WILLIAMS: What’s unusual in Rashema’s case is that she is local, and so that she is from a part of the city that most Georgetown students know very little about, and that the part of the city where her high school is, most of the people in that neighborhood know very little bit about Georgetown. So it really is two separate worlds within the same — within the same city.

APRIL BROWN: Rashema is taking the transition in stride, but is skeptical of one label that many have already given her: role model.

RASHEMA MELSON: When people say I’m a role model, I tend to — I don’t mind. I don’t mind. I just don’t want anyone to put pressure on me, like, you have to be this way because people are watching you.

People are always going to watch me, but I’m always going to be myself, because if I’m not myself, you know, then who am I?

APRIL BROWN: Despite the fact her story has spread across the nation, Rashema says she hasn’t been paying much attention to the media coverage.

RASHEMA MELSON: What is funny is, I don’t even know where these articles are.

APRIL BROWN: For now, Rashema is focused on becoming a forensic pathologist and moving her family out of the shelter for good.

RASHEMA MELSON: I still see that picture in my head of me having my own house, and having my degrees on the wall, having a job to go to from 9:00 to 5:00, having a consistent paycheck, paying my own bills, and just being — being the woman that I always — I always wanted to be.

APRIL BROWN: Rashema says she has also started a scholarship foundation that she hopes will one day help students like her.


This story and PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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National school leaders ask if it’s time to curb standardized testing

Remember fretting about your ACT and SAT scores? A new study reveals that it really is only a number and not a reliable
         predictor for college success.

In a survey, the Council of Great City Schools found that students in urban school districts take 113 standardized tests between pre-kindergarten and 12th grade. The results of the survey could lead to cuts in the number of tests schools are required to administer.

The average student in one of the country’s large, urban school districts will take 113 standardized tests between pre-kindergarten and 12th grade, according to responses to a survey by the Council of Great City Schools.

That survey was the first part of what could be an effort to cut down on the number of standardized tests schools are required to give.

Today, the Council of Great City Schools and the Council of Chief State School Officers announced what they’re calling their ‘commitments to high-quality assessments.’ Those commitments come after school districts across Florida started the school year with votes in favor of a testing moratorium. Those votes were just part of growing national calls to pause, reform or end high-stakes testing.

The results of the Council of Great City Schools survey hint at what could be driving that discontent.

On average, the survey found, 11th graders take the most standardized tests in any given year. In one surveyed district, those students spent 27 days, or 15 percent of their school year, taking tests. That count didn’t include tests given in their classes or optional exams like the APs, SAT or ACT.

The average eighth grader spent a week taking tests outside of their normal classes.

In many districts, according to Michael Casserly, the Council of Great City Schools executive director, students take multiple tests that provide similar data but are required by different entities.

“It’s time that we step back and see whether the tail is wagging the dog,” he said.

Assessing students every year is important for determining how they’re progressing, said Chris Minnich, executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers. But, he added, students should only take the minimum number of tests needed to get the information educators need.

District of Columbia Public schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson said she understands parents’ concerns about whether students are being overtested during a conference call.

She said school districts often “add lots of new initiatives without going back and abandoning initiatives that aren’t working anymore. So you get assessment build up and there’s not a lot of reflection about how many assessments are happening or how much time we’re spending.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has resisted calls to put high stakes testing on hold, but said he supports the groups’ efforts.

“In some places, tests -– and preparation for them –- are dominating the calendar and culture of schools and causing undue stress for students and educators” he said in a written statement. “I welcome the action announced today by state and district leaders, which will bring new energy and focus to improving assessment of student learning.”

Next steps for the high-quality testing initiative include further analyzing the Great City Schools survey results to find whether testing contributes to school and district improvement and identify tests that can be eliminated, publishing state lists of tests students are required to take and reviewing existing state-level tests for quality and whether they are in line with state curriculum standards.

PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

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