Ed News, Friday, November 21, 2014 Edition

The ED NEWS

“I want my children to understand the world, but not just because the world is fascinating and the human mind is curious.
I want them to understand it so that they will be positioned to make it a better place”
Howard Gardner
Charters love to claim they draw from students of all different income levels, races, religions, disabilities, ethnic groups, etc.  However, that’s not always the case.  The Sacramento Bee describes a charter elementary school in that city that’s “open to all students” but, in actuality, serves predominantly children from the former Soviet Union.               Mark Weber, aka the Jersey Jazzman, turns his focus once again on charter schools  in his home state in an article this time on NJSPOTLIGHT.  He discusses the reaction a report he co-authored about charters elicited from supporters of those schools.  Much of it overlooked or ignored the data he provided.  “The data is quite clear,” he reminds everyone, “as a sector, charter schools do not educate the same students as their host districts. On average, charters educate proportionately fewer students in economic disadvantage (as measured by eligibility for the federal free lunch program) than do the district schools in their communities.  Charters also educate fewer students with special education needs; further, the students with those needs that charters do educate tend to have less costly disabilities. In addition, the sector enrolls very few students who are English language learners.”  He offers his research as an antidote to those who’d like to see entire districts or even states go all charter.                 Meanwhile Peter Greene, the CURMUDGUCATION  guy, picked up on the same meme and added some additional details.  Greene lays out how Weber’s study “reveals the limits of the charter business model.”
Adam Stone, on his foundinblank blog, adapts a chapter of Henry Giroux’s new book Education and the Crisis of Public Values: Challenging the Assault on Teachers, Students and Public Education.  Stone adds some “pertinent” videos to illustrate Giroux’s text for the chapter titled “In Defense of Public School Teachers in a Time of Crisis.”  If for no other reason check out the format of this rather unique piece.  
 
Wendy Lecker, columnist and senior attorney at the Education Law Center, wrote about what the obsession with standardized testing over the past 10+ years has done to a generation of students.  Her commentary appeared on the Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate website.  “The national testing obsession is destroying all that used to distinguish the American educational system. Worse still,” she concludes, “it is robbing students of the opportunity for normal and healthy brain development. Anyone who cares about children must demand an end to these destructive policies before they ruin an entire generation.”  Diane Ravitch described this as “a terrific article . . . .about the madness of our nation’s obsession with standardized testing.”
Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, commiserates with teachers in Minneapolis who, earlier this month, had their teacher ratings published for all to see in the local newspapers.  They now join groups of educators in Los Angeles (2010) and New York (2012) who were forced to suffer similar indignities.  “I’m so sorry Minneapolis teachers. Apparently you work for dopes, and given the publishing of your ratings in the morning paper, fairly malicious dopes at that.  This is the worst,” he bemoans in conclusion.  “This is the absolute worst version of reformster foolishness, slandering and upending an entire city’s worth of teachers. I don’t know any Minneapolis teachers, have never met any, but even sight unseen, I know they– and their students– deserve better than this.”               Minnesota may be following in the footsteps of California and New York in another way.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK mentions the state may be next in line, after its west and east coast counterparts, for a Vergara-type lawsuit.  The article includes a link to an interview in the Minneapolis Star Tribune with one of the plaintiff’s attorneys in the case who hinted the state may be ripe for similar litigation.
 
 Two first grade teachers at a school in Tulsa, OK, sent a letter home to the parents of their students explaining why they are refusing to administer the standardized tests and other (abundant) assessments expected of them.  Their note appears on the UNITED OP OUT website.                 John Merrow, on his Taking Note blog, indicates that at least 5,000 Colorado seniors opted out of standardized tests administered to them at the end of last week.  “What to make of recent events in Colorado,” he begins, “where thousands of high school seniors refused to take a state-mandated standardized test? Is this a harbinger of things to come, an American version of ‘Arab Spring,’ or was it an isolated incident with slight significance beyond the Rocky Mountain State?”  If you’re interested in his interpretation check out his column.
 
Lloyd Lofthouse, who writes the Crazy Normal–The Classroom Expose blog, offers an excellent timeline of how public education developed in this country and mentions some of the billionaires who are attempting to destroy the system.  He throws in 5 videos, for good measure, to illustrate some of his points.  He titles his piece “A Successful History of–And the Threat To–Public Education in the United States.
 
Veteran educator Marian Brady takes over Valerie Strauss’ column in The Washington Post to lay out “A Paradigm Shift Schools Need” in what they teach and “It’s Not Common Core, Tech or Rigor.”  He proceeds to quote from a number of world renowned scholars about what students need to learn to cope with today’s world.
 
This headline from the Huffington Post is enough to give one pause:  “Number of Homeless Children in America Surges to  All-Time High: Report.”  The study was issued by the National Center on Family Homelessness and was based on a state-by-state review.  Shockingly, it found that 1 in 30 children are currently homeless with California one of the worst states.  “The problem is particularly severe in California,” the piece points out, “which has one-eighth of the U.S. population but accounts for more than one-fifth of the homeless children with a tally of nearly 527,000.”  Consider the implications for education of this shameful condition!  The story includes a video (5:59 minutes) about this issue with comments and analysis from a co-author of the report and the director of the California Homeless Youth Project 
 
A meeting at the White House on Wednesday with Pres. Obama and Department of Education Sec. Arne Duncan was used to present to 100 school superintendents some new federal  educational technology resources for K-12 schools.  The details of the gathering are courtesy of the “Digital Education” blog at EDUCATION WEEK.               This item from The HECHINGER REPORT looks at how digital literacy is distributed along class lines.  As you can probably guess, the poorest segments of the population have the least access to things like broadband and thus have the lowest levels of technology skills.  How does this impact schools and learning?  “Digital tools are not only changing the way we learn,” the piece concludes, “they are also changing the way we behave.  Students who learn with laptops, tablets and other digital devices will internalize particular social and emotional skills, specific thought patterns and ways of interacting with the world that will eventually become the new ‘ordinary.’  Students who do not have access to these technologies, or who receive exposure only in a minimally integrated way, will find themselves disadvantaged.”
 
Valerie Stauss turns her blog over to guest Arthur H. Camins, director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J., who suggests now may be the ideal time to reframe the entire rancorous debate over education reform.  Instead of relying on terms like “accountability,” “no-excuses” and “choice” he offers ideas like “shared responsibility” and “empathy.”  Not sure exactly what he means?  Click on the link and let him explain it for you.
 
More finger pointing at the LAUSD.  The district’s inspector general released a report on Wednesday that found  management of the trouble-plagued computerized student information system, MiSIS, was “grossly inadequate” and it singled out for much of the blame the consultant who was hired by the district as project manager.  “Glitches in the system caused myriad problems,” the story in yesterday’s L.A. Times relates.  “Some students spent weeks waiting to be assigned to classes, and the district scrambled to fix errors in transcripts in time for college application deadlines.”  The IG study included a list of recommendations for moving forward.
 
Diane Ravitch passes along a piece from Connecticut writer Jonathan Pelto who has identified some 200 blogs that support public education.  [Ed. note: I don't think he included the "Ed News," so that would make it 201.]  “Like the Committees of Correspondence leading up to America’s War for Independence,” Pelto notes, “education bloggers work alone and in groups to educate, persuade and mobilize parents, teachers, education advocates and citizens to stand up and speak out against those who seek to undermine our public education system, privatize our schools and turn our classrooms into little more than Common Core testing factories.”
 
Most people are familiar with the protest technique known as a “walk-out.”  Have you ever heard of a “walk-in?”  Jeff Bryant at the Education Opportunity NETWORK explains how it’s being used to oppose unequal school opportunity in parts of Chicago and other issues in districts nationwide.  Yesterday was the culmination of a national “Week of Action for the Public Schools All Our Children Deserve.”  Bryant describes some of the activities taking place in support of the protests in various cities around the country.  “Today’s [Thursday's] nationwide walk-ins,” Bryant concludes, “should be a call to all Americans to demand our leaders abandon current public education policies and begin implementing what would truly represent a more positive direction forward.”
 
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, a possible GOP contender for president in 2016, delivered a stirring defense of the Common Core, which he has supported for a long time, in a speech yesterday before the National Summit for the Foundation for Excellence in Education, an organization he founded.  In a perfect world, Bush said. “Parents would have the right to a full and competitive marketplace of school options. Neighborhood schools. Charter schools. Private schools. Blended and virtual schools. Home schools.”  His comments appeared in an article in EDUCATION WEEK.
 
California’s K-12 schools and community colleges could be getting some good news to the tune of $2 billion, according to a study released Wednesday by the Legislative Analyst’s Office.  As state revenues come in well above projections the two systems could soon see significant increases in their budgets.  An article in yesterday’s L.A. Times provides the details.  “California’s education funding formula,” it reminds readers, “which is part of the state Constitution, sends spikes in revenue to schools and community colleges.  The report highlights how California’s finances are continuing to improve after many years of budget crises.”
Criticism of Teach for America is cropping up in some interesting places.  An opinion piece in The Daily Tar Heel, the campus newspaper of the University of North Carolina, had this to say: “TFA teachers are imbued with the best of intentions; however, we believe that TFA is a highly flawed program.”  It pointed out the school was the sixth-largest provider of TFA recruits in the country in 2013.  “At its worst,” the article continues, “TFA risks driving a deprofessionalization of teaching, encouraging school districts to invest in short-term hires rather than paying for the development of career teachers.”
 
Since 2009 the State of New York has required all new teacher candidates to take a series of tests in order to gain a license to teach.  The battery of assessments includes two state tests and one national one, the edTPA.  The results for the exams from 2013-14 showed some fairly low passing rates.  A piece from EDUCATION WEEK discusses the program and the ramifications for hiring.
 
The troubling Miramonte Elementary School lewd conduct case that broke into lurid headlines in 2012 may finally be drawing to a close.  The LAUSD announced today that it had reached a settlement with the remaining student plaintiffs and their families who’d brought a civil suit against the district.  That trial began Monday and would have most probably made public some gut-wrenching testimony from the young victims.  The LAUSD agreed to pay $139 million for the 81 legal claims in lieu of having a jury decide the outcome.  A story posted on the L.A. Times website this afternoon provides the details.  It includes a video report (3:08 minutes) from KTLA Channel 5 News about the settlement.
 
And finally, here’s Friday’s Quiz question, courtesy of Valerie Strauss: what percentage of guests invited on cable news networks to discuss education issues are actually EDUCATORS?  (A) 9% (B) 23% (C) 46% (D) 71%.  Take a minute and THINK before you answer.  OK, pencils down!  If you marked “C” you’d be incorrect; “B” is wrong, too, as is “D.”  The correct (rather shocking) answer is “A,” 9%, according to study done my Media Matters that Strauss features.  It included programs on CNN, FOX and MSNBC.  (Bonus question for extra credit:  Which one of those had the best record?  Answer:  You’ll have to read the piece.)  No wonder the general public seems to be so clueless about what goes on in their local classrooms.  Try to have a good weekend while you mull those numbers over once again.
                                                                       
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog.

 

 

Ed News, Tuesday, November 18, 2014 Edition

The ED NEWS

“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn 
and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can,
accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions 
– if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.”
                                                                                             ― John Holt
Why is one charter school chain in North Carolina refusing to divulge salaries of certain administrators despite a directive to do so from the state’s Board of Education?  PRO PUBLICA details the standoff and in an update explains that the chain finally complied.  The chain, Charter Day School, Inc., founded by entrepreneur Baker Mitchell, was highlighted  in a previous edition of the “Ed News.”  “On his blog and in earlier interviews with ProPublica,” the article indicates, “Baker Mitchell has maintained that private companies operating charter schools should not have to be transparent about their financials or publicly disclose what they pay their employees.”   Can public schools get away with that?
 
EduShyster interviews Sarah Lahm, the investigative reporter from IN THESE TIMES, who wrote a piece about billionaires who were pouring money, not into the schools of Minneapolis, but into two school board races there (a story highlighted by the “Ed News,” by the way).  The question arose as to why outside individuals were so interested in a mundane school board contest.  “I think people have a hard time grasping the concept that our public schools are being privatized,” Lahm responded in the Q & A.  “They don’t see it, they don’t want to see it, they call it a conspiracy. The notion that people who are investing money in our schools may not have completely altruistic motives, that they may actually have a business goal, that seems very offensive to some, especially people who’ve really hitched their wagons to charter schools as the solution to all of our problems.”
 
The author of this piece in Bloomberg Businessweek takes an in-depth look at K12, Inc., the largest operator of online public charter school, and what “went wrong.”  “K12 Inc. (LRN) was heralded as the next revolution in schooling,” it begins.  “Billionaire Michael Milken backed it, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush praised it. Now the online education pioneer is failing to live up to its promise.  Plagued by subpar test scores, the largest operator of online public schools in the U.S. has lost management contracts or been threatened with school shutdowns in five states this year. The National Collegiate Athletic Association ruled in April that students can no longer count credits from 24 K12 high schools toward athletic scholarships.”
 
The ALOED book club had an excellent discussion last Tuesday of Peter Tough’s book How Children Succeed–Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.  As you can tell from the title he tried to demonstrate the importance of character and “grit” for students’ academic success.  Not everyone was buying that theory.  Peter Greene, the CURMUDGUCATION guy, reviews a recent report from the Brookings Institute that attempted to support Tough.   Greene, to put it mildly was quite skeptical of the whole thing.  “There are so many things wrong with this report– sooooooo many things– and I’m about stumped for wrapping it all up in a neat conclusion,” he mentions dismissively.  “It is such a thin tissue of supposition, weak arguments, cultural biases, part-for-the-whole fallacies and poorly reasoned conclusions that I get rather lost in it myself. I can only hope that as of this post, I’m the only person who’s really paid this much attention to it.”  If you want to ignore his advice and take a look at the full study(35 pages)  for yourself, he includes a link.
 
Remember all those individuals and groups who were pushing value-added models (VAMs) for evaluating teachers.  The ardor seems to be cooling.  As Audrey Amrein-Beardsley explains, on her VAMboozled blog,  two big names in the VAM world resigned their positions recently.  The first was the Tennessee Education Commissioner and the second was the executive director of the Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Education Initiatives.  I’ll let Amrein-Beardsley sort it all out for you.  
 
This is a very tragic story to have to pass on.  You may be aware that the 43 students in the Mexican state of Guerrero who were kidnapped by local police in late September, turned over to drug gangs and apparently murdered, their bodies burned and the ashes dumped in a river were all in a teacher training program.  An article in the latest edition (Nov. 24) of TIME magazine details the impact of this ghastly act on their families, the community, Mexico and, hopefully, the entire world.
 
Have you heard of the group the “Collaborative for Student Success?”  I didn’t think so.  They’re a new “grassroots” organization that strongly supports the Common Core and are pushing the idea that since Republicans did so well in the recent mid-term elections that is an indications of strong support nationwide for the standards.  Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 isn’t buying that line for a minute.  She did her usual investigative homework and found that CFSS is funded by none other than the Gates Foundation.
 
The LAUSD is apparently not the only big-city school system experiencing difficulties with its computerized student data system.  The New York Daily News reports the city schools are dropping its $95 million Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) due to it being “clunky and slow” since it was implemented in 2007.  Questions were also raised when former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who helped introduce ARIS, won a contract for his company to assist in maintaining the program.
 
EDUCATION WEEK has an intriguing item about the setting of cut scores for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s exams.  SBAC is the group California has cast its lot with.  The article mentions that the percentage of students who will likely test “proficient” is predetermined and will most likely be less than 50%!  “In a move likely to cause political and academic stress in many states,” it predicts, “a consortium that is designing assessments for the Common Core State Standards released data Monday projecting that more than half of students will fall short of the marks that connote grade-level skills on its tests of English/language arts and mathematics.”  Interesting.  If one reads that right it appears that, upfront,  more than half of the students taking the tests will land in the “not proficient” category.  Does that sound fishy to you?  Looks like built-in, predetermined failure.  Then, according to the script, the so-called education “reformers” can blame the public schools and their teachers for doing such a “poor” job and that the only solution is to privatize or charterize the schools.  Sounds VERY FISHY!
 
This may prove to be a surprising statistic.  Since the economic recession began in 2008, college and university graduation rates have declined even as the number of students enrolled has increased.  The HECHINGER REPORT features a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center with the figures.
 
A new report from UCLA demonstrates that students at high-poverty high schools get less instructional time than their more well-off peers.  Factors that contribute to that included more teacher absenteeism, poorly trained substitutes, test preparation and campus lockdowns among others.  The study appeared in an article in today’s L.A. Times which includes a link to the full report (27 pages) titled “It’s About Time–Learning Time and Educational Opportunity in California High Schools.
 
And finally, Valerie Strauss published a great cartoon under the heading “Teachers: Do You Ever Get Home From School and Just . . . .?”  Check it out,  It will only take you 13 seconds. 

 
 
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog. 
 

Ed News, Friday, November 14, 2014 Edition

The ED NEWS

 “If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority,
then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power.
But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions,
then those in power work for us. In every country,
we should be teaching our children the scientific method
and the reasons for a Bill of Rights.
With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit.
In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human,
this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.”
Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Some of the so-called education “reformers” like to point out certain “miracles” that take place when schools are reconstituted or turned into charters.  They use them as examples of how their ideas are superior to what comes out of the public schools.  Unfortunately, when one digs deeper beneath the surface those “miracles” often disappear into thin air.  Gary Rubenstein, on his own Gary Rubenstein’s Blog, delves into the supposed turnaround of Paul Robeson High School in New York City into P-Tech High and finds “all that glitters is not gold” as far as the claims are concerned.  He particularly zeroes in on some comments made by former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein in a new book.
 
What happens when charter schools fail to meet expectations?  “Never happens,” you say.  Well, yes, it does.  Is there a procedure for closing them down?  That’s the focus of a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  “The charter sector,” it posits, “has long stood by the premise that if the independently run public schools fail to perform, they are shut down—an idea often referred to as the ‘charter bargain.’  But as the movement matures, it increasingly faces the messy reality of closing schools—a situation that could become more common.”
 
That outrageous TIME magazine cover story about the difficulty of getting rid of “Rotten Apples” from a couple of week ago, covered extensively by the “Ed New,” is BACK.  Nancy F. Chewning, an assistant principal at a school in Roanoke, Virginia, posted a scathing response to it in the form of a letter to the magazine on her blog, Leading By Example, that went viral.  In case you missed it when it first appeared (the “Ed News” did)  you can read it by clicking here.  “I am furious, incensed, and irate at your November 3, 2014, cover depicting every American public school educator as a Rotten Apple and a billionaire from Silicon Valley as the savior of American public schools,” she begins.  “So forgive me, if this Rotten Apple, tells you exactly what I think of your reporting since you never bothered to interview a public school teacher for your piece.”  Her indignation only grows from that start.
 
An interesting story in The Hechinger REPORT suggests that looking at absenteeism rates could be a better tool to measure school poverty.  It features a new report on the issue from the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.  “Policy makers should identify troubled schools,” the article maintains, “by their absenteeism rates — a relatively easy data point to obtain — and then work to fix the schools by addressing each one’s unique problems, from homelessness and child abuse to teacher turnover and safety.”  This item includes a link to the full study (35 pages) titled “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools.”
 
Diane Ravitch looks back at 12 years of No Child Left Behind and 5 years of Race to the Top and wonders why they haven’t been very successful.  She doesn’t just complain about the poor results under those programs but develops a new plan for accountability that she names “No Child Left Out.”  She offers a long list of measures for being sure that students are achieving what they need to.  Her metrics don’t include just math and English but stress characteristics like creativity, imagination, originality and innovation.  “This is only a start. Add your own ideas. The sky is the limit,” she concludes.  “Surely we can do better than this era of soul-crushing standardized testing.”               Along those same lines,  this piece in EDUCATION WEEK believes you CAN combine learning standards with creativity.  The author is a National Board Certified Teacher who works with gifted elementary students in central Florida.  He’s devised a program with the acronym C.R.E.A.T.E.  “As educators face an ever-increasing focus on standards-driven instruction,” he explains, “it may seem like there are fewer opportunities to foster students’ creativity. But I believe that standards-based instruction and creativity are not mutually exclusive.”
 
Ever wonder why some businesses and organizations are such ardent defenders of the Common Core?  Could the lure of lucrative profits have anything to do with it?  That’s the focus of a story from the Wall Street Journal.  “As states race to implement the Common Core academic standards,” it begins, “companies are fighting for a slice of the accompanying testing market, expected to be worth billions of dollars in coming years.”
 
Ever wonder how nutritious are school lunches?  A new study from Virginia Tech University finds them to be lower in fat, sugar and iron than the ones kids bring from home.  You can find the details about the report in a brief article from EDUCATION WEEK.
American RadioWorks has produced an extensive audio documentary (53:08 minutes) about the Common Core.  It’s titled “Greater Expectations–The Challenge of the Common Core.”  It reports that most teachers like the standards but have serious concerns about the assessments that are aligned to them.  The piece includes additional links to related essays about the issue.               Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, commented on the above program and stressed the question “Can We “Stop Using Tests to Drive Education Reform?’”  He reviewed several other sources that dealt with the same issue.  His conclusion: “So we’ve yet to hear a coherent answer to, ‘Can we stop using tests to drive education reform?’ But any legitimate notion of ‘reform’ will have to come up with one.”
 
Could school districts increase the quality of teacher candidates they hire by improving the screening processes they utilize?  That’s the topic of a story from EDUCATION WEEK which features research from a new study conducted by the University of Washington Bothell.  It looked at the two-tiered selection process of the 29,000 student Spokane School District to offer some guidelines for other districts to learn from.  The article includes a link to the full report (58 pages) titled “Screen Twice, Cut Once: Assessing the Predictive Validity of Teacher Selection Tools.”
 
Peter Greene is at it again on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  This time he’s shining a light on the CEO of the Green Dot charter chain, Marco Petruzzi.  It seems Petruzzi has just written his first entry on Green Dot’s blog and what he said set Greene off.  “If you’re unfamiliar with the Green Dot charter chain,” Greene relates, “I can tell you that it’s one more fine example of the modern charter movement, depending on student skimming, political connections, and the pushing aside of public schools, as well as demonstrating the ways in which a non-profit can be used to generate profits.”
 
A commentary in EDUCATION WEEK highlights a new study from the National Council on Teacher Quality that decries the perception that teacher prep programs are too easy and need to be made more rigorous.  The piece includes a link to the full report (52 pages) titled “Easy A’s And What’s Behind Them– Training Our Future Teachers.”  “The perception that becoming a teacher is easy,” the article begins, “is incalculably corrosive—to the profession and to teacher-preparation programs.  That impression undermines the esteem in which teachers are held. It’s also insulting to skilled and competent professionals, and it sends a signal to the least committed and the least able students that teaching could be the career for them.”
 
A story in The HECHINGER REPORT tackles the multiple concerns of  “How to Save Teachers From Burning Out, Dropping Out and Other Hazards of Experience.”  The two authors, one a Vice President of the Aspen Institute and the other the CEO of Leading Educators, a national non-profit, offer some concrete suggestions for improving teacher preparation programs and address retention issues so that 50% of teachers don’t leave their jobs within the first 5 years. “In public school systems constantly strapped for resources, great teachers remain an undervalued and underutilized asset,” they conclude.  “We have yet to truly tap into their talent to accelerate learning and this could be one of the reasons we have yet to fully realize the promise of our school improvement efforts.  Providing educators opportunities to simultaneously lead their peers and address school wide problems has enormous potential to change that, and make teaching a more dynamic, attractive career.”
 
Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, takes an up-to-date look at the emerging issue of student debt by providing 6 charts that compare states and particular institutions with the highest and lowest student debt.  You may be surprised where California ranks and which schools in the state make the highest and lowest tables.
 
The LAUSD is in the cross hairs once again and this time it has nothing to do with iPads or computerized student information systems.  Lawyers representing the district are being blasted for offering as a defense of a middle school teacher accused of lewd conduct that the 14-year-old victim was mature enough to offer consent to the sexual relationship that took place between her and her math teacher.  In addition, the attorneys attempted to introduce her sexual history as justification for avoiding civil penalties in the case.  Radio station KPCC provided the details as well as a related audio segment (5:41 minutes) about the story.               In a late-breaking  article posted on the L.A. Times’  website this afternoon, the district announced that it had fired the outside lawyer who had worked for LAUSD for 27 years for comments he made on the local radio station regarding the  legal strategy. 
 
The author of this piece in EDUCATION WEEK offers “2 Reasons Why Teachers Have it Tougher Than You Think.”  He’s an author and former elementary school principal so he “knows whereof he speaks.”  “At the same time they are trying to help guide students through some of the hardest times they have seen,” he sums up, “teachers are being asked to change practices and meet mandates, sometimes without the proper resources needed to make the changes. This is not a ‘once in a blue moon’ type scenario. Teachers are working through these issues on a weekly basis every year they teach. And yet they proudly walk into school every day hoping they can make a positive change in a student’s life. Teachers have it tougher than most people think, and all they want is the respect they deserve.”
 
Large groups of teachers, administrators and parents have protested the standardized testing regimen in the past.  Now students are getting in on the “opt-out” movement.  Colorado Public Radio describes how thousands of students in that state reacted to new exams.  “More than 5,000 Colorado 12th graders have refused to take the new state-mandated science and social studies tests as student anxiety about over-testing grows,” it begins.  “Hundreds of high schools students in Boulder staged a mass walk out Thursday and Friday, refusing to take their 12th grade social studies and science tests.  Fairview High School students say they want to send a clear message that when it comes to testing, enough is enough.”  The piece includes a video (3:33 minutes) with students explaining what all the fuss is about.               Could student test scores actually be used to determine who gets the best jobs in the future and who gets left behind?  That idea is not that far-fetched according to Anthony Cody.  Writing on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog he suggests that employers could demand to see how job applicants did on state standardized tests before making hiring decisions.  High scores = winners = good, well-paying jobs.  Low scores = losers = minimum wage positions.  That could/would never happen, you say.  ARE YOU SURE?  Cody maintains that teachers need to make sure America never gets to this position.  “Teachers have a role to play,” he declares.  “We can cooperate with the system, and validate the tests as accurate indicators of our students’ value as ‘productive members of society.’  That is what we are asked to do when Bill Gates and Arne Duncan implore us to help implement the Common Core.  Or we can offer our own vision of the role of education as a catalyst for democratic change. And that change that will increasingly require us to question the imperatives of an economy that no longer serves the majority of Americans, and reject the ranking and sorting of our students into those with and without economic value.”
A very interesting confrontation took place in the Manhattan offices of Teach for America between top leaders of that organization and members of the United Students Against Sweatshops who had accused TFA of undermining public education.  IN THESE TIMES has a good description of the back-and-forth between the 2 groups.  USAS’s “main gripes with TFA and its Peace Corps-like model for American education, bringing college students—most from elite universities—to teach for a short period of time in some of the country’s poorest school districts,” the article lays out, “are that it is inadequately training teachers and promoting a for-profit, anti-union education reform agenda.”
 
A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an attempt by the Massachusetts Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to remove licenses from teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations.  Members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) immediately fought back by contacting state education officials urging them to withdraw their proposal.  A brief note on the MTA website announced victory after the DESE informed educators in the state that they were “rescinding the draft options that link  licensure to educator evaluation.”  You can read the official announcement (it’s short) from DESE about this issue by clicking here.
 
The Christian Science MONITOR is starting a year-long series that will follow the trials and tribulations of a first-year principal as she attempts to turn around a struggling New Orleans charter elementary school.  The first installment looks at what she hopes to accomplish.
 
And finally, Valerie Strauss continues to follow New Hampshire high school senior Samantha Fogel as she navigates the rough waters of selecting a college to attend in the fall.  This fourth installment looks at the difficult issue of what schools to apply to first in order to get involved in their early admission process.  Strauss includes links and brief descriptions of the first 3 stories in the series.
 

 
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog.

 

 

Ed News, Tuesday, November 11, 2014, Edition

The ED NEWS

“Self-education is the only possible education;
 the rest is mere veneer laid on the surface of a child’s nature.”
Charlotte M. Mason
What happens to private student data when a charter school closes?  Good question.  Answer: Apparently nothing,  it’s left for anyone to take advantage of.  That sounds VERY dangerous!  It is!  The New Orleans Times-Picayune reports on a charter high school in that city that closed and when two laptops from the campus were sold at auction they still contained the social security numbers, birth dates and phone numbers of over 200 students.               The author of the Crazy Crawfish’s Blog was rightly outraged by this security lapse and wonders how much bigger it actually is beyond the 200 plus students reported in the initial story.   He titles his commentary “Another Data Fiasco at LDOE, and Another Reason Charters Pose a Danger to Our Children and Communities.”
 
Stuart Magruder, the member of the LAUSD Bond Oversight Committee who was highly critical of the iPad-for-all program and was briefly ousted from his position for his outspokenness, was interviewed by Andrea Gabor on her Andrea Gabor blog.  He was not very kind to either former Supt John Deasy or the district’s teachers union.  “Reflecting on Deasy’s tenure, as well as the role of the local teachers’ union in another recent technology disaster,” she reports, “Magruder declared a pox on both their houses.”
 
Many of the so-called education “reformers” have tried to portray the Common Core as a civil rights issue.  The authors of this piece from truthout take the exact opposite position.  They title their piece “Common Core Betrays the Civil Rights Movement” and in the course of it they excoriate the National Urban League, a prominent civil rights organization, for championing the standards. “We agree that education should empower young men and women, of whatever race or background,” they maintain, “to succeed in college and careers. Our contention, however, is that the Common Core’s promise does not correspond to its reality. More strongly, we contend that the Common Core betrays the civil rights legacy more than advances it.” The authors go on to demonstrate 3 ways the standards are already harming young African-Americans.

State lawmakers in California are turning a critical eye towards out sized compensation packages that are being paid to school district superintendents around the Golden State.  It’s not just the salary that has the legislators up in arms.  Some of the contracts include interest-free home loans, car allowances and paid life insurance policies among other generous perks.  A story in the San Francisco Chronicle has details about some of the more outlandish salary and benefit deals.

Want some idea of what the Republicans taking control of the U.S. Senate might mean for future education policies at the federal level?  Check out the man who will assume the Chair of the Senate Committee on Education when the new 114th Congress convenes in January.  He’s Lamar Alexander of Tennessee who was U.S. Secretary of Education from 1991-93 under Pres. George H.W. Bush.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, has a profile of who she refers to as “the new education powerhouse in Congress.”  “Alexander, who just won reelection,” she explains, “is a strong supporter of vouchers and charter schools but has taken a somewhat ambiguous position on the Common Core State Standards.”
 
An op-ed in the Minneapolis Star Tribune at the start of the month headlined “Worst Teachers In Poorest Schools” sparked an angry response from a kindergarten teacher at one of the lowest preforming campuses in that city.  She titled her piece “Walk a Mile in My Shoes.”  “Do we want a pat on the back? No. Do we want your sympathy? No. Do we want our community to be aware of the challenges in our schools? Yes, we desperately do,” she concludes. ” Please do not oversimplify a complex problem by blaming the teachers who are in the trenches every day.”
 
Destroying public employee unions including teachers unions has been the goal of many so-called education “reformers” along with some Republican governors and legislators in recent years.  One doesn’t have to go much farther than what has taken place in states like Wisconsin and Ohio and others to see this agenda out in the open.  Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that corporations are people Steven Singer, who blogs at the gadflyonthewall, titles his piece “Forget Corporations . . .  Unions Really ARE People.”  He proceeds to provide some very strong arguments for why that’s the case.  “Unions are made up of people. Their whole purpose is to fight for the rights of the individuals in them,” Singer contends.  “Corporations, on the other hand, have people who work for them, yes, but their raison d’etre is to earn profits for the board of directors or shareholders only.  While both work for the good of their members, unions work for ALL of their members. Corporations only work for the good of a limited selection of those connected with them – the owners.”
 
The “charter school scandal of the day” follows a twisted case in Pennsylvania reported by the Philadelphia Inquirer website.  The nonprofit that owns the charter’s campus is suing the Imhotep School for failure to pay rent, interest and fees.  [Ed. note: I'm not making this stuff up!]  “The court action comes after the school, which opened in 1998,” the article explains, “was rocked by months of turmoil, including the ouster in late June of M. Christine Wiggins, Imhotep’s founding chief executive.  The Imhotep board voted not to renew Wiggins’ contract after the School District’s charter office said in April that it would recommend not renewing the school’s charter on several grounds, including poor academic performance.”  You’ll just have to read the article for yourself and see if you can sort all this out.  One question.  How often do public schools end up in convoluted situations like this?  
 
Oh, oh!  Here’s a dangerous heads up from Valerie Strauss in The Washington Post.  She reports that Pearson is sponsoring EDUCATION WEEK’S analysis of how the midterm elections will affect schools.  The magazine and the Gallup Organization are co-hosting an event tomorrow in which a series of speakers will offer insights into the post-election results and their impact on education.  The entire tab is being picked up by Pearson.  Strauss wonders, rightly, why the largest education company in the world is doing this and offers responses to her query from Ed Week, Gallup and Pearson.  She includes a link to the event if you’d like more information.
 
New details are emerging about the disastrous rollout of the LAUSD’s flawed computerized student information system, MiSIS.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times describes some of the grade, attendance and other problems that have plagued the ambitious system from the start.  “The Los Angeles Unified School District suffered through another rough week with its new and malfunctioning student records system,” the piece opens.  “Outages resulted in teachers not being able to use the system during portions of the workweek. One of these down periods also caused teachers to lose grades they had input into the system.  Supt. Ramon Cortines gave elementary principals the option of going back to paper report cards — a work-around that proved to be surprisingly complicated.”
 
Jonathan Lovell, Professor of English at San Jose State University and Director of the San Jose Area Writing Project, had an interesting email exchange with none other than Pres. Obama over the results of the mid-term elections last week and how it all relates to education, schools and teaching.  You can read their back-and-forth courtesy of Diane Ravitch’s column.
 
What might happen if corporate bean counters took over education and the running of schools?  Sound far fetched, you say.  Impossible.  Peter Greene, of CURMUDGUCATION fame, thinks it’s already happening and what he describes is rather terrifying.  Please follow his piece to its conclusion and you, too, may be scared to death of the whole scenario.
 
Not only are professional educators increasingly concerned about the growing number of standardized tests that students are required to take and the time the assessments take away from instruction.  Now, The New York Times reports, more and more parents are reacting to the same concerns.  The piece focuses on Florida but could be applied to many states.  “Parents railed at a system,” the author writes, “that they said was overrun by new tests coming from all levels — district, state and federal. Some wept as they described teenagers who take Xanax to cope with test stress, children who refuse to go to school and teachers who retire rather than promote a culture that seems to value testing over learning.”  Diane Ravitch wrote on her blog about this piece: “This is the best article I have read about the current testing mania in The New York Times. It is heartening that the revolt against the testing madness has attracted national attention in the nation’s most important newspaper. Many broadcast media use the Times as their guide to the important issues of the day.”
 
The mid-term elections wrapped up last week but already people are looking to the next ones coming up in March.  Those would be the L.A. municipal primary elections and will include 4 different LAUSD school board races.  The deadline for filing an intent to run for those seats was Saturday and all 4 incumbent who will be on the ballot drew challengers according to a item in Sunday’s L.A. Times.  “Aside from the familiar challenges, including budgets, union negotiations and student performance,” it outlines, “the incoming board also is expected to choose a permanent successor to Supt. John Deasy, who resigned under pressure in October. Ramon Cortines returned from retirement to replace him, but at 82 is not expected to stay indefinitely.”
 
It seems like the connection between Common Core proponents and charter school proponents is beginning to unravel.  It’s a little complicated so I’ll let Peter Greene on his CURMUDGUCATION blog explain it to you.  His commentary is titled “CCSS & Charters: The Love Story Ends.”  “It wasn’t always like this. Charters and the Core were a match made in heaven,” he lays out.  “To spur financing and enrollment, the Charter forces needed a way to ‘prove’ that public schools suck, and that meant finding a yardstick with which public schools could be measured and found failing. That meant some sort of standardized test, and that meant something to test them on. So, Common Core. The Core and the Tests (from which it could not, must not, be separated) would be the smoking gun, the proof that public schools were failing and that only privatizing schools would save Our Nation’s Youth.”

And finally, EDUCATION WEEK had two articles about the growing popularity of the Chromebook by Google as the computer hardware that more and more districts are turning to.  The first one deals with the Chromebook itself and describes some of the pros and cons of the device. “Suddenly, Chromebooks are surging,” it reports.  “Barely a blip on educators’ radar screens as recently as 2012, the inexpensive, Web-based laptop computers accounted for nearly one-third of all mobile-digital-device sales to schools in the United States in the first half of this year.”  The second one profiles the decline in sales of the Apple iPad as the Chromebook’s popularity has surged.  “Two of the nation’s most recognizable technology companies,” it begins, “are increasingly locked in a battle for supremacy in the education market—one that pits Google’s Chromebook laptops against Apple’s iPad tablets.”

 
 
 
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog. 
 

 

 

Ed News, Friday, November 7, 2014 Edition

The ED NEWS

Tuesday is the Veterans Day holiday.
 
 
EVENT REMINDER: Come one, come all to the next stimulating ALOED book club discussion.  It takes place this Wednesday at 6:30 at Samuelson Alumni Center on the Oxy campus.  Dinner will be provided by ALOED.  Even if you haven’t read the book (see below) come for the great food and camaraderie.  For more information and to RSVP please click here.
 

ALOED Book Club 

“Teachers have three loves: love of learning, love of learners,
 and the love of bringing the first two loves together.”
― Scott Hayden
And now to the news.
 
The satiric website The ONION has a brief item about how a growing number of 3- and 4-year-olds are being urged to participate in “online preschools.”  The piece reads like reality but please keep in mind it is SATIRE.  If “a picture is worth a thousand words” you must view the one that heads this story.
 
Donna Brazile, a Democratic Party operative, CNN contributor, columnist and professor at Georgetown University, wrote a piece on the CNN website attacking the TIME cover story about tenure.  She titled her commentary simply “Don’t Abolish Teacher Tenure.”  “The cover is a slap in the face,” she declares indignantly, “to every teacher who has dedicated his or her life to bettering the lives of children. Right now, we should be lifting up and championing educators. The last thing we should be doing is discouraging or dampening the enthusiasm of a new generation.”  [ Ed. note:  Hear! Hear!]  She goes on to quote some numbers from a recent poll that were very pro public education and pro teacher.
 
Wednesday’s L.A. Times included one letter reacting to the Steve Lopez column from Sunday’s paper, highlighted in Tuesday’s “Ed News,” about the middle school teacher who enjoyed his job but was so frustrated with all the extraneous issues that he might give it up.
 
JACOBIN reports on a series of FBI raids over the summer at 19 campuses run by the Gulen charter network which is affiliated with the Concept Schools Charter system, one of the largest in the country.  The 19 schools were in Texas, Arizona, California, Utah and Nevada.  “In California, Magnolia Science Academies, a Gulen-affiliated chain, recently made headlines for allegedly misusing $3 million in public funds to cover the immigration costs of six non-employees,” the story points out.  “The Los Angeles Unified School District ordered the closure of two Magnolia schools, citing financial mismanagement, but a July court order reversed the decision.”  The article includes a litany of highly questionable practices at other campuses in the states singled out.
 
Depending upon your political affiliation there were not many things to cheer about in Tuesday’s mid-term elections.  Diane Ravitch had two very short comments on her blog.  One looked atthe few things to cheer about and the other listed a couple of bad news results.                 Incumbent Tom Torlakson won the race for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction with 52% of the vote over his challenger, Marshall Tuck.  EDUCATION WEEKhad a pretty extensive story the morning after the election as the vote count was too close to call for a long stretch of time.  “The race quickly became a battleground,” the article explains, “between unions supporting Torlakson, and philanthropists and other self-described education reformers backing Tuck. Although it was a non-partisan race, both candidates identified themselves as Democrats.”              Ed Week also provided a list of results for some of the key education-related measures that faced voters on ballots around the country.  None were in California.  The constitutional amendment on the ballot in Missouri with some draconian items regarding tenure, collective bargaining and other teacher rights (mentioned by Diane Ravitch, see above) went down to defeat.                Lily Eskelsen Garcia, NEA president, had a short video message (3:17 minutes) on YouTube reacting to Tuesday’s election and issuing a pep talk for the future.               Yesterday’sL.A. Times offered a recap of the Torlakson/Tuck race and an analysis of why the incumbent won.  It was one of the few education-related contests around the nation in which the teachers unions came out victorious.               LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer has a simple message for the billionaires who pumped so much money into the Tuck candidacy and other contests around the country:  why not spend those sums (and more) on programs that help kids rather than trying to win control of school policy.  His plea was printed on Diane Ravitch’s blog.              With the Republicans taking control of the U.S. Senate and extending their advantage in the House in the voting on Tuesday, GOP leaders were quick to lay out the education policies they’d like to push during the new session of Congress.  EDUCATION WEEK describes what’s in store as the legislative branch is now controlled by the Republicans.               Both national teachers unions, NEA and AFT, spent large sums to support governors and Senators that they favored.  When the votes had been counted they had very little to show for their efforts.  A story from the same publication outlines where things went mostly wrong.               Could some of the Democratic losses sustained in Tuesday’s voting be attributable to Pres. Obama’s alienating his previously strong base of teachers and educators?  That’s the premise of this blog from Edward Berger, Ed.D., writing on his own website.  “By systematically destroying the nations confidence in educators and public schools,” Berger maintains, “and following unqualified, self-appointed change agents like Bill Gates, Eli Broad, Michelle Rhee, Mike Bloomberg, and a few dozen other profiteers, this administration undermined confidence in educators and fact-based education.”               Jeff Bryant, on the Educational Opportunity NETWORK, weighed in on the election results.  He believes that there is still no coalition forming around a much-needed education agenda.  He reviews some of the analyses done of what the votes mean for school reform and zeroes in on a couple of races including the Torlakson/Tuck match in California.  “The anticipated role education was presumed to have,” he begins, “in this week’s midterm election generally did not pan out.”
 
Harvard University announced a major new fellowship program to help prepare seniors to enter the teaching profession.  “Harvard already has an undergraduate teacher-preparation program,” the story in EDUCATION WEEK notes, “but it’s quite small, enrolling on the order of 25 students a year. Most of the teachers the university prepares are graduate students. But in recent years, the college has seen an increased interest among undergraduates in pursuing a teaching career, said James Ryan, the dean of the Harvard Graduate School of Education.”  It goes on to explain that almost 20% of Harvard graduates apply for Teach for America positions and it proceeds to detail what the new program will entail as far as preparation goes.
 
Thanks to Larry Lawrence for sending along a very intriguing piece from THE BECOMING RADICAL blog that makes the case for connecting many of the so-called education “reforms” to racismWithin that category he includes ideas like teaching “grit” which is a key concept in Paul Tough’s book, the topic of the next ALOED book club (see the top of this edition of the “Ed News.”)  “Education reform not only ignores inequity bred from racism, classism, and sexism,” writes Paul Thomas of Furman University, “but also actively perpetuates and even increases that inequity (most significantly reflected in high-stakes standardized testing).”  Tough subtitles his book “Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.”  Thomas takes a much more jaundiced view of the role of “grit.”  “The ‘grit’ honoring of effort first (and even exclusively) is a warped version of the real order of things: Opportunity, talent, and then effort,” he concludes.  “The ‘grit’ narrative, then, and the sloganism of ‘Work hard. Be nice’—regardless of good intentions—are the racial slurs of our time.”
 
Gary Rubinstein, on his Gary Rubinstein’s Blog, writes a seriousrant against Teach for America.  He titles his piece “Bait-and-Switch for America” and his diatribe is interesting because he was a member of a TFA  cohort in 1991.  “Joining the 2015 TFA corps is a terrible mistake,” he warns candidates who’ve been accepted for next year.  “Two years from now everyone will know this, but right now TFA has managed to get a few last lies out of their well-oiled PR machine and lure a few more unsuspecting kids into their trap.  But here’s the problem with TFA:  They are a bunch of self-serving liars and anyone who joins up with them is an accomplice to any of the damage that this lying results in.”  Rubinstein goes on to address a litany of issues he has with TFA.  Diane Ravitch, on her blog, wrote that Rubinstein “has written many posts about the flaws of TFA but this one is the most scathing I have read.”
 
How long does the average big city school superintendent serve these days?  If you answered a little over 3 years (3.18 to be precise), you’d be absolutely correct.  A new survey from the Council of Great City Schools, featured in a story in EDUCATION WEEK,demonstrates that their tenure has even declined slightly from 2010.  The piece includes a link to the full report (10 pages) titled “Urban School Superintendents: Characteristics, Tenure and Salary–Eighth Survey and Report.”              And how does principal turnover impact students and staff?  That question was the focus of an interesting piece, also in Ed Week, that highlighted another survey produced by the School Leaders Network.  It found that 25% of principals left their campuses EACH year and ones from high-poverty schools left in much higher numbers than those from affluent ones.  You can find this report (22 pages) titled “Churn: The High Cost of Principal Turnover” by clicking here.  The article listed some recommendations for retaining school chiefs.
 
You probably could have predicted this one!  A story in today’s L.A. Times finds that a report produced by a consultant for the LAUSD says the district’s implementation of its new computerized student information system, MiSIS, “was problematic at just about every level.”  The study was made public by the school board yesterday after initially deciding to keep it under wraps.  The article lists a number of areas where the district made significant errors during the disastrous rollout.
 
As highlighted in a previous edition of the “Ed News” the U.S. Department of Education is preparing new guidelines for accountability rules for teacher preparation programs.  This piece inEDUCATION WEEK discusses the new single accreditor of those programs, the Council for the Accreditation of Education Programs(CAEP), and how it plans to evaluate them.  CAEP “has announced it will evaluate programs based on what teacher-candidates can do and how effectively they can teach,” the article report, “as demonstrated through reliable assessments, including classroom observations and students’ standardized-test scores.”
 
And finally, for you progressive rockers from the 70s and 80s, and everyone else, comes this parody of the Pink Floyd anthem “Another Brick in the Wall.”  A group of students in Ohio formed an “Anti-Common Core Club” and produced a video (4:44 minutes) onYouTube titled “Another Brick in Ohio” which demands ‘No More Common Core” and “Pearson–leave those kids alone!”  If you’d like to complete the experience, click here for the original Pink Floyd music video (5:34 minutes) “Another Brick in the Wall” with its “We don’t need no education–we don’t need no thought control . . . . Teacher, leave them kids alone!” message.  The sausage-making image in the clip is pretty jarring.
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog.
 

Ed News, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 Edition

The ED NEWS

 “I have an unshaken conviction that democracy can never be undermined 
if we maintain our library resources and a national intelligence capable of utilizing them.”
A new poll from the Gallup organization finds that most teachers surveyed favor the Common Core State Standards (76% positive) but find the assessments linked to them problematic.  A scant 9% favored using student test scores to evaluate teachers.  Those and other results can be found on the Gallup website.               A second survey from the same source asked parents about their attitudes towards the standards and compared the findings to a similar one in April.   
 
John Merrow on his Taking Note blog has a very interesting article in which he compares Baker Mitchell, charter school owner in North Carolina, to Jesse James, notorious bank and train robber.  Merrow speculates that by the end of his career Mitchell will have made a lot more money than James every did and it will all be above board and perfectly legal.  Merrow outlines how Mitchell is able to make out like a thief by sharing some of the numbers involved in running four non-profit charter schools that funnel millions of taxpayer dollars to his for-profit private companies.  “I’m guessing that Jesse James,” Merrow concludes, “wherever he now resides, is wishing he could return to earth, renounce his criminal ways, move to North Carolina, and open some charter schools.”
 
Michelle Rhee, longtime darling of the so-called education “reformers,” is again showing her true colors.  StudentsFirst, the group she founded after leaving the chancellorship of the Washington, D.C., public schools has been channeling large amounts of campaign cash to conservative Republican governors and state legislators who support her pro-charter, pro-choice, anti-public school agenda.  A piece in SALON is titled “Michelle Rhee’s Favorite Wingnuts: A Look at the GOP Candidates the Education ‘Reformer” is Backing.”  It focuses on her attempt to swing a number of races for the New York state Senate.
 
“iPadgate update:” Both Apple and Pearson aggressively contacted LAUSD board members prior to gaining contracts to provide district students with computer tablets and curriculum according to a story in Saturday’s L.A. Times.  These latest details come from newly released emails and other documents.  “The communications with the board and representatives from Apple and Pearson,” the article indicates, “far exceeded those with other vendors vying for a share of the $1.3-billion initiative to provide a computer, loaded with curriculum, to every student, teacher and campus administrator.  The emails and documents do not indicate that board members violated laws or L.A. Unified’s ethics policy. But they show how the two companies tried to win lucrative contracts with the nation’s second-largest school system. Both companies offered to give school board members informational sessions about their products and to explain how they were currently being used within the district and elsewhere.”
 
New Jersey has taken steps to deal with the fledgling opt-out movement in that state by issuing thinly veiled threats of disciplinary action against students based on decisions made by their parents.  That set off one parent in particular.  Sarah Blaine, a mother, former teacher and full-time attorney, fired back at the acting education commissioner David C. Hespe who issued the guidelines about how to handle students who wish to skip the tests.  Her comments appeared on Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post.  “So as awful as this guidance is,” Blaine thunders in conclusion, “it tells me that we’re winning. In a post-Citizens United world, there’s still some hope for grassroots activism and organizing. We are winning the war to do away with excessive and punitive standardized testing. And, of course, the whole education reform movement relies on its standardized testing foundation.”
 
A few so-called education “experts” have been making some pretty wild claims about the Common Core.  Now the Center for American Progress is promising that the Standards will close the gender gap and open up more STEM opportunities for women and girls.  “More engaging and challenging standards build a strong academic foundation for all students,” it predicts. “Girls—and in particular, girls of color—have a lot to gain from more-rigorous learning standards that better prepare them for college and career success. By raising the expectations for student learning, the Common Core State Standards allow girls the opportunity to seize STEM learning opportunities while in grade school; to pursue a diverse set of college majors; and to obtain jobs that command higher salaries. The Common Core State Standards can expand on the progress girls have made since Title IX and can have a long-lasting impact on women in society.”               Peter Greene was a mite skeptical about all this on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  “The Common Core is great for the ladies, he opens.  “At least that’s what we can learn from a new CAP (Center for American Progress) article that combines two now-classic Core-boosting rhetorical techniques– wacky leaps of logic, and taking credit for what was already happening.”   He doesn’t have any problem with the data that CAP presents regarding the gender gap but wonders how the standards are going to successfully close it.
 
Diane Ravitch comments on “the worst constitutional amendment to appear on any state ballot in 2014.”  The good news is it’s not in California; the bad news, it proposes to add some pretty wacky things to the Missouri constitution like using value-added models to teacher evaluations, disallowing collective bargaining over those evaluations, elimination of seniority and tenure and basing teacher retention, promotion and salaries on student test scores.  Halloween may be over but those are scary ideas by themselves and to attempt to enshrine them in the state constitution is downright terrifying!  Ravitch identifies the group behind the resolution and provides some information about the  individual funding it.  
 
Two letters published in Saturday’s L.A. Times commented on the paper’s extended Tuesday editorial on what needs to be done to “fix” the LAUSD now that Supt. Deasy is gone.  One of the letters was written by former UTLA President John Perez.  
 
Diane Ravitch reviews the new book by former ALOED book club author Yong Zhao for the latest edition of The New York Review of Books.  The volume is titled Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (And Worst) Education System in the World.  She titles her piece “The Myth of Chinese Super Schools.”  Zhao “tells us that China has the best education system,” she writes, “because it can produce the highest test scores. But, he says, it has the worst education system in the world because those test scores are purchased by sacrificing creativity, divergent thinking, originality, and individualism.”
 
Saturday’s L.A. Times has some additional details about the resignation on Friday of the  LAUSD’s Chief Information Officer Ron Chandler.  The story was highlighted in the previous edition of the “Ed News” after it was first reported by the LA SCHOOL REPORT.  Problems with the iPad-for-all program and the trouble-plagued new computerized student information system, MiSIS, led to Chandler’s decision to leave his post.  
 
If you think the education situation is California is bad, wait until you read these next two items describing what’s been going on in North Carolina over the past few years.  The first one is from a high school social studies teacher who offers a detailed statistical view of what’s been happening in the Tarheel State.  His comments appear on the Red4EDNC website.  “Why do our schools lag behind?” he asks.  “Why is North Carolina racing to the bottom when it comes to public education? The state’s choice to not adequately fund public schools is the opportunity cost for changes in the tax code geared to benefit private sector businesses and the wealthy.”               The second item is a detailed report posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog from a professor at Duke University and her husband who used to be the education editor at The New York Times.  Their piece is titled “What’s Up With Education Policy in North Carolina?”  “The purpose of this document,” they write in an introductory note, “is to help people both outside and inside North Carolina understand what is currently happening to education policy in this state. The document is neither an academic paper nor an advocacy piece. Instead it is simply our best effort to describe and to put into context the significant policy changes affecting education in North Carolina. We write it as concerned citizens and hope it will be useful to others.”               Things are not a whole lot better in New York.  Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is up for re-election today and has been using his hostility to public education, unions, tenure and teachers as a solid plank in his campaign.  Prof. Daniel Katz of Seton Hall University, on his Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog, reviews some of the positions Cuomo took in a conversation with the editorial board of the New York Daily News last week.  Katz maintains that Cuomo is now “at war with teachers.”  “Governor Andrew Cuomo may not only be at war with teachers,” Katz concludes.  “He may be at war with the very concept of public education.  If he does indeed win a second term on Tuesday, he must be opposed at every step of his distorted and dangerous ideas about our public schools.”
 
Steve Lopez, in his column in Sunday’s L.A. Times, writes about a dedicated and talented LAUSD math and science teacher at John Burroughs Middle School in Hancock Park who came late to the profession after stints in other fields.  Charlie Unkeless tells Lopez that “teaching is the most rewarding and important  job I have ever had.”  However, he’s so frustrated by salary cuts, increases in class size and lack of materials and supplies that he may just “walk away” from it all.  His story is both heartwarming and maddening and Lopez tells it very well.  
 
Many people have weighed in on the controversial TIME magazine cover about “Rotten Apple” teachers and how hard it is to get rid of them.  The “Ed News” has highlighted many of their comments since the story broke a little over a week ago.  Diane Ravitch offers her take on the piece by dividing it into 3 parts: the cover, the story itself and an introductory column by Nancy Gibbs, the magazine’s managing editor.  Whether you agree with Ravitch or not she makes some very salient points about the package that has raised such a ruckus.               EDUCATION WEEK columnist Nancy Flanagan, a National Board Certified veteran music teacher in Michigan, took umbrage with the TIME cover and claimed “No, It’s Not ‘Nearly Impossible’ to Fire Bad Teachers.”  Flanagan noted, as many others have, that the story is much more even-handed.  “How do I know,” she asks, “that it’s not ‘nearly impossible’ to fire bad teachers? Because my medium-sized, semi-rural district did so, repeatedly, during the 30 years I worked there.”
There’s a very good chance you won’t be reading this until after the polls close this evening at 8 pm but it’s still an interesting piece.  LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer explained on his Facebook page why he was voting for Tom Torlakson to retain his seat as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  He was particularly incensed by all the campaign contributions that went to challenger Marshall Tuck from what Diane Ravitch refers to as the “Billionaire Boys Club.”  Zimmer’s comments were reprinted on
Ravitch’s blog.               Speaking of gobs of outside money impacting political races.  The Network for Public Education (NPE) has put out an alert outlining some of the school board races in places like Denver, Austin and Minneapolis among others where outside money is having a major impact.  The article even zeroes in on a battle in Richmond, CA, where a pro-charter PAC has contributed a big chunk of dough.               In addition, NPE endorsed Tom Torlakson in his race against fellow Democrat, Marshall Tuck.                EdSource takes a look at the California school chief’s race and what’s at stake in the contest.  “Spending in the race for California superintendent of public instruction,” it notes, “has by far outstripped all other statewide races, including the campaign for governor. Although the superintendent has limited power, donors to incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck are spending big sums to influence what they consider is at stake in this election: the direction of education reform.”               Valerie Strauss weighed in on the Torlakson/Tuck contest and was also appalled by the amount of money (almost $30 million and counting) that was spent by both sides.  She wonders what might have happened had that sum been directed to boosting the education budget in the state instead.  She also notes that the battle is between two Democrats and only demonstrates how divided the party is when it comes to education policy, at least in California.
 
EDUCATION WEEK has the latest news on how schools and districts around the country are coping with Ebola.  The author of the piece is not an educator but is, in fact, a doctor of internal medicine.  He offers a primer on the disease and discusses specific things individuals  and schools can do to prevent a possible spread of Ebola and deals head-on with some of the fears and misinformation that’s out there about the contagion.  
 
The next ALOED book club discussion (coming up on Nov. 12) focuses on the book How Children Succeed–Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough.  It goes into detail about how KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter schools are not only teaching academics but also concentrating on improving their students’ “character.”  For a slightly different view of what’s going on check out New York  high school math teacher/blogger Gary Rubenstein’s appearance at the Network for Pubic Education’s “Public Education Nation” conference that took place in Brooklyn on Oct. 11.  He was part of a panel discussion on Charter Schools and describes a visit he made to a KIPP school.  You can view a short piece of his speech (3 minutes) that appeared on Anthony Cody’s blog LIVING in DIALOGUE or click on this link for the full panel discussion (50:01 minutes, Rubenstein’s segment runs from 18:17 to 27:11 and he briefly mentions observing a “grit class.”) 
 
The U.S. Dept. of Education will shortly be releasing  new guidelines for teacher preparation programs at the nations’ colleges and universities.  This is a second attempt after the first one, announced in 2012, was met with almost total condemnation.  Valerie Strauss turns her blog over to Donald E. Heller, Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University who offers some suggestions on what the new DoE regulations should contain. 
 
If you’d like some idea of what it’s like to teach in other countries check out this documentary (41:00 minutes) produced by Education International on YouTube.  It’s titled “Teachers: A Day in A Life” and presents educators from India, Belgium, Togo, Canada and Argentina representing 5 continents who share some of their experiences and their vision of a quality education.
 
And finally, California is part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) so this story from EDUCATION WEEK is rather disturbing.  During field testing last spring of the consortium’s math and English tests that are tied to the Common Core a number of high school students reported that the tests were much tougher than the previous ones they took and they didn’t test what the students had been taught in their classrooms.  This is all according to a report released by the consortium last week.  “Whether teachers’ instruction isn’t sufficiently aligned to the common core,” the article concludes, “or whether the tests aren’t fully aligned, the findings offer a sobering picture of what students could experience when they take the operational tests this school year.”  The Ed Week story includes a link to the full SBAC survey (18 pages) titled “Smarter Balanced “Tests of the Test’ Successful: Field Test Provides Clear Path Forward.”  
 
Dave Alpert
(Occidentaly College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog.

Ed News, Friday, Oct. 31, 2014 Edition

The ED NEWS

Happy Halloween!
Tuesday is Election Day.  Be sure to VOTE!
“An English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions.
One was, ‘What’s your alma mater?’ I told him, ‘Books.”
Malcolm X
And now to the news.
Everyone seems to be constantly searching for the Holy Grail that will close the achievement gap.  The latest focus has been on the Common Core, testing and charter schools.  Iris C. Rotberg, Research Professor of Education Policy at George Washington University claims those supposed “silver bullets” are nothing but blanks.  Her thesis about all of this appears on the Teachers College Record website. “The controversy over the Common Core,” she begins, “is the most recent diversion from addressing the basic problems that contribute to the achievement gap between low- and high-income students. In the past decade, the focus has been on charter schools and testing. An enormous amount of time has been spent on promoting, implementing, and debating these initiatives in the hope that they would somehow narrow the achievement gap, even while poverty persisted and income and wealth gaps increased. These policies,” Rotberg continues, “which began with high—perhaps, more accurately, unrealistic—expectations, turned out to be irrelevant to narrowing the gap and, in some cases, reduced rather than expanded opportunities for low-income students.”
A previous edition of the “Ed News” focused on the new book by Anthony Cody titled The Educator and the Oligarch.  John Thompson, historian and inner-city teacher, reviews it and wonders if Bill Gates will read it.  The piece, from the Huffington Post, also has an interesting “evaluation” of Gates as a philanthropist using “typical” standards as he demands from teachers.   Based on it, would you rate Gates “effective,” “needs improvement” or “failing?”  Have fun with it.
If you think your students’ test scores are not important wait until you check out what might be in store in Massachusetts.  A proposal is afoot to not only fire teachers who get several poor evaluations (partly based on those aforementioned test results) but to take away their license to teach as well!  You read that right, and Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, is thoroughly outraged.  “There is no profession anywhere in the country,” he fumes, “that has such astonishing rules. Good lord– even if your manager at McDonalds decides you’re not up to snuff, he doesn’t blackball you from ever working in any fast food joint ever again! Yes, every profession has means of defrocking people who commit egregious and unpardonable offenses. But– and I’m going to repeat this because I’m afraid your This Can’t Be Real filter is keeping you from seeing the words that I’m typing– Massachusetts proposes to take your license to teach away if you have a couple of low evaluations.”               The president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Barbara Madeloni, had a quick response to the idea of taking away peoples’ licenses to teach in the Bay State.  It was posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  “We know of no other profession, Madeloni pointed out, “in which licensure is contingent on employment evaluation. More insidiously, the employment evaluations include student learning outcomes, thus connecting relicensure to student test scores.”  Madeloni concluded by urging that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education “withdraw the policy options currently being considered.”
 
A number of prominent civil rights organizations this week sent a letter to Pres. Obama, Education Sec. Arne Duncan, leaders of Congress and state legislators urging them to drop the standardized-test based accountability system now in vogue.  Valerie Strauss printed the note in full on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post.  It includes 8 specific recommendations.  “We believe,” the signatories state at the outset, “that improved accountability systems at the local, state, and federal levels are central to advancing and broadening equal educational opportunity for each and every child in America. The current educational accountability system has become overly focused on narrow measures of success and, in some cases, has discouraged schools from providing a rich curriculum for all students focused on the 21st century skills they need to acquire.”
Occidental is back in the news, but for all the wrong reasons.  A story in Wednesday L.A. Times highlighted a new outside audit commissioned by Pres. Veitch regarding steps the college has taken to deal with sexual assault complaints.  The report stated the school was “getting it right” but campus activists dismissed its findings as “superficial” and “not an objective investigation.”   “Occidental,” the article mentioned, “has been a hotbed of activism on the issue . . . . since at least 2009. But a ‘stark polarization’ on campus over the issue could derail efforts to make further progress, the audit found.”  You may have received an email from Pres. Veitch this week regarding the audit done by the Pepper Hamilton law firm.  If not, you can read the cover letter (3 pages) and/or the full report (130 pages).
With the mid-term elections on Tuesday, EDUCATION WEEK has put together an “Election Guide” which outlines a number of education-related races and issues around the country.  Which party will have control of the U.S. Senate is one of the key battles and the article outlines what the impact will be on both K-12 and post-secondary education.  California’s campaign for Superintendent of Public Instruction is singled out.
The current (Nov. 3) TIME magazine cover, the one titled “Rotten Apples–It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire A Bad Teacher,” is still sparking a lot of controversy (see the Oct. 28, edition of the “Ed News”).  Jeff Bryant, writing in SALON, not only criticizes the cover but points out the magazine has slipped over the years from its previous prestigious perch.  Bryant goes on to cite a number of people who have been critical of the piece and some of the attacks on teacher tenure and other rights.               A math teacher from New York returns to the debate over tenure that was sparked by the Vergara case and rekindled by the current TIME magazine cover.  His commentary, from The HECHINGER REPORT, is titled “Against Tenure?  Here’s Why You Might Want to Make An Exception for Your Child’s Teacher.”  “People think tenure for a teacher implies lifetime job security,” he explains. “It does not. Tenure insures that teachers receive due process. For example, if the local school board is having budget issues, they cannot simply dismiss the higher paid teachers in order to hire younger ones at half the salary. Tenure also shields them from the constant attacks against not only their teaching ability but often their character.”               Steven Singer, teacher and education advocate, has a blistering response to the story on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG.  He actually goes after the third part of the cover title about the role of “tech millionaires” in education reform.  “A slew of Microsoft wannabes,” he thunders, “is taking up the mantle of the bored rich to once again attack teacher tenure.  They claim it’s almost impossible to fire bad teachers because of worker’s rights.  You know who actually is impossible to fire!? Self-appointed policy experts!  No one hired them to govern our public schools. In fact, they have zero background in education. But they have oodles of cash and insufferable ennui. Somehow that makes them experts!”   Singer proceeds to explain once again, as many others have, what tenure really means and how it works.                AFT President Randi Weingarten appeared on the “Morning Joe Show” on MSNBC (5:04 minutes) on Tuesday to blast the TIME cover.                    Haley Sweetland Edwards, author of the cover story, appeared on the “Washington Journal” program (31:24 minutes) on C-SPAN.  She discussed the piece and responded to questions from viewers who called in.                The  managing editor of the magazine, Nancy Gibbs, appeared on the “Morning Joe Show” yesterday to defend her publication’s controversial cover.  Her portion of the clip runs the first 3:32 minutes.               Brian Ford, a teacher and author, wrote a letter to the editor at TIME about the contentious cover.  His note is reprinted by Diane Ravitch.
U.S. Department of Education Sec. Arne Duncan has been backtracking, at least in words if not in actions, from the massive amount of standardized tests American students are subject to.  He wrote a recent op-ed that questioned the number of exams.  Carol Burris, writing on Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post, wonders who he is trying to fool with that approach.  “Mr. Duncan and the Chief State School Officers,” Burris contends, “need to convince parents that they are listening, too. Their strategy is to say that ‘we are only for good tests, not the bad tests, and we will make all the bad tests go away.’ It is disturbing that they believe that parents would not see through the ruse.”
Charter schools often like to claim that they serve the same population as local public schools.  That may be true in some places by NOT in New Jersey.  On her blog Diane Ravitch discusses a new study by Rutgers University that begs to differ about those statements regarding similar demographics in the Garden State.  “Charter schools across New Jersey educate a very different population of students by income, language proficiency, special needs, race and even gender than their sending district public schools,” Ravitch quotes from the report.
“How long should vendors be allowed to maintain and use the information they collect about school children?  The question cuts to the heart of the tensions that define the digital learning revolution now underway.”  That’s the lead-in to an item from EDUCATION WEEK which delineates the growing battle between technology experts and personal privacy advocates that’s being played out in the nation’s classrooms.
The much maligned organization Teach for America has been criticized for a number of issues–the truncated length of its teacher training, the shortness of its candidates’ tenures, its diversity, the fact it often replaces veteran educators with much lower paid beginners, among other things.  The Nation got a hold of an internal memo from the group that exhibits some of the defensiveness it’s feeling and how it is reacting to the charges with a strong public relations campaign to help cover up its lack of results.  The extended analysis in the article includes a full copy (11 pages) of the TFA memo which carries the titled “Teach for America’s Responses to Critical Media: On the Record Case Studies.”
Jeff Bryant, in his latest piece for the Education Opportunity NETWORK, takes a look at the tsunami of money that’s flowing into political campaigns with an emphasis on how it’s impacting educational races and issues.  He surveys a number of articles on the topic and zeroes in on particular contests including a school board battle in L.A. in 2o12 and the current donnybrook for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  “Historically, elections that determine public education governance – from local school board races to contests determining state administrative leadership – have been fairly subdued affairs,” he notes, “in comparison to mayoral and legislative races. . . . But lately, these contests have grown more animated as a new element –money from big business and private individuals and foundations – is now altering the electoral process in new and fundamental ways.”
The anti-testing, opt-out movement has been gaining considerable momentum over the past couple of years.  How did it all get started?  Valerie Strauss publishes an excellent history in her column from Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (“FairTest”) who looks at the origins, groups, personalities and strategies behind the drive to end/improve standardized assessments.
New LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines is quickly taking matters into his own hands.  The district’s Chief Information Officer, Ron Chandler who was responsible for the introduction of the problem-plagued computerized student information system called MiSIS, resigned today after 4 years with the district.  The LA SCHOOL REPORT has the brief details.
And finally, do you ever wonder what it’s like to be a student today?  A veteran high school teacher decided to follow two students at her school for 2 days to see just what it was like to “walk in their shoes.”  The fascinating and enlightening account appears on the Granted, and . . . blog by Grant Wiggins who maintains the anonymity of the educator in question.  “I have a lot more respect,” the teacher concludes, “and empathy for students after just one day of being one again. Teachers work hard, but I now think that conscientious students work harder. I worry about the messages we send them as they go to our classes and home to do our assigned work, and my hope is that more teachers who are able will try this shadowing and share their findings with each other and their administrations. This could lead to better ‘backwards design’ from the student experience so that we have more engaged, alert, and balanced students sitting (or standing) in our classes.”  Did you ever have any idea that this is what it’s really like?
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog.