Ed News, Tuesday, July 29, Edition

The ED NEWS

 “Everything can be explained to the people,

on the single condition that you want them to understand.”
― Frantz FanonThe Wretched of the Earth

The issue of “inequality” has come to the fore recently when comparing things like salaries for CEOs and the minimum wage.  The question also arises in education.  Oxy professor Peter Dreier, writing for the Huffington Post, addresses how inequity is becoming more and more prominent in regards to our schools.  He points out how states vary widely in per-pupil spending and mentions an article, highlighted in the L.A. Times, about private parent foundations creating summer school courses for a fee in more affluent areas, among a litany of other examples  Dreier offers two concrete solutions to the problem.  He titles his commentary “America’s Classist Education System.”  Thanks to ALOED board member and past president Nancy Kuechle for sending this item along.               Speaking of educational fairness and equity, how does this situation sound to you?  According to a piece from Reader Supported News, Mississippi reduced educational spending by $1.3 billion and promptly turned around and gave Nissan Motors $1.33 billion in tax breaks to provide good paying jobs.  A large number of those positions were actually temporary work with reduced pay and no health and retirement benefits according to a study by the United Auto Workers.  Is the Magnolia State the only one doing things like this?  “While Mississippi is paying for a giant chunk of Nissan’s subsidies with the exact amount of money it cut from schools in the last six years,” the author mentions, “the state is actually following a nationwide trend. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit think tank, most states are funding schools even less than they used to before the global recession, which officially ended in 2009.”  How’s that for fairness and equity?               Here’s another issue regarding fairness.  The Friday “Ed News” highlighted an article about a new online database that contains compensation information for superintendents, principals, teachers and other campus staff for public school districts throughout California.  However, the House in North Carolina passed a bill that protects the privacy of salary information for people who run charter-management companies, even though they are paid with public funds.  Fair?  The details come from a story from the NC POLICY WATCH.

Jeff Bryant, writing on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, describes the Netroots Nation convention held this year in the middle of July in Phoenix as “arguably the most important annual event in the progressive community.”  He reviews some of the education issues that arose during the gathering and some of the topics that were discussed at previous conferences.

A special election will be held Aug. 12, to fill a vacant seat on the LAUSD school board.  The two candidates in the race are George McKenna, a long-time district principal and administrator, and Alex Johnson, an education advisor to L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.  Sandy Banks, in her Saturday column in the L.A. Times, complains about a mailer put out by the Johnson campaign that took a quote by McKenna about the Miramonte scandal out of context.  In addition, she reviews the McKenna’s career.

EduShyster turns her blog over to a guest author, a 5th grade teacher in South Carolina, who wants to know if you could ask Arne Duncan one question, what would it be?  He offers a few suggestions and you might think of a couple of your own.

Remember the old adage “practice makes perfect?”  Well, some recent research raises questions about it.  Alfie Kohn, writing on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, reviews a new study that tends to debunk the old saying.  He describes the implications of this on theories of learning and teaching.  [Ed. note:  What is the meaning of all of this in regards to the recent ALOED book club selection "Strings Attached" about a "tyrannical" music teacher who demanded perfection, through constant practice, from his students?]

If you are billionaire Charles Koch, can you use your millions to fund a high school economics class at a public school that pushes your libertarian, free-market ideas?   If you think that can’t be possible than you have another thing coming.  The Huffington Post describes how Koch paid for a program called “Youth Entrepreneurs” for the Topeka, Kansas, schools that did just such a thing.  Shocked?  Read on!!!

Raise your hand if you remember the popular novel published in 1965 “Up the Down Staircase.”  It was written by Bel Kaufman and was based on her experiences teaching in a New York City classrooms.  The book was about an idealistic inner-city school English teacher.  Kaufman died at age 103 on Friday.  Her passing was noted in an item in EDUCATION WEEK.  It includes  an extended video (43:39 minutes) of an interview she conducted at Iona College in 2011 in which she extols teaching as a career, yet describes the many challenges it entails.  The article describes it as “something special: she was a hoot.”  [Ed. note:  Kaufman had a very famous grandfather.  Can you guess who it was?  Answer: read the article.]

The New York Times Sunday Magazine had an extensive article titled “Why Americans Stink at Math.”  It is adapted from a book the author wrote titled “Building a Better Teacher.”  In the Times piece she reviews the history of math education going back to the “New Math” of the 1960s up to, and including, the Common Core math standards and explains why American students seem to do so poorly on international math tests.               Robert M. Berkman, who has taught math, science and technology for the past 30 years in New York City, takes umbrage with some of her reasoning in the article on his Better Living Through Mathematics blog.  “This article is clearly well-researched,” Berkman writes, “and I hope Ms. Green’s book sells well and that ‘Chalkbeat,’ the website where she is the chief executive, gets a bazillion hits. However, it appears that Green is pretty poor at math herself, and the Times let her get away with it.”

Mark Naison, a professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and a co-founder of the BATS (Badass Teachers Association), writes on his blog With A Brooklyn Accent why he sees charter school scandals as the subprime mortgages of today.  ” While the comparison is not exact,” he explains, “there are some powerful similarities between what happened to subprime mortgages and what is currently taking place with charter schools, another ‘short cut’ to opportunity which has been seized upon by elites for financial and political gain, to the detriment of those for whom the charter school was initially designed to help.”  If you are not sure what “subprime mortgages” are Naison takes the time to describe what they are and how they work.

2 letters in the Sunday L.A. Times reacted to the paper’s Thursday story about a judge who ruled the Times could not publish individual LAUSD teachers’ evaluations.

2 other letters in the paper on Sunday wrote about the article in the Friday Times about a new online database with salary and benefit information for a number of school district personnel from around California.

Valerie Strauss, in her blog for The Washington Post, reprints a piece from a former writer/producer of some famous TV shows who decided, in 2007, that she wanted to become an English Teacher.  The woman took a job at a South Los Angeles charter school and has been writing about her experiences ever since.  In this installment she describes that one student she had in class “who utterly infuriated me.”  We’ve all had those kind of pupils.  How do her adventures compare to ones you’ve had?

As more states and school districts use valued-added models (VAMs) as significant chunks of teacher evaluations, a very critical question is being asked, how effective are VAMs at determining teacher excellence?  More and more new research is coming in that says they are not a good predictor.  Two studies by Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff from the National Bureau of Economic Research found VAMs to be strong indicators of teacher effectiveness.  However, a review of their findings and methodology from the National Education Policy Center raises serious doubts about what they concluded.  You can read an abstract of the latest research on the NEPC website.  It includes links to the two original reports, the full study from NEPC (14 pages) and responses from the three original authors.

LITIGATION seems to be the watchword in education these days.  If one can’t achieve the changes one wants through traditional means, i.e., school boards, state legislatures or Congress, you can always TAKE YOUR ISSUE TO COURT.  The Vergara case earlier this year, a recent court ruling denying (at least temporarily) the L.A. Times the ability to publish individual LAUSD teacher evaluation results, The ACLU suing for services required for ELLs, ad infinitum.  And now comes word of a suit filed in San Francisco County Superior Court that charges a number of districts around California with not providing the mandated number of minutes of physical education for elementary students.  Details of the case appeared in a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.              Taking cases to court is not confined to California.  EDUCATION WEEK has a brief item reporting that a second Vergara-inspired suit was filed in New York yesterday morning.

If you think your class sizes are large check out this story from the Detroit Free Press.  An experiment in bankruptcy plagued Detroit combined three kindergarten classes on one campus’s library to create a room with almost 100 children.  How is it working out?  This article includes a short video (1:39 minutes) describing how things are going at the Brenda Scott Academy which is part of the state’s reform district for low-performing schools.

An extended day experiment at one Connecticut school has been terminated because it proved not to work as intended.  The  HECHINGER REPORT describes how having a schedule that went from 8:20 to 4:15 four-days-a-week, with an early dismissal on Wednesdays, was terminated after only one year.  “The experiment had exhausted students and teachers,” the author explains, “without making progress towards its goal: closing the achievement gap between [the] largely poor and minority students and their suburban peers.”

An op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times laments the possibly low voter turnout for a one-race special election to fill an important LAUSD school board seat on Aug. 12.  The author suggests the stakes are too high for as little as 10-11% of registered voters to cast ballots.  “What I find most troubling about low turnout,” the author states, “however, is not so much that it decides outcomes or favors interests: It’s that it suggests the public is drifting away from democracy itself — that voters are disillusioned and don’t see much point in exercising their right to choose their representatives.”

After the BATS (Badass Teachers Association) rally in Washington, D.C., on Monday a delegation of educators met with the Office of Civil Rights in the Dept. of Education.  A surprise guest showed up.  None other than Arne Duncan!  Mark Naison, on his With a Brooklyn Accent website, describes what was a less than friendly encounter.  He says the secretary got “an earful.”  His article is an eye-opener.  “We spoke truth to power, without fear and without compromise,” Naison summed up.  “Whether we will be called back to continue the conversation only time will tell.”            Diane Ravitch reprints an item from Politico.com describing the BATS protest rally.

And finally, everyone knows about the controversy surrounding the Common Core.  However, the author of this piece from The HECHINGER REPORT, asks a question that hasn’t gotten much attention: “Can Special Education Students Keep Up With the Common Core?”  She focuses on a self-contained elementary classroom on Long Island to illustrate her premise.  “The Common Core isn’t necessarily the culprit,” she suggests, “but rather the way the standards are being interpreted in the state-approved curriculum.”

 

Dave Alpert

(‘Occidental College, ’71–That’s me happily writing the blog!)

 

Ed News, Friday, July 25, 2014, Edition

The ED NEWS

“It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education 
than to have education without common sense.” 
― Robert G. Ingersoll
Student results on the PISA tests play a prominent role in how national education systems are compared.  They also were a significant feature of the last ALOED book club selection “The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way.”  Book club participant Tony Dalessi forwarded an interesting video (5:00 minutes) from YouTube that a student sent to him titled “What Does the PISA Report Tells Us About US Education?”  His student saw it at the NEA convention in Denver at the beginning of the month. It was produced by AFT and attempts to counter some of the myths about the poor U.S. results on the PISA exams.
Peter Horton from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools borrows Anthony Cody’s blog on EDUCATION WEEK to write an open letter to Pres. Obama.  Horton decries many of the Obama/Duncan education policies because a number of them were formulated by business people, philanthropists, education related companies and members of Democrats for Education Reform.  Who was missing from all this “expert” advice?  Teachers and real education experts.  Horton offers some suggestions for improving Obama’s education policies and welcomes an opportunity to meet personally with the president.
There’s been a growing back-and-forth among several bloggers about having an honest conversation about charter schools.  It began with Andy Smarick, writing on the Thomas B. Fordham website who wants everyone to calm down when it comes to charters.  He opens the “debate” with this: “It feels like there are two very different charter-school conversations going on. The first is about policy and practice; the other is about philosophy and politics. Both have their place. But a recent collection of events and articles demonstrate why it’s important to understand the difference between the two.”  Peter DeWitt chimed in with a piece in EDUCATION WEEK. “Sarcasm, fighting, name calling are all the weapons du jour that both sides choose [in the debate over public education],” he maintains, “while many in the middle watch in awe. The politics of education have taken over the conversation, and good learning practices aren’t just taking a back seat, they are in the way, way back.”  Next to join the fray was Peter Greene on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  And finally (at least for now), Mark Weber, aka the Jersey Jazzman, penned a piece titled “Civil Conversations are Honest Conversations.”  Anyone else want to join in?               Speaking of charters, the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform has a new report claiming that charters are more efficient and a better return on investment.  You can review the full report (43 pages) titled “The Productivity of Public Charter Schools” here.  Bruce Baker over at School Finance 101 has a critique of the findings in which he believes it used “bogus measures” to justify its conclusions.   
 
How effective are “school choice” programs and vouchers, two pillars of the so-called education “reformers?”  You don’t have to go too far to find out.  Sweden instituted a market-driven approach to its educational system in the early 1990s.   A story in Slate titled “Sweden’s School Choice Disaster” details how things worked in that Scandivavian country and what it all means for the U.S.   “Advocates for choice-based solutions should take a look at what’s happened to schools in Sweden,” the author maintains, “where parents and educators would be thrilled to trade their country’s steep drop in PISA scores over the past 10 years for America’s middling but consistent results. “
 
One of the reasons charter schools have been so successful selling themselves is the use of slick public relations campaigns that create and disseminate messages that parents want to hear.  At the recently concluded national convention of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools an 18-page “Messaging Notebook” was distributed that included a number of useful hints on how to promote charters.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, briefly illustrates one section from the booklet.  At the end of her piece she includes a full copy of it.   Do public schools have the money and the ability to do this type of promotion?  If not, does that give an unfair advantage to charters?                Edushyster also weighed in on the pr campaign being waged on behalf of charters and the pamphlet referenced above.               Charter schools are, apparently, not the only entities using high-paid PR firms to promote themselves.  John Merrow, writing on his Taking Note blog, reports that Michelle Rhee, founder of the group StudentsFirst, has spent over $2 million in one year to pay for the services of a prominent PR company.  Rhee has been making use of public relations experts since she was chancellor of the Washington, D.C., Public Schools.  According to Merrow, Rhee has certainly not been spending all the money she raises from donors on students first.  You can read all about her interesting spending habits and her involvement in a cheating scandal in D.C. in his piece.
If you are planning to be in Washington, D.C., on Monday you may want to join the Badass Teachers Association (BATS) “March on Washington.”  Information is on their facebook page.  Click on some of the different items under the “Photos” section for a schedule of events for July 27-28 and a list of demands.
Glenn Beck (yes, that Glenn Beck) used a TV studio in Dallas Tuesday night to beam a 2-hour simulcast to a some 700 theaters nationwide titled “We Will Not Conform.”  What was the subject?  Take a guess!  The topic was why and how Americans should rise up against the Common Core.  An article from EDUCATION WEEK describes the event and includes reactions to it from people who attended.               NPR had a segment on the Glenn Beck extravaganza.  You can listen to it (3:59 minutes) and/or read the transcript here.          NPR did a follow-up story taking a look at the state of the Common Core around the country.  This segment (4:00 minutes) also includes a full transcript.               The Washington Post had one of its education reporters at a theater in Rockville, Md., where 17 people were in attendance.  She described the event and interviewed several attendees.               Chalkbeat reported on Beck’s program from a Colorado perspective.
conform-glenn-beck-education-media.jpg
A major fire swept the Green Dot Animo South Los Angeles campus (LAUSD) Tuesday afternoon.  The school was home to 600 students and with the new year beginning Aug. 12 campus and district officials were scrambling to find alternate space.  A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times describes what happened.
The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted some of the findings from the “Kids Count” report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  Valerie Strauss reprints 5 charts from the survey that further delineate the state-by-state status of children in this country.  California, as you will discover, ranks in the bottom half of all the states in the data she presents.  Strauss’ piece contains a link to the full report (60 pages).
The “iPads for all program” in the LAUSD caused a slew of problems for that district.  Apple, however, is making big bucks on sales of its products to other districts in the U.S. and around the world.  A brief item in EDUCATION WEEK details sales figures for the Silicon Valley behemoth in the K-12 education market.
A California appellate court on Wednesday overturned a lower court ruling and denied the request of the L.A. Times to disclose LAUSD teachers’ names and their job performance ratings.  An article in the paper yesterday reviewed the ruling and the reasons for it.            UTLA was pleased with the outcome of the case.  A short press release on the union’s website, UTLA.net, also explained the decision.                 At least temporarily, according to the court’s decision, the public will not be able to view individual LAUSD teachers’ evaluations.  However, don’t despair, a new online database is now available that contains detailed salary and benefit information about superintendents, principals, teachers and other school staff employed by districts around California.  1,058 districts were asked to submit the data but only 653 have complied, so far.  LAUSD, by-the-way, isn’t one of them.  The story about this new resource appears in today’s L.A. Times.  It includes a link to the database compiled by “Transparent California” where you can look up your own compensation package or that or your friends, neighbors or family members. 
The two big national education organizations, NEA and AFT, both held their annual conventions earlier this month.  An analysis in EDUCATION WEEK found a remarkable degree of agreement on many of the burning issues of the day.  “While the actual degree of collaboration between the two unions remains to be seen, “the two authors write, “the conventions illustrated a remarkable policy convergence, portending what could indeed be a more unified response to national and state education issues.” 
An L.A. County superior court judge has tentatively ruled that two charters in Palms and Northridge that were ordered shut down by the LAUSD for financial irregularities may continue when school opens in the district Aug. 12.  A report in today’s L.A. Times details the judge’s ruling and the reasons why the district closed the campuses.
Are you ready for more litigation regarding education policy in California?  A one-day trial is scheduled to begin in an L.A. County Superior Court next week.  The ACLU of Southern California filed a suit in April, 2013, charging the state with not providing additional services to ELLs to assist them in becoming fluent in English.  The U.S. Department of Justice wrote a brief in support of the case last week according to an article about the suit in EdSource.  “The ACLU claims the state,” the author writes,  “has done nothing to force school districts to provide appropriate services for the approximately 20,000 English learners who, according to a 2010-11 survey of school districts, are receiving no services.”
And finally, are students technologically prepared to take new Common Core aligned assessments, particularly writing exams, on computers as most tests will require?  That issue was addressed by a pilot study recently made public by the National Center for Education Statistics.  The study used fourth graders and found that, yes, they are capable of basic skills that will allow them to be assessed.  “However,” the authors of a story about the report in EDUCATION WEEK warned, “whether the results of a computer-based test offer a true measure of students’ writing abilities has yet to be determined.  The study,” they continue, “also presents some ideas for making computer-based assessments more accessible to 4th graders, including by simplifying and reading aloud directions.”
Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71–That’s me happily writing this blog)

 

Ed News, Tuesday, July 22, Edition

The ED NEWS

 “Every maker of video games knows something that the makers of curriculum don’t seem to understand. 
 You’ll never see a video game being advertised as being easy. 
 Kids who do not like school will tell you it’s not because it’s too hard. 
 It’s because it’s–boring” 
Educators know what tenure is but how informed is the general public about the term?  With the Vergara case and other “reformers” attacking tenure and other teacher protections it’s time to take a careful look at just what the concept entails.  David Greene and a co-author explain in simple, easy to understand language “Why Parents Should Not Fear Teacher Tenure.”  It appears on his website DCGEducator: Doing the Right Thing.  Greene focuses his discussion on New York but it is applicable to most states with tenure laws.  At least check out the cartoon that accompanies the piece.                  Many people believe that tenure is only around to protect poor teachers.  As the author of a commentary for the New York Daily News points out, it guards against the arbitrary dismissal of “good apples, too.”  He cites two specific examples of how tenure and the lack of it played out.
 
This item from Alter Net looks at 5 states in the U.S. that have or are currently pushing bills in their legislatures that allow the teaching of creationism and other alternate theories of human evolution and climate change.  In case you were wondering, California isn’t one of them.  “Almost every southern and bible-belt state in the US,” the author points out, “has at the very least attempted to pass education bills that either remove evolution from the curriculum or make it legal for teachers to offer alternative theories to human origins.”
A new scholarly report from the American Educational Research Association looks at how educational philanthropy has changed over the years and how it has gotten much more into the political realm as well.  “Philanthropic involvement in education politics,” the two authors from Michigan State University explain in the Abstract, “has become bolder and more visible. Have foundations changed funding strategies to enhance their political influence? Using data from 2000, 2005, and 2010, we investigate giving patterns among the 15 largest education foundations.”
 
Anthony Cody turns his “Living in Dialogue” column in EDUCATION WEEK over to guest host Paul Horton, who began his teaching career in secondary schools in Texas.  He has spent the last 14 years working at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools.  Horton tackles the issue of whether corporate reforms that push “choice,” “free enterprise” and market-driven ideas will be the death knell of public education.
 
The eight-year-old, San Jose based charter management organization Rocketship Education is paring back its plans to expand into new markets in San Antonio, Dallas, Memphis Indianapolis and New Orleans for reasons that are outlined in this item from EdSurge.
An enterprising parent who happens to be an assistant professor of data journalism at Temple University discovered a rather scary catch-22.  It seems that many questions on the standardized tests created by companies like Pearson require students to acquire the knowledge to be successful on said tests by using textbooks published by said companies.  That could be a problem by itself but what happens when a large urban school district doesn’t have the funds to purchase the books?  The author of this story from The Atlantic did some serious digging into the situation in the Philadelphia school system where her 1st grader attended.  What she discovered led her to write “Why Poor Students Can’t Win at Standardized Testing.”  It’s a real dose of reality!
 
From the “Not Again” file:  Another education “reform” expert is about to be voted on to become superintendent of the New London school system in Connecticut.  The candidate has claimed for a number of years that he had a doctorate degree.  Where it came from changed several times on various resumes that he submitted.  Only recently did it come out that yes, indeed he has a Ph.D., only it was from an unaccredited university and it might have been in theology.  You can read all the details in a story from the Wait What? website (“Working to educate, persuade and mobilize through ‘perceptive and acerbic’ observations about Connecticut government and politics”).  the gentleman in question will be getting a legitimate degree next month but what about all those false claims prior to that?  Should that person become the educational leader of a city school district?
 
Sunday’s L.A. Times describes a series of rather unique niche classes that are only offered online and only to girls at independent middle and high schools.  Currently students at 80 campuses, including 8 in L.A. County, are taking advantage of the courses developed by the Online School for Girls that began 5 years ago.  Individual offerings can cost as much as $1,400.  The story discusses how the program got started, how it works and the philosophy behind single-gender classes.  [Ed. note: So as not to discriminate, an Online School for Boys is set to debut in the fall.]
 
It’s not just U.S. students who score poorly on international assessments.  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the same group that administers the PISA tests that generate comparisons of student learning among a number of developed countries,  has issued its first-ever rankings of educational innovation around the world.  Among 24 nations studied the U.S. only outscored Austria and the Czech Republic.  Denmark, Indonesia and Korea ranked at the top.  An article in EDUCATION WEEK highlights the report, titled “Measuring Innovation in Education,” and includes a link to it (335 pages).                Valerie Strauss is a little leery of the OECD’s report on innovation.  She points out how difficult it is to quantify and measure that characteristic and was surprised that the U.S. was cited for its “use of student assessments” as a “top organizational innovation.”  “The United States at this point,” she indicates, “appears to be standing alone in its obsessive use of standardized tests as important measures of accountability in education.”
 
Is the teaching of mindfulness in schools the key to educational success?  That’s the topic of a new book titled “The Way of Mindful Education–Cultivating Well-Being in Teachers and Students” by Daniel Rechtschaffen.  The book and its philosophy are described in a review from the Greater Good Science Center out of UC Berkeley.
More and more states and districts are introducing major changes in the way they evaluate teachers.  The same thing is beginning to happen when it comes to the training and evaluation of principals and superintendentsEDUCATION WEEK reports on the recent revisions to standards that were last updated in 2008 by the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium (ISLLC).  They are expected to be released in October.  “The aim is to reflect the ways in which those jobs have changed in the past decade,” the story begins, “and to clarify roles, responsibilities, and expectations within a markedly different environment.”
 
Starting in the fall every school in Florida will be using the new Common Core State Standards.  A brief feature from The HECHINGER REPORT explores how ready schools in the state will be for the standards.  You can listen to the audio report (2:59 minutes) and/or read a transcript about the confidence that principals and teachers express regarding Common Core implementation here.  It is the final installment of a 5-part series.  Links to the previous stories are included. 
Mercedes Schneider, who has just published a new book titled “A Chronicle of Echoes: Who’s Who In the Implosion of American Public Education” paused just long enough to pen an update on her blog about what’s been happening recently with the Common Core and the assessment consortia. 
 
How popular are those school lunches based on new federal standards for good health and nutrition?  An item from EDUCATION WEEK features the results of two different national surveys of school administrators.  [Ed. observation: Note the surveys did NOT ask students what they thought.]  “While many students,” the article begins, weren’t keen on more nutritious school lunches when their districts first began complying with new federal meal standards in the 2012-13 school year, they eventually warmed up to the healthier fare, complaining less and eating as much as they did before the rules went into place.”
Diane Ravitch prints a commentary on her blog from a parent and professor at CUNY who explains why he’s opted his 10-year-old son out of  the standardized test regimen in New York and urges other parents to do the same in their states.  He titles his piece “Opt-Out, The REAL Parent Revolution.”
The author of this opinion piece for EDUCATION WEEK wonders “Are First-Year Teachers Ever Proficient?”  Excellent question.  How fair is it to label the proficiency of first and even second-year teachers.  [Ed. note:  I don't know about you, but I didn't consider myself a really good teacher until my fifth year in the classroom.]  “There really isn’t any substitute for experience or short cut to proficiency,” she suggests.  “This shouldn’t be surprising. All jobs and professions involve craft knowledge. You can’t be a good bartender, minister, welder or surgeon without practice and learning from your screw-ups. Why should teaching be any different?”
The 25th annual “Kids Count” survey, released today, from the Annie E. Casey Foundation reports that children are making small, but perceptible, gains in education and health in this country.  “But children’s and parents’ gains are precarious as families continue to sink into poverty,” it warns, “and wide racial gaps remain.”  An article in EDUCATION WEEK features the report and describes some of the other findings.
And finally, a brand new outside political action committee has been formed to funnel (lots of) money into the special LAUSD board race to fill the vacant seat caused by the death of Marguerite Poindexter LaMotte.  The election will take place on Aug. 12 and will be held solely for voters in the District 1 contest.  Two candidates are vying for the position.  Former district principal and administrator George McKenna, who garnered the most votes in the June primary and is supported by UTLA and Alex Johnson, an education advisor to L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who has already received $100,000 from the new PAC.  A story in today’s L.A. Times describes what the new PAC hopes to accomplish.                 An editorial in the same paper endorsed one of the candidates.  Guess which one?  If you picked Johnson you’re wrong.  They went with McKenna and if you read the piece you will see why they did.
Dave Alpert (Occidental College, ’71–That’s me busily creating the blog)
 

Ed News, Friday, July 18, 2014 Edition

The ED NEWS

 “You’ve got to accept the fact that you are basically not teaching a subject,
you are teaching children.” 
― Madeline L’Engle
Many education reformers tout high school Advanced Placement (AP) enrollment as a mark of educational distinction and rigor.  What few people realize is that those classes are a creation of the College Board and serve as a profit stream for the company.  Leave it to Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION  blog, to point this out along with his questioning why the U.S. Dept. of Education has gotten involved in promoting AP courses.
 
Diane Ravitch prints a commentary from one of her readers, a 30-year teaching veteran, who make a strong case for why we need labor unions
 
There has been a lot of criticism of the Common Core from a variety of sources but this one may be unique.  A veteran English teacher from Illinois, writing in The Atlantic, tries to guess how Mark Twain (yes, that Mark Twain) might have reacted to the assessments related to the standards.  He titles his piece “What Would Mark Twain Have Thought of Common Core Testing?”  and he cites numerous examples of Twain’s own writings to bolster his premise.  “Mark Twain had an abiding concern with education,” the author suggests, “and he treated formal schooling derisively in his writings.”  This makes for a fun read and will not take a big chunk of your time.               Speaking of the Common Core, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker (yes, that Scott Walker), has called for his state legislature to repeal the standards as of 2015.  He is the fourth GOP governor in the past month to request their elimination, according to a brief item in EDUCATION WEEK.
 
Vouchers are often a stealthy way to remove taxpayer money from the public schools.  They are often couched in terms of “school choice” and aiding low-income families.  The Florida Education Association has come up with way to combat their expansion in the Sunshine State: file a lawsuit.  According to a story in the Tampa Bay Times, the FEA has done just that claiming the law passed by the legislature and signed into law last month is unconstitutional.               A commentary on the American Civil Liberties Union website discusses an ongoing U.S. Dept. of Justice investigation into the voucher program in Wisconsin and how it allegedly discriminates against students with disabilities.   The author, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Racial Justice Program, additionally demonstrates how vouchers are a sly attempt to privatize public schools.  “School voucher programs like the one in Wisconsin and similar programs around the country,” she asserts, “like tax credits for private school tuition, do not provide a choice for everyone. But DOJ’s ongoing investigation of Wisconsin and other state voucher programs is a step in the right direction of ensuring that states are not permitted to create a civil rights vacuum by abdicating public education to private schools.”
 
The Vergara case redux:  Bruce Baker, writing on the School Finance 101 website, compares the findings in the California case to the situation in New York.  He presents a detailed analysis of the original decision and believes that the facts in New York are demonstrably different than in the Golden State
 
A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times (highlighted in the previous “Ed News”) reported how public school students in more affluent areas were given the opportunity to take classes from private parent foundations for prices between $600 and $800 each.  An editorial in Wednesday’s paper objected to the practice.  ” [I]t is still troubling,” the piece closes, “that budget woes are prompting public schools, in essence, to privatize their most basic function: offering academic classes for credit to students.”
Most educational technology can get pretty sophisticated and, at times, complicated.  The HECHINGER REPORT discusses a successful program developed by MIT over 10 years ago that teaches high school math and science.  What are the “complex” technology tools required?  Why nothing more than an old television and a VCR (remember those?).  The article describes how the idea was developed and how it can be implemented today.
Sometimes the so-called education “reformers” make outlandish claims about how successful their proposed changes are.  Diane Ravitch prints a piece from an anonymous “high-level official” of the New York City Department of Education who quotes some misleading statistics about graduation rates that are used to bolster the “reformers” inaccurate claims.  The piece is titled “Reformers Caught Lying. Again.  This Time About Graduation Stats.”
 
The “Ed News” has previously highlighted 2 articles by Valerie Strauss about a lunch meeting between 4 teachers at high-poverty schools and Pres. Obama and Sec. Duncan.  The first reported on the gathering itself and in the second she reprinted a number of comments from readers about it.  In the third installment Strauss invites the chief executive officer and partner at the Center for Teaching Quality who answers the key question “Did Obama and Duncan Really Hear What 4 Teachers Told them?”  His answers are quite interesting.
 
A new U.S. Dept. of Education review, using brand new criteria, has found fewer states meeting the requirements of special education students.  Only 15 states made the highest category “meets requirements.”  California (ahem) was among 3 states and the District of Columbia in the lowest grouping, “needs intervention.”  An article in EDUCATION WEEK features the DoE report.
 
Chicago has been closing a number of its public high schools and opening smaller charters and other “schools of choice.”  The idea was supposed to give minority parents more options of where to send their students.  However, an investigative piece from NPR station WBEZ91.5  found that many pupils were actually “tracked” into campuses of similar academic abilities.  You can read the report and/or listen to the segment (8:38 minutes–click on the “soundcloud” button) here.  It’s titled “The Big Sort: How Chicago’s School Choice System is Tracking Kids Into Separate High Schools Based on Achievement.”
 
A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes a federal lawsuit filed by the principal of Beverly Hills High School alleging that members of the district’s school board made racist comments about the African-American administrator, treated him in a discriminatory manner regarding his salary and  attempted to destroy his career.
 
Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, wants to know why much of the media has been so slow to report on the growing backlash against standardized tests, the Common Core, the taking away of teacher protections, charters and vouchers and other “reform” issues.  He provides a good accounting of the many protests that have taken place and some of the people responsible for them, i.e., Diane Ravitch.  He titles the piece “Waking Up to Our Broken Education Policies.”
 
The Massachusetts State Senate refused, by a vote of 26-13, to lift the cap on charter schools in the Bay State.  A bill had handily passed the state House in May to approve the expansion.  Diane Ravitch reports the results on her blog.
 
And finally, The HECHINGER REPORT highlights some startling statistics about teacher attrition from a newly released report from the Alliance for Excellent Education and the New Teacher Center.  It found that 13% of teachers move schools or abandon the profession each year; between 40% and 50% quit within 5 years.  The main reasons they leave is because of “poor administrative support and isolated working conditions.”  The report didn’t just look at why teachers leave. It also proposed some ideas for retaining as many as possible since it costs districts a lot of money whenever an educator needs to be replaced.  “New teachers need more on-the-job training,” the report suggests, “and mentor programs for the first two years that’s designed to keep them in the profession.”  You can access the full report (19 pages) titled “On The Path to Equity: Improving the Effectiveness of New Teachers” here.  You can also read a (much shorter) Press Release about it.
 
 

 Dave Alpert (Occidental College, ’71–that’s me, happily creating this blog!)
 

Ed News, Tuesday, July 15, Edition

The ED NEWS

 “A child’s education should begin at least 100 years before he was born.” 
The American Federation of Teachers held their annual conference at the L.A. Convention Center July 11-14.  There were a number of stories about things that took place over the four days:  
 K-12 education issues are often important in most political campaigns.  They are certainly significant in the California governor’s race.   Democratic Incumbent Jerry Brown, speaking to the delegates on Friday, extolled his new program of funding for the neediest students while his Republican challenger Neel Kashkari, responding to reporters outside the gathering, criticized his opponent for his silence on the Vergara case.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times highlighted some of their different views and the politics involved.                           Peter Goodman who writes about education issues in New York on his Ed In the Apple blog describes some of the key events from day 1, Friday, of the AFT convention.  He includes links to some of the key speakers and events from the opening session.  Diane Ravitch offered her observations about what took place on her blog based on Goodman’s piece.                    If you have 40:45 minutes check out the speech delivered at the opening session of the conference by the Rev.  William Barber, II, who organized the “Moral Monday” protests in Raleigh, North Carolina, and see how it applies to the movement to save public education.  It comes to you courtesy of the Fred Klonsky blog and YouTube.              EDUCATION WEEK has a brief item discussing the creation of a new group called Democrats for Public Education that was announced at the gathering.  It will support teacher unions and counter another organization called Democrats for Education Reform that has been less than supportive of public schools, to put it kindly.                UTLA is apparently planning for a possible STRIKE!  Newly installed president Alex Caputo-Pearl, speaking at a Saturday evening session with union leaders from other big-city school systems, mentioned the idea and warned his members to start making contingency plans.  A story posted on the L.A. Times website late Sunday afternoon describes his specific remarks and the context in which they were delivered.               A short item on POLITICO comments on a resolution passed on Sunday that adds the AFT’s voice to the call for Dept. of Education Sec. Arne Duncan to resign if he doesn’t show any improvement.              An “angry debate” took place over a resolution that ultimately passed  to allow more teacher input in the implementation of the Common Core.  EDUCATION WEEK describe the maneuvering surrounding the passage of the item.   It includes some of the arguments, both pro and con, regarding the standards.               Diane Ravitch commented on several of the actions at the conclave on her blog.            Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 was not at all impressed with the Duncan and CCSS resolutions passed by the AFT.  Neither were the BATS (BadAss Teachers Association) who issued a press release blasting the AFT for its position on the Common Core and its go easy approach to Arne Duncan.            With the conclusion of the AFT convention yesterday and the NEA’s conference that ran from July 1-6, The “Politics K-12″ blog on EDUCATION WEEK wraps up some of the key political issues that surfaced during the course of both annual gatherings.
Finland is known for a number of innovative practices that have boosted its students to the top of the international ratings.  One that may not be as well known is providing 15 minute  recess breaks every hour.  An American teacher now working in that country discovered that it help his charges focus much better on the subject at hand.  His observations are from The Atlantic and are titled “How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play.”
Maryland reported scores for the first time since implementing new assessments linked to the Common Core.  Guess what?  Like the other states that started using the exams student results dropped “significantly.”  The Washington Post has the discouraging news.
 
An op-ed from The HECHINGER REPORT asks “Why Did the GOP Flip Flop on the Common Core?”    It uses Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, as a case-in-point.  “The complaint that’s found a receptive audience,” the author writes, “among right wing politicians, though, is that Common Core is just one more example of big government intrusion, right up there with health care reform, contraceptive coverage mandates, tough new environmental standards and more.”  
 
Paul Thomas on Alter Net reviewed a number of comments made by U.S. Dept. of Education Secretary Arne Duncan over the past couple of years and discovered what he thinks is a common thread in Duncan’s remarks:  low test scores are the result of low expectations.  Thomas prints some of the secretary’s more significant assertions and explains his theory.  “It seems increasingly evident,” Thomas posits, “that the only place where low expectations are the main sources of failure is inside the USDOE itself—specifically with the appointment of Duncan.” 

Oh, oh!  Here’s a pretty strong argument against some types of technology.  SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN offers an article titled “A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes With a Laptop” that points out that college students who used handwriting had a deeper understanding and better recall of the material presented.  Two researchers from Princeton University and UCLA found that more information can be collected on a laptop since people can type faster than they can write but the impact on learning and retention of the information was less.
 
Most “older” folks still contend that a college education is well worth the time and effort in job opportunities and lifetime earnings.  How do younger people perceive that?  A new poll of “younger” Americans, aged 18 to 29, found that getting a college degree is worthwhile but overpriced.  A short item from EDUCATION WEEK highlights the 2014 Reason-Rupe survey of 2,000 respondents from the millennial generation.  It includes a link to the full report (105 pages) titled “Millennials: The Politically Unclaimed  Generation” that covers a number of other topics besides post-secondary education.
 
Diane Ravitch prints the comments of an anonymous teacher who laments that teaching no longer presents the opportunity for creative lessons because so much time is taken up with TESTING!  “The Common Core and PARCC will ruin education as we know it,” he/she begins.  “And, of course, it is all part of the overall plan.”
The science of HOW children learn was the focus of a newly released study that appeared in the magazine “Natural Communications.”  The research found that almost half of a student’s ability to learn is tied to DNA.  The study looked at almost 1,500 pairs of 12-year-old twins to ascertain the affect of genetics and environmental issues in learning.  The findings were reported in a story posted on the L.A. Times website Friday afternoon.
The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a piece by Valerie Strauss on her blog that featured a report by one of the 4 teachers who met over lunch with Pres. Obama and Sec. of Education Arne Duncan last week.  In a follow-up item, Strauss reprints a number of reader comments that she received about the original column.  Several of them include reactions from the author of that story.
With massive budget cuts the last couple of years many districts eliminated summer school programs except for some very limited offerings to assist students to complete graduation requirements.  A number of nonprofit foundations filled the breach by offering courses for a price.  U.S. History could be taken for $798, Spanish for $775 and creative writing for $605 plus a $25 registration fee.  Most of these classes were offered in more affluent areas which raised questions about equity according to a story in Sunday’s L.A. Times.
 
After a prolonged push by so-called education “reformers” to include student test scores as a significant part of teacher evaluations, wiser heads are beginning to prevail.  Gov. Chris Christie announced that the practice would be scaled back from 30% to 10%  in his state of New Jersey according to an article on the NorthJersey.com website.  “The Christie administration’s rollback of new standardized tests as a measure for teacher evaluations marks a major concession by the governor,” the piece begins, “who has been a strong supporter of the new academic standards linked to those exams.”
 
EDUCATION WEEK highlights a new report that suggests states need to “rethink” the use of high school exit exams in light of the implementation of the Common Core.  The study was done under the auspices of the New American Foundation.  24 states, including California, now require high school students to pass exams in various subjects in order to fulfill graduation requirements.  The story includes a link to the full report (40 pages) titled “The Case Against Exit Exams.” 
 
The Gulen Charter Schools are the largest charter chain in the U.S.   They are linked to a reclusive Turkish cleric.  A story in The Washington Post describes the leader and his involvement in his country’s politics and and his ties to over 130 campuses in 26 states in the U.S.  Like other charter management companies some Gulen schools have come under legal scrutiny for various financial, ethical and other problems.  The Columbus Dispatch reports on what is going on in Ohio.  “The Ohio Board of Education,” the article begins, “ordered an immediate investigation of a chain of 19 charter schools in the state today after hearing allegations of test cheating, attendance tampering, sexual misconduct and other misdeeds.”                In addition, the LA SCHOOL REPORT describes the sudden closure by the LAUSD board of 2 Gulen schools in Palms and Van Nuys for “fiscal mismanagement” and a number of other irregularities.  For a complete list of all 139 Gulen schools (as of Jan. 12, 2014), arranged by state, click here.
 
And finally, we conclude with something fun.  Remember ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic?  (If you’re under 50 you may not, so click here.)  EDUCATION WEEK features him in a parody video of the misogynistic Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines” that is used, believe it or not, to help teach students grammar.  You can view the original Thicke music video (4:31 minutes) here.   However, you have to take 3:45 minutes, at least, to savor “Weird Al’s” educational version which he calls “Word Crimes.”  Enjoy and try not to laugh/chuckle too loudly.
 
 
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)

 

The Ed News, Friday, July 11, 2014, Edition

The ED NEWS

                      “If I had to make a general rule for living and working with children, it might be this: 
be wary of saying or doing anything to a child that you would not do to another adult, 
whose good opinion and affection you valued.” 
― John Holt
The only way to introduce this job opening is to reprint the opening paragraph:  “Sunny, highly guarded beaches await the teacher who lands this prime opportunity: The U.S. Department of Defense needs a substitute teacher for the school at its naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.”  The editor of the “Ed News” always believed the only way one could get to “visit” Guantanamo Bay was to join the navy or be a captured terrorist.  Seems there’s a third alternative.  Apply for this job opening advertised in a story from EDUCATION WEEK.  Anyone interested?  Don’t all raise your hands at once!
Public school demographics will mark a major milestone when campuses reopen for the 2014-15 school year.  For the first time in the history of this country, nonhispanic whites  will make up less than 50% of the public school population.  This brief item from the National Journal illustrates the changes.  “As public schools increasingly become institutions serving large numbers of students of color,” the authors point out, “some states with largely white state legislatures and aging electorates have already proven unwilling to raise taxes or divert needed funds to meet the needs of public schools.”
 
A developmental psychologist offers both parents and teachers “Five Tips for Helping Teens Manage Technology.”  Her ideas appear in the Greater Good Science Center  blog out of UC Berkeley.  
 
How does the American public feel about spending on education?  That topic was the focus of a poll released at the First Focus’ annual Children’s Budget Summit held at the end of June.  The survey findings were highlighted on the “EdCentral” blog at the New America Foundation.
 
Some of the lowest paid workers in the LAUSD will be getting a wage boost to $15 per hour thanks to the efforts of their Service Employees International Union, Local 99.  The organization and the district reached agreement on the increase that will take place in stages that began on July 1, with a boost to $11 per hour.  The raises will culminate at $15 on July 1, 2016.  A front-page article in the Saturday, July 5, L.A. Times discussed who will get the increases and the details of the pact.  
 
Randy Traweek discovered this piece from Anthony Cody’s blog “Living in Dialogue” at EDUCATION WEEK.  Cody turned over his column to a guest who details the devious attempt to turn many of the public schools in Camden, New Jersey, into charters.   Gov. Chris Christie and the inexperienced superintendent of the city”s schools were aided by the state legislature who pushed through a series of bills to accomplish this amid confusion and charges of sinister motives. 
 
Why do so many key education decisions often leave teachers out of the mix?  That’s the gist of this item from Jeff Bryant on the Education Opportunity NETWORK.   “The lack of educator engagement in policy making and policy enforcing circles,” he laments, “is not limited to the Common Core. And the consequences of leaving educators out of policy discussions go far beyond problems with poor policy uptake on the ground.”           
 
Still more from the Vergara  decision:  Bill Ayers, educator and activist, was interviewed on truthout where he addressed the attacks on teacher tenure, the Vergara trial  and the so-called “reform” movement in education.  This article includes a video segment (12:44 minutes) and a short written summary of the Q & A.             An article in EDUCATION WEEK discussed some of the many questions raised as a result of the verdict in the case.  If you are in need of some basic facts regarding it check out the sidebar “Primer” on the ruling.  It’s an excellent overview of many aspects of Vergara v. California.
 
Saturday’s L.A. Times included a feature on a counselor at the L.A. High School of the Arts (LAUSD) who was honored for her efforts to help seniors at the campus get financial aid so they can attend college.  The profile explains her methods for helping the students.
 
Are there alternatives to demonstrating academic competence other than standardized tests?  A group of New York City public high schools have been granted a waiver from the New York State Board of Regents to administer rigorous performance assessments that require in-depth preparation by students in lieu of passing a number of state tests.  This piece, from truthout, focuses on one of those schools, the Urban Academy Laboratory School in Manhattan, and profiles two students and a teacher.  It’s titled “‘Alternative High:’ Raising the Bar on Public Education.” 
U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan recently announced a new department program to get the “best” teachers to work in the nation’s low-performing schools.  In his often contrary way, Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, takes Duncan to task for this latest proposal.   Greene offers several scenarios for the way he believes the federal government will try to implement this new policy.               Valerie Strauss reported on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post that delegates voted at the National Education Association’s (NEA) annual convention for the resignation of Secretary Duncan.             The California Teachers Association also called for Duncan to quit.  That announcement appeared on the CTA website.
With most educators off on summer vacation, a veteran high school social studies teacher in Baltimore wonders why the U.S. still has an extended summer break when most of the rest of the world handles the time off quite differently.  Her suggestions for what to do may not be real popular but they are worth contemplating.   The piece is headlined “A Teacher’s Case Against Summer Vacation.”  EDUCATION WEEK provides the details. 
 
Students at El Rancho High in the El Rancho School District in Pico Rivera will be the first in the state to take a required ethnic studies course starting with the class of 2016.  The California state legislature has been contemplating a similar program of study statewide.  A story in Tuesday’s L.A. Times explains the reasons behind the new graduation requirement and how it will be implemented.

 

The Democartic Party is facing a growing divide over education policy.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, describes the rifts that are developing and what impact they may have on the midterm elections in November and the presidential race in 2016. 
 
The U.S. Supreme Court recently wrapped up its 2013-14 term.  A piece in EDUCATION WEEK reviews some of the key cases related to education.  
 
A relatively new fifth grade teacher at a public charter school in New York, who recently completed his two-year commitment to Teach for America, is a big fan of the Common Core State Standards as they compare to the ones in Mississippi, where he earned his undergraduate degree.  “Common Core,” he write, “gave me the flexibility to teach to my students’ individual needs without compromising essential learning goals that ensured they would be ready for college or careers upon graduation.”  His observations appear in rethink MISSISSIPPI (“Only Honest Mississippi Spoken Here”).
 
The superintendent of the Centinela Valley Union High School District, who was paid over $750,000, more than the heads of city school districts in New York and Los Angeles, faces dismissal, the repayment of at least $200,000 and back taxes after the board voted to fire him on Tuesday.  State and county auditors reported that his total compensation package was inappropriate.   The “Ed News” has previously highlighted this story and an article in yesterday’s L.A. Times has the latest details.
 
Pres. Obama and Dept. of Education Secretary Arne Duncan sat down for lunch with 4 teachers this week in the White House.  Valerie Strauss has a story on her blog, written by one of the educators, about what they said to the president and the DoE secretary.  Their observations are quite enlightening  and left all present with a sense of hope.  “President Obama has often been described as an eloquent speaker,” the author, a  2007 Teacher of the Year in Arkansas begins.  “I learned this week that he is an eloquent listener, too.”
And finally, what’s wrong with this picture?  The Republican Senate president pro tem of the North Carolina legislature helps pass laws that expand charters in that state.  His son opens charters and is trying to cash in on the boom.  Weren’t we led to believe that charters would help poor, minority students do better?  No one ever mentions that things like charters and vouchers are wrecking public education and seem to enrich certain segments of the population.  Diane Ravitch calls it “corruption” on her blog.  So would a lot of other people.  What would you call it?
 
  Dave Alpert (Occidental College, ’71)

Ed News, Tuesday, July 1, 2014 Edition

The ED NEWS

 The “Ed News” will be taking a short break for the Independence Day Holiday. 
Look for the next issue on Friday, July 11.
 
“Is it too much to expect from the schools that they train their students not only to interpret but to criticize;
that is, to discriminate what is sound from error and falsehood, to suspend judgement if they are not convinced,
 
And now to the news.
 
The always insightful Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, reviews some of the latest scandals in the charter school management business.  Exposes in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Florida recently have uncovered a pattern of corruption, nepotism, conflicts-of-interest and profiteering that begs the question Is this what we really want in place of the public school system?  “Real evidence of ‘the good charters’ remains mostly anecdotal,” he points out, “as financial corruption and poor education results from ‘bad ones’ continue to mount with every passing month.”  
 
The so-called education “reformers” are constantly complaining about a “crisis” in public education that needs to be “fixed.”  Where’s the “crisis” is the question Paul Bruno, a middle school teacher in southern California, tackles on his eponymous blog.  He provides several charts and asks “With results like these, where is the emergency some are crying about?
 
The recently published annual ratings of teacher preparation programs around the country from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) raised the hackles of many critics.  They found a number of issues that raised serious questions about the validity and usefulness of the rankings.  In this article on THE ART OF TEACHING SCIENCE blog, the author, a writer, former Massachusetts high school science teacher and Professor Emeritus of Science Education at Georgia State University, reviews a number of the critical studies regarding those NCTQ ratings.  “The NCTQ’s effort is an assault on teacher education,” he begins, “and there is a need for a resistance to their propaganda.”
 
Jesse Hagopian, the teacher at Garfield High in Seattle who sparked a boycott of state standardized tests in his city, delivered a speech at a protest last week in front of the Gates Foundation headquarters.  The rally was organized to object to the undue influence wealthy philanthropists, like Gates, Broad, Walton, etc., have over education policy. Diane Ravitch prints his remarks on her blog for all to read.    
Here’s a real eye-opener of an op-ed.  Why so?  The author is the Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University and he pens a piece titled “Why I Encouraged My Child to Drop Out of High School.”  He and his wife, a former public school teacher, anguished over their decision for 6 months but came to the conclusion that it was the best path for their daughter who would have been a high school junior in September.  “This was a difficult decision,” he concluded, “for two people dedicated to public education, and an even harder decision to make as parents.”
 
Valerie Strauss turned her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to two guests, a retired Georgia school superintendent and a professor of English Education at the University of Georgia, who penned a piece titled “Better Ways to Use Millions of Dollars Now Spent on Testing.”  They proceed to offer a number of examples of how the money could be better spent.  They focus on priorities for the State of Georgia but their suggestions could easily apply to any district in the country.            In 2010, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan delivered a speech in which he described the coming assessments aligned to the Common Core “as an absolute game-changer in public education.”  Now that most of those exams have been developed and rolled out, Valerie Strauss, in another blog, says “not so fast” to his characterization.  “The testing framework,” she explains, “that was supposed to be a major part of the Core initiative is falling apart.  It’s been clear for some time that the exams being designed by the two consortia — Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium, or SBAC, and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, or PARCC — will not, in fact, be the quality game-changer that Duncan envisioned. ”                A retired teacher who taught English, German, Latin and social studies for 40 years, pens an op-ed on NJ.com about the new standardized assessments aligned to the Common Core. He believes they are “fundamentally flawed” and “have no legitimacy.” 

Are there examples of public school and charter programs that are successfully closing the “opportunity gap?”  The answer is an emphatic “yes” and one need not look any further than 4 campuses in Northern California.  What is the key to their performance?  “Student-centered schools.”   A short article from EdSource includes a report from the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE)  that confirms their achievement.  Linda Darling-Hammond, a co-author of the study, is quoted in it and a link to the full report (8 pages) is included.

Even with state budgets rising and district monies increasing in California your paycheck is scheduled to shrink slightly beginning today.  Why?  As part of  Gov. Brown’s teacher pension reforms, the state, local school districts and individual teachers will be contributing more into the retirement fund.  A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times discusses the figures and the reasons why.
 
Sunday’s L.A. Times included one letter reacting to the paper’s story on Thursday, highlighted in Friday’s “Ed News,” about Gov. Brown signing new legislation that would streamline the process for firing teachers.
 
One of the student plaintiffs in the recent Vergara case named one of her teachers as undeserving of tenure because she was grossly ineffective.  Only problem was that teacher had been selected as Pasadena Teacher of the Year in 2013.  Those two points would seem to be directly in conflict as raised by Diane Ravitch on her blog.  Ravitch includes a short video (5:38 minutes) of the teacher in question on which several students are filmed praising the teacher.  What gives here?  What was the judge thinking when he issued his controversial ruling?  Ravitch’s piece includes another video (13:06 minutes) of a segment of the film “The Last Emperor” in which Red Guards, during the Cultural Revolution in China, single out for denunciation teachers who were not toeing the Maoist line.  Ravitch draws an interesting connection between the two events.  What do you think?            The teacher who was the subject of the above blog, Christine McLaughlin, left a brief comment about her involvement in the case on a later piece by Diane Ravitch. 
The LAUSD is modifying (backtracking on?) its controversial “iPad-for-all” plan.  27 district high schools have been allowed to choose among 6 different laptop computers if they wish.  “Why would we treat all our students — whether they are a first-grader or a high school freshman — as if they all had the same technology needs?” asserts board member Monica Ratliff.  “They don’t…. To have a one-device-fits-all approach does not make sense.”  The details about the new guidelines are in a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.
The author of this piece from Nation of Change offers “Five Facts for the Dangerously Deluded Education Reformers.”  “Free-market capitalists,” he begins, “view education in terms of products and profits. The products, to them, are our children. The profits go to savvy business people who use a ‘freedom to choose’ rallying cry to convince parents that they’re somehow being cheated by an equal-opportunity public school system.”  He addresses issues like testing, privatization and the fact that many so-called reformers are businesspeople with little expertise in education among his “five facts.”               Along the same lines as the above item, EDUCATION WEEK prints a op-ed piece titled “Ten Reform Claims Teachers Should Know How to Counter.”  The author provides concise responses to a number of charges leveled against education, in general, and teachers, in particular.  He addresses issues like public schools in crisis, tenure, charter schools,  and poor teacher preparation among others. 
Vergara vs. California redux.  A statewide poll among California voters found that 62% agreed with the decision in the case.  23% disagreed and 15% had no opinion.  The survey was conducted by Policy Analysis for California, out of Stanford, and the USC Rossier School of Education.  Only 42% of respondents indicated they had some familiarity with the case.  The poll asked specific questions about teacher rights addressed by the trial along with other topics including knowledge about and attitudes toward the Common Core.  The article appeared in yesterday’s L.A. Times and includes a link to the full poll.
 
The Obama administration and U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan have not been particularly friendly to public education and teachers’ unions.  Diane Ravitch wonders what is going on and what can be done about it, particularly in light of the fact that past Democratic presidents have been strong allies of education.  “The battle for the future of public education is not over,” she writes.  “Supporters of public education must rally and stand together and elect a President in 2016 who supports public schools. This is a time to get informed, to organize, to strategize, and to mobilize. If you are not angry, you have not been paying attention.”
 
And finally, a series of opinion polls over the past year conducted by the Gallup Organization in concert with EDUCATION WEEK, found that 66% of school superintendents believed  the Common Core will improve education in their communities.  The online poll, which addressed a number of other education-related issues, was taken by 1,800 school district chiefs.
 

 Edited by
 Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)