Ed News, Tuesday, February 24, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“We have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.” 
―  Ken Robinson
A physical education teacher in Memphis is bitter about what “corporate reform” is doing to her predominantly minority and low-income students.  “There is a stench in the air,” she complains, “in Memphis and it’s a smell that is permeating throughout black school districts. One can get a whiff of it in Newark, N.J., Philadelphia, New Orleans and most urban areas that received Race To The Top federal dollars for education. This awful stench derived from education reform and it’s been perpetrated on minorities with lower incomes and those who live under a lower socio economic status.”  Her comments appeared in the TRI-STATE DEFENDER.
A strongly pro-charter group in New York called Families for Excellent Schools produced a report that “demonstrated” how the NYC school district was spending way more money, per pupil, on the 50 lowest performing schools than it was on the 50 highest.  Ergo, the funds are being totally wasted.  Solution?  Why not create more super nifty charters?  Bruce D. Baker, on his School Finance 101 blog, couldn’t contain himself when he read the study.  He called it an “impossibly stupid analysis” to start and later referred to it as ‘junk.”  He provides LOTS of well-documented support for his thesis so he doesn’t have to rely on just name-calling.
Rocky Killion, school superintendent in the West Lafayette Community School District in Indiana, has developed a major dislike for standardized tests and has taken the extreme position of recommending to parents that during the testing period they withdraw their children from the district, home-school them and then re-enroll them when the exams are over.  His frustrations about the assessments and the reasons why he’s advocating such a radical solution are described in a column in the Lafayette Journal & Courier.               Killion’s solution to some glitches in the computers that were being used for testing was so “out there” that even Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, picked up on the story.
The LAUSD’s “iPad-for-all” program is DEAD!  In a featured front-page story in Saturday’s L.A. Times  Supt. Ramon Cortines admitted the district could not afford the at least $1.3 billion price tag.  ” Cortines said Friday that the reality was that the district never fully prepared for how the devices would be used in the classroom,” according to the article, “or how to pay for them over time.   Cortines laid out a more measured approach, saying purchasing computers needed to be balanced against other priorities such as repairing dilapidated campuses.”               3 letters appeared in today’s Times in reaction to the article (above) about pulling the plug on the iPad proposal.               An editorial in the same paper applauds the demise of the “iPad-for-all” plan because of how poorly it was handled.  However, it goes on to explain why the district needs to explore other alternatives for supplying the technology the students need to be successful in today’s world.  “L.A. Unified must buy more technology; its students would be left woefully behind the college-and-employment curve without it,” it suggests.  “The current lack of funding for a massive iPad purchase creates a much-needed time-out, though, so that L.A. Unified can do it right next time.”  It outlines 4 concrete ideas for getting it “right” this time.
An editorial in The New York Times apparently supports the status quo when it comes to reauthorizing NCLB.  It supports the continuation of the regimen of standardized tests that commenced when the law began in 2002.               The Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog presented a quick response against the Times’ editorial.   Katz, director of Secondary Education at Seton Hall University, offers a detailed critique of the paper’s position in a piece titled “New York Times Fails Education Reform–Again.”          A number of issues have been raised around the rewrite of NCLB including testing and funding.  A major disagreement has arisen over the role of high-stakes testing.  Some voices call for their elimination, some want them cut back, some wish the results weren’t used for teacher evaluations, salaries, etc. while others would like to see the status quo continue.  One argument suggests that the law and the assessments are a “civil rights” issue.  A broad cross section of civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, have called for a continuation of the exams.  Jeff Bryant, writing on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, believes that last point is over stated.  He reviews much of the discussion over the issue and concludes that testing, as currently constituted, is not the civil rights issue that some maintain that it is.  He titles his piece “Memo To Civil Rights Activists: Testing Isn’t Helping.”              An extended editorial in yesterday’s L.A. Times makes the case for deemphasizing the use of test scores to evaluate teachers and schools and eliminate the punitive aspects of NCLB.  “The political winds are blowing against the Obama administration: Parents as well as teachers are frustrated,” it concludes, “states have been postponing or withdrawing from the Common Core curriculum initiative, and in Congress, the GOP appears bent on making No Child Left Behind completely toothless. But there’s a better reason for the administration to revamp its thinking on tests: creating a more robust and engaging educational system.”               An op-ed penned by the director of the Harvard University Program on Education Policy and Governance makes the case for continuing the testing program.  It reviews some of the opposition reasons for opposing the plan and claims most of them are politically motivated.  “Annual, statewide testing should be saved,” it concludes, “and it can be if moderates in both parties fight off special interests. . . .  There are many elements of law that deserve tweaking, but even if the NCLB bathwater needs changing, our kids are not likely to learn more if schools and teachers are not held accountable.”
An attempt to take over a low-performing Orange County elementary school using the parent-trigger law fell just 12 signatures short of the 367 needed.   “At a standing-room-only meeting Thursday,” reports an item in Saturday’s L.A. Times, “the Anaheim City Board of Education unanimously rejected a petition by parents to convert Palm Lane Elementary into an independent charter, which are publicly funded and usually non-union.”
 
Anya Kamenetz, an education reporter for NPR, has a new book titled The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing–But You Don’t Have to Be that was out in early January.  The first chapter has 10 reasons why the assessments are a bad idea.  The volume also looks at the opt-out movement and some alternatives to high-stakes testing.  LIVING in DIALOGUE has a review.              The same publication has an account from a first grade teacher in New York City who describes the testing experiences of her students during 4 days earlier this month.  She titles her piece “Excessive Standardized Testing in First Grade is No Fairy Tale.”
 
Charter schools used to claim that their lack of oversight and accountability were what made them so successful.  Then the scandals over financial and academic irregularities began to roll in and people started to sing a different tune.  Now both Democrats and Republicans in Ohio, at least, are demanding much more transparency according to a piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  “Charter school reform proposals are gaining broad support in Columbus,” it begins, “but there are voices on both the left and the right who say the $1 billion charter school movement in Ohio needs even stronger controls than what has been proposed.”               Speaking of Ohio, pro-charter and pro-corporate education reformer Gov. John Kasich has made some rather curious comments about education in his state.  Some of those remarks have been called out on the Plunderbund blog.  
Chalkbeat New York found that New York City charter schools had suspension rates that were almost 3 times those of city district schools.  “Overall, charter schools suspended at least 11 percent of their students [during 2011-12], while district schools suspended 4.2 percent of their students. The charter-school suspension rate is likely an underestimate because charter schools don’t have to report suspensions that students serve in school.”  The article provides some detailed statistics to back up its findings and includes links to a description of their methodology and the database they created for the analysis.               A national study of suspension rates has been compiled and made public by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK featured the report which broke the numbers out by elementary and secondary students.  “The report’s authors analyzed 2011-12 discipline data from every school and district in the country,” the article explains, “which was released by the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights last year. In that time period, 10.1 percent of U.S. secondary students and 2.6 percent of elementary students were suspended, they found.”  Florida had the highest suspension rates of all the states according to the study.  The article includes a link to the full report (50 pages) titled “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?” where you can find detailed numbers for each state.  California was right at the national average of 2.6% for elementary students and, at 9%, was well below the national average at the secondary level.
Another new study, this one from Duke University’s National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), found that students who attend schools that don’t meet their AYP target tend to have better attendance but more behavior problems.  The first factor probably helps the campuses to improve while the second one makes things worse.  The findings from this report were highlighted in an item in EDUCATION WEEK.  “As pressure increases for schools who miss accountability benchmarks,” it begins, “students become less likely to be late or miss class—but more likely to get into fights and get reported or suspended for misbehavior.”
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman takes time out from his usually economic discussions to look at a supposed connection between education and the poor job recovery and other problems related to the Great Recession.  “What I keep seeing,” he reports, “is people insisting that educational failings are at the root of still-weak job creation, stagnating wages and rising inequality. This sounds serious and thoughtful. But it’s actually a view very much at odds with the evidence, not to mention a way to hide from the real, unavoidably partisan debate.  The education-centric story of our problems runs like this: We live in a period of unprecedented technological change,” Krugman continues, “and too many American workers lack the skills to cope with that change. This ‘skills gap’ is holding back growth, because businesses can’t find the workers they need. It also feeds inequality, as wages soar for workers with the right skills but stagnate or decline for the less educated. So what we need is more and better education.”
The Common Core-testing season will be in full swing soon (Ohio began last week) and that is putting extra pressure on teachers to cover the necessary content. This year test calendars have been moved up in some cases and many districts are trying to cope with snow days and other distractions.  EDUCATION WEEK takes a look at what educators are going through this time of year to meet assessment requirements.  Be sure to check out the sidebar to this story titled “Spring Testing Schedules” to see the different calendars of the two testing consortia and the timeline for non-consortium states.
 
Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, came across a post on FaceBook that was highly critical of the Finnish education system.  (She has a link to the full item on her blog).  It was so contrary to what just about everybody has reported about Finland that she couldn’t just let it go.  She passed it along to Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish education expert, author and current visiting professor at Harvard University, for his comments.  “I have read all sorts of things about Finnish education,” was his initial response, “but this one goes beyond all of them. It makes me wonder if that is written by a serious person?”  Schneider assured him that it was serious and he proceeded to offer an equally serious critique of the highly critical item.
 
The Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice offers a withering review of a report from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools that purports to present 21 myths about charter schools and the “truth” behind them.  “An academic review of the report,” the press release states, “finds that it perpetuated its own myths and fictions about charter schools rather than adding to the discourse surrounding school choice.”  It includes links to the initial report (16 pages) from the NAPCS titled “Separating Fact & Fiction: What You Need to Know About Charter Schools” and the “Review of Separating Fact & Fiction” from the National Education Policy Center (28 pages).
 
The Rhode Island chapter of the NEA voted to approve a resolution in support of the right of parents to opt-out their children from high-stakes testing in that state according to a story in the PROVIDENCE Journal.  “”…There is an over-abundance of these tests in Rhode Island public schools,” read the statement from the organization.  “The Rhode Island Department of Education, through individual school districts, must provide all parents with yearly, written information fully explaining their right to opt out of these assessments. Students who opt out of high-stakes assessments, such as PARCC, will not be included in data used by state or federal entities in grading or ranking schools or districts, or for any other punitive measures.  No parent or student should be penalized based on a parental decision to remove a student from standardized assessments.”
The teaching technique known as “personalized learning” has gained a great deal of traction lately.  Alfie Kohn, a former ALOED book club author, writing on Valerie Strauss’s blog in The Washington Post, offers 4 warning signs about it.  He draws an important distinction between “personal learning” and “personalized learning.”  “When -ized is added to personal,” he carefully explains, “the original idea has been not merely changed but corrupted — and even worse is something we might call Personalized Learning, Inc. (PLI), in which companies sell us digital products to monitor students while purporting to respond to the differences among them.”
And finally, possible 2016 GOP presidential candidate, Jeb Bush has an organization called the  Foundation for Excellence in Education.  It is getting in on the MOOC (massive open online course) craze by offering 3 different classes one can take to learn about the latest trends in education reform.  Valerie Strauss describes the program, called EdPolicy Leaders Online, and offers some salient comments about the agenda behind them on her blog for The Washington Post.  In addition, she reprints the email from the foundation inviting recipients to take advantage of this “exciting” opportunity.  

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)

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Ed News, Friday, February 20, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“I want to kidnap kids and force them to take useless tests all day long. 
Wait, that’s what our public education system already does.” 
― Jarod KintzSeriously delirious, but not at all serious
A bipartisan bill was introduced in the Washington State Senate to repeal Common Core and the SBAC Core-aligned assessments.  The first part of the text of the proposed legislation and a brief description of it are included in a piece from the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.
The husband and wife team of Edward B. Fiske and Helen F. Ladd take a critical and nuanced look at the link between poverty and achievement.  He’s a former education editor at The New York Times and she’s a Professor of Public Policy at Duke University.  Their excellent piece appears on the EdNC blog.  “Release of the first letter grades for North Carolina public schools on February 5.” they begin, “led to predictable debate over their fairness and usefulness. Whatever their limitations, though, the letter grades sent a clear message about what North Carolina needs to do to improve outcomes for kids.  In a nutshell, we need to figure out how to break the link between poverty and achievement in our schools. A crucial first step is to support policies and programs that directly address the particular challenges that poor students bring with them to school.”  Fiske and Ladd offer several ideas for closing the achievement gap they so eloquently address.
It is fast approaching college acceptance season and more and more applicants are opting for early admissions as detailed in a story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times.  It describes one student who “is among an increasing number of high school seniors taking advantage of early admission programs, which allow students to apply to their top choices in November and find out in December — removing a lot of stress and uncertainty in the process.”
HEAR! HEAR!  The superintendent of the Tri-Valley Local School District (Ohio) issued a sharply worded and to-the-point statement about parents’ rights to opt their children out of  the PARCC assessment.  Some districts have gone so far as to issue threats of dire consequences to any parents who opt-out their kids.  It’s nice to see Supt. Neal take a stand for democracy and parental choice, which just so happens to be their right in this matter.  You can read his inspiring words on the Tri-Valley Local Schools website.               Carol Burris, award-winning principal of South Side High School in New York who often writes on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post,  is going one step farther in the opt-out debate.  She is overtly calling for parents to consciously choose to have their children skip the assessments.   “The only remedy left to parents.” she thunders, “is to refuse to have their children take the tests. Testing is the rock on which the policies that are destroying our local public schools are built. If our politicians do not have the courage to reverse high-stakes testing, then those who care must step in.”  Burris doesn’t see either the national Republican or Democratic parties taking a stand against the overuse of high-stakes testing and offers 4 reasons why the opt-out movement will continue to spread.
 
The House Education Committee last week passed a rewrite of NCLB and the full House will take up the measure during the week of Feb. 24.  Meanwhile, action continues on the legislation in the Senate as that chamber’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee reviews the bill.  An article in EDUCATION WEEK catches you up on the latest details.  “Republican lawmakers are in the driver’s seat in both chambers,” it explains, “where Title I portability, testing, and accountability continue to be the most hotly debated policy issues.”               The same publication has an updated piece on the House legislation.  Debate is scheduled on the bill Wednesday and Thursday with a final vote slated for Friday, Feb. 27.  The article previews what the floor debate might look like.
A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a piece from Russ Walsh on his Russ on Reading blog that analyzed the reading levels of the text selections on the PARCC sample test.  In Part 2 of his study he looks at the readability index of the questions on the same assessment.  “Whenever a new test is rolled out, we know through past experience that test scores will go down. Over time schools, teachers, and students adjust and the trend then is for scores to go up.  It will be no different with the PARCC tests. As the scores rise, some questions will arise like, ‘Have we been focused on the right things in these tests?’ and ‘Have the tests led to better, more thoughtful readers?’  Based on my analysis of these test questions, I am not confident.”  [Emphasis added.]  Walsh includes a link to Part 1 of his review.               The “grumpy old teacher” at CURMUDGUCATION, Peter Greene, is at it again.  This time he “live streams” on his blog while he tackles the sample questions of the PARCC test.  He provides a running commentary and description, page-by-page, of the English Language Arts exam at the high school level.  “Man,” he sighs after reaching the end.  “I have put this off for a long time because I knew it would give me a rage headache, and I was not wrong.  How anybody can claim that the results from a test like this would give us a clear, nuanced picture of student reading skills is beyond my comprehension.  Unnecessarily complicated, heavily favoring students who have prior background knowledge, and absolutely demanding that test prep be done with students, this is everything one could want in an inauthentic assessment that provides those of us in the classroom with little or no actual useful data about our students.”

Anthony Cody delivered a speech last week at the University of Georgia in which he spoke of the drawbacks of high stakes testing for both students and teachers.  The content of the talk was described on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  Cody “spoke to a crowd of concerned students, teachers, administrators and parents,” the author reports, “and voiced his opposition to educational reform programs such as No Child Left Behind, Common Core, Race to the Top and Value Added Models.  These programs, which have garnered billions of dollars in government funds over the past 12 years, perpetuate inaccurate representation of student achievement and teacher effectiveness, Cody said.”
The editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper in Pennsylvania pens an op-ed about why she believes her school’s “Redskin” mascot and nickname are offensive.  Her comments are courtesy of EDUCATION WEEK and deal with more than just the dispute over the name.  “When I raised my hand to vote in a classroom at Neshaminy High School nearly 18 months ago, I was unaware of the battle I was about to ignite as editor-in-chief of The Playwickian, my school’s newspaper,” she relates.  “In the fall of 2013, one of my fellow editors began a conversation about our school mascot, which is also the name of every sports team at our school and our school’s nickname.  This would soon become a national controversy over our use of a racist mascot and a legal battle over the amount of control students have over their publications in public schools.”               The same publication has a commentary by the executive director of the Student Press Law Center titled “Don’t Silence Young Journalists.”  It cites 4 cases (including the one above) where student editors were censored or punished for things they wrote in their school papers.  Interestingly, all four are women.  “In recent years, K-12 school administrators have become unapologetically heavy-handed in retaliating for speech that may provoke controversy or reflect unfavorably on the school’s image,” notes the author of the article.  “Disproportionately, because student journalism is increasingly a female-dominated activity, those bearing the impact are young women.”
Mercedes Schneider, writing on the Huffington Post, warns Georgia legislators not to buy all the hype about the so-called successes of the all-charter Recovery School District in New Orleans.  It seems the Peach State hopes to duplicate what they’ve heard is going on in the post-Katrina Crescent City.  They may be in for a big surprise, especially if they read what Schneider has to offer.               The number of charter schools has proliferated over the years for many reasons.  One you don’t hear about too often is the big political donations made by management companies to state legislators and other education policy makers.  In addition, they are able to mobilize large numbers of parents, students and staff, even during school hours to attend school board meetings, rallies or legislative committee hearings to lobby for their cause.  “They would never do that,” you might be thinking.  The author of this investigative piece from PennLive offers a number of examples from his state of Pennsylvania to demonstrate that “Yes, they would!”  “In recent years,” the article maintains, “as charter schools have proliferated – particularly those run by for-profit management companies – so too has their influence on legislators. In few other places has that been more true than Pennsylvania, which is one of only 11 states that has no limits on campaign contributions from PACs or individuals.”
The field of education engages in all sorts of discussions and debates over various terms, policies and ideas.  John Thompson, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog wonders if it is offensive to reformers to use the label “corporate reformers.”
Two letters, the first one from Stephen Krashen professor emeritus of education at USC, in Wednesday’s L.A. Times reacted to the paper’s op-ed from last Friday about Eli Broad’s decision to suspend his foundation’s $1 million prize to outstanding urban school districts.  Both were critical of the author’s suggestions on how to proceed.  “The best teaching and strongest exhortations,” Krashen concluded, “to work hard have little effect when students are hungry and ill and have nothing to read. Let’s not worry about ‘turning around’ school districts; instead, let’s work on protecting children from the effects of poverty.”
A 30-something, new principal at an elementary school in New Orleans is trying out a more involved, pro-active approach to her job.  She spends much more time out from behind her desk visiting classrooms and serving as an instructional leader and role-model for her teachersTHE HECHINGER REPORT offers an in-depth profile of Krystal Hardy in a feature titled “Principal In The Classroom: Can New Orleans School Make It Work?”
The LAUSD is taking on the measles outbreak by hiring more nurses and reviewing vaccination records particularly at early education centers.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times has the facts and figures.  “Part of the challenge for L.A. Unified,” it notes, “has been a shortage of nursing staff, officials said. Before the recent recession, the district employed 678 nurses, which was less than one per school. That number dropped by 200 because of budget and enrollment reductions as well as retirements, said Tonya Ross, the district’s director of nursing.  The school system has hired about 40 nurses this year and is still interviewing applicants, she said.”
The whole idea of standardized testing is bound to raise some controversy.  Have you ever wondered about the people who are hired to grade the students’ written responses and what is required of them?  A reader of the Diane Ravitch Blog found an ad on CraigsList for test readers in Indianapolis.  You can discover lots of information from it along with a few choice comments from Ravitch.  You may want to check out some of the comments that follow this post.
After months of off and on talks between the LAUSD and UTLA over contract negotiations the union on Wednesday declared an impasse.  The district is offering a 5% raise while the teachers are asking for 8.5%.  Other issues include class size, teacher evaluations, increased hiring and parental involvement.  The details were posted on the L.A. Times’ website yesterday morning and had not appeared in print as of the time the “Ed News” was completed.  “Teachers have not had a pay raise or cost of living increase in eight years,it points out, “and agreed to pay cuts through furlough days during the depths of the recent economic recession.  Thousands of teachers also were laid off because of budget cuts and shrinking enrollment.  Teachers have continued to receive pay boosts based on education credits and experience.”  [Emphasis added.]
THE HECHINGER REPORT describes two new tools for helping teachers implement the Common Core Standards.  Both the Literacy Design Collaborative and the Mathematics Design Collaborative have been found to increase student achievement.  “The LDC and MDC are not scripted curricula,” the story explains.  “Rather, they are templates that allow teachers to use whatever materials they think are appropriate but guide them through student activities and products that meet challenging standards.”
 
With the spring standardized testing season fast approaching more and more parents, teachers and students are choosing to opt-out of the new, more rigorous testing regimen.  A piece from EDUCATION WEEK is titled “Testy Over Testing: More Students Snub Standardized Tests.”  “Test results measure student achievement,” it reminds readers, “but also can be used in teacher evaluations, overall school report cards and as high school graduation requirements. Opponents say the exams distract from real learning, put added stress on students and staff, waste resources and . . . .  contribute to the privatization of public education. Schools that score badly are sometimes turned over to management companies or become charter schools.”
 
A small group of students from the Newark (NJ) Student Union have taken a page from the protests of the 1960s and have been sitting-in at the office of Cami Anderson, superintendent of the Newark schools.  They are demanding that she step down and that the district, which was taken over by the state 20 years ago, be returned to local control.  Steven Singer on his GADFLYONTHEWALL blog titles his commentary “When Kids Teach Adults–Lessons From the Newark Student Union Sit-in.”
 
With just 11 days to go before the L.A. municipal primary election on March 3, Howard Blume of the L.A. Times reviews the 3 contested LAUSD school board races.  Even though he is no longer superintendent, John Deasy is a key issue in all of the races.  “In campaign mail and at debates,” Blume writes, “the challengers are laying the blame for many school district woes on Deasy’s actions and policies as well as on the board that employed him through mid-October.”
 
And finally, on a lighter note, the satirical news source The Onion “reports” that the U.S. Dept. of Education, which is so enamored of standardized tests, will replace the entire K-12 curriculum with one, single test to be taken by all students.  “According to government officials,” it states with tongue firmly in cheek, “the four-hour-long Universal Education Assessment will be used in every public school across the country, will contain identical questions for every student based on material appropriate for kindergarten through 12th grade, and will permanently take the place of more traditional methods such as classroom instruction and homework assignments.”  Maybe this is not so funny.  Could the DoE really be contemplating something like this?  Stranger things have emerged from that bureaucracy!
 
Enjoy the warm weather this weekend while most of the rest
of the country endures an epic blast of arctic cold!

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)

 
 

Ed News, Tuesday, February 17, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

 “We all take such pains to over-educate ourselves. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place. The thoroughly well-informed man – that is the modern ideal. And the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value.” 
I know we don’t live in Indiana but if you think the education battles in this state are bad, wait until you read about the bloodletting that’s taking place in the Hoosier State.  An epic conflict is playing out between the Republican governor and the GOP dominated legislature versus the lone statewide elected Democrat, Glenda Ritz, the Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Peter Greene, of CURMUDGUCATION fame, lays it all out for you.  “What Indiana provides,” Greene explains, “is an example of what happens when the political process completely overwhelms educational concerns. If there is anyone in the Indiana state capitol more worried about education students than in political maneuvering and political posturing, it’s not immediately evident who that person might be.”              An enraged parent wrote a “rant” aimed at Gov. Pence and his botched attempt to fix the standardized test in his state.  She goes on to rail against the move to strip Glenda Ritz of her powers over education.  The parent’s piece is on the Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County and South Central Indiana website and can be accessed by clicking here.
More bad news for Teach for American.  The group will be reducing its placements in Memphis by 40% in the fall.  A story from CHALKBEAT Tennessee explains some of the reasons for the reduction.  “The decline is consistent with national trends,” it points out.  “As the economy recovers, TFA officials are seeing a decline in applicants from college seniors who are being offered more attractive jobs upon graduation.”

A recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a 6-page document titled “How To Talk About Testing” that had been used at a corporate conference on privatization and choice.  Anthony Cody had obtained a copy and discussed it on his blog.  The EduShyster couldn’t help but carve it up on her blog.  She takes a particularly witty approach, as is often the case, to her analysis.   

The charter vs. public school battle, redux.  A recent study in Chicago found that most charters in Illinois are exempt from many health and safety laws that apply to public schools in that state.  Catalyst CHICAGO has the worrisome details.  “A recent study by the Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children,” it reveals, “found that because of a legal loophole, only 10 percent of Illinois health and safety laws explicitly apply to charter schools.”               The group Advocates for Children,  a nonpartisan organization in New York City, took a look at how that city’s charter schools dealt with student discipline and found a number of areas where applicable state laws were not being followed.  They produced a report (31 pages) titled “Civil Rights Suspended: An Analysis of New York City Charter School Discipline Policies” that you can find by clicking here.  It offers a number of suggestions for how charters can change how they discipline children in order to be in compliance with state laws.  The New York Times had a story on the study “Most of New York City’s charter schools.” it begins, “have disciplinary codes that do not meet either state or federal requirements, according to a report by a children’s advocacy organization.”              An analysis by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune found that “students in most” charter schools in the state “are failing to hit learning targets and are not achieving adequate academic growth.”  In addition, the achievement gap between white and minority students at those schools widened last year.  This is a particularly bad news since Minnesota is where the charter school movement began some 20 years ago.  “A top official with the Minnesota Department of Education,” the piece mentions, “says she is troubled by the data, which runs counter to ‘the public narrative’ that charter schools are generally superior to public schools.”  You really have to read why a charter school association in the state is against the closure of low-performing charters.  Talk about a double standard when it comes to public schools!
 
Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, turns her column over once again to Finnish education scholar Pasi Sahlberg who writes about why Finland could never adopt a Teach for America-type system in that country.  There are those that “claim that there are many similarities between the Finnish and TFA conception of teaching,” he writes.  I” would argue that these two could not be further apart from one another.”  Sahlberg lists 3 reasons why this is the case.
There have been a number of studies documenting the disproportionate rate of incarceration for African-American males.  Similar studies have shown high numbers of school suspensions and expulsions for the same demographic.  Now comes a report that the same things may be happening to African-American female students.  Researchers at Columbia University studied disciplinary results at public schools in Boston and New York City.  Their findings are featured in a story from npr that includes an interview with one of the authors of the study“Girls of color, and especially black girls,” the story reports, “are subject to discipline that is harsher and more frequent than that of their white peers, and are six times more likely to be suspended than white girls. The racial disparities in punishment are greater for girls than for boys.”
 
A former Florida teacher and principal, on her ROSANNE WOOD, Perspectives of a Principal blog, wonders if her state (and by implication all the others) care more about testing than teaching.  She practically demands that the state legislature offer some relief before it’s too late.  She titles her piece “High-Stakes Testing Overload About to Sink Our Public Schools.”  Be sure to check out the two cartoons she adds at the end of her commentary.
 
Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, looks at a 3-step process that he sees the so-called education “reformers” have adopted to foist their ideas on a naive public.  He offers several examples to illustrate his point.  
 
How is this for a “BRIGHT” idea?  The State of Ohio has a new program (called the “BRIGHT” initiative) to attract recent college graduates into a degree program to train them to become future school administrators.  Only problem is, the degree is not related to education but is an MBA.  The Mitchell Robinson, Ph.D. blog finds this more than a little disconcerting.  “And now the circle is squared,” he concludes rather incredulously.  “The BRIGHT program neatly fills in the niche between ‘Teach for America’ (producing unqualified recruits for classrooms) and the Broad Superintendent’s Academy (producing unqualified superintendents) by producing unqualified principals for Ohio’s schools.”
 
Pres. Obama’s weekly address on Saturday dealt with important education issues like graduation rates, testing and the reauthorization of NCLB.  It’s available on the official WhiteHouse.gov website, runs 4:36 minutes and you can click on a full transcript if you so wish. It’s titled “Giving Every Child, Everywhere, a Fair Shot.”
 
Some positive news for the LAUSD.  Granada Hills Charter High won the district’s Academic Decathlon competition with the highest team score in the history of the event.  El Camino Real placed second and, along with Granada Hills, will join John Marshall, Franklin, Garfield, Bell, Hamilton, North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Grant and Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy in the state contest March 19-22, in Sacramento.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times describes the results.                 South Pasadena High won the L.A. county competition and will advance to the next round along with Mark Keppel High from Alhambra and Edgewood High from West Covina  according to an article in the Pasadena Star-News.
 
For quite some time, many so-called education “reformers” have wanted schools to be run like businesses by ranking employees and using negative evaluations to get fid of poor workers.  However, even business attitudes towards those kinds of actions beginning to wane as described in a piece in the Wall Street Journal.  (It, unfortunately, requires a paid subscription but you can read most of it, for free, on Diane Ravitch’s Blog along with some of her comments about the article.)  “The shift may annoy leaders who rose in a tough-love era in business,” the story states, “but executives say hard-edge tactics simply do more harm than good these days.”  “So this is what American business is doing!” Ravitch exclaims.  “Would someone please tell Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo, Rick Scott, Scott Walker, Mike Pence, and members of Congress?”
 
EDUCATION WEEK features a new study that looked at how 10 U.S. school districts have recently restructured their teacher compensation systems.  Traditional pay schedules were based on experience and units/degrees earned beyond the credential.  The report, from the Center for American Progress, did not include any districts from California.  The story includes a handy chart summarizing/comparing the new pay systems and a link to the full study (31 pages) titled “Do More, Add More, Earn More, Teacher Salary Redesign  Lessons from 10 First-Mover Districts.”
A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a story from Slate that indicated that the number of hours that American teachers work compared to other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries was vastly overstated.  Now Diane Ravitch’s Blog offers a response to that piece from a university researcher that says, yes U.S. teachers do work longer hours and under much more difficult conditions than their counterparts around the world. 
 
The “Ed News” has reported extensively on charter and public schools but not so much on private schools.  One area that is often neglected by the media is homeschooling.   An item from THE HECHINGER REPORT discusses why black parents are more and more turning to that alternative and the reasons why are often different than white parents.  “[W]hile white homeschooling families traditionally cite religious or moral disagreements with public schools in their decision to homeschool,” it points out, “studies indicate black families are more likely to cite the culture of low expectations for black students or dissatisfaction with how their children—especially boys—are treated in schools.”
 
As we in southern California bask in unseasonably warm weather while most of the rest of the country battles wind, snow and cold the inevitable question arises in those cold-weather climes:  “When Is It Too Cold Outside to Go to School?”  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post, provides an interesting answer to a problem never faced in Los Angeles.  “School districts have a number of considerations,” she indicates, “including state student attendance requirement and commuting issues (such as how long students have to wait outdoors for a bus, whether roads are passable by car and whether public transportation is working), as well as health dangers posed by the cold and the condition of old and sometimes crumbling school buildings. Many districts are also concerned about students who only eat meals at school and who have working parents or guardians who can’t stay home with them.”  Be sure to check out the photo that she includes at the start of her piece and the wind chill chart from the National Weather Service towards the end as an inkling of what this is all about.

And finally, a lump-in-the-throat story.  5 seniors from the Business Academy at Costa Mesa High School are headed to New York City in April for a national competition.  So, where’s that lump?  Their teacher will be accompanying them for the first time in 3 years since she was diagnosed with cancer.  If that doesn’t do it, there’s something wrong with you.  A story in today’s L.A. Times has all the heartwarming details.

// // // //

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71) 

 
 

Ed News, Friday, February 13, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

 Monday is the President’s Day Holiday
 
 And Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day
“Problems may be solved in the study which have baffled all those who have sought a solution by the aid of their senses. To carry the art, however, to its highest pitch, it is necessary that the reasoner should be able to use all the facts which have come to his knowledge; and this in itself implies, as you will readily see, a possession of all knowledge, which, even in these days of free education and encyclopaedias, is a somewhat rare accomplishment.”
Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Value-added models (VAMs) have been put forward by the so-called education “reformers” as the best way to evaluate and compare teachers, schools and even teacher preparation programs.  Most experts maintain they are unreliable at best and dangerous at worst and that student test scores were never intended for evaluative purposes.  Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, a well-known authority on teacher evaluations, on her VAMboozled blog, reviews a recently published study on VAMs from 3 university researchers.  The authors “investigate whether commonly used value-added estimation strategies produce accurate estimates of teacher effects under a variety of scenarios,” she quotes from the abstract of the report. “[They] estimate teacher effects [using] simulated student achievement data sets that mimic plausible types of student grouping and teacher assignment scenarios. [They] find that no one method accurately captures true teacher effects in all scenarios, and the potential for misclassifying teachers as high- or low-performing can be substantial.”  Based on that last comment I don’t see how anyone can advocate for using VAMs for evaluating individual teachers/schools, salary purposes, retaining/firing teachers, rating  teacher preparation programs or any of the other uses being suggested. 
Has the American public lost respect for teachers and teaching?  Is that what the so-called education “reformers” have accomplished with their constant harping on “failed” schools, ineffective teachers, tenure, powerful teachers unions and other “bogeymen?”  That’s the gist of comments made by David Greene on his DCGEducator: Doing the Right Thing blog.  He gave a brief talk “to a group of concerned teachers, parents and ‘civilians'” last month about education at a bookstore in Oneonta, New York.  During the extended discussion that followed that was the conclusion he came to.  Greene goes on to describe how this state of affairs has come about and offers some ideas on how to combat it.
More and more parents are choosing to opt their children out of standardized tests around the nation.  You’d think that would be a pretty easy task.  However, as the “Ed News” has noted before, principals and superintendents are beginning to push back with threats against teachers and even veiled hints of nasty consequences against students and their parents.  The author of the EduShyster blog was able to obtain some emails and other correspondence between school administrators.  She describes a much more convoluted process than just signing and returning a form, based on what took place in Salem (of witchcraft trials fame), Massachusetts.  You’ll have to read the entire piece to find out who won.  You can probably guess but the road to get their is quite informative.               A parent from New Jersey writes about how the “test rebellion [against the PARCC is] brewing in her state.”  Her comments appear on Diane Ravitch’s Blog.  ““We have the power — now we have to convince our neighbors and friends,” she concludes, “to stop assuming that we can’t change things, and to instead buckle down to make sure we can.”
The New York Times has an article titled, in all seriousness, “Is Your First Grader College Ready?”  It describes how a group of first graders (identified as the class of 2030) in rural North Carolina are already preparing for college.  Is this what we’ve come to with Common Core?  “Credit President Obama and the Common Core Standards for putting the ‘college and career ready’ mantra on the lips of K-12 educators across the country,” it explains.  “Or blame a competitive culture that has turned wide-open years of childhood into a checklist of readiness skills. Whatever the reason, the fact remains that college prep has hit the playground set.”  Unbelievable!              Daniel Katz, on his Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog, at first thought this was a work of satire or something reprinted from “The Onion” but upon further reading realized it was totally serious.  He identifies the piece as a prime example of “Poe’s Law” (you’ll have to read it to get a definition/explanation) but he seems to nail just what is going on.  “Meanwhile I have a suggestion,” he offers, “that would do a lot more for the first graders described in the Times article than a ‘cut and paste worksheet’ describing the steps to get into college.  Give every kid in that class a good set of plain Legos, some dolls, and other  toys that promote unstructured, creative PLAY — let them negotiate and explore their SIX YEAR OLD MINDS.  There will be plenty of time to stress them out and confuse them in only two more years when they take their third grade PARCC or SBAC examinations.”  Right on!
The power of teachers unions has been a target of the so-called “reform” movement for years.  Bob Peterson, the president of the Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association, takes a look at the attacks and how the union movement can counter them and transform themselves into 21st century organizations for positive change.  The author’s extensive ruminations can be found on the rethinking schools blog.  “Fortunately, teacher union activists across the country are revitalizing their unions and standing up to these relentless attacks,” he suggests.  “And this growing transformation of the teachers’ union movement may well be the most important force in our nation to defend and improve public schools and, in so doing, defend and improve our communities and what’s left of our democratic institutions.”
There are already predictions that most students (up to 70%) will not reach the “proficient” level when taking the new Common Core aligned assessments.  A number of reasons have been put forward for that outcome.  One that hasn’t been mentioned very often has to do with the readability levels of the exams.  The author of the Russ on Reading blog used several readability indexes to measure the scores of each grade level test of the PARCC exam.  “Since readability formulas are notably unreliable,” he explains, “I first decided to use several different readability measures to see if I could get a closer approximation of level. The measures I use are all commonly used in assessing readability. All of them use two variables, with slight variations, to determine readability: word length and sentence length. They vary slightly in the weights they give these variables and in how these variables are determined.”               Could more urban school districts face state takeovers like what took place recently in Little Rock, Arkansas?  As the results become available from the new Common Core aligned exams, amid predictions that those results will not be encouraging, the answer to that question could be a discouraging “yes.”  A piece from USA TODAY carefully surveys that possibility.  “In many cases,” it notes, “state boards take over school districts to bring in experts on finance. . . . The jury is still out on whether takeovers improve academics.”
Teach for America has been in the spotlight lately for the difficulties it has been having regarding attracting candidates to apply to its program.  For the past two years those numbers have actually declined.  Jeff Bryant, writing in SALON, believes that TFA has a credibility problem related to its perception of what constitutes education “reform” and issues with “their own agenda.”
The standardized test cheating scandal trial in Atlanta reached a milestone after 6-months of prosecution testimony concluded on Wednesday according to a story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  12 educators from the city school system are on trial for racketeering and “conspiring to tamper with standardized tests to ensure higher test scores.  The racketeering charge,” it continues, “carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years. The defendants also have been charged with other felonies.”  The case began in mid-August and is scheduled to continue for several more weeks. 
 
The San Diego Unified School District board voted 5-0 on Wednesday to suggest that Congress end the yearly testing mandate.  The full resolution they approved was published on Diane Ravitch’s Blog.
Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, describes a group of new teachers who formed the “Learning to Teach Collaborative” back in 1988 when he and the others were new to the profession.  They met monthly for about a dozen years “over dinner, and with a bit of wine, we learned to teach together.”  They got together again this week after not meeting for about a year.  He titles the item “Me and My Pals: How We Learned to Teach.”   It’s guaranteed to bring a lump to your throat.  Be sure to check out the then and now photos included in it. 

Two letters in yesterday’s L.A. Times commented on the paper’s Monday “Explainer” column about Eli Broad’s decision to suspend his foundation’s coveted prize for exemplary urban school districts (highlighted in Tuesday’s “Ed News.”)              An op-ed in today’s Times revisits the decision by Broad and thinks those urban districts would benefit from integrating more charter schools into their systems.  It mentions that troubled districts in St. Louis, Detroit, Philadelphia, Baltimore and others “need fresh approaches, usually involving successful charter schools. Denver, which integrates high-performing charter schools directly into its system, is a great example of that promising new way.”

Valerie Strauss has the latest state-by-state high school graduation rates for 2012-13 in her “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post.  The figures come from the National Center for Education Statistics and show the national rate has climbed to 81%, up one percentage point from the previous year.  The lowest STATE was Oregon at 69% (the District of Columbia checked in with 62%).  The highest? Iowa at 90%.  California? 80%.

The Indiana State Senate approved a bill this week that allows private schools that receive public voucher money to be exempt from the state testing program.  They will be allowed to administer tests of their own choosing.  The sordid details can be found on the Indiana Coalition for Public Schools website.  “If anyone doubts,” the author complains, “that Governor Pence and the leaders of the General Assembly and State Board are favoring private schools over public schools in Indiana’s intense competitive marketplace of school choice, this bill should remove all doubts.  The voucher program was sold in 2011 by promising that private schools would take ISTEP (Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress) and would be measured like all public schools using the A-F system.  Now just four years later the voucher schools want to change the rules but keep the money.”  Gee, what a sweetheart deal!

The Obama administration was highly critical of the Republican bill reauthorizing NCLB that passed the House Education Committee last week.  A brief item on EDUCATION WEEK (via the AP) described the White House’s objections to the legislation.

The February 16, edition of TIME magazine has a short item in their regular “Wellness” column about how mindfulness training can help students in the classroom.  It’s titled “Mindfulness Exercises Improve Kids’ Math Scores.”  “In adults,” it begins, “mindfulness has been shown to have all kinds of amazing effects throughout the body: it can combat stress, protect your heart, shorten migraines and possibly even extend life. But a new trial published in the journal Developmental Psychology suggests that the effects are also powerful in kids as young as 9—so much so that improving mindfulness showed to improve everything from social skills to math scores.” 

Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence who sent along a policy memo (13 pages) from the director and managing director of the National Education Policy Center who make a very strong argument as to why the entire testing regimen under NCLB has failed and who also wonder why Congress would ever entertain retaining any part of it as they debate the reauthorization of that law.  The document is titled “Reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act: Time to Move Beyond Test-Focused Policies.”  Larry described this as “one of the clearest, most convincing arguments against the use of standardized testing.”

And finally, California has been having unseasonably warm weather while Boston and the rest of the Northeast have been hit by snowstorm after snowstorm.  So what, you say?  An article from THE HECHINGER REPORT raises a little-known concern for folks who live on this coast.  It’s titled “Can Too Many Snow Days Widen the Achievement Gap?”  “These seemingly never-ending snow days,” it notes, “are taking away valuable time from all students.  But in excess they are most harmful to low-income students and their families, who education experts say are already more likely to be behind academically and rely more on the social services public schools provide.  Chief among these services and supports: Free or reduced-price breakfast and lunch, for which nearly 80 percent of Boston students qualify.”

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)

 
 

 

 

Ed News, Tuesday, February 10, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

 “I was taught that I had to ‘master’ subjects.
But who can ‘master’ beauty, or peace, or joy?”
Kathleen Norris, The Psalms    
Peter Greene, on his always informative and highly entertaining CURMUDGUCATION blog, profiles one of the guys chiefly responsible for writing the math portion of the Common Core State Standards.  
 
The Jersey Jazzman takes a look at some of the so-called education “reformers” “best” arguments and asks “where’s the beef?”  Where’s the proof of what they are contending?  Just because they repeat a point over and over again doesn’t make it true.  “My reformy friends: the burden of proof is on you,” he demands, “Even if I and my fellow skeptics were for maintaining the ‘status quo”‘– which we’re not — it would still be up to you to make an affirmative case for the stuff you want to do.  So do that, and stop wasting our time demanding proof of things that can’t be proved.”
Here’s the charter school scandal of the day:  An editorial in the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal Gazette reports that one of the largest charter school chains in the country, Imagine Schools, Inc., was found to be engaging in serious financial irregularities in Missouri based on a U.S. District Court judge’s ruling.  A similar problem came to light in Fort Wayne.  “The national charter school chain,” comments the item, “used its own finance company, Schoolhouse Finance, to sell Imagine Renaissance’s two campuses to obtain lower lease rates, according to the suit. While it benefited from the lower rate, it continued to collect taxpayer dollars through the local charter board at the higher rate.”  That’s a no-no as ALMOST everyone knows!
As a teacher do you think you have a “normal” life?  If so, you may disagree with this post from a secondary teacher in Louisiana who titles her piece “Why Teachers Can’t Have ‘Normal’ Lives.”  Before you skip over this one, why not take a look at what she sees teachers going through that make their lives different from most other professions.  Her commentary appeared on THE EDUCATOR’S ROOM website.
Charter vs. public school smack down, redux.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, makes the case for why parents should choose public schools over charters.  He identifies 6 areas where he thinks the former are superior: Stability, Shared expertise, Commitment, Ownership, How We Spend Your Money and The Public School Difference.  Read each item and see if he is convincing.

A special education teacher in Baltimore very eloquently tells a Congressional forum on the reauthorization of NCLB why the members of the House and Senate must take into consideration income inequality and increasing rates of child poverty and other significant problems facing students today.  Valerie Strauss reprints the educators testimony on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post.

As more and more parents opt their children out of standardized tests there seems to be more and more principals and superintendents threatening them with all kinds of nasty consequences if they persist in that behavior.  Jonathan Pelto, on his Wait, What? blog tries to set the record straight on just what the law says (or doesn’t say) in regard to parents choosing to have their kids skip the tests.  Although Pelto is addressing the issue in Connecticut his points should apply to all 50 states.  “The notion that students must take the test or else has no basis in law or practice in the state of Connecticut,” he states matter-of-factly, “and the abuse of students and their parents by state and local school officials has got to stop.” At the bottom of his post, Pelto offers a number of other sources with valuable and useful information about the issue.
 
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” included a story from The New York Times about the drop in applicants at Teach for America over the past two years.  TFA issued a prompt response to the piece on their website.  “While our partners’ needs for corps members and alumni are at an all-time high,” it explained, “persuading young Americans to choose this work is tougher than ever.  In the shadow of the recession, college graduates are moving away from public and service-oriented work and gravitating towards professions they perceive as more stable and financially sustainable.  The polarized conversation around education isn’t helping, either.”
 
Brian Williams, anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” stepped down temporarily over the weekend after information surfaced that he reported inaccurately about coming under fire while riding in a helicopter in Iraq.  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, has uncovered another journalistic “bungle” by Williams having to do with education this time.

“During the second edition of the NBC News production of Education Nation in 2011,” Cody discovers, “Brian Williams interviewed Melinda Gates. The Gates Foundation had underwritten the broadcast, but nonetheless, this was a journalistic endeavor. . . . However, he displayed none of the objectivity one might expect from a journalist.”

 
Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for sending along a piece from The New York Times that profiles the new course being charted by New York City School’s Chancellor Carmen Farina.  Since being appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio a little over a year ago, Farina has moved away from some of the more contentious policies regarding the use of data, the amount of experience required for new principals, the closing of under performing schools and the role of charters in the district among others developed by her predecessors Joel Klein and Dennis Walcott who had been chosen by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  
Sydney Lane, a high school student from Connecticut who opposes the Common Core, writes on the blog of the Badass Teachers Association, who have a well-deserved reputation for questioning authority, about why that’s an important quality for maintaining our democratic institutions.  Lane leads off the piece with a (slight) variation of the quote by Peter Marshall, Scottish clergyman, “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”  [Ed. note: Please ignore the two misspellings of “principal” in this item.]
Two letters in Saturday’s L.A. Times reacted to the earlier op-ed in the paper urging the retention of the testing mandate when the NCLB law is reauthorized.  The first one is by Walt Gardner, Ed. Week columnist.               Gardner expanded on his brief letter by penning a slightly more extensive piece for his “Reality Check” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  This one he titles “The Proper Use of Standardized Tests.”   “The basic question: Why is standardized testing necessary at all?” he asks.  “Why can’t teachers determine how well they’ve taught just by the tests they themselves design?  The answer is that they can.  But when $79 billion is spent annually on K-12, taxpayers demand more details.  That’s where the issue of standardized testing becomes highly contentious.”               The New York Times ran a similar opinion piece defending standardized testing.  It’s written by a member of a nonprofit education research and consulting firm, Bellwhether Education Partners, who was also an advisor in the Department of Education under Pres. Obama.  ” But annual testing has tremendous value,” he argues.  “It lets schools follow students’ progress closely, and it allows for measurement of how much students learn and grow over time, not just where they are in a single moment.”               The “grumpy old teacher” at CURMUDGUCATION was quick to offer a point-by-point rebuttal of the NYT item.  “Annual standardized testing measures one thing– how well a group of students does at taking an annual standardized test,” Greene thunders in conclusion.  “That’s it. . . . Annual standardized testing is good for one other thing– making testing companies a buttload of money.  Beyond that, they are simply a waste of time and effort.”                Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for forwarding two related articles about standardized testing.  The first is from John Merrow on his Taking Note blog who draws an interesting distinction between people who are “pro-test” and those who “protest” against the assessments.  He notes the BIG difference that dash makes.  Merrow reviews both sides of the debate but is a little unsure of the size and scope of the anti-testing contingent.  “It’s hard, maybe impossible, to measure the strength of the ‘protest”’ movement,” he argues, “if indeed there really is a ‘movement.’  It could be thousands and thousands of tiny, grass-roots organizations and loose gatherings, or it could be just a few hundred.  If it is a national movement, it’s one that lacks a ‘command central.’”               The second item Larry sent is actually a rebuttal to Merrow’s piece (see above) from Peggy Robertson on her Peg With Pen blog.  She contends the movement to opt-out from the tests is much bigger and more organized than Merrow realizes.  She cites a number of organizations and offers statistics to bolster her point.                The debate over standardized testing rages on.  How do the pro-test minions hope to frame their argument so as to win the battle?  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, came into possession of a six-page document introduced at a conference of a corporate reform group that lays out their plan to emerge victorious.  He reviews some of the key questions raised about testing and how to counter them.  Cody also includes a link to the full pamphlet titled “How to Talk About Testing.”               The latest edition of TIME magazine (Feb. 16, 2015) jumped into the discussion over standardized testing with a piece that explored alternate ways to measure student achievement other than fill-in-the bubble tests.  It used a third grade class in Virginia as an example.  The article also explored how the debate over the role of exams has split both the Republican and Democratic parties.    
 
Jason Stanford, a writer in Texas, makes an interesting point in a tweet reported on Diane Ravitch’s Blog regarding choice, vaccination and opting out of standardized testing.
 
An extended editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times contains the paper’s endorsements for the 3 LAUSD school board seats (George McKenna is unoposed in District 1) being contested in the March 3, municipal primary.  The Times tepidly recommends the incumbents in District 3 (Tamar Galatzan) and District 7 (board president Richard Vladovic) but opposes UTLA backed  board member Bennett Kayser in District 5, which includes the area around Occidental College.   
 
The use of value-added models (VAMs) to evaluate teachers has been controversial and problematic for quite some time now.  The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of articles on the topic in the past.  Two education experts from the Coalition to Protect Our Public Schools, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, offer their take on the subject as the State of Washington contemplates legislation to use student test scores to evaluate teachers and principals.  They make a very strong case to oppose the effort.  This story is headlined “Using Student Test Scores to Fire Teachers: No More Reliable Than A Coin Toss.”  
 
The Monday “Explainer” column in the L.A. Times discussed why Eli Broad decided to suspend his $1 million prize awarded to top urban school districts.  The piece noted that he did it “out of concern that they are failing to improve quickly enough. And, associates say, he’s no longer certain that he wants to reward traditional school districts at all.  The action underscores the changing education landscape as well the evolving thinking and impatience of the 81-year-old philanthropist.”  Previous California winners of the 13-year-old prize included Long Beach Unified in 2003 and Garden Grove Unified in 2004.               Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for sending along the same story from The New York Times which offered some slightly different interpretations of why Broad suspended his prize.  “But critics of the Broad Foundation,” it reports, “said suspending the prize was an acknowledgment that the foundation’s approach to reform, with its focus primarily on test scores and other metrics, might be waning.”
 
The ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) recently issued a statement that called for a two year moratorium on the use of student test scores for accountability purposes. You can read that notice and view a brief video (1:09 minutes) of the group’s senior director of policy speaking about the decision. “We need a pause to replace the current system with a new vision,” the announcement concludes.  Policymakers and the public must immediately engage in an open and transparent community decision-making process about the best ways to use test scores and to develop accountability systems that fully support a broader, more accurate definition of college, career, and citizenship readiness that ensures equity and access for all students.”
 
What do charter schools do when an unflattering report comes out about how they operate?  They “massage” the numbers and make sure the next report “corrects” any “wrong” impressions.  Don’t believe it?  Diane Ravitch’s Blog produces an investigative piece from one of her readers that looks at how charters in New York did just that.  The author provides ample links to supporting materials to buttress his point.  “ What we have here is a failure to tell the truth,” he sums up.  “The ‘Independent’ Budget Office, aided by a compliant press, has whitewashed the story of inequity that it itself had helped flesh out just a year earlier.  The data could not be any clearer.  Charter schools have no secret sauce. In fact, they are creating more segregation and greater inequity in our school system. T he time has come to end the charade.”
The next ALOED book club will discuss Elizabeth Green’s Build A Better Teacher and, as an added attraction, Doug Lemov’s Teach Like A ChampionEDUCATION WEEK reports that Lemov’s book has an updated edition out as of January and the article reports on some of the changes.  It also briefly references Green’s book.
 
Granada Hills Charter High and Franklin High tied for first place in the LAUSD’s Academic Decathlon Super Quiz competition held over the weekend at the Roybal Learning Center near downtown.  A software snafu delayed the final official results for several hours as students, coaches and family members nervously awaited the outcome.  The overall winner of the 10-events will be announced on Friday with several top schools from the LAUSD advancing to the state competition in Sacramento in March.  LA County schools also held their event this weekend with West Covina’s Edgewood High emerging as the winner of the Super Quiz.  All the details can be found in an article in yesterday’s L.A. Times. 
And finally, POLITICO has an multi-page investigative piece on how much Pearson is profiting from the Common Core State Standards and the assessments and materials aligned to them.  It’s titled “No Profit Left Behind.”  “The company has reaped the benefits: Half its $8 billion in annual global sales comes from its North American education division,” it reveals.  “But Pearson’s dominance does not always serve U.S. students or taxpayers well. . . .Across the country, Pearson sold the Los Angeles Unified School District an online curriculum that it described as revolutionary — but that had not yet been completed,” the story details, “much less tested across a large district, before the LAUSD agreed to spend an estimated $135 million on it.  Teachers dislike the Pearson lessons and rarely use them, an independent evaluation found.”  Diane Ravitch says this one is a “Must Read!”

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)
 

 

 

Ed News, Friday, February 6, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“An educated man should know everything about something

 and something about everything”  
 
The charter vs public school battle, redux.  EduShyster highlights a new report that shows students who graduate from public high schools are more apt to finish college than their counterparts who attend charters.  The study was based on students at Boston area campuses.  “The report compared members of the respective classes of 2007 from the city’s high schools and five of our local academies of excellence,” the article states.  “Fifty percent of the BPS students had scored a college degree within six years vs. 42% of their charter peers.”  The piece provides some additional statistical comparisons and analysis along with a link to the full report (36 pages) titled “The Boston Opportunity Agenda–Fourth Annual Report Card.”               Kentucky is one of the few states remaining that does not allow charter schools.  A retired professor from the University of Kentucky pens an op-ed item in the Lexington Herald-Leader arguing why that position should remain as the status quo in the Bluegrass State.  “Charter schools are a cancer on public education,” he opines.  “Kentucky should continue to reject their creation. This is because they suck scarce funds away from our public schools, thereby making quality public education more difficult. At the same time, the vast majority of charters fail to deliver on their hollow promise to provide a superior education.”
You have certainly heard of the “achievement gap,” but what about “The Activity Gap?”  That’s the growing phenomenon that extracurricular activities like sports, clubs and other after-school activities are becoming increasingly rare on campuses with large numbers of disadvantaged students.  The Atlantic features a new national study on the topic.  “ What the researchers found is . . . . ‘alarming.’  Income-based differences in extracurricular participation are on the rise,” the story notes, “and these differences greatly affect later outcomes. This disparity exacerbates the already-growing income achievement gap that has kept poor children behind in school and later in life.”  The article includes a link to the full study (14 pages) titled “The Engagement Gap: Social Mobility and Extracurricular Participation Among American Youth.”
A lot of so-called education ‘reformers” point to international test results and bemoan the fact that U.S. students are doing so poorly compared to their counterparts in other countries.  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable, who offers “Ten Things You Need to Know About International Assessments.”  “What these assessments leave out is as important as what they include. They are abused, misused, misconstrued and mostly nonsense — but I get ahead of myself,” he mentions by way of introduction.  To help pique your interest, here are just two of the points he addresses: “1. These assessments were never intended to line up and rank nations against each other like baseball standings” and “5. The horse-race tables ignore differences in poverty, inequity, and social stress among nations.”  Check out the other 8.  They are just as informative as these 2 examples.  “None of this is intended to sugarcoat the very real problem the United States faces in its schools,” Harvey concludes in his very thought-provoking piece.  “Our schools have done a reasonably good job with the traditional students they were designed to educate. Now they face a new challenge: a population in which the majority of students are, for the first time in our history, both low-income and children of color.  We need to get on with that task. But the challenge is not addressed by hyper-ventilating about highly questionable international comparisons of student achievement.”  “All in all,” Diane Ravitch noted on her blog, this is “a brilliant analysis of the limitations of these tests that have promoted the deeply flawed agenda of test and punish.”
The separation of church and state is an important concept in our democratic system.  That line is being seriously blurred, if not outright removed, in areas of Florida where Evangelical churches are a growing presence on a number of public school campuses.  An extended investigative piece in THE Nation uses several schools in the Sunshine state to illustrate its point.  “Like it or not, the fusion of church and school that takes place in Apopka, Florida, is an increasingly common phenomenon in the United States,” it rather disturbingly reports.  “Indeed, a number of national and international franchise networks are dedicated to planting churches in public schools across the country, sometimes providing services that fill in the vacuum left by the government underfunding of public education.”
You are probably all aware of professional development for teachers.  Ever thought about PD for principals?  That’s the focus of an item in EDUCATION WEEK that bemoans both the lack of quantity and quality of continuous training for principals.  It discusses what qualities make up an excellent on-the-job program for school leaders.
 
School reform is not as simple as the so-called education “reformers” like to make it out to be.  It involves complex social relationships between many different entities.  That’s the focus of a short video (4:14 minutes) from the SHANKER BLOG that illustrates the point.  The video is titled “The Social Side of Education.”  A brief introduction to the segment explains: “If there is one take away about the social side approach, it is the idea that relationships matter in education. Teaching and learning are not solo but rather social endeavors and, as such, they are best achieved by working together. The social side perspective: (1) shifts the focus from the individual to the broader context in which individuals operate; (2) highlights the importance of interdependencies at all levels of the system – e.g., among teachers within a school, leaders across a district, schools and the community; and (3) recognizes that crucial resources (e.g., information, advice, support) are exchanged through interpersonal relationships.”               Diane Ravitch’s Blog called this a “brilliant” video and Ravitch had some other cogent reactions to it.    “I have never seen or read anything,” she remarks, “that so succinctly and accurately identifies what matters most in schools.” Be sure to check out both items.
“Saturday Night Live” had a segment this week titled “Teacher Snow Day” that raised the ire of Steven Singer, author of the GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG.  If you missed the original piece you can view it (3:24 minutes) on YouTube by clicking here.  (If you are under 18 please do not do this).  Singer did not find the piece at all humorous and, in fact, thought it was rather offensive and tasteless.  He offered a number of reasons why in the form of a rebuttal.  “Go ahead.  Make jokes about teachers.  Please.  But make them fair,” he complains.  “No sucker punches.  And – goddammit – make them funny!  However, all we got on Saturday Night Live this week during the ‘Teacher Snow Day’ segment were unconvincing lame low blows.”
EDUCATION WEEK offered a roundtable discussion, with comments from 5 different educators/researchers, on the U.S. Dept. of Education’s new proposed guidelines for teacher prep programs.  It asked them to respond to the following question: “There has been much concern about the use of student test scores, teacher-retention rates, and surveys for judging the quality of teacher-preparation programs. Assuming the federal government should play a role in ensuring program quality, what indicators do you think might provide a fair picture of a program’s strengths and weaknesses?”  Be sure to click on each individual response located just below the brief introduction to this article. 
 
Under our system of government both the U.S. House and Senate have to pass identical bills on a particular subject before they are sent to the president for his/her approval or rejection.  If they differ, the points of contention are usually worked out in what’s known as a “conference committee” made up of an equal number of members from both houses.  All that is by way of introduction to this next piece.  Most of the attention surrounding the reauthorization of NCLB (aka The Elementary and Secondary Education Act) has been focused on the hearings being held in the Senate.  As EDUCATION WEEK reports the House has also been working on its own version of the legislation and it contains some significant differences, as least so far, when compared to its counterpart in the Senate.  The item includes a “cheat sheet” discussing some of the main aspects of the  House proposals.               The Network for Public Education released a statement containing its position on the renewal of NCLB.  It was printed on Diane Ravitch’s Blog.               Jia Lee is a special ed teacher in New York City who testified on Jan. 21, before the Senate Education Committee that’s hearing testimony on the revisions to NCLB.  She talked about why standardized testing is harmful to students and why she was refusing to administer the assessments.  In this Q & A from LIVING in DIALOGUE she explains why she’s taken those positions.               The New York Times, in its “Room for Debate” feature, offers an online forum to discuss the question “What Would It Take to ‘Fix’ No Child Left Behind?”   Five  education experts, including Randi Weingarten and Diane Ravitch, present their opinions on the issue.  You’ll need to click on each one to read their full response.              An op-ed in Wednesday’s L.A. Times makes the argument for retaining the testing mandates in NCLB.  It claims that the law has been successful so why should it be changed.   “Loud voices on both sides of the aisle,” it maintains, “already have called for gutting its testing and accountability measures and for giving states federal education dollars with no strings attached.   These are bad ideas no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.”                 Carol Burris, award-winning  principal of South Side High School in New York, once again is reprinted by Valerie Strauss on her blog for The Washington Post.   This time Burris weighs in on the debate over the testing mandate surrounding the renewal of NCLB.  If you know Burris you can guess which side she comes down on.  The piece is titled “Principal: What I’ve Learned About Annual Standardized Testing.”   “I suspect that much of the stubborn adherence to yearly tests,” she writes, “comes from those who refuse to let go of the desire to put teachers on a bell curve and lob off the bottom 10 percent. It will not matter whether or not it is deserved; the hope is that it will strike enough fear in teachers that they will pump up test scores no matter what the cost to the individual child. And that allows politicians to take a bow—for higher scores and the notches on the belt for every teacher fired.”
A recent edition of the “Ed News” mentioned the latest measles outbreak and the renewed debate over vaccination.  A new bill has been introduced in the California legislature that would tighten the requirements in the Golden State according to a brief item in EDUCATION WEEK.  “ Amid a measles outbreak and a fierce national political debate over vaccine requirements,” it begins, “a pair of California lawmakers has proposed eliminating an exemption in state law that has allowed parents there to opt out of getting their children vaccinated for unspecified personal or philosophical reasons.  Such a change would make California’s vaccine law one of the country’s strongest.”               A related item in the same publication found that charter students in the state are less likely to be vaccinated according to a new analysis from the University of Maryland at College Park.  It found “that the average exemption rate was 8.42 percent in charters, 5.12 percent in private schools, and 1.77 percent in traditional public schools.”
“Is This the End of Education Austerity?” is the question asked by Jeff Bryant in this item from the Education Opportunity NETWORK.  He believes after almost 7 years of the Great Recession that education funding may finally be on the rise.  “Don’t get too excited yet,” he warns, “but there are signs we may have finally turned a corner for the better in the war for public school financing.  Recently, government officials and politicians – from the Beltway to the heartland – have declared allegiance to do what has been, up until now, the unmentionable: Spend more money on public education.”  One of the bright spots on education funding that Bryant points out was the recently proposed Obama administration budget (highlighted by the “Ed News”) that would boost U.S. Dept. of Education spending by 5%. 
One letter was published in yesterday’s L.A. Times in reaction to the paper’s previous article regarding the Beverly Hills Unified School District selling naming rights to donors.  The writer was against the practice. 
As the next standardized testing season approaches in the spring, EDUCATION WEEK provides a handy guide, in the form of an interactive map , showing what assessment consortia (if any) each state plans to utilize.  The general line-up looks like this: SBAC (18 states, including California), PARCC (10 states + D.C.), Other (21), Undecided (1 = Massachusetts).  Some states are even offering different tests at different grade levels which you can also ascertain from the map.               A follow-up item in the same publication calculates that 51% of students in the U.S. will NOT be taking one of the consortia based assessments.  It includes a simple spreadsheet with a state-by-state breakdown of the number of students taking which tests.  
More personnel woes for the LAUSD.  The district’s highly acclaimed director of food services, David Binkle, was abruptly removed from his post in early December and ordered to remain at home  pending an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General.  Binkle, who has transformed school menus into more healthy fare since joining the district in 2008, has been accused of conflicts of interest and mismanagement of the LAUSD’s meal system.  He has denied wrong-doing according to a front-page story in today’s L.A. Times.
More bad news for Teach for American.  The New York Times reports that applicants for the program have declined for the second year in a row as the economy has improved and possible candidates have sought higher paying jobs.  “Some say the decline in applicants could point to a loss of luster for the program,” it points out, “which rose to prominence through the idea that teaching the nation’s poorest, most needy students could be a crusade, like the Peace Corps.  Teach for America has sent hundreds of graduates to Capitol Hill, school superintendents’ offices and education reform groups, seeding a movement that has supported testing and standards, teacher evaluations tethered to student test scores, and a weakening of teacher tenure.”
An editorial in today’s L.A. Times chastises the LAUSD for a plan to allow some of its attorneys to provide pro bono legal services for the large number of students who arrived in district classrooms after coming to the U.S. unaccompanied by any parents or guardians.  It’s troubled by the fact that other agencies could provide those services and wonders why the district would only limit its lawyers to immigration issues.  “Indeed, if the idea is to encourage more pro bono legal work,” it maintains, “why pick immigration as the one area worthy of the district’s largesse? Plenty of L.A. Unified students have legal needs. Why not allow the lawyers to volunteer at agencies that represent families in danger of being unfairly thrown out of their homes, or that help children who need representation in family court? Better for L.A. Unified to let lawyers decide what kind of pro bono work they want to do instead of making value decisions about which ones it will allow.”
Want to see what some school board members have resorted to in order to silence teacher voices?  Check out what went down before a recent OPEN meeting of the Buffalo Public Schools board of education.  The secretary of the Buffalo’s Teachers Association got up to make a point and ask a single question when one member of the board promptly ordered his removal from the meeting.  The BTA’s representative was escorted out of the room by a security office.  You can read all about the incident and watch several short videos and view some pictures that chronicled the entire episode on THE PUBLIC website.                By the way, the same board member is caught on camera doggedly texting while a student delivers comments before the committee.  YouTube has the indisputable evidence.
And finally, THE HECHINGER REPORT features a Q & A with a high school senior at a public magnet school in Philadelphia who’s a member of the group Student Voice, a national non-profit that promotes the inclusion of student opinions on education issues.  She discusses why students need to be involved in the conversation, the role technology plays in their education and what types of things she’s learned in her high school. 
     

Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)
 
 

 

 

Ed News, Tuesday, February 3, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

 “[T]eaching has been for me an education
(Lord knows what it has been for my students).”
Howard Nemerov
If the idea that America’s public schools are “failing” gets repeated enough times it begins to be believed.  The myth of our failing public schools is the topic of the TULTICAN blog, written by a former research scientist who worked in the recording industry and quit that job to teach high school math and physics beginning in 1999.  He discovered that schools have been labelled as “failing” since at least the 1940s and he sites a number of works that reported that “fact.”  He titles his article “Illusion Motivates Education Reform.”
 
How much better are charter schools doing than their public school counterparts?  That point could be debatable if one looks at the charters in Milwaukee.  Of the 10 campuses in that Wisconsin city, 4 would be considered “failing”  based on the system used to grade the public schools.  Those findings were published in an item on Larry Miller’s Blog:  Educate All Students!  
This one at first appeared to be an April Fools joke but it wasn’t written on April 1.  Here’s the headline from a story in the Houston Chronicle:  “Bill Would Allow Texas Teachers to Use Deadly Force Against Students.”  You read that right.  It’s not a misprint.  A bill was recently introduced in the Texas (!) legislature that would authorize teachers to use deadly force to protect themselves, school personnel, students or property.  In addition, it states that those resorting to deadly force would be immune from prosecution.  You need to read this one to believe it’s really true!
 
Paul Karrer, a veteran elementary school teacher in California, was incensed recently by an op-ed by nationally syndicated columnist David Brooks titled “Union Future.”  What most drew Karrer’s wrath was this comment by Brooks: “Teachers’ unions have become the single biggest impediment to school reform.”  Karrer goes on to explain in a story in The Californian why the suggested “reforms” of public education are short sighted and how privatization, charters, NCLB, testing and accountability are not the answer.  “So friend David Brooks,” he concludes, “I invite you to spend a few hours with me at my poorest of the poor schools.  Run a lap with my fifth-graders and me in the morning, see what it’s like in the mucky trenches of gang-infested poverty.  Then just sit and watch, no principal, no superintendent present, observe 30 fifth-graders and their old teacher.  We’ll talk, later, about the subtractive brutality and injustices of ed reform.  Your words carry great weight.  Please be careful how you use them.”
 
The United Opt Out “Standing Up For Action” National conference was held last month in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.  A group of highly motivated, parents, educators, union leaders and activists got together to discuss strategies for promoting the movement to get more and more people to exercise their right to opt-out of taking state mandated tests.  EDUCATION WEEK has an extended review of the conference that includes several short videos (ranging from 20 seconds to 1:41 minutes) from people talking about the harms of standardized tests and why they are taking a pass on the assessments.  “The convening offered a small window on an anti-testing movement that is heating up at both the grassroots and national levels,” it explained.  As Congress works to update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act—better known in its current version as No Child Left Behind—many lawmakers have expressed interest in cutting back the number of tests required by the law.”  [Ed. note:  ALOED’s own Larry Lawrence attended the conference.  The next time you see him, ask him to share his experiences.]               In fact, thanks to Larry for sending along this item from the EDUCATIONALCHEMY blog titled “Why Is This So Hard?” about the growing movement against high stakes testing and the corporate “reform” agenda.  “Why is this so hard?” the author asks rhetorically.   “It’s hard because our political, schooling and media institutions continue to attack parents and educators who have the courage to defend children from harm.  Parents refusing these harmful policies are painted as ‘disgruntled White soccer mommies’ while resistance from and within communities of color get ignored. Teachers refusing to comply with harmful policies are ‘agitators’ and ‘out of compliance.’ Our collective obsession that standardized tests are anything but junk science goes unchallenged by the media despite real research that has resoundly disproved it’s so called merits.”               In the same vein, a poll of 1,000 people in New Jersey, including 400 parents, found large majorities to have very negative reactions to standardized testing in the Garden State.  A short article, also in ED WEEK featured the survey.  “Echoing a common refrain from parents nationwide,” it reported, “the poll found that most parents (71 percent) believe that too much emphasis is placed on standardized tests. It also found 77 percent of parents polled are concerned that testing ‘takes time and money from other educational priorities.'”               Several teachers offered “Professional Statements of Conscience” in opposition to standardized testing before the Renton, Washington, School District Board of Education last week.  They can be found, along with other posts on the topic on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  “When I imagine myself administering the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBA),” one teacher wrote, “I picture my students struggling and failing. And not because they are academically weak – but because test designers have created a test meant to yield this failure. This failure will undo the confidence I have strived to build in them.”  She proceeds to list a number of things she “objects to” in conjunction with NCLB and the testing regimen.  Links to the other statements, which are just as powerful, and related items can be found at the bottom of the piece.               A review of the entire proceedings, from one of the teachers involved, including several videos of the statements, can be found on the same website by clicking here.
Did Chicago’s strategy of closing large numbers of under-performing schools prove to be beneficial?  Not exactly, according to the Mike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog.  He briefly looked at a report from the University of Chicago that analyzed the closures and that elicited some different interpretations.
Here’s another “charter school scandal of the day:”  It seems that charters in Ohio are funded by the number of students they report as enrolled.  SOOOO, if you want to receive more money from the state simply report phantom students who are not really enrolled.  Voila, simple!  Only problem is, that type of behavior is ILLEGAL.  That doesn’t keep some charters in the Buckeye State from engaging in just such fraud. The Columbus Dispatch features a report from the State Auditor on some “unusually high” headcounts at a number of charter schools in Ohio.  The whole thing sounds like a good pretty good deal if you don’t get caught.  “The report raises questions,” the story explains, “about whether the schools receive more tax money than they are entitled because the state relies on student enrollment — reported by the schools — to calculate aid. The privately operated, publicly funded schools get nearly $6,000 per student each year.”
 
A previous edition of the “Ed News” described a new organization called “Deans for Impact” that hopes to reform teacher prep programs through greater use of data and the possible use of value-added models.  A couple of bloggers were quickly skeptical of the group’s goals and intentions.  Paul L. Thomas of Furman University, writing on his THE BECOMING RADICAL blog raised some important issues about accountability which you can read by clicking here.                Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 looks into the backround of the founder of the group Benjamin Riley including his undisclosed connection to a “’nonprofit’ that specializes in privatizing public education.”  [Ed. note: N.B. the link to the group and former Oxy president Ted Mitchell.]  Schneider goes on to detail where much of the Deans for Impact funding comes from which should raise some serious alarms about what its true motives and objectives are.
 
Are charter schools more popular than their public school counterparts solely because they do a better job at public relations and highlighting certain talking points?  That’s the gist of a new study by researchers from the University of Michigan and the University of Rochester who reported that “the language used by pro-charter school advocates is more effective in advancing their cause than the language used by groups who discourage support of these schools.”  The survey was featured in a story in the Huffington Post.
 
What if they gave a candidates debate and two of the three invitees failed to show?  That’s what happened at an District 5 LAUSD school board forum on Wednesday evening.  The election will take place on March 3.  Steve Lopez, writing in the L.A. Times, was rather incensed by what went down at the gathering in Northeast L.A.  He explains who was there and who was not and tries to make some sense of the whole thing.  He offers some interesting reactions from several of the disappointed community members who were in the audience in anticipation of a healthy discussion of the issues.                 In a follow-up column Lopez wrote a day later for the same publication he describes the nasty turn the campaign has taken as some of the candidates level some pretty negative charges against each other.  He quotes from some campaign items that he says should end up in a landfill  as they are not even worthy of being placed in the recycling bin.  He’s so disgusted by the whole business that he titles this piece “L.A. School Board Election Politics Equal Gutter Politics.”               An editorial in Sunday’s Times blasted Bennet Kayser, the incumbent in the school board race who happens to be closely aligned with UTLA, and one of his other challengers for failing to attend the debate (see above).  
 
Several school districts in California are balking at the projected high cost of administering Common Core-aligned assessments this year and are asking the state to pick up the tab.  They are predicting that the total cost of the tests including hardware, software, bandwidth and other infrastructure, training and ancillary materials could easily top $1 billion!  The ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER describes the situation and some possible remedies. 
 
The Friday edition of the “Ed News” reported on the takeover of the Little Rock School District by the State of Arkansas.  No sooner did the news become public than the vultures began to descend in the form of the Walton Family and the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundations in conjunction with the Boston Consulting Group.  The latter is a well-known advocate for the privatization of public schools and the two foundations are deep pocketed organizations that support charters.  The ARKANSAS TIMES continues its reporting on this rapidly developing story.  “An open question about the push to take over the Little Rock district,” it maintains, “was whether the corporate supporters of the plan were pushing a hidden Walton-financed agenda to privatize the schools.  Such an experiment is underway in New Orleans, with, at best, mixed results.”               Never heard of the Boston Consulting Group?  Not sure how they relate to education?  You’re not alone in answer to question #1 and be VERY worried in response to the second question.  Peter Greene does his due diligence, as always, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog to dig out the back story of who BCG is and what are they up to.  “Read up on BCG and you find they have mainly three big claims to fame,” he notes, “and all of them are deeply bad news for public education. . . .  Bottom line? Say a little prayer for the formerly public schools of Little Rock, because BCG is in town and they’re sharpening their axe.”                Students in Little Rock must have read Greene’s piece (see above) as they quickly formed the Little Rock School District Student Association to protest the takeover of their schools.  They promptly issued a statement about the action that was published on the Fred Klonsky blog.  “The students founding the new association feel that their collective voices have gone unheard by the Arkansas State Department of Education,” it states.  Over the past several weeks, these students spoke out at LRSD Board of Directors meetings, community forums, and a special meeting of the State Board of Education to plead for the continuation of the LRSD Board of Directors. The LRSDSA believes that those in charge of a school district must possess an intimate knowledge of the communities surrounding struggling schools and be willing to recognize student voices as equal to those of administrators and teachers. This intimate connection is easily lost in bureaucracy, as demonstrated by the decision of five members of State Board of Education to vote for a State takeover, thereby disregarding the voices of students who spoke out and implored the members of the Arkansas State Board of Education to allow students from each high school to work with the LRSD Board of Directors, community members, teachers, and administrators to to improve education across the district.”
Put this one in the “a case of unintended consequences” file:  In a couple of months the state of California will roll-out its Common Core-aligned assessments that must be taken on a desktop, laptop or tablet.  No more pen and paper administrations.  One problem: more and more schools and districts are discovering they have lots of students who lack the necessary keyboard skills to properly take the tests.  A big push is on to teach those skills but if students lack the proper technical knowledge and ability it could impact their scores.  A piece in Saturday’s L.A. Times uses students in La Canada as a case study.
 
A possible U.S. Supreme Court case could have major implications for teachers and other public employee unions.  Here’s how a story in Sunday’s L.A. Times introduced the litigation:“Seeing an opening to weaken public-sector unions, a conservative group is asking the Supreme Court to strike down laws in California, Illinois and about 20 other states that require teachers and other government employees to pay union fees, even if they are personally opposed. . . . [The] case could pose a major threat to public-sector unions,” it continues, “whose clout grew in the 1970s after the high court upheld laws requiring all employees who benefit from collective bargaining to contribute to the union.  Although teachers and other public workers may refuse to pay dues used to support a union’s political activities, they can still be forced to pay a so-called ‘fair share’ fee that covers operation costs.”
 
Gary Rubinstein (a member of the 1991 Teach for America cohort), on his Gary Rubinstein’s Blog, has written a series of 13 open letters to various education reformers he knew over the past 3 years.  Now he’s started a new series of notes to reformers he doesn’t know.  The first one went to former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein.  His latest effort was directed to Bill Gates.  He writes, by way of introduction: “Will I be able to use my analytic skills and my wit to win over the richest person in the world and convince him to redirect his ed ‘reform’ monster thus saving public education in this nation?  You never know until you try …”  Check out his letter and see if you think will succeed. 
 
The California Dept. of Education is telling charters in the state that they cannot require parents to volunteer their time because it would be illegal.  EDUCATION WEEK has the story.  “The department’s advisory,” it points out, “is a reaction to a report released in November that found many California charter schools had parent work quotas.  Specifically, 30 percent of 500 schools analyzed by the nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization Public Advocates required parents to do service work for the school or face penalties.”
 
George Skelton, in his “Capitol Journal” column in yesterday’s L.A. Times, responded to to a previous item he’d written (highlighted in the “Ed News”) about Gov. Brown not abandoning funding for schools through his support for bond issues.  Skelton reports that many of his readers blame the LAUSD and its misadventures with the Belmont Learning Center, the iPads-for-all program and other fiascoes as the reasons why they refuse to vote for any new bonds to pay for education needs.  He titles this latest piece “Don’t Punish Other Districts for L.A. Unified’s Problems.”
 
Raising the education achievement gap would have all kinds of positive ramifications.  Did you ever think one of them might lead to a boost in the U.S. economy?  A group of economists at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, a non-partisan think-tank, drew that conclusion in a new study.  An article in The New York Times features the research along with a link to the full report (58 pages) titled “The Economic and Fiscal Consequences of Improving U.S. Educational Outcomes”  which you can also find by clicking here.   You can view a one page “Fast Facts” graphic if you don’t wish to read the entire report.
 
“Do U.S. Teachers Really Teach More Hours?”  The answer is still “yes” but not by as much as was previously believed according to a new study featured in EDUCATION WEEK.  The report was produced by the Center for Benefit-Cost Studies of Education out of Columbia University.  Previous surveys had found American teachers spending anywhere from 50% to 73% more time in front of their classrooms than the average around the world.  “That striking statistic,” the article maintains, “has become common wisdom as part of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development’s regular Education at a Glance reports, but a new study suggests it’s significantly overblown.”  The latest research shows that U.S. educators spend from 11% to 14% more time on instruction than their peers in other nations.
You may have been following the measles outbreak that originated with some visitors to Disneyland in December.  How does it relate to schools?  California law requires enrolling kindergartners to be protected against 9 different diseases including measles.  An “Explainer” column in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes some of the legal requirements and why schools fail to follow up on them.  
 
Pres. Obama formally unveiled his fiscal year 2016 budget on Monday.  It included a 5.4% increase in discretionary spending for the Department of Education over the previous year’s outlays.  EDUCATION WEEK takes a look at the administration’s specific proposals in the area of education including early childhood ed., teacher quality, technology and boosts for schools at the high school level among other initiatives. 
 
It seems like everyone else is doing it, so why not the schools?  What are we referring to?  Selling naming rights to donors.  It seems like a pretty innocuous activity and an easy way to raise money but, like a lot of things related to education, it’s not without its critics.  The Beverly Hills Unified School District is featured in a story in today’s L.A. Times which describes that “a gift of $2,500 will get your name on a seat in the theater. For $50,000, the teachers lounge can be named after you.  And, for $10 million, a campus street can bear your name.”  Criticisms revolve around things like funding equity and possible unfair advertising advantages among others, according to the article.
 
Bellwhether Education Partners, an education consulting group, has put out a new report on Teach for America that’s highlighted in a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  “Teach For America is struggling.” the article begins, “with the fallout of recent growing pains—including recruitment challenges apparently partly caused by a barrage of negative press it wasn’t truly prepared for.”  The piece reviews some of the bumps in the road TFA has experienced over the past decade or so.  The full report (97 pages) is titled “Exponential Growth, Unexpected Challenges–How Teach for America Grew in Scale and Impact.”
 
To the so-called education “reformers” the public schools are “in crisis” and they use this meme to push their agenda of privatization and choice.  The author of this commentary in the Charlotte Observer is a high school English teacher in South Carolina.  She believes that the schools are not failing but our policymakers are.  She sites one study that show students from the wealthiest households are actually doing very well compared to the rest of the world and a second one that reports our society faces some very daunting problems related to poverty,  social stress, and economic inequality.  “If policy makers were to listen to educators – and to students and parents – they would hear that the real crisis in public education is the loss of our collective commitment to the common good,” she concludes.  “If we continue to make the kinds of choices that steer resources away from our neediest students, the false narrative of failing public schools will become a sad reality.”
 
Could the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (known in its most recent iteration as NCLB) steer clear of mandating teacher evaluations?  That’s one of the predictions as the legislation continues its trip through the U.S. Congress.  EDUCATION WEEK notes that both parties, for different reasons, would prefer to remove the requirement.  “Teacher evaluations,” it points out, “are one of the many education policy issues that cross party lines. In this case, Republicans want to steer clear of anything that smacks of federal control. Democrats, who have historically represented the concerns of teachers’ unions, are wary of the increasing impact of student test scores on evaluations and how those evaluations are used in new compensation systems.”  When both political parties agree on something (a rarity these days) it usual means it can get done.
 
Ellie Herman, a former writer/producer for some well-known hit television shows, decided to change careers a while back and become a teacher.  She did that for a couple of years and then decided to take some time off to find out “What  Makes a Great Teacher.”  That’s the title of her piece, printed on Valerie Stauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post.   “How do we nurture and encourage the qualities teachers need,” Herman asks, “in order to use all these techniques in the first place, the faith, the compassion, the patience, the passion for a subject?  Can we start by valuing those qualities—by which I do not mean putting a dollar value on them?  Can we acknowledge and respect the individual lives and experiences that teachers are bringing to the classroom every day, without which none of what they’re teaching would be of any use to anyone?  Can we balance our need for accountability with our equal need for inspiration?”
 
Isn’t it interesting that our society stresses individuality and “individualized learning” is a key concept in our schools yet we give the same standardized tests to every student.  That dichotomy is analyzed in this item from the Badass Teachers Association.  It’s titled “One-Size-Fits-All Testing” and looks at how we too often try to fit round pegs into square holes.  “What are the skill sets,” the author wants to know, “that we as a society see as necessary for the future success of our children? What kind of future do we want to be shaping? Do we want well-rounded children who grow up with exposure to the arts, culture, and music? Or do we want over-tested, over-stressed children who see only the importance of achieving academic growth? Are we looking to provide our children with the skills that are necessary to instill a sense of morals, coping skills, and human compassion? Or do we continue to narrow down the focus of academics to what can be measured on a standardized test, and use that as a predictor for future success?”
 
Recent ALOED book club author Alfie Kohn has a piece reprinted in Valerie Strauss’  column for The Washington Post that suggests that certain education terms have been co-opted by the so-called “reform” movement.  “A number of labels that originally signified progressive ideas,” Kohn writes, “continue to be (mis)appropriated, their radical potential drained away, with the result that they’re now invoked by supporters of  ‘bunch o’ facts’ teaching or a corporate-styled, standards-and-testing model of school reform.”  He offers, by way of example, words like “developmental,” “differentiated” and “formative assessment.”
And finally, it’s getting close to Valentine’s Day and if you’re feeling a little burned out by your profession maybe it’s time to “Fall Back in Love With Teaching.”  That’s the title of a piece from EDUCATION WEEK that offers 4 concrete suggestions for getting your groove back.  It’s written by a National Board-certified teacher from North Carolina.  If the topic doesn’t 
apply to you maybe you could pass it on to someone who needs it.  Consider it an act of love.
 

     
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)