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Ed links: Christian academics speak up on climate; Florida’s school-grading scandal; and more

Welcome to a Monday compilation of links to interesting items found along the reporting trail.

“All of God’s Creation — humans and our environment — is groaning under the weight of our uncontrolled use of fossil fuels, bringing on a warming planet, melting ice, and rising seas,” said a letter from Christian academics urging action on climate change.

Usually when Learning Curve puts together a links roundup, it is in honor of Friday. This week Your Humble Blogger is a little extra behind because an all-nighter last week, while supremely worthy on multiple levels, exposed her age.

Welcome, then, to a Monday compilation of interesting items found along the reporting trail. First up: A July 10 letter to Congress from dozens of Christian scholars urging lawmakers to confront climate change by enacting meaningful legislation to reduce carbon emissions and protect the environment. 

“As evangelical scientists and academics, we understand climate change is real and action is urgently needed,” write the signatories, eight of whom are from Minnesota colleges and universities, both sectarian and nonsectarian. “All of God’s Creation — humans and our environment — is groaning under the weight of our uncontrolled use of fossil fuels, bringing on a warming planet, melting ice, and rising seas. The negative consequences and burdens of a changing climate will fall disproportionately on those whom Jesus called ‘the least of these’: the poor, vulnerable, and oppressed.”

The letter was posted online by Sojourners and brought to my attention by MinnPost member and fellow all-nighter-puller Bruce Manning.

Charter school’s grade change

Next, have you been following the contretemps involving Florida Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett, who last week resigned amid claims that he had, as the New York Times reported, “changed the grade of an Indiana charter school founded by a prominent campaign donor while he was the superintendent of schools there”?

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Further reported the Times:

“The resignation came three days after The Associated Press published an article revealing e-mails that showed Mr. Bennett ordered his staff to change a ‘C’ grade given to Christel House Academy, a charter school in Indianapolis, to an ‘A.’

“The school takes its name from its founder, Christel DeHaan, a former executive at a time share company and one of Mr. Bennett’s largest donors during the 2012 election. According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, she donated a total of $90,000 to Mr. Bennett’s re-election campaign.”

The story has fueled an associated debate over assigning schools letter grades, which are used in some places to allow for state takeover of “failing” schools or to give students vouchers. Proponents say the grades provide parents with needed transparency. Critics counter that they are a poor substitute for meaningful accountability measures.

What does scandal say about accountability measures?

The Fordham Institute’s Flypaper blog has surveyed seven big brains that start from various philosophical and political stances on what the scandal means for school accountability going forward. If you are at all interested in the debate it’s worth your time.

What do I think? As someone who often looks at new rankings and outcomes reports, I can tell you I am often amazed that they take such different approaches to defining success, which means they naturally deliver wildly varying lists of “good” schools.

Evaluate your evaluators carefully, I say. Failing that, the state Department of Education’s Multiple Measures Ratings is widely regarded as solid, and can be mined for different kinds of outcomes data.

Finally, I’d like to direct the serious policy geeks among you — yes, Contract for Student Achievement loyalists, I’m pointing at you — to a relatively recent report by the American Enterprise Institute’s The Future of American Education Working Paper Series on Teach for America’s influence on alternative teacher certification policy.

The paper, penned by the influential Alexander Russo, asks very different questions about TFA than most Minnesota news coverage:  

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“For most of the 1990s and well into the 2000s, the new wave of ‘no excuses’ reformers and funders were only occasional, half-hearted participants in the messy business of Washington policymaking. They launched and funded impressive and successful new organizations and developed several innovative ideas about how to fix American schools. They took public funding when it was available and chafed privately when they bumped up against bureaucratic or administrative obstacles in the districts where they operated. But they were built on private philanthropic donations and generally did not get involved in politics, much less policy, until there was really no other choice.”