Ed News, Friday, March 27, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“An educated mind is a questioning mind. Or is it?” 
―  T.S. Welti The Fifth Specter
Opt-out
Jonathan Pelto on his Wait? What? blog singles out a teacher in Connecticut for standing up for the right of parents to opt their children out of standardized testing in the state despite efforts by the governor, the current Commissioner of Education and local district superintendents who all took great pains to point out there is no law that allows it.  (Needless to say, there is no law that prohibits opting-out either.)               Jacky Boyd on the CRUNCHY MOMS [Ed. note: That’s not a misprint) website offers “Eleven Reasons to Refuse Standardized Testing for Your Children.”  She’s a parent in Maine which is using the same high-stakes exams developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) that California signed up for.  “Adults remember standardized testing as an occasional interruption in the curriculum.  The low stakes culture kept the test in check.  Aside from the SAT,” she concludes, “we didn’t stress over these exams, and certainly about factors beyond ourselves.  I never once worried my scores would harm my teacher or school.  But today’s youth do have this concern.  Even if teachers aren’t explicit, students determine the test’s importance by how much time and preparation it demands.  You can remove your child from this toxic testing culture and inform others along the way.”              Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALL blog takes a similar, though much more personal approach, then Jacky Boyd (above) in his piece titled “Not My Daughter–One Dad’s Journey to Protect His Little Girl from Toxic Testing.”  Unlike Boyd, Singer is a national board certified teacher who has taught in the public schools for over 12 years.  “Standardized testing is destroying public education.  It’s stressing kids out by demanding they perform at levels they aren’t developmentally ready to reach,” he insists.  “And its using these false measures of proficiency to ‘prove’ how bad public schools are so they can be replaced by for-profit charters that will reduce the quality of kids’ educations to generate profits.”
 
The Teaching Profession
Despite all the attacks on teachers by the corporate “reformers” and the discouraging words from others about getting into the profession there are still idealistic young people who want to become educators.  A group of them have formed an organization called the Young Teachers Collective and you can read about their goals and objectives on their website.  With all the negative news about teachers and education there are some rays of hope out there.  It just may be that they are harder to find!  ” The current climate of the education system is not inviting,” the author maintains .  “We constantly see poor reforms implemented by people the most distant from the classroom. We constantly hear ‘don’t go into teaching.’  Regardless, we see the profession as something worth fighting for. In order to win this struggle, we understand the importance of coming together to support each other and lift each other up–even if it’s only through an online community.”   You may also want to read another entry (dated Jan., 2014) from the same site titled “To All The Teachers Telling Us Not to Go Into Teaching, Stop.”
Want some (disheartening?) idea of what “teaching” might entail in the future (5, 10, 20 years from now)?  Thanks to Stephen Mucher for sending along a piece from The Atlantic titled “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher.”  It’s subtitled “When Kids Can Get Their Lessons from the Internet, What’s Left for Classroom Instructors To Do?”  The author, Michael Godsey,
an English teacher and writer from San Luis Obisbo, does not paint a very pretty picture but the so-called corporate “reformers” are probably going to be most pleased.  “I’ve started recognizing a common thread to the latest trends in teaching,” he notes.   “Flipped learning, blending learning, student-centered learning, project-based learning, and even self-organized learning—they all marginalize the teacher’s expertise. Or, to put it more euphemistically, they all transform the teacher into a more facilitative role .”  [Ed. note: I was all excited for the future of teaching after reading about the Young Teachers Collective.  Now I’m back to being depressed again.  We may all need to take a Prozac after reading this one.]
Pearson, PLC (Public Limited Company)
Want an inside look at Pearson, the education behemoth, that is publishing most of the Common Core materials and the assessments supposedly aligned with the standards?  ALJAZEERA AMERICA has a very interesting investigative piece about the company that has been likened to an octopus for the control it has over education in this country and others around the world.  “ Who stands to gain from education reforms such as the controversial Common Core standards,” it asks?   “One big winner is the British publishing company Pearson, which delivered 9 million high stakes tests to students across the United States in 2014, including the PARCC Common Core assessments. Pearson has an especially tight hold on New York’s education system, which one critic has compared to the grip of an octopus. Pearson runs the edTPA program, which certifies New York teachers, and the company has a $32 million contract to administer the state’s end-of-year tests. And it offers a wide variety of services to implement the Common Core, including curriculum models and tools to measure student understanding.”  Octopus?  Indeed!  What you might find most enlightening is the author’s analysis of a book by the company’s chief academic officer describing his philosophy of “Deliverology.”  Scary stuff!
Special Ed.
A new report, two years in the making, urges sweeping changes in K-12 education policies in California toward students with disabilities.  The study was presented to the state board of education on March 11.  EDUCATION WEEK provides the details.  ” Virtually every major element of education policy—including early-childhood education, special education finance, teacher training, and accountability—was wrapped into the final report,” the story notes , “from California’s statewide task force on special education.”  The piece includes a link to the full report (98 pages) titled “One System: Reforming Education to Serve ALL Students.”
Public Education and the Presidential Election, 2016
Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog wonders “When Will ‘Progressives’ Defend Public Education?”  He points out that most Republicans take great pleasure in attacking “the failing public schools” while Democratic Pres. Obama and his Sec. of Education Arne Duncan seem clearly on the sidelines when it comes to supporting the public school system.  
Remember, public school teachers are more than five million in number,” Cody reminds his readers.  “The membership in the NEA and AFT combined is more than four million. That is the largest organized bloc of voters in the nation. If we act together, and communicate effectively with parents and students about these issues, we could be a determining factor in many races.”            The NEA, the nation’s largest teachers union, is getting a head start on the presidential election next year.  It will soon be sending out a questionnaire regarding individual positions on education policies to a fairly extensive list of 19 potential candidates: Republican, Democratic and even one Independent.  The piece from EDUCATION WEEK includes all the names who received the questionnaire.  [Ed. note: Spoiler alert, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was not among them.  You’ll have to read the item to figure out why.]
School Reform
A lot of corporate experts would like to institute market-based reforms to the education system.  Do they have any real life case studies of how this might work other than in the corporate world?  The answer is “yes.”  Since the 1980s Chile has embarked on a privatization model for their school system that relies on choice, charters and vouchers.  Sound familiar?  How successful has it been?  Check out  an  analysis from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution written by a professor in Chile and one from the University of Georgia to see how it has fared.  They offer seven facts about the experiment that raise some serious questions about the whole concept.  “The ‘Chilean Miracle’ – like the ‘New Orleans Miracle’ – it seems, is not a miracle of student growth, achievement, equity, and high quality education for all,” the authors indicate.  “Rather, it is a miracle that a once protected public good was finally exploited as a competitive private market where profit-seeking corporations could receive a greater and greater share of public tax dollars.”               A reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog, upon seeing the above item, wrote in to her column and described some similar things taking place in Colombia.  “It’s not like our education policy leaders would have to go far to see what NOT to do: Colombia’s a mere four hour flight from Miami,” the person warns.  “There are none so blind as those who will not look, much less see.”               Want some idea of how market-based ideas would apply to education but don’t want to have to travel all the way to Chile or Colombia?  Check out how things are going in the almost-all charter Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans, post-Hurricane Katrina.  The competition to attract students has led to practices like erecting billboards, hiring local celebrities to push your campus, bus-stop ads and handing out leaflets at neighborhood grocery stores.  In some cases principals have even admitted carefully selecting only certain types of students for their campuses.  Can public schools do any of these things?  THE HECHINGER REPORT features a newly-released study that looks at how competition is impacting the RSD and it invited several principals to react to the findings in the report and offer their own take on what’s happening.  The article includes a link to the full study (41 pages) titled “How Do School Leaders Respond to Competition?  Evidence from New Orleans” written by an assistant professor of education at the University of Texas, Austin.
Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, reminds readers that 2 years ago 3 different organizations produced separate documents proposing a progressive agenda for education reform that stressed ” ‘equity of opportunity’ and adequate financial and instructional support for every child, among other principles.”  He revisits those manifestos and wonders what has happened since they were issued.  ” Now two years later,” he laments , “what we see instead of a unified education agenda based on equity of opportunity is an education policy landscape mired in controversy and fraught with politics.  What went wrong?  Bryant proceeds to provide a number of answers.  Be sure to check out his relatively detailed analysis of what’s been happening in California.
Interview with Education Sec. Arne Duncan
EDUCATION WEEK has a Q & A with U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan.  He takes on topics like the 50th anniversary of the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act), testing, NCLB and teacher evaluations among others.  With less than 22 months left in the Obama administration, Duncan’s tenure is also coming to a close.  The final query addressed that issue: ” Last question (asked off the cuff, after the official conclusion of the interview): You going to stick around for the end of the [Obama administration]?
(Laughs). Day at a time, baby, day at a time.”  [Ed. note: For those of us who are not big fans of Duncan we can only hope it’s not too many more days!]
Student Discipline Policies
More and more large urban school districts are abandoning “zero-tolerance” policies regarding student discipline as about all they’ve achieved is to boost the suspension and expulsion rates particularly among students of color and ones with disabilities.  An article in The Atlantic looks at why these harsh, no-questions-asked programs have not been very successful.  It discusses several more progressive, child-centered approaches that have worked in the past and features a couple of new books and research that bolsters the trend. 
Computers in Schools Worldwide  
Despite the “iPad-for-all” fiasco in the LAUSD and a few disasters in other districts the growth in what is referred to as “1-to-1 computing” is growing rapidly around the world.  Globally the number of devices provided to students is expected to grow by 12% in 2015 over the previous year according to a report from Futuresource Consulting, A U.K. based company, highlighted in a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  “In the United States, the push to provide digital devices for online assessments has fueled rapid growth in the market for mobile devices in the past year,” the article concludes.  “There was a 40.5 percent growth in 2014 compared to 2013, driven by the technology requirements associated with the common-core standards and tests, according to Futuresource. In the U.S., deployments are carried out from district to district, rather than on a national scale.”
Teacher Evaluations
An art teacher in New York clearly explains one of the biggest drawbacks to evaluating teachers by including student standardized test scores.  What happens when no assessment exists in the subject taught by a teacher?  You may not believe this but in some districts educators are being rated using students or even results from subjects they don’t teacher!  Keep in mind that decisions about salary and job retention are often pegged to those questionable evaluations.  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to a veteran teacher who illuminates this odd state of affairs for you.  “New York City takes Common Core math and English Language Arts test scores,” he rightly points out, “and attributes them to teachers who teach different subjects, even though they are not certified to teach those subjects, and even though they may never have met the tested students. Tens of thousands of teachers of science, social studies, all the arts, physical education, foreign language, technology and other subjects have at least 20 percent of their evaluation based on math or English Language Arts test results. (Because I am now required to have an “improvement plan,” I am curious to hear how teachers can improve the scores of kids we don’t teach.)  [Ed. note: In light of the above it’s even more difficult to fathom why Gov. Cuomo is proposing to make student scores 50% (!) of a teacher’s evaluation.]  Crazy!
Seniority
And finally, Peter Greene, this time writing for EDUCATION WEEK, tackles the issue of seniority using his wife, who is at the bottom of the seniority ranks, and himself, at the top, as examples along with the budget situation in Pennsylvania where they both work.
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)
 
 

 

Ed News, Tuesday, March 24, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“The goal of education is to enable individuals
to continue their education.”
John Dewey
Freemon Running for School Board
ALOED’s own Jennifer Freemon is making a third run for a seat on the Glendale school board.  The election is Tuesday, April 7, and this time Freemon has formed a slate with a current member of the board who is up for re-election.  According to their campaign literature, the pair are endorsed by the CTA, NEA and the Glendale Teachers Association.  You can find more information about Jennifer on her campaign website by clicking here.  If you live in Glendale and/or know people who live there, consider casting a vote for her and/or encouraging your friends to do so.
 
Dramatic School Funding Disparities
If you believe school funding formulas are providing equal monies for districts with students from wealthy families as those from poor ones, you need to think again.  An eye-opening item in The Washington Post reveals a wide disparity in at least 23 states.  In Pennsylvania, Vermont and Missouri more state and local dollars were a apportioned to wealthy districts than to poor ones.  “In some states the differences are stark,” it explains.  “In Pennsylvania, per-pupil spending in the poorest school districts is 33 percent lower than per-pupil spending in the wealthiest school districts. In Vermont, the differential is 18 percent; in Missouri, 17 percent.  Nationwide, states and localities are spending an average of 15 percent less per pupil in the poorest school districts (where average spending is $9,270 per child) than they are in the most affluent (where average spending is $10,721 per child).”  When federal dollars are included the differences in funding tended to shrink.  The story provides two charts that clearly show how dollars are spent by state and how the federal monies tend to even out the disparities which raises the question of why some politicians want to reduce the roll the federal government plays in education.  Check out both charts to see how California fares. 
 
The Teaching Profession
Here’s a first for the “Ed News.”  One of our readers had an op-ed published in Thursday’s L.A. Times.  He’s Stephen Mucher and he’s the director of the Bard College MAT program in Los Angeles and he’s also the newest addition to the ALOED Discussion Group.  ALOED members Nancy Kuechle AND Larry Lawrence both spotted this one and forwarded it to the editor.  His piece is titled (in the print edition) “Why Make it so Hard to Teach?” and recounts a number of factors that have made the profession such a difficult one in recent years and why many college graduates are reluctant to become teachers.  “Our most promising educators crave work that honors their creativity and intellect,” he so correctly points out. “They are suspicious of easy answers. They need to hear more than the cliche that a great teacher can make a difference in a student’s life. They want to know whether this profession will make a difference in their own life.”               The above commentary by Stephen Mucher drew an always insightful comment on the Diane Ravitch blog.    “Frankly, it is tiresome to hear critics say that teachers are not our ‘best and brightest.’  Neither are our critics,” she suggests.  I doubt that most critics would know how to teach a classroom of 30 children of any age, but they feel emboldened to complain about those who do it every day.  As we see the pipeline for new teachers growing smaller, and many veterans taking early retirement, where will we find new teachers?  Who will be held accountable for this crisis in the teaching profession?”               Sunday’s Times published two letters reacting to Mucher’sop-ed.               Need a very brief morale booster?  Check out what one reader sent into DianeRavitch’s blog about the unsung value of teachers based on a quote from George Eliot’s Middlemarch.               An award-winning teacher who recently won a prestigious $1 million education prize has some surprising advice for anyone contemplating entering the profession:  Don’t do it!   Areyou confused?  Read the story in EDUCATION WEEK of Nancie Atwell of Maine who has been teaching and writing for 42 years to discover why she’s so against newcomers becoming teachers.  Also be sure to view the short video (2:23 minutes) of her appearance on CNN talking about the award and her misgivings about becoming a public school teacher.  [Ed. note: Hint, it has to do with Common Core and testing.]  Both the article and video are a real reality check.  Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweekfor forwarding this one to the editor.               Does experience matter for teachers?  Good question.  Some groups like Teach for America purport that it doesn’t.  They and others might suggest that a person can be an excellent teacher from the beginning which is why TFA only requires a two-year commitment from their corps members.  However, more and more professional research is  demonstrating that years on the job in front of a classroom really matter.  An article in EDUCATION WEEK reviews two new studies that attempt to address the issue.   “Although the studies raise numerous questions for follow-up,” the author maintains, “the researchers say it may be time to retire the received—and somewhat counterintuitive—wisdom that teachers can’t or don’t improve much after their first few years on the job.”  The ED WEEK piece includes links to both of the new papers.         
 
Renewal of NCLBWith both the U.S. House and Senate working on the reauthorization of NCLB it might be a good time to take a look at what the law has accomplished and what it’s goals were.  ALOED member Randy Traweek sent along two historical articles that question the original premise of the legislation that mandated that ALL students would beproficient in math and English by 2014.  The first one comes from the DAILY KOS and applies the goals of NCLB to the banking industry.  “Based on my vast experience of standing in line at the bank,” thalli1 writes, “I’m hereby declaring myself an expert of all financial institutions and their operations. In a program I will call NDLB (No Depositor Left Behind) all banks will from this day on be ranked and given a grade based on their average customer bank balance.”  Using the same logic as the piece above, the second one dealt with NCLBproposals for police departments.  It appeared on the K-12NN News Network website.  “It occurs to me we can solve all kinds of seemingly intractable problems in this country with the same powerful pen,” Joseph K suggests.  “Isn’t crime a major issue in this country? Isn’t crime as important as illiteracy? Why don’t we solve it with NCLB, No Crime Left Behind? With a simple act of Congress, we will mandate a reduction in crime by one hundred percent by 2021. Think of it! In ten years, there will not be a single criminal act in the entire county. And we will do it the same way the original NCLB did it, by setting annual benchmarks and inflicting severe consequences for failure to meet those objectives. (Or else.)”               Should the fact that there appears to be bipartisan agreement on the renewal of NCLB be a source of optimism?  Not according to Arthur Camins, director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.  He writes on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post of his worries over the proposition that both Democrats and Republicans are lining up in support of the pending legislation.  He reviews what’s on the table so far and finds it seriously wanting.  Not leaving it at just being critical he identifies a number of common sense proposals he’s like to see included in the bill.  “It is past time for all supporters of equitable education for life, work and citizenship to call out No Child Left Behind,” he concludes, “with its high-stakes testing centerpiece as a failed Faustian bargain. Choosing the right tools for the right purposes is a common sense starting point.”
 
Testing/Privacy
Last week it was revealed that Pearson has been monitoring (spying on?) social media sites of students while they are taking standardized tests.  One superintendent in New Jersey was concerned enough about the revelation that she emailed her colleagues.  This latest flap about high-stakes testing appeared on Bob Braun’s Ledger.                  Valerie Strauss, in The Washington Post, quickly reacted to the story and provided a comment by Pearson as to why they were doing the monitoring.  This is not the only instance in which social media has been monitored by testing companies or state authorities during student standardized testing,” Strauss notes.  “Such monitoring is seen by authorities as an extension of classroom monitoring for cheating, while seen by some parents and educators as a violation of a students’ privacy.”   Strauss also includes a copy of the New Jersey superintendent’s email and indicates that California has been doing similar types of monitoring.               The Badass Teachers Association checked in with a call for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Pearson for its actions.  “As parents and teachers who have a duty to protect our children and safeguard their right to being private citizens,” their statement asserts, “we are outraged at the over reach that Pearson has been allowed.  It is an overbearing reach that has even been condoned by New Jersey’s department of education. As parents and teachers we demand that the United States Department of Justice investigate  the facts and practices that Pearson is employing to monitor and control the actions of our children, that is not only in clear violation of their rights, but also a transgression against their childhood.”                 Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, reviewed some of the sources that had commented on the issue of student “monitoring.”                 The growing controversy over the monitoring of/spying on student social media sites during testing drew an extended comment from Stephanie Simon over at POLITICO.  In a piece titled “Cyper Snoops Track Students’ Activity” she describes how the “monitoring” takes place and writes: “School districts and colleges across the nation are hiring private companies to monitor students’ online activity, down to individual keystrokes, to scan their emails for objectionable content and to scrutinize their public posts on Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram and other popular sites.  The surveillance services will send principals text-message alerts if a student types a suspicious phrase or surfs to a website that raises red flags.”  The item adds that a few states, inlcuding California, are trying, in the name of personal privacy, to limit this type of activity.                Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 commented on an official statement from PARCC about test monitoring (snooping?) activities and why they are justified.  “Never forget: testing is a business,” she reminds everyone, “and the more ‘embedded’ (Pearson’s word) testing becomes into the American public education experience, the bigger the business will become, and the more control the business will exercise not only in test prep prior to testing and actual administration, but also in monitoring the public ‘before, during and following’ testing.               Want some idea of what students are facing when they try to take the SBACstandardized test in math on a computer?  This video (9:42 minutes) from YouTube shows a group of supposedly computer-literate 5th graders struggling with just the mechanics of using the device to deal with some math issues.  Thanks to ALOEDmember Larry Lawrence for sending it along.               17 teachers at an elementary school in Framingham, Massachusetts, wrote a letter to the editor of the Framingham Patch titled “PARCC is Failing Teachers and Students.”  They proceed to offer 4 concrete reasons why and concluded: “Excellent teaching is aligned to the individual learning needs of students, and it is out of kilter to have to teach to the expectations of a standardized test. These sterile tests and the accompanying weeks of artificial test-prep stand in stark contrast to the rich and varied learning experiences we strive for in the classroom. By way of this testing, we see the curriculum narrowing, a false definition of educational success expanding, and the appreciation of school and life-long learning vanishing.”  Each one of the educators signed the letter.               Stamford Advocate columnist Wendy Lecker, who is also an attorney, wonders what Vermont is getting right that her state of Connecticut isn’t in regards to the SBAC standardized test.  She compares and contrasts how the two states have dealt with the testing mandates under NCLB in an op-ed in the paper.  “In its thoughtful articulation of its policy stance,” she concludes, “Vermont’s educational leaders demonstrated their dedication to the educational welfare of Vermont’s children. It is shameful that Connecticut’s so-called leaders cannot muster the same concern for ours.”                 Do high-stakes tests have any sort of religious connection?  Check out this short commentary on the Marie Corfield blog for an answer that has to do with the 14 Stations of the Cross.  The author, a New Jersey parent, teacher and self-described “education activist,” describes it as “the worst PARCCstory” she’s ever heard.  You don’t have to be of any particular religion to understand its impact.                 Diane Ravitch’s blog has, what the author describes as “a wonderful photo” that’s been making the rounds on Twitter about young children being “college and career ready.”              A measure recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to ostensibly protect student privacy apparently is more aimed at protecting commercial interests’ right to collect personal data about students without their knowledge.  An item from Student Privacy Matters looks at what the legislation would really accomplish.  “The bill . . . . addresses few if any of the concerns,” the story notes, “that parents have concerning the way their children’s privacy and safety have been put at risk by the widespread disclosure of their personal data by schools, districts and vendors.” It goes on to identify several “critical weaknesses” in the bill.
Charters
Here we go again!  The two leaders of a Delaware charter school were recently fired after they were charged with running up $94,000 of personal expenses on the school’s credit cards.  The malfeasance was discovered after an audit of school accounts conducted in the spring of 2014.  The Wilmington News Journal provides the sordid details including a list of many of the charges.  “Credit card records in the audit,” the story points out, “show purchases for car payments, furniture, flowers, fine watches, expensive meals and concert tickets, among many other items.”  Ask yourself, were these school related as required by state law?               ALOED members Jill Asbjornsen and Larry Lawrence both alerted the “Ed News” editor of an HBO series called “Togetherness” that includes a description of the battle raging between charters and public schools and the issues of race, poverty and education that it encompasses.  What’s unique about this one is that it focuses on what’s going on in Eagle Rock, the northeast L.A. community that’s home to Occidental College.  The series is described and reviewed in an article in SALON.  
Parent-Trigger Bills Expand
The parent-trigger concept began in California in 2010.  After a string of over two dozen defeats of similar legislation in states around the country, proponents of the idea are focusing their attention this year on attempts in Tennessee and Texas.  A story from THE HECHINGER REPORT describes efforts in those two states and others to adopt the controversial legislation.  “Lawmakers around the country,” it begins, “are gearing up for showdowns against teachers unions and school administrators who are seeking to squash a new round of education bills that would create and strengthen so-called “parent trigger” laws.”  An article in EDUCATION WEEK explains how the law is being expanded in the state where it began.  “Former State Sen. Gloria Romero, the law’s author, founded a nonprofit last year to educate parents about the California Parent Empowerment Act,” it notes.  “Even as Ms. Romero launched her initiative, another group of parent-trigger-campaign veterans had already started working to develop a more collaborative approach to turning around troubled schools.”
 
Teacher/School Evaluations
A front-page story in yesterday’s New York Times was highly critical of Gov. Cuomo’s plan to include student test scores as 50% of a teacher’s evaluation.  The governor was upset that so few teachers were rated as “ineffective”  in his state so his solution was to up the role played by high-stakes assessment results.  The article focuses on one rural Long Island district and how parents, teachers and administrators are reacting to the new proposal.  Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for forwarding this piece.  “The movement to weigh scores heavily in teacher evaluations has lost some steam,” the article notes.  “The fact that ratings based on test scores can vary from year to year has led to concern about teachers being unfairly penalized.  Additionally, the transition to tougher, Common Core-aligned tests, and the associated drop in scores, has left many teachers, administrators and parents skeptical of the validity of the results.”  This item drew a number of reader comments.  If you get the chance, check out some of them.               16 or so states  utilize a system of A-F grades to evaluate schools.  The concept was developed byJeb Bush when he was governor of Florida.  Last week the governor of Virginia signed a bill into law that repeals that state’s system.  The details are provided in a piece from NC POLICY WATCH.  “Proponents of the accountability model,” it states, “say it’s a much-needed measure of transparency for the public. . . .  But in many cases, these school grades have raised concerns and questions about how effectively they improve public education, how fair it is to punish schools that serve disadvantaged communities, and the potential for politicians to game the system for their own benefit.”
2016 Presidential Election
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), an opponent of Common Core, yesterday formally announced his run for president in 2016.  The “Ed News” continues its review of how candidates’ education policies compare in this still very early run-up to the primaries and general election.  EDUCATION WEEK takes a quick look at this latest entrant into the race.               Valerie Strauss in her column in The Washington Post parsed some of the statements Cruz made regarding Common Core in his announcement speech yesterday.  She noted he had some enthusiastic applause lines when he called for the repeal of the standards but that his understanding of them was not always crystal clear.                 Presumptive Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton will face a difficult political dilemma between wealthy campaign donors and powerful teachers’ unions should she choose to run for president in 2016 .  An item in The New York Times describes the possible predicament she could face.  “Already, she is being pulled in opposite directions on education,” it points out.  “The pressure is from not only the teachers who supported her once and are widely expected to back her again, but also from a group of wealthy and influential Democratic financiers who staunchly support many of the same policies — charter schools and changes to teacher tenure and testing — that the teachers’ unions have resisted throughout President Obama’s two terms in office.  And the financiers say they want Mrs. Clinton to declare herself.”
 
Academic Decathlon
More good news for the LAUSD.  Granada Hills Charter High School won the statewide Academic Decathlon competition over the weekend in Sacramento.  Defending national champion El Camino Real Charter High, also from the LAUSD, placed second.  All-in-all, it was a good outcome for the district as they placed 5 schools in the top 7 with Marshall fourth, Franklin fifth and Garfield seventh.  L.A. county schools South Pasadena slotted in third and Beverly Hills was sixth.  Yesterday’s L.A. Times had all the results.  The national competition will take place in mid-April in Garden Grove.
 
A Successful California School District
What is it that the Long Beach Unified School District is getting right?  Their API scores have made steady progress over the past decade.  Graduation rates have improved and teacher retention figures hover around 94% which is phenomenal for an urban district.  They also have had the same superintendent for the past 13 years which is a very strong reason why the district is often singled out for recognition.  A profile from THE HECHINGER REPORT features a Q & A with Supt. Christopher Steinhauser and is titled “How One California Superintendent Changed Troubled Schools.”  In it the district chief describes some of the policies he’s implemented and the team approach he’s adopted to deal with some typical urban district problems.  There are certainly some lessons to be learned from his example.
 
Racist Comments
And finally, a vice principal at Scandinavian Middle School in Fresno was placed on leave after an 18-second student video caught him telling other students “I just don’t like the black kids.”  The administrator has been with the Fresno Unified School District for 18 years.  The story appeared in The Fresno Bee and includes the offending video.               A popular English and history teacher at Revere Charter Middle School and Magnet Center (LAUSD) in Pacific Palisades was suspended for using the “n-word” in class.  The article appeared on the L.A. Times website last night.  The 30-year veteran of the district has been at the school since 1991.
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 

Ed News, Friday, March 13, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

The “Ed News” will be taking a short break. 
Look for the next edition on Tuesday, March, 24.
 
“Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; 
few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. 
The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” 
―  Sydney Harris 
Teacher Quality
A recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a New York Times “Room for Debate” feature on the question “What Makes A Good Teacher?”  Among the 5 contributors were Amanda Ripley, Eric Hanushek and Mercedes Schneider.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, had some major criticisms of the comments made by Hanushek.  First he wonders why some economists think they are qualified to pontificate on education issues.  “Hanushek has become one of those go-to ‘experts’ whose continued credibility is a mystery to me,” Greene asserts.  “He may be an intelligent man, a man who treats his mother well, and is fun to hang out with. But his arguments about education are baseless and unsupportable. If you’re going to read any portion of the NYT debate, I recommend you skip over Hanushek and check out the indispensable Mercedes Schneider, whose piece is much more closely tied to reality.”
 
A.P. U.S. History Framework

Legislators and certain state board of education members in four states have raised concerns about the revised A.P. U.S. History framework, claiming it offers too many “negative” aspects of American History.  An article in EDUCATION WEEK outlines some of their concerns.  “Policymakers in Colorado, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas have pushed back on the new framework, which outlines the concepts and skills students need for a college-level history course,” it points out.  “The Republican National Committee also condemned the guidelines last summer, calling them ‘radically revisionist.’ . . . .The critics of the framework have tended to be right-leaning legislators and state board of education members who also oppose the Common Core State Standards.”

New Book
Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard University, has a new book titled OUR KIDS–The American Dream in Crisis that looks at the declining amount of support offered to children in poverty to help assure they are successful academically.  EDUCATION WEEK offers a review.  “Mr. Putnam,” it informs readers, “finds large and widening gaps—often beginning in the mid-1980s to early 1990s—across a slew of measures: from frequency of family dinners and how much families spend on children, to test scores and participation in school-based extracurricular activities, to access to informal mentors and even children’s levels of basic trust in their neighbors and society. These ‘scissors’ trends highlight every place a lifeline is being cut in the lives of children whose parents earned a high school diploma or less.”
 
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LAUSD Lay-off Notices & New School Calendar
The state of California requires school districts to notify personnel of possible lay-offs for the next school year by March 15th (that happens to fall on Sunday this year).  Receipt of the notices does not mean the person will definitely lose their job since budget decisions and enrollment projections are often not made until later in the year.  The LAUSD board voted to issue 600 RIFS (reductions in force) at their meeting on Tuesday.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times had a very brief item about the decision while the website posted a longer piece Tuesday evening.               At the same meeting the board approved the school calendar for the 2015-16 school year.  It includes a slightly later starting date (Aug. 18) than in the past.  A story about that action appeared on the Times’ website Tuesday evening.  You can read the official LAUSD press release about the calendar by clicking here  and/or you can view the calendars in graphic form by clicking here.
“Another One Bites the Dust”
Another charter school operator has been found guilty of criminal misconduct.  [Ed. note:  When is this going to end?]  Stephen J. Ingersoll, founder of the Bay City (Michigan) Academy, was convicted by a federal jury on three of six felony counts related to tax fraud as he attempted to personally benefit from loans meant for school construction.  The Michigan Live website has the details.  “Federal prosecutors,” it reports, “alleged Ingersoll in January 2011 obtained a $1.8 million construction line of credit loan from Chemical Bank in Bay City for his endeavors with the church-academy, then used the money for his own purposes.”                 For a similar take on this issue check out this short (1:05 minutes) video from Badass Films titled the “Charter School Treasure Hunt” that appears on YouTube.
 
Income Inequality and Education
French economist Thomas Piketty, whose Capital in the Twenty-First Century was a bestseller last year, traced the history of income inequality and how it has developed in the U.S. and Europe.  He blasted the Republican party and Jeb Bush in particular for making it a conservative talking point despite their policies that have tended to exacerbate the problem.  Piketty was interviewed about how the issue relates to education by Krystal Ball on her “Krystal Clear” program on MSNBC.  SALON has a story about their discussion that includes the full video (16:15 minutes) of the interview.  “Conservatives’ proposals, Piketty concludes, are fundamentally at odds with the goal of creating a more egalitarian society,” the article summarizes.  “‘So I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy in this conservative rhetoric about the skill gap and education gap.  If they are really serious about the skill gap and the education gap, then they cannot at the same time cut taxes on the rich,’ he says.”
Testing and Civil Rights
Here are two stories challenging the idea put forward by some corporate “reformers” that testing is advantageous for children of color and will help reduce the achievement gap.  The first one is by Brian Jones, former teacher and current doctoral candidate at CUNY.  He has a piece on ALTERNET titled “For People Who Have Experienced Racism in Schools, Standardized Testing Can Seem Like A Solution.  But It’s Not.”   “Our society is currently spending untold sums to create more tests, more data systems, more test preparation materials, ad nauseam,” he argues.  “And then they have the audacity to tell us that these are antiracist measures!  Of course, all this focus on testing is a huge market opportunity for the private companies that provide all these services and materials. What is never under serious consideration is the idea that we could take all those same millions of dollars and create for all children the kind of cozy, relaxed, child-centered teaching and learning conditions that wealthy kids already enjoy.”              The second item is from Denisha Jones, who titles her piece “Empathy V. Criticism, How to Respond to Those Who Think More Testing Is Needed to Improve Public Education.”  It appears on the emPower website.  “Despite the growing anti-testing movement,” she suggests, “civil rights groups like the NAACP and Children’s Defense Fund, believe that testing is needed to ensure equity and fairness for all children.  This belief is perplexing to those who see the damage excessive testing has done to all children.”
Opt-Out
The PBS “NEWSHOUR” program has a feature on the opt-out movement by John Merrow, their special correspondent for education.  It includes an audio segment (8:17 minutes) and a printed transcript of the story.  “Testing for the Common Core learning standards in U.S. public schools began earlier this month,” Judy Woodruff points out in her introduction to the piece.  
“And just as a rebellion is brewing against the Common Core, there are now protests building against the national tests associated with them.  Reports of students refusing to take the tests are coming in daily, and if those numbers keep building, it could endanger the goals of the standards themselves.”               One of the “Ed News” favorites, Peter Greene (of CURMUDGUCATION fame) occasionally blogs for EDUCATION WEEK under the banner “View From the Cheap Seats.”  This one is from the latter.  He’s been following a Twitter thread and other vehicles that have been poking fun at followers of the opt-out movement.  Their main argument is that sometimes you just have to do things that you find unpleasant.  Greene sets out to try to debunk that notion in regards to high-stakes testing.  “As we enter testing opt-out season with its ever-increasing rising tide of test opposition,” he commences, “the  fans of test-driven accountability have had to use every weapon in their arsenal to try to beat back the non-testing hordes who threaten modern educational progress (and corporate revenue streams ).”
API Delayed A Year
The California State Board of Education voted to delay by a year the use of the Academic Performance Index (API) to evaluate schools as the state transitions to new Common Core-aligned assessments.  The board also decided to expand the way schools are rated beyond just relying on student test scores according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  “Amid a national backlash against the overuse of test scores, board members also voted to shift from a school quality measure based solely on exam results to one that would include other factors,” it reports.  “Possible additions include student attendance, dropout rates, suspensions, English proficiency, access to educational materials and performance in college-level classes.”
Charters
Why are so many hedge fund managers investing in charter schools?  There’s LOTS OF MONEY to be made.  The New York Daily News outlines some of the names and amounts being ventured and who is benefiting.  “Hedge fund executives have unleashed a tsunami of money the past few years,” it maintains, “aimed at getting New York’s politicians to close more public schools and expand charter schools.  They’ve done it through direct political contributions, through huge donations to a web of pro-charter lobbying groups, and through massive TV and radio commercials.”                Any Goodman on her DEMOCRACY NOW! program interviews her co-host, Juan Gonzalez, who wrote the above article about hedge funds and charter schools.  You can read a transcript and/or view a video (3:49 minutes) of the discussion by clicking here.  “Gov. Andrew Cuomo is the single biggest recipient [of hedge fund donations], hauling in $4.8 million, Goodman points out in her introduction.  “After winning approval for up to $2,600 more per pupil for charter school facilities, Cuomo is calling on the state Legislature to increase the state limit on charter schools.”               Dave Yost, State Auditor of Ohio, has a very thoughtful commentary in The Columbus Dispatch about the difficulty in drawing up meaningful guidelines regarding accountability and transparency for entities like charter management companies which accept taxpayer funds but are often private businesses.  Governments definitely have jurisdiction over public units but rules are much more hazy when it comes to their dealings with the private sector.  “The ongoing debate over charter-school reform is going to happen smack in the middle of this disorganized space in our public life. How do we protect the public interest,” he ponders, “while harnessing the best qualities of a mostly private-sector actor?”            How well are charter schools doing at meeting the promises they have made?  A professor of Public Policy at Duke University and a senior majoring in the field have made a study of the first 100 charters in North Carolina and found their record to be “spotty.”  Their findings appear in a op-ed in the Charlotte News & Observer.  “North Carolina’s charter schools are accountable to the State Board of Education,” the two explain, “for ensuring compliance with the provisions of their charters and applicable laws. But how well are they delivering on the promises that earned them the right to spend more than $380 million taxpayer dollars each year?  Our analysis shows many charters are not making the grade.”  They go on to demonstrate several areas where charters are coming up short.
TFA
Julian Vasquez Heilig on his Cloaking Inequity blog reviews a recent Mathematica Policy Research study on Teach for America (highlighted in Tuesday’s “Ed News”) and raises some concerns regarding TFA’s interpretation of the results.               Matthew Di Carlo on the Albert Shanker Blog also has an analysis of the Mathematica report about TFA.  He finds both positive and negative elements in the findings for the organization.  “The public reaction to the report was one of those half disturbing, half amusing instances,” Di Carlo suggests, “in which the results seemed to confirm the pre-existing beliefs of the beholder. TFA critics pointed out that TFA teachers did no better overall, while TFA supporters noted that the comparison teachers had, on average, about 14 years of experience (i.e., TFA teachers did as well as comparison teachers with far more training and experience).”              BloombergBusiness focused on a different aspect of the Mathematica report: retention of teachers.  It found a startling high number (87%) of TFA teachers planned to leave the profession after only a few years on the job.  The story has some other statistics on the topic.                     A group of Phoenix-area TFA corps members and alumni have requested the parent organization return $500,000 allocated to TFA to the public schools amid steep budget cuts enacted by the Arizona legislature.  The PHOENIX New Times has the surprising developments.  “‘There is a massive contradiction that exists when an organization that claims to work for the education of all children is part of a process that robs Peter to pay Paul,” the group [of TFAers] wrote. “We cannot support Teach for America’s growth in the context of everything that is shrinking: budgets, funding sources, support for public education, and, ultimately, opportunities for children.'”               The Texas legislature has a bill (HB 1060) pending public hearings that would not count any TFA educator who leaves after his/her two year commitment as being included in “teacher turnover.”  Diane Ravitch’s blog has a very brief item about the development under the heading “Texas Loves TFA.”
 
California School Funding
California has been using its new Local Control Funding Formula for the past 2 school years.  The idea was to target dollars to those students most in need, i.e., mentally and physically handicapped, ELLs and low income.  However, a new study from the Public Policy Institute of California “raises concerns that many such students, including children in foster homes and English-language learners, may not be receiving the additional resources that the formula generally promises for them. Why? PPIC says the formula may be missing particular schools within districts that need the most attention and resources.”  Some good news for LAUSD, however:  They were actually found to be doing a better job of distributing funds to high needs students than other districts around the state.  Yay!!!  An item from EDUCATION WEEK has the details.
 
Testing
Laura Slover, the CEO of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the consortia that developed Common Core-aligned assessments, has written that “there is no ‘test prep’ for these tests; these are the kinds of test items that require understanding of concepts and application that only come through a year of effective teaching, not through ‘drill and kill.’”  If the testers believe test prep will not help why are so many classrooms spending so much time on just that task?  The author of this article from THE HECHINGER REPORT takes you to a school in New Orleans to sort all this out for you.  “Despite the test prep and more rigorous curricula,” the story notes, “teachers and administrators said they expect student test scores will drop just as they did in other states. Scores plummeted in Illinois, Kentucky and New York when the Common Core tests were introduced.”  The sixth-grade reading teacher at the school concluded: ““This is not an easy year to be a teacher in America.”  [Ed. note: Is it ever “an easy year to be a teacher?”]                Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, has an essay on ending “the war over standardized testing.”  He reviews a number of the arguments against high-stakes assessments, discusses the growing opt-out revolt and offers some alternative ideas that, he believes, will end the increasingly bitter fight over the exams.  “If we want assessments that give us information that is actionable within a reasonable time frame,” he suggests, “then what we need are the types of tests educators use in their everyday work.  Demanding schools have those types of assessments in place is fine, but making those assessments  standardized, centrally controlled, and implemented en masse across the nation is never going to work.” 
 
Vergara in New York
A judge in the Empire State ruled that a lawsuit challenging the state’s teacher employment rules could continue.  The case, Davids v. New York, is a combination of two other suits that follow in the footsteps of the Vergara decision in California last year.  A statewide teachers’ union announced they would immediately appeal the ruling.  A brief piece in EDUCATION WEEK explains the situation.
 
Education Reform
“What’s Love Got to do With Education Reform?” is the intriguing title of a story on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  It’s written by a former teacher who now works with student teachers at Brooklyn College.  She defines the term “love” and wonders why it can’t be applied more often to the teaching profession.  “Call me radical, or just call me plain crazy, or even an idealist, but I believe the missing ingredient in public education reform is love,” she begins.  “And compassion.  And gratitude.  Please, let me explain.  Love has many definitions. As a noun, it can mean ‘deep affection, warmth, adoration’ or ‘enjoyment, appreciation, passion’, or ‘compassion, caring, kindness’. As a verb, love can be defined with words like ‘adore, delight in, and hold very dear.’  Look over that list above again. Is there one word up there—just one—that if applied to the everyday world of public education, wouldn’t make our schools a better place for our students and teachers?”  She makes a good point and draws on several experiences to emphasize it.
 
Teacher = CEO?
And finally, as a teacher or administrator have you ever felt like a company CEO?  That’s the gist of in interesting item from a teacher who left high school teaching 6 years ago to become a startup CEO.  He thought the jobs would be VERY different but, to his surprise, he found a number of similarities along the way.  He outlines them in this story from EDUCATION WEEK.  “On the surface,” the author notes, “the two vocations could not be more divergent: nonprofit vs. for-profit; public institution vs. free market; chalkboard and textbook vs. Google Analytics and business-expansion playbook; curriculum-building vs. consumer-product design.  And yet, I’ve come to see that teaching is a lot more like being a CEO than our teacher-degrading, CEO-fetishizing society wishes to know.”  [Ed. note: Now if they’d just pay us like those CEOs who make millions and millions!]

      

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)

 
 

Ed News, Tuesday, March 10, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“A library is a place where you learn
what teachers were afraid to teach you.” 
―  Alan M. Dershowitz
Exam, Exams, More Exams
The GED (General Education Development) exam has been undergoing a revamping as of late as the testing business tries to “raise the bar” on the test.  An article in THE Nation reports it “is now harder to take–and harder to pass.”   “The standardized-test giant Pearson,” it reports, “seeks to make the GED a more rigorous assessment for job and college ‘readiness.’  But with a pricier, fully computerized format, those higher standards come at a steep cost.”                The New York State Education Department has implemented a new teacher certification exam that is being met with great consternation by applicants.  In addition, the Empire State is requiring the edTPA as part of the credentialing process.  The author of the Alexandra Miletta blog is a “teacher educator” at Mercy College and she describes what the change to the new requirements has wrought in the state.   “Teacher education programs are frantically scrambling,” she notes, “to accommodate students who are in a full-blown panic and understandable confusion over the sudden change in regulations.  Even the Board of Regents is attempting to reduce the disastrous effects of this completely bungled roll out, perhaps making things worse.”                Is it possible that standardized tests are really being used to insure that fewer students are “college and career ready?”  As job markets shrink and college becomes more and more expensive, Anthony Cody wonders if there is a hidden method to the madness of built-in inflated failure rates of many of the assessments.  Not sure what he’s thinking?  Check out his ruminations on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog and see how he compares all of this to the childrens’ game of musical chairs.               Want an eye-opening view of how ridiculous the high-stakes testing mania has become?  NCLB mandated annual assessment  in grades 3-8 and 11.  Would you believe that some of those exams are now being administered to KINDERGARTNERS?  The author of this item from Slate takes you on a tour of a few districts where tests are being given to kids as young as 5-years-old.  It’s titled “Welcome to Kindergarten.  Take This Test.  And This One.”   Unbelievable!               Marion Brady, teacher, administrator and renowned education columnist, has an op-ed in The Washington Post titled “The Important Things Standardized Tests Don’t Measure.” In it he uses an example from his teaching past to illustrate the types of things the tests don’t check on and then provides a long list of the detrimental things the tests do and don’t do.  The sentiments expressed in this paragraph of the piece are worth quoting in full:  “Arthur Costa, emeritus professor at California State University, summed up the thrust of current test-based ‘reform’ madness: ‘What was educationally significant and hard to measure has been replaced by what is educationally insignificant and easy to measure. So now we measure how well we taught what isn’t worth learning.’”  A HUGE bravo to that!              Several previous editions of the “Ed News” have highlighted research into the readability grade levels of various standardized test items.  Here’s another addition.  An elementary school teacher on Long Island reviewed questions that appeared with several reading passages for the 3rd grade ELA exam and found them with reading levels of between 4.5 and 12.5.  He posted his findings on the LACETOTHETOP [Ed. note: That’s not a misprint] blog.  “In English Language Arts tests, the grade level appropriateness of text used is a gray area. Some would argue that it is perfectly fine for third graders to be assessed using texts with readability levels of 5th and 6th graders,” he maintains.  “But even the champions of rigor must adhere to the golden rule of testing- the questions MUST be written on the grade level you are attempting to assess.  It only makes sense.  Students can’t answer questions that they do not understand.  These tests are constructed for ALL students in a given grade level and therefore it is imperative that the questions are  grade appropriate.”               
Charter Schools
How often does this happen to a public school?  Fresno’s ACEL Charter High School, which opened in 2008,  abruptly shut down last week citing financial difficulties.  The unexpected closure affects the just over 100 students who had no classes to attend this week and particularly the seniors who were left in the dark about graduation.  KFSN-TV, the local ABC affiliate in Fresno, has a short video (2:39 minutes) and a story about the  shuddering of the campus .   “Many of the cash problems are being blamed on the unnamed company the board contracted to monitor its finances,” it describes.  “Recently, the massive funding deficit was revealed.”               Thanks to Randy Traweek for sending along an article from The New York Times that describes a charter school that was part of former governor Jeb Bush’s “Florida Miracle” for reviving education in the Sunshine State. Liberty City Charter in Miami opened in 1996 to great fanfare but closed quietly in 2008 with financial problems and a lackluster academic record.  Gov. Bush played an important role in getting the campus off the ground but his interest seemed to lag in later years.               The Gates and Walton Foundations sponsored a charter school investor conference at the Harvard Club in New York City today.  If you’d like to discover how the financial aspect of charter school management is a key ingredient to the movement [Ed. note: I thought it was about educating kids, but what do I know?] check out this report from Laura Chapman on the gathering.  Her comments appear on the Diane Ravitch blog.
 
Vouchers
Even the senior pastor of a Baptist church in Texas is warning against parochial schools accepting vouchers.  “In the beginning, temptation appeared as a fruit,” he writes in a commentary in the Tyler Morning Telegraph.  “Today, it appears in the shape of a voucher. As tempting as it may be for private, religious schools to pluck the low-hanging fruit of ‘free’ public money, the cost is too great.”
Lab Schools
EDUCATION WEEK has an interesting profile of the role of lab schools in the 21st century.  It reviews some of the history of the experimental programs.  The first one was started back in 1896 by John Dewey at the University of Chicago.  From a high of 200 campuses in the mid-1960s the numbers have dwindled to around 60 today.  “Many laboratory schools have changed in the face of decades of tightening university budgets and more-regimented K-12 accountability,” the item notes.
 
TFA
Mathmatica Policy Research has a new report out that debunks the myth that Teach for America educators help their students make bigger gains on standardized tests than regularly trained teachers.  That’s been one of the selling points of the TFA program for a while now.  This latest research is featured in a story in The Washington Post.  “A new study comparing test scores among elementary school students who had Teach for America instructors and who had other teachers finds it’s a wash,” it begins. . . . “Teach for America was established on the premise that highly qualified young people could do as well or better than experienced educators in the nation’s most disadvantaged schools after only minimal training.”  The piece includes a link to the full report (106 pages) titled “Impacts of the Teach for America Investing in Innovation Scale-Up.”
Unions
Some governors and state legislatures can’t wait to destroy their pubic employee unions including teachers’ unions.  Case-in-point:  Illinois.  Newly inaugurated Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner issued an executive order to withhold so-called “agency”  or “fair-share” fees collected from nonmembers.  26 public employee unions promptly sued, calling the action “patently illegal.”  A story in the Chicago Tribune includes a short video (27 seconds) previewing the issue.                On the topic of “teachers unions” you may want to check out this newly released short film (1:21 minutes) of the same title from Badass Films.  It appears on YouTube. 
 
A Math Lesson for Gov. Cuomo
The author of this humorous commentary from the HUFF POST EDUCATION blog offers an interesting “math” lesson to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo who has proposed closing any schools that place in the bottom 5% on combined ELA and math scores.  “Clearly we need to improve the education received by all of ‘our’ children. And unlike the Governor,” she concludes in a more serious vein, “I actually have two children in NYS public schools. The way to help my sons and other NYS students is to reduce class size; shift away from high stakes testing; offer a well-rounded curriculum rich in the sciences, technology, physical education, and the arts; and evaluate teachers in a way that takes into consideration the unique challenges of each of their classrooms.”
 
Retiree Health Benefits
A major, front-page investigative story in Sunday’s L.A. Times outlines how a number of school districts in California are facing serious budgetary issues over future health benefits for retirees.  “California school districts once viewed lifetime healthcare coverage for employees as a cheap alternative to pay raises,” it points out.  “That decision is coming back to haunt school leaders, and districts are scrambling to limit the lucrative benefit promised decades ago.  The price tag for retiree healthcare obligations has reached about $20 billion statewide — an amount systems are not prepared to absorb.  Many districts failed to set aside money to pay for those increasingly expensive benefits for thousands of employees. Now, the financial burden threatens to drag down credit ratings and crowd out other budget priorities.”
 
School Boards
The author of this commentary in EDUCATION WEEK takes issue with how school boards make decisions and condemns the injection of politics into policy matters.  “Students suffer when politics becomes a priority,” the former school board member himself notes.  “School boards become the target of voters not because of poor platforms, insufficient creativity, or lack of effort, but because of naiveté and unprofessional conduct. Our national conversation on education should include more discussion of effective school system leadership, and not just of increasing test scores and global competitiveness.”
 
Opt-Out
The Network for Public Education issued a formal statement in support of any and all who choose to opt-out of high-stakes testing.  The announcement appeared on the group’s website.  The preamble states: “The Network for Public Education stands in full support of parents, students and educators who choose to teach and learn about the reality of high stakes tests, opt out of high stakes tests, speak out against high stakes tests and who refuse to give those tests to students.”  The notice goes on to give a number of reasons why they have taken this position.  
 
Pay Teachers $125,000?
And finally, two researchers from UC Santa Barbara and the University of Washington have a very interesting idea for increasing teacher quality and performance in California:  Set up several experimental schools and pay the educators $125,000!  They use the example of The Equity Project Charter Middle School in New York City as an example of how their proposal would work.  Their ideas appear in an op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times.    “Educational opportunity is knocking.  California should invest modestly now,” they conclude, “in trying out the high-pay/high-performance teacher model.  If results here match those in the New York experiment, California will have a path forward to achieve big student gains for a fairly small taxpayer investment.”
 

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)

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Ed News, Friday, March 6, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

Daylight Saving Time officially begins at 2 am Sunday.  
Set your clocks ahead one (1) hour
 

http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://fijisun.com.fj/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/daylight_savings-680x365.jpg&imgrefurl=http://fijisun.com.fj/2014/10/21/241406/&h=365&w=680&tbnid=FpA5-Aabnoy2fM:&zoom=1&docid=FHFa2ad1xXMtrM&hl=en&ei=7cn4VJXyKY6vogSbwIHwDQ&tbm=isch&ved=0CEEQMygPMA8

(And now to the news.)
 
“Mental acuity of any kind comes from solving problems yourself, 
not from being told how to solve them.” 

Standardized Testing

Guess what?  IT’S TESTING SEASON and that means all kinds of stressful situations for students, parents, teachers and administrators.  This item from EDUCATION WEEK offers “Seven Ways to Survive Testing Season” and has some very practical hints for teachers on how to deal with those pressures that come with the task.  It’s written by two long-time educators, an assistant principal and teacher from the same elementary school in Florida who, oddly, make no mention of aspirin, Prozac or strong drink!                Not quite sure why you’re against the PARCC and SBAC standardized assessments created by the two testing consortia?  The Save Our Schools NJ website has assembled 12 clear, concise reasons to oppose them.  New Jersey is using the PARCC test so this item is focused on that, but the points made apply to both exams.  California is using the SBAC test.               The author of this piece from the Badass Teachers Association likens the emotional and verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of her now ex-husband with the “abuse” inflicted on school children by standardized testing.                Steven Rasmussen, a long-time veteran of mathematics education,  has produced a very detailed (34 pages) report about the SBAC math assessments titled “The Smarter Balanced Common Core Mathematics Tests Are Fatally Flawed and Should Not Be Used.”   “Certainly, with stakes so high for students and their teachers,” he writes in the Summary of the report, “these Smarter Balanced tests should not be administered.   The boycotts of these tests by parents and some school districts are justified.  In fact, responsible government bodies should withdraw the tests from use before they do damage.”

Corporate Reform

On the Dad Gone Wild blog, the author, a parent in Tennessee, has a humorous comparison between bedtime for his your children and the end of corporate education reform.  You’re probably totally confused by what he’s getting at but give the piece a chance and you’ll quickly see his point.  “We have reached a point,” he notes, “[where] the reform movement was once engaged in battle against the status quo, has become the status quo.”                  Jeff Bryant can’t figure out why corporate “reformers” keep pushing charters and vouchers as the keys to fixing public education.  Not with all the scandals and problems that keep coming to light about them.  In a story in SALON Bryant provides a litany of criminality, financial chicanery and academic fraud perpetrated by various charter chains in a number of states.  “Rather than directly address what ails struggling public schools,” he charges, “policy leaders increasingly claim that giving parents more choice about where they send their children to school – and letting that parent choice determine the funding of schools – will create a market mechanism that leaves the most competent schools remaining ‘in business’ while incompetent schools eventually close.  Coupled with more ‘choice’ are demands to increase the numbers of unregulated charter schools, especially those operated by private management firms that now have come to dominate roughly half the charter sector.”

(Short) Film Festival
Steven Singer, aka the author of the GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, is pleased to announce  the launching, in conjunction with the Badass Teachers Association, of Badass Films.  “I’ve made 12 very short films about corporate school reform and the grassroots movement that fights against it,” he relates.  “They’re nothing fancy – just something I whipped up with imovie.  But I hope they’ll help spread the message and get people up to speed on the damage being done to our school system by standardization and privatization.  I also hope to shine a light on some of the amazing people out there – parents, teachers, students, and people of conscience – who are fighting against factory schools with all their might.”  You can view his first production (1:02 minutes) titled “Opt Out of Standardized Testing.”  It’s included in the article which also has a list of his upcoming titles and some mock posters created by the BAT team.                Here’s a follow-up piece to the one above in which Steven includes links to the other 11 short videos in his collection along with a discussion of what it’s all about.  If you have some time this weekend you might want to check them out.

Tuesday’s Election

Wednesday’s L.A. Times had two article with preliminary results of Tuesday’s municipal primary.  A front-page item reviewed Charter Amendment 2 which would change the dates of LAUSD school board elections to coincide with federal and state contests.  A second story looked at the growing power of charter supporters in their battle with the teachers’ union as it relates to the several LAUSD school board and L.A. Community College board races.  For final city council, school board and charter amendment results click here for a Times graphic.                 A follow-up piece in yesterday’s Times described the election results and forecast a major battle between UTLA and the California Charter Schools Association over the Bennett Kayser/Ref Rodriguez run-off race in May.  The former is the incumbent and is backed by the union while Rodriguez, who came in first on Tuesday, is a charter school founder and is heavily supported by the CCSA.  UTLA has also set its sights on defeating incumbent Tamar Galatzan.  Stay tuned for some fireworks!

Teacher Evaluations

Using test scores to rate teachers presents a number of problems besides the validity of value-added models.  How would one rate teachers in grades where no tests are offered.  For instance, NCLB mandated assessment in grades 3- 8 and 11.  What about those educators in grades K, 1, 2, 9, 10 and 12?  And what about subjects at the secondary level where no exams exist to date like physical education, music, art, social studies, science, etc.  How fair would it be to base firing or salary decisions on tests that teachers do not directly administer?  The author of this piece, a superintendent of two adjacent school districts on Long Island, on the School Leadership 2.0 blog dives into that sticky issue and employs an analogy to testing doctors to make his point.  “Testing and measurement will always be a part of life and our livelihoods,” he concludes.  “Effectively rendered, we can use this valuable information to guide and shape improvement, both personal and professional.  The present implementation of the system to test students and teachers is far from effective, and in fact is proving to be quite destructive.”               Stack ranking and merit pay are often used in the business world to rate and reward employees.  A number of corporate “reformers” would like to apply the concepts to teacher evaluations.  The author of this commentary from the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog has been teaching for 37 years in Ohio and is National Board Certified.  “Teaching is not a simple task that can be easily assessed,” he asserts.  “While on paper, stack ranking and merit pay sound fine and easy to devise, it will be a debacle.  American schools are not in crisis, and collaborating, student-focused teachers are already working hard and producing great results for children every day.”

Possible Presidential Contenders

The previous edition of the “Ed News” looked at the educational records of possible 2016 presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.  The Washington Post reviews the proposals for reform of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in an article titled “Chris Christie’s Bold Plan to Remake Public Schools is Running Into Trouble.”  “The plan, which fully took effect during this academic year,” it explains, “essentially blew up the old system. It eliminated neighborhood schools in favor of a citywide lottery designed to give parents more choices. It prompted mass firings of principals and teachers, and it led to numerous school closures and a sharp rise in the city’s reliance on charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.”

New Head of Boston Schools Comes From LAUSD
Dr. Tommy Chang, an instructional superintendent with the LAUSD, was selected on Tuesday as the new superintendent of the 57,000 student Boston City Schools.  He was one of 4 finalists and was chosen after a nearly 2-year search.  He’ll begin his new duties on July 1, according to an article in EDUCATION WEEK.

Shortage of Teacher Applicants

npr has a story trying to pinpoint the reasons why teacher training programs are experiencing a big drop in applicants and shortages of credentialed teachers are beginning to plague certain states and school districts.  “Several big states have seen alarming drops in enrollment at teacher training programs,” it points out.  The numbers are grim among some of the nation’s largest producers of new teachers: In California, enrollment is down 53 percent over the past five years.  It’s down sharply in New York and Texas as well.  In North Carolina, enrollment is down nearly 20 percent in three years.”  The item tries to provide some reasons why people are shying away from the teaching profession.

Common Core 

More bad news for the math Common Core State Standards.  An independent review of publishers materials that were claimed to be aligned with the standards were found to be seriously wanting.  A report from the nonprofit EdReports.org found 17 of the 20 items analyzed failed to “live up to claims they were aligned to the common core.”   That assessment is found in a story in EDUCATION WEEK that highlighted the survey.  An infographic that accompanies the article (you have to click on it) has a grade-by-grade breakdown of the curricular materials and how they stacked up.  “The reviews . . . . were conducted by small groups of teachers and instructional leaders from across the country,” the story relates.  “They looked at digital and print K-8 mathematics materials from widely used publishers—including Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—as well as from some lesser-known providers whose texts passed state review processes.  The results echo previous alignment studies conducted by university-based researchers.”               The Common Core Standards have been targeted for repeal in a number of states recently but there have been no legislative successes to date.  THE HECHINGER REPORT surveys some of the actions against the standards and what types of strategies opponents may adopt in the future.  

Accountability

A new essay titled “The Big Idea of School Accountability” tries to defend the ideas of testing and punishment of schools that don’t make the grade that were the cornerstones of NCLB.  John Kuhn, a superintendent of a school district in Texas, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, provides a detailed rebuttal to the whole idea which he titles “The Big Error of School Accountability.”  He presents a heavily researched and factually supported response to buttress his points.  “Yes, there must be scrutiny of our schools,” he concludes, “a meaningful system of accreditation, but the measuring must not overwhelm the doing, and the measurers must not exasperate the doers.  Perhaps there is a fix for accountability.  But if defenders of the testing status quo who are begging us to ‘mend, don’t end’ accountability are to avoid being left behind, they must accept that the process starts by scrapping the whole thing and recreating it from the ground up, with leadership and legitimate input from the people inside the schools.”  Kuhn includes a link to the original essay for your perusal.

Vergara Case Revisited
The one-year anniversary of the start of the Vergara v California trial arrives next month and the repercussions of the decision are still being felt.  David Finley, who recently retired after a 43-year career in education as both teacher and principal, revisits the case and draws some interesting conclusions of his own regarding the attack on tenure.  His analysis is in EDUCATION WEEK.  Vergara served an important purpose by bringing public attention to the damage inflicted upon children by incompetent teachers,” Finley sums up.  “Unfortunately, incompetent administrators, who are equally culpable, escaped the scrutiny of the court.  Instead, teacher tenure became the innocent victim of this high-profile case.   Judge Treu hoped to solve the problem of incompetent teachers by striking down the state’s tenure codes.  In reality, the root cause is an intrinsic one, found within the structure of our K-12 school systems. Eliminating tenure laws to solve the problem is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a bad headache.”
 
David Brooks Gets It Wrong Again
Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, is once again nonplussed by some comments regarding education made by columnist David Brooks in a recent New York Times piece.  Brooks apparently believes the way to reduce the achievement gap is by making sure everyone goes to college.  He completely ignores the idea of reducing poverty through income redistribution (that solution is probably too painful for those members of the 1% to contemplate.)  “Throwing all this back at a magical belief in education is simply another way to blame poor people for being poor.  So sorry you need food stamps and health care, but if you’d had the guts and character to go to college and get a degree,” Greene caustically concludes, “you wouldn’t be in such a mess.  Your poverty is just the direct result of your lack of character and quality.  Well, that and your terrible teachers.  But it certainly has nothing to do with how the country is being run.  It’s all on you, lousy poor person. And also your teachers.”  Greene includes a link to the original Brooks item or you can find it by clicking here.
 
Problems For Public Schools
What is causing so many problems and placing such a microscopic  focus on the public schools?  Michelle Gunderson, a veteran elementary school teacher and union activist in Chicago, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog identifies 3 key ingredients: Common Core, testing and teacher evaluations.  She refers to them as the “Triumvirate of Upheaval.”
 
Another Milestone for Ravitch
And finally, overnight Diane Ravitch’s blog hit 18 million page views since she started it on April 26, 2012 [Ed. note: That’s slightly more than the “Ed News.”  lol]  Ravitch writes about the milestone and what her philosophy is for her very popular column.  
 

 

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71) 

 

Ed News, Tuesday, March 3, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

  “The best book is not one that informs merely,
but one that stirs the reader up to inform himself.”
A.W. Tozer
[Ed. note: In the hope of making the “Ed News” even more user friendly I’ve experimented with adding brief “headlines” to groups of stories in this edition to make it even easier to identify what the links are about.  Brief, single story items will not have any headline.  Please let me know what you think.  Thanks, as always, for reading.]
 
The Common Core State Standards
The Common Core State Standards have taken a lot of criticism over the past couple of years.  Now even some supporters are expressing concerns about the high school math standards and believe they need to be revised.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK provides the details.  “There’s less agreement, though, on exactly where the high school standards fall short: Some say they’re too dense,” it explains, “while others argue they don’t adequately prepare students for college.  Still others point to specific skills the standards fail to address. One expert even claims that a standard is completely missing from the published document—one that was there in the drafts.”
Two people wrote letters to the L.A. Times that were published on Friday commenting on the paper’s Tuesday editorial about finally pulling the plug on the iPad-for-all program. 
 
UTLA Rally
EDUCATION WEEK had a much more extensive article about the large UTLA rally that was held in Grand Park on Thursday to protest the lack of progress in negotiations with the LAUSD.  “The union declared an impasse in February,” it explains, “and is set to meet with the district and mediators in March.  If a resolution is still not reached, a fact finding panel will convene.  Though still several steps away, union officials say they are prepared to strike if needed.”                One letter was published in today’s L.A. Times in response to the paper’s story on their website about the UTLA rally.  “Both the district and union are too big to serve the interests of students and their families,” claims the writer who is an LAUSD teacher.
LAUSD School Board Election
LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer wrote an impassioned defense of fellow board member Bennett Kayser who is facing a withering attack from the California Charter School Association in his contest for reelection to the board today.  Kayser has the support of UTLA and has been a consistent opponent of charter school expansion in the district which has drawn the ire of the CCSA.  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints Zimmer’s plea for voters to reject their attacks and return Kayser to his District 5 seat. 
 
The Opt-Out Movement
The LIVING in DIALOGUE blog presents a short video (4:40 minutes) of a group of parents in New Jersey who share their concerns about the PARCC tests in that state and the impact and reactions of their children to them.               The same website reports on a Local School Council at an elementary school in Chicago that voted to oppose the PARCC assessments and urged that parents be informed of their rights to opt their children out of them.  A veteran elementary school teacher in the Windy City offers some reasons why the council took the position that it did.              An 8th grade student in Santa Fe, New Mexico was suspended from school for informing her classmates of their right to opt-out of standardized testing.  The young lady found the forms on her district’s website and printed them out.  For that she was sent to the principal’s office and suspended at the end of the day.  A Fox News video (3:16 minutes) and brief article described what happened.
 
Charter Schools
Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for forwarding a commentary by Daniel Tanner, Professor Emeritus of the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, who decries the emphasis on high-stakes tests and charter schools as the solutions to what ails the public schools.  His extended remarks appear on the “In My View” column of the Kappa Delta Pi Record.  He titles his piece “Sorry, Pres. Obama, But High-Stakes Tests Can’t Cure Cancer.”               Why do so many of the corporate education “reformers” believe charter schools are the answer?  A former member of the New York City Department of Education, writing on Diane Ravitch’s blog, urges everyone to look at the DATA.  He looks at the largest charter chain in New York City and compares it to some of the local public schools.  His analysis is quite enlightening.  “Are these public schools failing?” he asks.  “Are charter schools the answer? The facts say no.”                 “As Philadelphia’s Superintendent of Schools, I recommended the approval of more than 30 charter schools because I thought it would improve educational opportunity for our 215,000 students. The last 20 years make it clear I was wrong.”  That’s how David W. Hornbeck begins his provocative op-ed in the Baltimore Sun titled “Charter School Do Not Equal Education Reform.”  He offers 5 reasons why charters are not working and concludes with several well-known prescriptions that, he believes, will improve education.               Two groups, In The Public Interest and The Center for Popular Democracy have created “The Charter School Accountability Agenda–An 11-Point Program for Reform” that is featured on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  Ravitch includes a link to the full report (2 pages) and offers a couple of additional items she’d add to the list.  “The number of charter schools has grown rapidly over the last ten years,” the report begins, “and while some have succeeded, independent studies show that other charter school operators have failed to perform, wasted taxpayer dollars and in some cases stolen money. The performance and operational failures are largely the result of states failing to provide the kind of oversight that would improve student learning and reduce instances of fraud. . . . The Charter School Accountability Agenda,” it promises, “will ensure that charter schools are fulfilling their role in education as lawmakers intended.”               The organization In The Public Interest released a report last week that revealed some major problems with a California subsidiary, the California Virtual Academy, of the online giant K12 Inc.   An analysis of the paper appeared on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.   “The report cited a number of failures,” the author recounts: “low graduation rate, high student turnover, high demands on teaching staff for clerical work, questionable attendance policies, overworked counselors, frustrated students, technological challenges, etc. None of this was new.”  
4 letters in Saturday’s L.A. Times reacted to the paper’s op-ed on Tuesday from Harvard professor Paul E. Peterson who argued that the testing related to NCLB was actually working and doing what it was supposed to.
Valerie Strauss and the “Ed News” are BIG fans of Carol Burris, the award-winning principal of South Side High School in New York.  The former often turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to Burris and the “Ed News” loves to feature what she writes.  In this latest installment Burris goes after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his “misguided” proposals for education reform including up to 50% of teacher evaluations to be based on value-added scores.  “The idea that we can make our schools better with teacher score-based evaluations, more difficult tests, and harder standards is a strategy that is not working,” Burris maintains.
Standardized Testing
Florida began testing yesterday and the biggest obstacle wasn’t parents opting their children out but technical difficulties that kept students from even logging on to the computers to take the assessments.  A brief item from the Palm Beach Post describes some of the counties and districts that faced problems.  “Just two hours into the first day of testing on Florida’s new statewide assessment and the problems have begun,” it reports.  “The Palm Beach County School District has received notice from state officials that some students can’t log on to the testing portal.”               “Vendor Accepts Responsibility for Online-Testing Snafus in Florida”  is the headline of a follow-up story in EDUCATION WEEK to the one above.  “Last year,” it reports, “Florida hired a major testing organization, the Washington-based American Institutes for Research, to oversee its exams on a contract worth an estimated $220 million. On Monday, the testing vendor issued a statement accepting the blame for the woes.”             The Chicago Teachers Union was bitterly disappointed when the city’s school superintendent bowed to federal and state pressure and agreed to administer the new PARCC assessments district wide.  CTU issued a statement condemning the action which was posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  “By changing course on a previous decision to limit the PARCC to just 10 percent of CPS [Chicago Public School] students,” it complains, “the district will continue to burden elementary school students with the inhumane pressure of over-testing, valuable time away from classroom instruction. A number of CPS teachers who have taken the sample PARCC test have stated that the assessment is inappropriate for the target 3rd through 8th grades, and is coyly designed for students to fail.”               Want to know a BIG reason why the CPS caved on administering the assessments?  The federal Dept. of Education threatened the district with the loss of $1.4 billion in funds if they didn’t.  That seems pretty high-handed!  CRAIN’S CHICAGO BUSINESS has all the hardball details.           35 teachers from a top performing high school in New Jersey and the country drafted a letter complaining about the “30 days of destruction” the PARCC test will wreck on their valuable instructional time.  Their note is addressed “To Whomever Will Listen” and was reprinted on Bob Braun’s Ledger.  “We love teaching. We love our students. Our collective educational opinion is that PARCC’s thirty days of disruption is bad for our schools and bad for our children,” they so eloquently conclude.
Rewrite of NCLB
They say politics makes strange bedfellows and that seems to be playing out in California, a heavily blue state, as the education establishment is more aligned with the national Republican positions on the renewal of NCLB.  A front-page story in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes what issues the two, normally at odds with each other, find themselves in agreement over.  “As the House of Representatives moves to vote on reauthorizing a 50-year-old education reform law,” it explains, “Republicans are pushing to sharply curtail what they see as federal overreach in prescribing testing, setting achievement goals and imposing sanctions on schools that fail to improve.  Instead, the House bill would shift authority for such decisions to states and school districts.  And that suits many in California just fine.”               Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog deconstructs U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan’s position on the reauthorization of NCLB.  “With the whole world of education to talk about,” Greene starts out, “Arne Duncan somehow ended up centering his Big Speech around testing, and indeed, that was picked up as the main story.  So what, if anything, did the Secretary of Education get wrong about testing?  Short answer:  Pretty much everything.” Greene offers a number of reasons why he believes Duncan got “pretty much everything” about testing wrong.
The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” feature grapples with the issue “How to Insure and Improve Teacher Quality.”  5 debaters take on the topic including Amanda Ripley, a recent ALOED book club author, Eric Hanushek, who is mentioned in Building A Better Teacher, the focus of tomorrow’s ALOED book discussion and Mercedes Schneider, prolific blogger and author. 
2016 Presidential Race
And finally, an article in EDUCATION WEEK looks at previous education policy initiatives extolled by Hillary Clinton as first lady of Arkansas, first lady of the U.S. and as the Senator from New York.  It uses the historical record to try to determine what kinds of proposals she might champion as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.  The piece includes a sidebar titled “Education Policy Resume” that summarizes her positions.            Another presumptive candidate for president, this one on the GOP side, Jeb Brush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007.  His accomplishments on the education front are often touted as proven ways to achieve reform.  How do those claims stack up?  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, engaged in an email exchange with a professor from the University of South Florida who has researched and written extensively about education in the Sunshine State.  You can follow their conversation on the topic by clicking here.

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)

 

Ed News, Friday, February 27, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

Tuesday is Municipal Primary Election Day in many cities in L.A. County.
Be sure to vote!
 
“Students never appreciate their teachers while they are learning. It is only later,
when they know more of the world, that they understand how indebted they are
to those who instructed them. Good teachers expect no praise or love from the young.
They wait for it, and in time, it comes.”
Darren Shan, Vampire Mountain    
 
A retired high school teacher from New Jersey, with 40 years of experience teaching English, Latin, German and social studies, offers some practical suggestions to high school students on how to read (and understand and enjoy) Shakespeare.  His tips are addressed to students, but teachers and readers in general should find them of value.  His recommendations are courtesy of the Huffington Post.

Charter vs. public schools, redux.  Could a public school close for a day to allow parents, students and staff to attend a political rally or to take part in a lobbying effort?  I didn’t think so.  That would be totally illegal.  So how do taxpayer funded charter schools get to do it?  Don’t believe it’s happening?  Read this item from Chalkbeat NEW YORK that describes a number of charter schools that will be closing on Tuesday in order to take part in a rally in Albany to raise the cap on charters in the state. And guess what?  This isn’t the first time something like this has occurred.
A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a new book by NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz titled The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Tests–But You Don’t Have to Be.”  The New York Times Magazine was kind enough to reprint a portion of her book titled “We Are Testing Children on the Wrong Things.”  It is one of the 10 things that Kamenetz mentions in her first chapter that she says are wrong with high-stakes exams.
Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, didn’t mince any words in his analysis of the bill to rewrite NCLB.  It’s scheduled for a final vote in the House on Friday and he found it to be seriously lacking.  You can probably tell based on the title of his commentary: “Dumb and Dumber in the Republican House Education Bill.”  Bryant provides a litany of things he believes cause the legislation to come up woefully short.               A planned vote on HR.5, the bill to reauthorize NCLB in the GOP controlled House of Representatives, was abruptly postponed today when conservative opposition arose and expected passage was placed in doubt.  EDUCATION WEEK has the latest details.  “The measure, which was slated to pass the House Friday [today],” the item relates, “came under fire from conservative organizations, including the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, two powerful lobby organizations that worried the bill didn’t go far enough in scaling back the federal role in education.”
Two researchers from the University of Illinois have discovered some interesting things about those so-called “education experts.”  Many of them have connections to prominent media organizations or public relations skills but lack any experience in education or educational policy.  The interesting findings and methodology are in a piece from phys.org“The findings are cause for concern,” it mentions, “because some prominent interest groups are promoting reform agendas and striving to influence policymakers and public opinion using individuals who have substantial media relations skills but little or no expertise in education research, say the authors of the study.”
The Portland Association of Teachers voted last week to approve a resolution opposing the new SBAC standardized tests set to debut in Oregon next month.  “ The resolution references multiple concerns with the test,” according to a story in the Portland Oregonian, “such as predictions that approximately 65 percent of students will fail this year and that Smarter Balanced test scores have not yet been determined to be valid or reliable. The resolution also points out the millions of federal and state dollars that have been allocated for test design and implementation.”
Is it possible to integrate visual art into elementary core subjects?  The answer is a resounding “yes” according to a visual arts teacher at an elementary school in Mississippi.  She presents 3 well-known artists and explains how their works can be used across the curriculum in a story from EDUCATION WEEK.
Quick quiz: Who is responsible for oversight of charter schools?  Quick answer: It depends on the state.  That can make for some pretty strange organizations that do the job.  In many states charter accountability lies with state education agencies or city or county departments/boards of education.  It other states that’s not the case at all.  How about a wildlife rehabilitation center (Minnesota) or a Catholic mental health center (Ohio) or a small, private university (Indiana)?  Believe it or not, all of those are what are called charter school “authorizers” who have the critical job of ensuring kids get a good education and that taxpayer money is spent properly.  An investigative piece from PRO PUBLICA discovered that many of these groups lack the proper backround, tools and commitment to do what they are supposed to do.  “Charter schools are taxpayer-funded, privately run schools freed from many of the rules that apply to traditional public schools,” it explains.  “What’s less widely understood is that there are few hard-and-fast rules for how the regulators charged with overseeing charter schools are supposed to do the job.  Many are making it up as they go along.  Known as ‘authorizers,’ charter regulators have the power to decide which charter schools should be allowed to open and which are performing so badly they ought to close.  They’re supposed to vet charter schools, making sure the schools are giving kids a good education and spending public money responsibly.  But many of these gatekeepers,” the article reveals, “are woefully inexperienced, under-resourced, confused about their mission or even compromised by conflicts of interest.”  That doesn’t sound very encouraging.
 
The proposed revisions to the New York State teacher evaluation system have set off a firestorm of protest.  Gov. Andrew Cuomo was not happy with the number of educators who were considered “effective” so he set out to “tighten” the criteria.  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a letter from teachers at PS 321 in Brooklyn to parents describing the new changes and what they could mean for the instructors at that school.               David Knuffke, self-described “teacher of science and children,” responds to Cuomo’s proposals by pointing out how other countries evaluate their teachers and also how some states are using proven research and creative ideas to rate their educators.  His commentary appears on the M (medium.comwebsite as part of the New York Teachers’ Letters project.  “There are ways to propose teacher evaluation systems that are in agreement with research and based on evidence from what is working in other places. This is not what the Governor has chosen to do,” Knuffke sums up.  “Rather than seeking to have a conversation with educators, students, parents, and all of the other stake-holders who value education in New York State, the Governor has chosen to propose an unsupported evaluation system with no track record of success in doing what he claims to want to do. And rather than attempt to build consensus on his proposals, Governor Cuomo has taken the position that he is not interested in perspectives other than his own on this issue.”
 
The dean of the School of Education at Quinnipiac University, in conjunction with a number of other deans at campuses in Connecticut, has written an op-ed for the Hartford Courant lamenting the overuse of high-states tests and the constant blaming of teachers and teacher prep programs for the “failure” of public schools in the U.S.   “As a nation and a state, we have clearly failed to address the inequalities that disproportionally impact many urban school districts where kids are poor and segregated,” he begins.  “Sadly, for the first time in 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students now come from low-income families.  But instead of addressing this crisis, we have demonized teachers for failing to solve problems our government cannot, or will not, solve.  Poverty, homelessness and the dangerously high levels of emotional and psychological stress experienced by low-income students — these are the problems many of our nation’s public school teachers face every day.”
 
Wow!  Here’s a novel way to attack Common Core-aligned assessments.  A county circuit judge ruled on Tuesday that the State of Missouri could not make payments to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) because it is “an unlawful interstate compact to which the U.S. Congress has never consented.”  You’ll have to get all the details of this rather surprising opinion from the Jefferson City News Tribune.              4 school districts in California (including Santa Ana in southern California) may be throwing a similar wrench into the testing works here in the Golden State.  They are requesting at least $1 million in additional funds from the state in order to carry out mandated testing.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK sorts out the issue.  “A push by four California school districts to increase state funding for standardized assessments,” it begins, “could complicate the state’s rollout of the common core and aligned tests, as well as provide an early challenge for a revamped school finance system that is not yet two years old.”
Last week a group of students occupied the office of Cami Anderson, Superintendent of the Newark schools, in hopes of meeting with her to air their concerns and grievances.  She finally agreed to meet with them after they had literally camped out in her office for 3 days.  A first-hand account of the event is provided by Tanaisa Brown, secretary of the Newark Students’ Union, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.               Popular television personality Montel Williams was a vocal backer of the occupation as he tweeted and retweeted numerous messages of encouragement and support.  Anthony Cody was surprised when he was asked if he’d like to interview Williams and the Executive Director on Public Schools of the National School Boards Association about the situation in Newark and education in general.  You can read a transcript and/or view a video of the interview from the LIVING in DIALOGUE site by clicking here.               Steven Singer, author of the GADFLYONTHEWALL blog, also singled out Williams for his support of the students in Newark and for public education in general.  “That might not sound like much to some,” Singer writes, “but our public schools are under attack. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the public eye to say something nice about our school system. Our national debate about education is curiously absent teachers. Yet here comes Montel who not only praises our work but starts a campaign to advocate for us and our students! Heck! Another one of his hashtags is #LetTeachersTeach!”
“Rising Graduation Rates: Trend or Blip?” is the title of an article from EDUCATION WEEK that notes theories as to why the numbers are increasing offer various explanations.  A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the latest figures for the 2012-13 school year that were published by the National Center for Education Statistics based on data from the U.S. Dept. of Education.  To review those numbers check out the sidebar to the story titled “Class of 2013: Rates by State.”
 
UTLA held a major rally yesterday afternoon at Grand Park in downtown L.A. to protest the lack of progress in contract negotiations.  The union is asking for an 8.5% pay increase after almost 8 years of zero raises, furlough days and other reductions.  The latest district offer is 5%.  Other issues include class size and  increased staffing.  An item on the L.A. Times website yesterday evening had details of the protest.
Any idea how many hours standardized testing takes up?  At least in New Jersey, which is using the PARCC exam, depending on the grade level they can take between 10-11 hours.  That’s a lot of missed instruction time and parents in the Garden State are not pleased according to a piece by Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29.  New Jersey parents are opting out of PARCC testing,” she notes, “and the pro-testing set is taking New Jersey parents seriously.”               The Cincinnati Enquirer reports on growing anger and opposition to standardized testing in Ohio.  “The tests, which are new this school year, have triggered various objections,” it explains.  “Some parents worry about the new exams’ frequency, complexity and what they see as lack of educational value. Others fear schools will share data about their child’s performance. Still others worry about the shift away from pencil and paper to using computerized exams.  But the most common complaint is that local school districts are losing their autonomy to state, federal officials and private corporate backers of Common Core, a sweeping set of education reforms that have drawn both strong supporters and opponents in recent years.”
David Perrin, a high school English teacher in Illinois, compares the whole idea of standardized testing to the teaching methods of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden who, by the way, started out his career as a small-town English teacher in 1930s Indiana.  Confused about what he’s trying to get at?  Perrin titles the piece in EDUCATION WEEK “‘Winning’ as a Process, Not a Product” and proceeds to delineate the differences between the two vis a vis basketball and learning.  Still not sure what this is all about?  Whether you’re a coach or an educator or both Perrin draws some intriguing comparisons.  “The processes of teaching and learning can be messy and nebulous—if not impossible—to quantify,” he maintains.  “They are also unglamorous; they will never grab headlines the way that national sports championships, or even educational test results, do. As long as politicians and society insist on reducing ‘success’ in education to the product of test scores, dedicated teachers, like Coach John Wooden, will have to block out the noise of ‘winning,’ so that they can focus on the quiet yet vital processes of teaching and learning, regardless of what the scoreboard reads.”
With the L.A. County municipal primary election on Tuesday, an article in yesterday’s L.A. Times focused on one key LAUSD school board race pitting a pro-charter candidate against one-term incumbent Bennett Kayser, who is backed by UTLA.  A statewide group, California Charter Schools Association Advocates, is hoping to become a force in education policy in the state.  It has thrown its support behind charter school founder Ref Rodriguez in the District 5 contest which represents the area around Occidental College as well as Silver Lake and other communities in southeast L.A. county. 
Vouchers were always sold as a way for low-income parents to pull their students from “failing” public schools and send them to private or (even in some states) parochial schools.  The taxpayer funds used in the public school would thus gain portability and follow that student to the private or parochial school.  Diane Ravitch’s blog provides evidence that in Indiana 50% of children now taking advantage of the state’s expanding voucher program NEVER attended public school.  The whole thing has turned into a way for nonpublic school families to get taxpayer money to school their kids.  Sounds like a great way to destroy public education!  Ravitch includes a link to a Chalkbeat INDIANA article that uncovers what’s going on in the Hoosier State“This year,” it reports, “roughly 50 percent of students using vouchers previously attended a public school; last year 61 percent of students did, stoking fears that the program is subsidizing private school tuition for families who already planned to do so.”

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)