Ed News, Tuesday, May 19, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

[Ed. note: The “Ed News” will be taking a short break for the Memorial Day holiday.  Look for the next issue on Friday, May 29.]
Monday, May 25, is the Memorial Day holiday.
Happy holiday.
Image result for memorial day 2015
“The working class had imposed upon them a sterile and authoritarian
educational system which mirrored the ethos of the corporate workplace.”
Anthony M. Platt
 
Boycott Walmart?
A reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog has suggested a national boycott of school supplies at Walmart stores.  Why?  Because the Walton Family Foundation is one of the prime funders of charters, vouchers, Teach for America and think tanks that support the corporate takeover of the public school system.  If that’s what they believe than why should people who support public education spend money in their stores?  
Charter Schools
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association has filed a “right to know” action against charters in that state in order to gain some transparency and, hopefully, some accountability as to how charters are spending taxpayer money.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provides the details.  The requested items,” it notes, “include advertising costs, contracts with private management companies, advanced academic courses offered, salary and compensation information for all 180 brick and mortar and cyber charter schools in the state.  The Right-to-Know requests also ask for documents related to leases and real estate and donation information from foundations or educational improvement organizations.”
 
Should Calif. Districts Be Allowed to Increase the Money They Can Save for a Rainy Day?
Proposition 2, passed by state voters in November, allowed school districts to put aside money into a rainy day fund.  It capped how much they could stash in that account.  A bill introduced in the state Assembly (AB 1048) would repeal that cap.  An editorial in Friday’s L.A. Times urges the legislature to pass the bill.  The LAUSD has not taken a position on the proposal which irks the paper’s editorial board.
 
Impact of Corporate “Reform”
Daniel Katz, on his Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog, reviews the almost 15 years of corporate “reform” and asks “What have we gained?”  His answer: “Not much” and, in fact, we may have gotten it all wrong.  “A dominant narrative of the past decade and a half of education reform,” he suggests, “has been to highlight alleged persistent failures of our education system.  While this tale began long ago with the Reagan Administration report A Nation at Risk, it has been put into overdrive in the era of test based accountability that began with the No Child Left Behind Act.”               A member of the Milwaukee school board, on his Larry Miller’s Blog: Educate All Students, reports on an attempt by two Republican state legislators to finally kill off the Milwaukee Public Schools.  “ It’s out there now, the Republican plan to start peeling off Milwaukee Public Schools and handing them over to private operators.  And it’s awful,” Miller wails.  “Sponsored by suburban Republicans Rep. Dale Kooyega and Sen. Alberta Darling, it is full of bad ideas and presents a possible future for MPS that is bleaker than you can possibly imagine.”               Steve Nelson, head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, begins his commentary in the HUFF POST EDUCATION blog with a simple statement: “Measure the wrong things and you’ll get the wrong behaviors.”  He goes on to lament the fact that most standardized tests measure the wrong things and thus yield ” wrong behaviors.”  Why do we continue to administer more and more high-stakes assessments?  It makes LOTS of money for certain groups of people.  Nelson is particularly concerned with a focus on standards and tests and the collection of data in the primary grades.  “These behaviors (pressing academic work on young children) are a direct result of measuring the wrong thing (test scores),” he continues.  “If we measured the right things (social development, curiosity, empathy, imagination and confidence), we would engage in a whole different set of education behaviors (play, socialization, arts programs, open-ended discovery).”
The Teaching Profession
There’s a new documentary film out called “Hear Our Teachers” which asks the question why do people listen to corporate “reformers” or politicians when it comes to issues of education rather than the people who are in classrooms every day, our teachers.  You can find the official website for the movie by clicking here and/or view the trailer (2 minutes) on vimeo.               Should teaching licenses earned in one state be valid in other states?  An interesting court case in Minnesota is grappling with that issue.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK handles the details.   “Ten teachers. . . . sued the Minnesota Board of Teaching last month, alleging the board has given cryptic, even contradictory guidance to would-be teachers from out of state, and that it has ignored legislative mandates to smooth the process for earning a teaching license in the state,” it explains.  “In all, the lawsuit claims, those barriers are preventing well-qualified candidates of color and those with experience teaching special populations from working in Minnesota, despite an apparent need for such educators.”              What should a teacher do when they’ve covered all the material in their subject area by the time standardized tests are administered and there is still 4 to 6 weeks left in the school year?  Do not panic or despair.  A third-year high school U.S. History teacher in Kentucky has come up with a project-based assessment idea to fill the time and guess what?  He found it to be a most valuable learning experience for both students and teacher.  He explains in detail how to pull the whole thing off in an item in EDUCATION WEEK.  “In the end, I learned more than my students,” he concludes.  “When you give students room to learn and build, they create great things.  I realized that planning for an entire year of project-based learning can be very challenging, especially with an end-of-course exam that focuses on content as the ultimate goal.  But implementing elements of self-driven topic selection and product creation in different lessons was very rewarding for my students—and their teacher.”
Boost in Education Funds in California Hailed
Gov. Brown’s proposed budget, released Thursday and highlighted in the Friday edition of the “Ed News,” included a substantial boost in education spending.  Education leaders up and down the Golden State were well pleased with the increases.  A story posted on the L.A. Times website on Friday morning surveyed some of the responses from various superintendents and board members.  “The budget largesse will boost per-pupil spending by $3,000 next year over 2011-12, a 45% increase,” the piece notes.  “It will also provide more money for training in new state academic standards, adult and career technical education and support for students who are low income, in foster care, challenged by limited English or special needs.”
 
Impact of Transient Students
Collecting data and administering standardized tests are big aims of the corporate “reformers.”  One fly in the ointment is the situation faced by some school districts that deal with a high number of transient students who check in and out of schools on a regular basis and don’t get the benefit of steady, consistent instruction. Steven Singer, on his gadflyonthewallblog, is a veteran English teacher in Pennsylvania who deals with a large number of just such students in his class on a day-to-day basis.  He describes the situation in his piece he titles “Data Abuse–When Transient Kids Fall Through the Cracks of Crunched Numbers.”  “Many of my students are transients,” Singer explains.  “An alarming number of my kids haven’t been in my class the entire year.  They either transferred in from another school, transferred out, or moved into my class from another one.  A few had moved from my academic level course to the honors level Language Arts class.  Many more had transferred in from special education courses.  In total, these students make up 44% of my roster.”
Student Data and Privacy Concerns
Concerns regarding the protection of student privacy have come to the fore as more and more personal information is being collected about students and adults.  The author of this piece for EDUCATION WEEK is the U.S. chief technology officer of Microsoft Education and he offers “Five Principles for Securing Student-Data Privacy.”   “From student-identity theft to the sale of student information for corporate gain,” he begins, “there is no shortage of news about challenges associated with the growing presence of technology in our nation’s schools and classrooms.  And while these challenges affect organizations across all industries and social sectors, constrained financial resources make school systems particularly vulnerable.” [Ed. note: I wonder if the fact he now works for Microsoft makes his commentary somewhat suspect?  I’ll leave that answer up to my readers.]
LAUSD School Board Elections
How important have school board elections become to certain political interest groups?  If one looks at the huge amounts of money being spend on the races, the only answer to the question is “VERY important.”  NPR station 89.3KPCC has an analysis of the dollars being committed to 3 LAUSD board campaigns being contested in a city election today and why the groups have become interested in them.  The stakes in this year’s election are especially high because the new board will select the district’s next superintendent,” it mentions.  “His or her leadership of the country’s second largest school district will be closely watched both statewide and nationally.  Donors looking to influence education policy may be migrating from national to local elections where their dollars can have a greater impact, said Raphael Sonenshein, director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. ”  Be sure to view the brief video (59 seconds) that explains the impact of PAC money on local school board races.
Testing
As more and more states and districts are transitioning from taking standardized tests with paper and pencil to taking them on computers more and more teachers are discovering that some of their students lack the tech skills to properly demonstrate the knowledge they’ve gained.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK explores this relatively new phenomenon.  To close that skills gap,” it explains, “schools are increasingly making time in their days for old-fashioned typing instruction—translated to a computer keyboard—and other skills such as scrolling, mouse-clicking, and dragging-and-dropping.  But spending time on those computer skills has ignited a debate: Is it just another form of ‘test prep’ that siphons away precious classroom time, or is it a wise investment in the digital fluency students need to thrive in all aspects of their lives?”               THE TEXAS TRIBUNE is reporting that Pearson has lost most of its contract to provide testing materials in the Lone Star state.  The company has been providing assessments and support materials to Texas since the 1980s but education officials are in negotiations with ETS, Educational Testing Service, for the $340 million contract.  “As the Legislature moved to reduce the state’s standardized testing program in response to widespread outcry from parents and school leaders in 2013,” the piece mentions, “the state’s contract with Pearson became the focus of much criticism.”               EDUCATION WEEK reported on a similar situation in California where that state announced a $240 million deal earlier this month with ETS to provide testing materials.  The company was selected over rival bids from McGraw-Hill Education CTB and Pearson.  The latter promptly complained that the bidding process was flawed.  “ ETS has the current contract to oversee testing in California,” the article notes.  “But winning the new deal for statewide testing linked to the common-core standards marks a significant victory for the Lawrenceville, N.J.-based vendor, which is a well-established player in the assessment world.  The overall market for summative assessments has been valued at about $1.2 billion a year, and the California deal, worth about $80 million per year, would represent a major chunk of that.”
Superintendent Needed
With the departure of Supt. John Deasy last year the LAUSD is in need of a new chief.  One of the reasons the 3 school board races being decided today are so crucial is that the next board will make the selection.  With that in mind, Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, has a piece titled “How Not to Choose a Schools Superintendent.”  It doesn’t focus on the LAUSD but describes how the Montgomery County, Maryland, Schools went about selecting a leader.  Members of the LAUSD school board may want to pay attention since the situations in the two districts are eerily similar including a divided board and an interim superintendent.  
An Interesting (Strange?) Court Case
“Can You Steal an Education?” is the title of an intriguing story from THE HECHINGER REPORT about a mother and father who are being charged with theft of services for providing an education to their 8-year old daughter that she was not entitled to.  If you are a bit confused, join the club.  The article does an excellent job of laying out the facts and clearing up the issues.  “The case is one of a handful in recent years,” it notes, “in which families living in districts with failing schools have been accused of ‘stealing an education’ [by enrolling their children in wealthy districts].  Some have been heavily fined for lying about where they live on official district documents.  Others have been criminally charged and, in some cases, jailed. ”  Should this type of action be a crime?  You be the judge.
Students Sue Compton Unified
5 students and 3 teachers filed a class-action lawsuit yesterday charging the Compton Unified School District with failing to provide them with the proper health services to deal with the trauma and violence they deal with on a ongoing basis.  Because of this the district has not fulfilled its obligation to provide the pupils with an appropriate education.  A story in today’s L.A. Times has the complicated details of the case.  “The lawsuit will test whether ‘complex trauma’ qualifies as a disability under federal law,” it explains, “which would require school districts to offer special academic and mental health services.  If successful, it could vastly expand support for scores of struggling students, especially in low-income, high-crime minority neighborhoods.”
It’s Graduation Season
And finally, as May winds down and June approaches, it’s that time of year again–graduation season.  Valerie Strauss turns her column in The Washington Post over to a seasoned educator in Phoenix who asked her high school seniors to reflect on what they’ve learned over the past 13 years of formal schooling and what are their fears for the future.  The responses she shares are both funny and insightful.  The nation’s future seems to be in good hands.               And then there’s this: Stephen Colbert, the much-missed host of the “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central delivered the commencement address at Wake Forest University yesterday.  If you are a fan of Colbert, who will be taking over for David Letterman later this year, you know he’s VERY funny and his humor can be quite topical and cutting.  Valerie Strauss does everybody a favor by reprinting his speech on her blog.  Enjoy it along with the item above. 
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Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the “Ed News.”

Ed News, Friday, May 15, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

 Voting reminder: The L.A. City General Election will take place on Tuesday, May 19.  Polls will be open for those of you with races to decide from 7 am to 8 pm.  Be sure to vote if you are registered.
I find television very educational.  Every time someone switches it on,
I go into another room and read a good book.
–Groucho Marx
LAUSD News
An editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times took the school board to task for creating unrealistic graduation guidelines that would require all students to meet the A-G admission requirements for UC/CSU.  A story in the paper last week indicated that up to 75% of this year’s sophomores were unlikely to graduate because of the stringent requirements.  “The board obviously must heed Supt. Ramon C. Cortines and back away from the policy,” it suggests.  “In fact, it should drop the A-G requirement altogether and find more effective ways to prepare larger numbers of students for college.”            The L.A. municipal election is this Tuesday and there are 3 LAUSD school board seats on the ballot.  Interestingly, the “iPad-for-all” fiasco is a major issue being used against the 3 incumbents in the race.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times reviews all 3 campaigns including the one for District 5 which encompasses the area around Occidental College.  It pits incumbent Bennett Kayser, who is backed by UTLA, against challenger Ref Rodriguez, a charter school co-founder and strong advocate for charters.  Seats are also being contested in District 3 which includes the west San Fernando Valley and District 7 in south L.A. and the Harbor area.  George McKenna who represents District 1 faced no opposition in the primary and was automatically re-elected.               In other district news, the same paper reports that Supt. Ramon Cortines had his contracted extended by the board through June, 2016.  “The superintendent, who is 82, was brought in last October when then-Supt. John Deasy resigned under pressure,” it notes. “At the time, Cortines, who came out of retirement, was widely viewed as an interim choice to keep the L.A. Unified School District from being leaderless during a crisis.  He accepted a contract that would have expired at the end of June;  he also specified that the word ‘interim’ would not be part of his title.  He did not want anyone in doubt about who was in charge while he was there.”                If you don’t think who is elected to school board seats is important than you need to fathom the amounts of money being spent on 3 races in the LAUSD.  An item in today’s L.A. Times will try to put it in perspective for you.  “Total spending in the battle for three spots on the Los Angeles Board of Education has increased sharply since the March primary,” it begins, “reaching nearly $4.6 million, as interest groups vie to influence the nation’s second-largest school system.  The top spender is a group supporting charter schools, which has poured in more than $2 million. Next are committees controlled by the teachers union and its allies, which have spent more than $1 million. These groups are backing opposing candidates in two races, but have settled on the same candidate in a third.”
 
Opt-Out
Peggy Robertson, aka Peg With Pen and a co-founder of group United Opt Out, has joined the growing chorus who point out the opt-out movement is NOT the work of the teachers unions but is truly a grassroots phenomenon.  She forcefully makes that point in her commentary.  “The public schools are not to blame for society’s ills nor can the public schools fix society’s ills on their own. We must demand social policies to end childhood poverty,” she thunders, “and to create equitable funding for our public schools.  We know what needs to be done.  Let’s do it.”
Common Core & Testing
Wendy Lecker, columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and senior attorney at the Education Law Center, has a commentary in the Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate opposing the Common Core State Standards claiming “many of the standards are bad for education and demand developmentally inappropriate educational practices in schools.”  She proceeds to review some of the latest research that supports her position.               What if you could accurately predict how many students would score proficient or above on state standardized tests WITHOUT GIVING THE TESTS?  Christopher Tienken, an associate professor of Education Administration at Seton Hall University, and colleagues have done just that using socio-economic data from the U.S. census like percentage of single-family households and parents with high school diplomas.  Tienken reviews his research on his Chris Tienken blog.  It’s quite intriguing.  “Colleagues and I predicted the percentages of students scoring proficient or above for grades 6,7,8 during the 2009-2012 school years as well,” he writes.  “For example, we predicted accurately for approximately 70% of the districts on the 2009 NJ mathematics and language arts tests.  Recently, another colleague and I predicted the grade 8 NJ mathematics and language percentages proficient or above for over 85% of the almost 400 districts in our 2012 sample. . . . The findings from these and other studies,” Tienken concludes, “raise some serious questions about using results from state standardized tests to rank schools or compare them to other schools in terms of standardized test performance.”  If you have some extra time, Tienken includes two videos with some excellent information for you or your friends and family.  The first one (3:28) is titled “Standardized Testing is Not Teaching” and the second one (13:30) is titled “The Assessment Landscape.”                Peter Greene was so enthralled by Tienken’s article that he wrote one titled “Good News! We Can Cancel the Tests Now!” on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  “Using data that has nothing to do with grades, teaching techniques, pedagogical approaches, teacher training, textbook series, administrative style, curriculum evaluation— in short, data that has nothing to do with what goes on inside the school building– Tienken,” Greene rhapsodizes, “has been able to predict the proficiency rate for a school.”
Student Privacy & Learning
Student privacy has become a big point of concern recently as education-related businesses attempt to data mine information from pupils they come in contact with for a number of possibly nefarious purposes.  Why are companies so interested in collecting this material?  Take a wild guess!  THERE’S BIG MONEY TO BE MADE!  Rachel Strickland and Leonie Haimson are co-chairs of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and they’ve written a column on this topic for The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette.  In this age of ubiquitous digital technology reams of material are collected on individual students every day.  The authors recount a number of them.  “Ostensibly, schools want real-time access to this data,” they write, “to offer students ‘personalized’ learning, government agencies want the data to evaluate programs or teachers, and companies want it for product development and to market their wares directly to students.  In most cases, there are few, if any, legal restrictions on how this highly sensitive data are used and disclosed to other third parties.”               Great strides have been made in the use of digital learning.  EDUCATION WEEK has a piece on the latest state-of-the-art products and techniques for promoting hands-on student learning.  It reviews 4 different new uses of ed tech as presented at the April 16-20 conference of the American Educational Research Association.                Here’s an important topic that often gets short shrift: gifted education.  The author of this item in EDUCATION WEEK has a recently published book and is an advocate for gifted students and a former public school teacher.  The title of her commentary is “Gifted Education is About the Whole Child.”  “Giftedness is so much more than an educational designation administered by a school system,” she points out.  “It is brain-wiring from birth, an inborn trait that has strong emotional and social facets, not just educational behaviors.  Giftedness is a degree of brain functioning one is born with, and a gifted person’s above-average intellectual ability is only a part of his or her life.”
Bill Gates
Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, whose latest book The Educator and the Oligarch is about Bill Gates, takes time out from his busy schedule to dissect a recent interview about education with Gates, Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger on CNBC.  Cody believes that, after all these years, Gates still appears clueless when it comes to many of his pronouncements.  “The latest interview with Bill Gates on CNBC,” he bemoans, “has the world’s richest man discussing education with little evidence that he has learned much over the past six years.  Is he paying attention?  In a bubble?  What the heck is going on?”  Cody includes a link to a segment (7:34 minutes) of the CNBC interview.
Charters
Mike Klonsky, on his Small Talk Blog, says straight away that he’s not anti-charter.  But I am against what they’ve become and the way charter schools have been taken over by networks of politically-connected corporate privateers. They have co-opted the language of the small-schools movement, i.e., ‘choice’ and ‘autonomy’,” he continues, “in order to further debase teachers, erode public space and public decision making, to bust teacher unions, and to reap profits from urban gentrification.”  Klonsky offers the example of a Florida chain called Mavericks to demonstrate what he doesn’t like about charters in general.               Ask yourself if this scenario is fair: Several charter schools in Arizona are actually making a profit while the local public schools struggle with ongoing budget cuts.  CBS5, the local network affiliate in Phoenix, has a report on just such a situation.  It includes a story and a short video segment (4:59 minutes) about the station’s investigation. 
The Teaching Profession
Michael Hiltzik’s column in the “Business” section of Sunday’s L.A. Times raises the issue of a recent lawsuit, Bain vs. California Teachers Association, filed by several California instructors against six teachers’ unions. The plaintiffs in the case are being supported monetarily by StudentsFirst, founded by Michelle Rhee, and the Walton Foundation.  “The lawsuit purports to defend the ‘free speech’ rights of its plaintiffs, four California schoolteachers,” Hiltzik complains.  “But its real goal is to silence the collective voice of union members on political and educational issues.  Its lesson is simple: If you don’t like the decisions your organization or community reaches through the democratic process, just refuse to pay for them.”  He goes on to explain the issues involved in the case quite clearly.               Walt Gardner, writing for EDUCATION WEEK, offers some brief comments in opposition to the lawsuit“I see the lawsuit as yet another attempt to undermine teachers’ unions,” he writes in obvious agreement with Hiltzik.  “The irony is that these four teachers, like others who agree with their view, want it both ways.  They have absolutely no problem accepting higher salaries and better teaching conditions that the union negotiated, but they don’t want to pay the full price for accepting them. If they genuinely believe in their stated opposition, they should refuse to accept the higher salaries they get.  Of course, they won’t because the real issue is not what they claim.”              A new poll from the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association surveyed perceptions about working conditions among 30,000 educators.  It’s highlighted in an article from EDUCATION WEEK.  Among the most major on-the-job stressors the surveyed teachers cited are improper professional development around new initiatives, negative media portrayals, and uncertain job expectations.”  The story includes a link to the full report (7 pages) titled “Quality of Worklife Survey.”  Another surprising finding: when asked how “enthusiastic” they were about their profession, only 53% of respondents said they “agreed strongly” or “somewhat strongly.”               A National Board-certified ESL teacher who has worked with grades K-12 offers “3 Ways to Use Testing as a Learning Tool.”  If you read her piece you’ll note she’s not referring to standardized tests.  Her suggestions can be found in a story in EDUCATION WEEK.                Two veteran teachers, Marla Kilfoyle (29 years) and Melissa Tomlinson (13 years) offer a conversation on the LA Progressive about “Why Teachers Teach.”  “Education should be an opportunity for all.  It should be about best practices that are based on research and evidence,” they conclude.  “Corporate education reform is NOT working to close the opportunity gap.  Instead we are experiencing more cuts to programs and staff that actually widen the gap.  Why are policy makers and politicians so willing to ignore the truth?”
 
Does Poverty Make a Difference in Student Learning? 
A prominent researcher in the Department of Economics at Harvard University, who has previously argued that poverty doesn’t play a role in student learning and the incomes they earn down the road, has possibly changed his tune.  John Thompson argues in the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog that Raj Chetty and two other colleagues are now writing that where a child lives is a major predictor of that child’s future economic prospects.  [Ed. note: That sounds like a turnaround to me!]  “Test-driven school reformers,” Thompson complains, “pushed the bizarre claim that it was poor ‘teacher quality,’ as opposed to the lack of jobs, segregation, and other complex, interrelated factors, that was the key to fighting extreme poverty.”
Great Budget News in California
Gov. Brown unveiled his 2015-16 budget plan yesterday and it contained some excellent news for UC students, K-12 districts and the community college system.  With revenues coming in at higher than expected levels the governor decided to funnel most of those dollars to those groups.  A prominent front-page story in today’s L.A. Times has the good news.  “The governor’s budget is seeking $6 billion more for K-12 schools and community colleges over his January budget,” it reports, “with a third of that targeted for students who are low-income, learning English or in foster care.  Brown also proposed an additional $2.4 billion to help train teachers and provide instructional materials on new state standards in English and math known as Common Core, and $60 million for students with special needs.”  The LAUSD stands to gain between $300 million and $400 million in  increased revenue based on the governor’s proposal.
Vaccination Bill Passes Calif. Senate
And finally, the California state Senate passed a controversial bill on Thursday that would end the personal-belief exemption from the vaccine mandate.  The vote was 25 to 10 with most Republicans voting no.  An article in today’s L.A. Times describes the legislation.  “The measure, which must still go through the Assembly, would eliminate parents’ ability to opt out of state immunization requirements on the basis of their personal beliefs,” it explains.  “It would excuse children from vaccinations only because of medical problems, such as a weakened immune system, if verified by a physician. . . .  More than 13,500 kindergarten students in California have waivers based on their parents’ beliefs.  The bill was amended recently to give parents flexibility to put their children in home schooling or independent study programs.”
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Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the “Ed News.”

 

 

Ed News, Tuesday, May 12, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“The purpose of education is to save young people
from the paralyzing effects of wealth and poverty.”
Kurt Hahn
LAUSD Teachers Approve Contract
Over 97% of UTLA members who voted decided to approve the three-year contract negotiated with the district.  The pact includes a 10% pay increase over two years, language regarding teacher evaluations and class size and more support personnel according to a story in Saturday’s L.A. Times.  Teachers had gone without a pay increase for eight years,” it notes, “although they continued to receive salary boosts based on years of experience and additional eligible education credits.”  Educators also ratified a separate agreement dealing with fringe benefits.  The school board is expected to approve the pact as early as next week. 
A Belated Teacher Appreciation
It’s a little late (although it was originally published in a timely fashion) but here’s another “Teacher Appreciation” from Kathleen Jeskey on her Teacher Talks Truth blog.  She’s been a teacher for 28 years.  “I just want to thank all the fantastic teachers I know out there: those I have taught with in the past, those I teach with now, those I have never taught with but who I know because we are working together to try and save public education for our children and our grandchildren,” she begins.  Be sure to check out the picture of the “union thug” she adds at the end of her commentary.  It’s priceless.
Teacher Pension Cuts Ruled Unconstitutional, At Least in Illinois
An attempt to reduce a large state pension deficit on the backs of state workers, including teachers, was declared unconstitutional by the Illinois supreme court on Friday.  The decision is described in an extended article in The State Journal-Register (Springfield).  “In late 2013, the legislature passed the pension reform bill, which applied to downstate teachers, university workers, state employees and lawmakers. There are more than 467,000 active and retired members of those systems,” it explains.  “Judges were exempt from the law. . . . The legislation raised the retirement age for younger workers, capped the salary on which a pension can be earned, limited annual increases in pension benefits, and eliminated some of the raises due retirees.”
Charter Schools
A new report from the Center for Media and Democracy finds that the federal government has provided over $3.3 billion to charter schools nationwide over the past 20 years with no oversight or accountability as to how it was spent.  The New York Daily News provides the details.  “The U.S. Department of Education doesn’t even bother to keep a public record of which charter schools get money from more than a half-dozen federal programs, said Lisa Graves, director of the Center for Media and Democracy. Her organization,” the piece notes, “had to review thousands of pages of documents obtained through Freedom of Information Law requests before it could come up with an initial tally of federal charter school spending.  This happens even as cases of fraud, waste or mismanagement by charter school operators pop up all over the country.  The Department of Education’s own inspector general has warned about the lack of accountability.”  The article makes a brief mention of an audit of 12 charter schools in California.  You can read the full report (14 pages) by clicking here.               The Jersey Jazzman has a piece about how much of the mainstream media is willing to buy into the propaganda being offered by the charter schools.  He focuses on the KIPP schools as his example and a reporter from the Newark Star-Ledger who wrote a laudatory story about their “successes” despite reams of material to the contrary.                Paul Thomas, associate professor of Education at Furman University, writing in The Progressive, takes on the same topic in a piece titled “Charter Scam Week 2015.”  He includes a bulleted list of ways the charters use public relations to sell their programs and appends a long list of articles for further reading.    “The problem for charter advocacy,” he concludes,  “is that the evidence is overwhelmingly counter to nearly every claim in favor of charter schools.”               A teacher who has worked at a charter school in Chicago for 6 years explains “Why My Charter School Needs a Union.”  His commentary appears on the EduShyster blog.  “I’m convinced that unions are an important mechanism for holding charter schools accountable,” he states.  “In recent years, a coalition of forces has successfully framed unions as being resistant to reform and being a detriment to changes that are needed in schools. . . . And while unionization won’t address all of the accountability issues in charter schools, unions can help to shine a light into the dark unknown crevices of charter school management.”                How is the concept of school “choice” working out in the almost all charter New Orleans school system?  That is the question tackled by an article in THE HECHINGER REPORT.  “Charter school supporters and advocates frequently point to the broad choices that families have when seeking a school in New Orleans,” the author suggests, “where most of the 82 public schools are charters and most accept applications from across the city.  But the concept of choice butts against the reality of supply and demand in a city where many schools rate only average or below.  Nearly 12,000 children in New Orleans chose their desired schools through the city’s mostly unified enrollment system this spring — but only half got their No. 1 choice, according to recently released results.”  She goes on to discuss other realities of picking a campus in New Orleans.
Rewrite of NCLB
Steven Singer on his gadflyonthewallblog offers his reasons for supporting the reauthorization of the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act) which is now known as the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA).”  He’s not in favor of all aspects of the proposed legislation but believes it is certainly a step in the right direction.  “Sure, it’s not perfect,” he concedes.  “But this Senate proposed rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) could do a lot of good – even if it includes some bad.”               Here’s a handy timeline of key events from mid-January to the end of April of what’s been happening in regards to the reauthorization of the ESEA.  The information is courtesy of EDUCATION WEEK.  If you haven’t been following this critical story this will help you catch up and if you have, it can serve as an excellent review.  In addition, here is a some history prior to what the timeline provides.  ESEA was first signed into law in 1965 under Pres. Lyndon Johnson.  In 2002, with bipartisan support during the Pres. George W. Bush administration, No Child Left Behind became law as a rewrite of ESEA.  NCLB was supposed to be reauthorized in 2007 but Congress has been unable to reach any sort of compromise since then.  Early this year the U.S. Senate got to work on the Alexander-Murray proposal or what is now called the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.”  The rest of the story has yet to be played out.               A commentary in ED WEEK takes a look back at the passage of the original ESEA which is marking its 50 anniversary this year.  The author, the president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc., puts it in the context of a number of civil rights accomplishments and landmarks over the past 75 years.  “Although the ESEA is not often mentioned in the context of . . . . other civil rights milestones,” she observes, “I believe that it is very much a pivotal piece of civil rights legislation: It opened doors to educational opportunities for many low-income students who had been relegated to substandard education.”
 
Testing & Common Core
The “Bald Piano Guy” who the “Ed News” introduced you to in the May 5th edition has a new piece.  In this one (1:47 minutes) he plays a Pearson “executive” who is trying to defend charges that some of the company’s test items have more than one correct answer.  Check this one out on YouTube.               Even the satirical newspaper the ONION is getting in on the controversy over standardized testing.  Herewith is their brief list of “pros” and “cons” for the high-stakes assessments.              Bill Gates, who poured hundreds of millions of dollars through his foundation in support of the writing, promotion and implementation of the Common Core didn’t stop with that initial investment.  In just the past 7 months he’s added an additional $10 million to bolster continued implementation and parent support according to figures on his foundation’s website that are cited by Valerie Strauss in her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post.  Such philanthropy has sparked a debate,” Strauss suggests, “about whether American democracy is well-served by wealthy people who pour part of their fortunes into their pet projects — regardless of whether they are grounded in research — to such a degree that public policy and funding follow.”
 
Letters
Sunday’s L.A. Times included two letters in response to the paper’s story on Wednesday (highlighted in the Friday edition of the “Ed News”) about 10th graders in the LAUSD in danger of not meeting the new, more stringent graduation requirements.
 
Turning Around Low Performing Schools Questioned
A recent report (12 pages) from the Center for American Progress (CAP) claimed to offer several suggestions for successfully turning around under performing schools.  It reviewed some of the research on the topic.  The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) issued a scathing rebuttal (16 pages) to the CAP document.  It questions their methodology, assumptions and conclusions.  “[The CAP survey] argues that the available body of research points to five dramatic actions that are necessary to bring about dramatic school improvement.  Unfortunately, the rationale for its assertions is narrow, incoherent, and misleading,” NEPC claims.  “This limitation stems from the report’s unsystematic review of literature, resulting in its failure to incorporate lessons from large bodies of research on high-stakes accountability, school improvement, and the emerging evidence on school closures and federally funded turnarounds.”
New Standards for School Leaders
On Monday the Council of Chief State School Officers rolled out a new draft of standards for school principals, superintendents and school-leaders.  The “Ed News” has highlighted sneak peaks of some earlier versions.  EDUCATION WEEK has a story about the latest document and includes a link to the full paper (25 pages) on the CCSSO website.  “The standards, known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium standards, are used as the basis for many school leader preparation programs, licensing, professional development, evaluations, and in decisions about hiring and retention. . . . The standards were last updated in 2008,” the article notes.  “And for the last 18 months or so, various committees of academics, researchers, principals, superintendents, education officials, and organizations that represents and train school leaders have been working to update the standards to reflect what principals and other school leaders need to know and demonstrate for today’s job.”
Reaction to 7% Pay Cut Offer in Chicago
Friday’s “Ed News” first reported the offer of a 7% pay cut to Chicago Public School teachers.  Michelle Gunderson is a veteran 28-year elementary educator for the CPS system.  She quickly reacted to the proposal in a piece on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  “I have always said that if you can’t stand change you shouldn’t teach for the Chicago Schools.  Yet on top of the usual chaos in our lives,” she complains, “the Chicago Public Schools are asking educators to take a 7% pay cut.  This is beyond change – it is adding insult to injury.”
TFA Wants to Work With Special Ed!!!
Teach for America has been replacing veteran teachers in all kinds of classroom situations.  Now they are proposing to take on special needs students in the Santa Ana Unified School District.  The local school board there will be taking up the issue at a meeting this evening.  Julian Vasquez Heilig on his Cloaking Inequity blog finds this to be a very alarming development.  He quotes extensively from a TFA member who worked as a grade 2-5 Special Education Resource Specialist teacher.  After reading the account of her experiences, you’d certainly not be in favor of this idea expanding.
More $$$ for Schools
After years of declining revenue due to the Great Recession the state of California all of a sudden finds itself flush with cash and because of Prop. 98 a large of chunk of that is promised to the K-12 schools and the community colleges.  The good news is explained in a story in today’s L.A. Times but it comes with a few caveats“As Gov. Jerry Brown prepares to release his updated budget proposal Thursday, the funding formula is expected to direct billions of dollars in unexpected revenue to schools and community colleges.  When a final budget is written next month,” it points out, “there could be little money left for expanding other programs, to the chagrin of lawmakers and advocacy groups who say their priorities such as child care and public healthcare for the poor are still underfunded years after the recession ended.”
The Teaching Profession
A special education teacher offers a “How-To Guide for Surviving as a Special Education Teacher” on THE EDUCATOR’S ROOM website.  [Ed. note: If you look at it carefully her advice works for any educator.]
2016 Election
And finally three more contenders have joined the rapidly growing ranks of announced candidates for president in the 2016 election.  Former Arkansas governor and previous presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee, former Hewlett-Packard CEO and unsuccessful U.S. Senate aspirant from California, Carly Fiorina and pediatric neurosurgeon and political first-timer Ben Carson have all recently thrown their hats into the ring on the Republican side.  EDUCATION WEEK has been providing a glimpse of what these hopefuls might try to accomplish should they win the office by looking at their previous education policies and pronouncements. 
 
http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://alumni.oxy.edu/s/956/images/editor/iModules%2520Tiger.jpg&imgrefurl=http://alumni.oxy.edu/s/956/index.aspx?pgid=254&h=535&w=589&tbnid=HpSKtombb69zFM:&zoom=1&docid=b__GuALUiVQjxM&hl=en&ei=eoUbVY37HJXhoASho4KgDg&tbm=isch&ved=0CCYQMygJMAk
 Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the “Ed News.”

 

 

Ed News, Friday, May 8, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“Learning is important. It is a way to make
a life better for yourself and your family.” 
  Rosie Thomas ,  Iris And Ruby
LAUSD Graduation Requirements
Back in 2005 the LAUSD approved new graduation requirements that would use the A-G subject guidelines needed for admission to the UC/CSU systems.  The first students it would impact would be the class of 2017, today’s sophomores.  A recent check by the district revealed the startling fact that as many as 3 out of 4 of those 10th graders were NOT on track to graduate with their class. Wednesday’s L.A. Times has the disturbing details.  “This [situation] has prompted some in the L.A. Unified School District, including Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, to suggest reconsidering the requirements,” it notes, “which were approved a decade ago to better prepare students for college. The plan came after years of complaints that the nation’s second-largest school system was failing to help underprivileged students become eligible for and succeed in college.  

In an interview, Cortines said the effort is laudable, but that it would be unfair to penalize students who otherwise could graduate.”
 
Common Core and Testing
The group Parents Across America (PAA) issued a statement this week in opposition to the Common Core and testing and they called for an “immediate moratorium” on the standards and the assessments.  You can read their release with the reasons why they’ve taken this position on their website.              THE HECHINGER REPORT has an interesting story titled “Stakes for ‘High-Stakes’ Tests Are Actually Pretty Low” that suggests that the importance of this year’s assessments is relatively low for students and only marginally higher for teachers.  The piece includes some maps that  demonstrate the impact of the exams this year on a state-by-state basis.  (Ed. Note: In an “update” to the story they do concede that the impact for students and teachers in the future could be much higher.]              The over emphasis on standardized testing has placed so much focus on math and English, classes like physical education are more and more being drastically reduced or eliminated.  A story from truthout examines the phenomenon and what it all means for student health and well being.  “Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001,” it notes, “44 percent of school administrators admit that they’ve cut physical education or recess to focus on test prep.”               The “Room for Debate” feature in The New York Times tackles the question “Is Testing Students the Answer to America’s Education Woes?”  Arguing in favor of the proposition is Patricia Levesque, former deputy chief of staff for education under Gov. Jeb Bush and the chief executive officer for the nonprofit Foundation for Excellence in Education.  In opposition is Kevin Welner, professor of education and director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  You can read their extensive back-and-forth arguments by clicking here.               John Oliver’s feature on standardized testing on his HBO show (see Tuesday’s “Ed News”) must have hit a nerve as it drew some prompt rebukes from the pro-testing crowd.  He got a “Dear John” letter from the Deputy Director of Policy for a group called education post and another blast from the same source written by Peter Cunningham, Executive Director of the organization.               Mitchell Robinson, on his eponymous blog, excoriates Cunningham for his criticisms of Oliver.   “Let’s be clear: there is nothing ‘reasonable’ about Mr. Cunningham’s agenda of more tests, more accountability for teachers and schools, and more charter schools,” Robinson responds.  “Its the same old reformers’ mantra, repackaged with a nicer smile, and tepid requests for civility.  But the end game is the same: punish students and teachers, use data inappropriately, and turn the public schools into private profit centers.”               Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog quickly sided with Oliver and Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, reviewed the entire kerfuffle and also supported Oliver.               Diane Ravitch’s blog has a brief item from a teacher who was hired to score Pearson’s standardized test essays.  The person notes that the scoring rubrics are set up so that most students will not pass and no student has ever achieved a top score, at lease at the 5th grade level. 
 
Charter Schools
The New York Times recently published two articles (highlighted in the “Ed News”) about the Success Academy Charter Chain in New York.  True, they achieved high test scores but their philosophy and methods were highly criticized.  The items drew a prompt response from Eva Moscowitz and others (also highlighted in the “Ed News”).  Now Russ Walsh, on his Russ on Reading  blog, checks in with a piece titled “How Do You Spell Success (Academy)?”  in which he’s created an acrostic using the letters s-u-c-c-e-s-s to represent how he feels about the chain and its claims.   “[It’s] easier to view poor children as having deficits that must be remediated, rather than as vital, complex human beings with a variety of strengths and weaknesses,” he complains, “who, like all children, are seeking to find their place in the world.  

Success Academy achieves its very narrow successes through what can only be called the abuse of children.”  

Walsh includes links to the original NYT items.               This week happens to be National Charter Schools Week and even Pres. Obama is jumping on the bandwagon by issuing a presidential proclamation about the event.  However, Paul Thomas, an associate professor of education at Furman University, wonders what all the hoopla is about. His commentary appears on ALTERNET.  “What, Exactly, are We Celebrating About Charter Schools?” he asks in the title of his piece.  “When the President asks us to celebrate and increase support for charter schools—which are essentially little different from the public schools they seek to reform— he has missed the larger point,” Thomas concludes. “We don’t need feckless celebration; what we need are the social reform policies and support of public schools that would render school choice entirely unnecessary.”

School Law
If a student posted on his/her Facebook page that a teacher was “just a bitch” and “she needs to be shot” would that be considered a threat of violence or protected free speech?  The judge in an Oregon case ruled on just such a situation.  The decision?  Protected free speech.  If that leaves you speechless than you need to read the story in EDUCATION WEEK.  It involves a 14-year-old 8th grader, his Health teacher and an in-school suspension. 
 
The Profession 
A college counselor at an elite private school in the Upper East Side of Manhattan leaves his post to take a similar position at a low-income, inner-city public school campus in Brooklyn and he and his wife write a book about his experiences.  Why would he make such a drastic and dramatic change?  THE HECHINGER REPORT conducts a Q & A with the gentleman in question who provides an answer to that question and several others.  “I left because I grew increasingly uneasy with my role in a system that was so clearly structured to favor the privileged,” he answers simply.  “The longer I spent in the job, the more clear it became to me what a tremendous impact quality counseling and advocacy had on where students applied and where they got in.  The idea that our college admissions system functioned as a meritocracy—or even resembled one—seemed more and more empty.  The playing field was anything but level.  And I felt like I was playing for the wrong team.”               Newly re-elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week by offering educators in the Chicago Public School system a 7% pay cutMike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog offers some of the reasons why hizzoner is taking this vindictive action. “ He’s determined to show [CTU president] Karen Lewis  who’s boss,” Klonsky writes.  “How dare she/they endorse his opponent, Chuy Garcia in the mayor’s race?”
 
NPE Conference Wrap-Up
Anthony Cody, a co-founder and current treasurer of the Network for Public Education, attended the group’s second annual conference in Chicago last month (covered extensively in the “Ed News”).  In this post, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, he offers a summary and overview of the gathering.  He mentions the first ever “NPE movie night” in which several education-related films were screened including some clips from “Go Public” about the Pasadena USD which ALOED showed on the Oxy campus in October.  “Another way this conference made history.” Cody notes, “is by being the largest gathering of education activists in the nation.  This activism in support of real change in public education is emerging as a real social movement, and the Network for Public Education has created events that bring this movement together.”
New Standards for School Administrators
The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Policy Board for Educational Administration have been working together to rewrite new standards for school principals, assistant principals and other school leaders.  They are planning to publicly release their latest draft next week but that version is drawing criticism from some education quarters.  An item in EDUCATION WEEK describes what’s in the newest document and what some groups and individuals are concerned about.  “The proposed new version of the principal standards—known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium Standards—were released for public comment last fall,” it explains, “and have been subjected to major revisions ever since. Most states use the standards for their school leaders.”
Exemplary Public High Schools
Carol Burris, award-winning high school principal from New York and Kevin Welner, professor in the School of Education at the University of Colorado, Boulder, piloted a program called “Schools of Opportunity.”  This week on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, they announced the first Gold Award (5 schools) and Silver Award winners (12 schools).
“These high schools use research-based practices to ensure that all students have rich opportunities to succeed,” Burris and Welner write about the criteria for recognition. “Some are working against great odds.  All put students, not scores, first.”  All 17 campuses were from New York or Colorado where the program was first piloted.  Next year the idea is to expand the project nationwide.
Corporate Reform
The resident “poet” on Diane Ravitch’s blog has a new offering.  This one is a parody of the Lewis Carroll item called “The Walrus and the Carpenter” and is titled “The Billionaire and the Reformer.”  If you’re not familiar with the original, you can find it by clicking here.               Anthony Cody, writing on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, thinks it’s time for the Gates Foundation to abandon, what Cody refers to as, their “EdReform 2.0.”  Cody reminds readers about how the philanthropy touted small schools as “the answer” beginning around 2000 before backing away from that idea (EdReform 1.0?) in 2009.  “There is an entire sector of education think tanks,” he posits, “and advocacy groups that exist only because of funding from Gates and other corporate philanthropies. These organizations have driven US education into a rut, a death spiral circling around the vortex of meaningless test scores.”
 
Teacher Appreciation Week
And finally, we conclude this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week with a couple items of appreciation.  Steven Singer, on his gadflyonthewallblog says a heartfelt “thank you” to all the excellent teachers who shaped and guided him to where he is today.  “They say teaching is the one profession that creates all the others.  That teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.  And it’s certainly true in my life,” he relates.  “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without a string of excellent educators.  For better or worse, I am the product of decades of first-rate instruction and inspiration.”               Thanks to Susie Smith, ALOED board member, who forwarded this YouTube video (2:52 minutes) titled “So God Made A Teacher.”   It begins “And on the 8th day God looked down . . . . and made a teacher.”  It’s based on the Paul Harvey poem “So God Made A Farmer.”
Have a nice, dry weekend!
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Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the “Ed News.”

Ed News, Tuesday, May 5, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

Upcoming Program Note:  The next ALOED book club discussion will take place in Orange County on Sat., June 27, at 11:30 am.  The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein will be the topic.  Start reading now although you are welcome to join in the discussion even if you haven’t read the book.  Great conversation and a delicious lunch are promised to one and all.  For all the details and to RSVP click here.
 
May 4-8 is Teacher Appreciation Week and
 
Today is National Teacher Day
 
 
“I would much rather be considered wise than smart. 
But, I still think it is wise to get an education.” 
― Destiny Booze
Opt-Out
The “bald piano guy” has a song (only 1:36 minutes–give it a go) called “Opting-Out,” based (loosely) on a Billy Joel tune, that you can view and listen to on YouTube.  It singles out New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo but the sentiments are much more universal than that.  If you like what you hear he has a few other similar selections you can click on.               Here’s another parody about the opt-out movement and school reform from the author of the “lacetothetop” website.  Most, if not all, of the names in his narrative should be familiar to you as they have often appeared in the “Ed News.”  Just remember as you read it that it’s a PARODY.  It’s titled “Reformers Save Schools From Parents.”  Here’s one example of what the author writes about: “Dr. Carol Burris, the former Principal of the Year’ turned insurgent was fined $100,000 for each article published in The Washington Post in which she claimed the tests used by NYSED were bad. Valerie Strauss, who collaborated with Dr. Burris has been transferred to work the alien sighting division of The National Enquirer.”                Want some idea of the effect the opt-out movement is having?  Check out this VERY brief item from Diane Ravitch’s blog that came from a reader of her column.               Yeah!  Carol Burris is back.  The award-winning principal of South Side High School in New York recently announced her early retirement but she’s not going away.  Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post again provides Burris with a forum to discuss the opt-out movement again and why it’s not going away either.  She explains why leaders like Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo and New York State Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch just don’t get what’s going on.  “Opt out is far bigger than a test refusal event.\,” she maintains.  “It is the repudiation of a host of corporate reforms that include the Common Core, high-stakes testing, school closings and the evaluation of teachers by test scores.   These reforms are being soundly rejected by parents and teachers.”               EDUCATION WEEK takes an overview of the opt-out movement and reviews some of the numbers and how it is gaining momentum around the country.  “The push by activists of various stripes to have parents opt students out of state exams this spring,” it begins, “has transformed skepticism and long-running anger over the direction of education policy into a movement with numbers and a growing public profile.  Whether those activists can craft a durable and effective political movement remains an open question.”               Monty Neill, executive director of FairTest, looks at some of the threats emanating from federal and state officials against parents who opted their children out of standardized testing.  His comments were printed on Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post.  How seriously,” Neill asks, “should parents and school leaders take the federal and state threats? We believe these threats have little legal substance and are not politically viable.”
 
Some Kansas Districts Closing Early Due to Budget Shortfalls
Some public school students in Kansas will be getting an early summer vacation.  Several districts in the state have announced they will close early as they run out of money to continue because of a political experiment that stresses the old supply-side theories of economics.  An opinion piece in The Washington Post has the details.  “At least eight Kansas school districts recently announced that they’re starting summer break early this year,” the author states, “and not because kids have already learned so much that they deserve a few extra days off.  It’s because these schools ran out of money, thanks to state leaders’ decision to ax education spending midyear to plug an ever-widening hole in their budget. . . . In balancing the budget on the backs of children, Kansas politicians are behaving shamefully.  But they may also be doing the rest of the country a favor,” she continues, “by giving us a preview of what might happen if Republicans control the White House and Congress after the 2016 ­election.”
 
Vouchers and School Choice
The Center for Media and Democracy’s “PR WATCH” blog has a fascinating look at the history of school vouchers and the impact they have had on the seeming resegregation of the nation’s public schools.  Were you aware that the country’s first voucher program began in 1990 in Milwaukee?  There are moves afoot to make vouchers available nationwide.    “School vouchers first emerged as a policy prescription in the mid-1950s,” the article points out, “just as the U.S. Supreme Court was ordering school desegregation in the Brown v. Board of Education series of decisions.  While University of Chicago economist Milton Friedman, who first floated the idea in a 1955 essay, wanted to see public schools turned into competing corporations on the free market, vouchers were de facto used in the South as a way to preserve segregation.”               The Houston Chronicle has a scary column about the “boldest school privatization program in the country, a pilot program that would finally neuter the ‘godless’ public schools.”  The Texas legislature is just about to pass twin bills that would virtually end public education in the Lone Star State.  Don’t believe it?  Check out the details and prepare to be worried, very worried about what’s taking place.  The item is titled “A Chance to End the Public School Era.”
 
Charter Schools
Not another charter school scandal in the LAUSD!  Sunday’s L.A. Times reports that the PUC (Partnership to Uplift Communities) Charter chain granted a food contract to an employee of the chain.  That’s a a no-no, or in plain legalese, a conflict of interest.  There were some other questionable (illegal?) practices as well.  “The charter organization was co-founded by L.A. Unified school board candidate Ref Rodriguez,” the story notes.  “Rodriguez is on the charter group’s board of directors and works part-time as its treasurer.   He is vying to unseat one-term incumbent Bennett Kayser in an expensive, hard-fought contest for a spot on the Los Angeles Board of Education. The election is May 19.”  The Times’ editorial board endorsed Rodriguez in his race against Kayser for the District 5 seat which encompasses the area around Occidental College.               Stephen Dyer has been working on a multi-part expose of charter schools in his home state of Ohio on the 10th Period blog.  The series is titled “Ohio Charters Just Don’t Work.”  You can read the first three parts by clicking on each one: Part 1 deals with the cost of charter schools and explains how that money is being taken from the public school system.  Part 2 looks at the excuses and claims charters offer for their poor performance.  In Part 3 Dyer offers district and building-level comparisons between charters and the public schools. 
 
Testing
Want a humorous overview of most of the issues surrounding standardized testing?  John Oliver, on his “Last Week Tonight” show on HBO Sunday, was able to encapsulate most of them in a very funny (sad/scary?) segment.  He covers such topics as NCLB, Race To The Top, test prep, sample questions, Pearson, test scoring, the achievement gap, VAMs, teacher evaluations and much more in just 18 minutes!  Diane Ravitch had this to say about the piece on her website:  “It is fantastic!!  Enjoy! This is a huge help in telling the public what is happening and how our schools are diverting hundreds of millions of dollars–billions–to testing instead of instruction.”  Pour yourself a glass of wine (or something stronger) and try not to spill it all over yourself while watching this.                A member of the Badass Teachers Association published a poem on the group’s website, written from a child’s point-of-view, titled “I Took A Test.”  Here’s the first stanza:

I cried today, mama.
I swear I tried my best.
But my head got fuzzy, mama,
When I saw that scary test.

Reauthorization of NCLB
Mercedes Schneider did yeoman’s work in reviewing, line-by-line, the bipartisan Alexander-Murray draft bill to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  Now she offers her over all opinion of the legislation, called the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015, as it makes its way through the U.S. Senate. Her comments appear, as usual, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 and she includes links to her NINE previous entries on the bill.
 
The Teaching Profession
This week is Teacher Appreciation Week (see the top of this edition of the “Ed News”) and in recognition of that EDUCATION WEEK features two polls.  The first one reports on public attitudes toward the teaching profession and was done by HuffPost and YouGov.  It collected responses from 1,000 adults nationwide between April 28-30.  The second survey was conducted online by the University of Phoenix among 1,002 teachers between April 14-27 and focused on their perceptions of the profession.  The article briefly discusses some of the results and contains links to both polls if you would like to review them in more detail.                In honor of National Teacher Day, Valerie Strauss, in her Washington Post column, posts some tweets in appreciation of specific teachers and the profession in general.  Need a little pick-me-up?  These should help.  Here piece is titled “Imagine If We Celebrated Teachers As Much As We Celebrate Athletes and Celebrities” which just so happens to be the content of one of the tweets Strauss highlights.
 
Improving High Schools
THE HECHINGER REPORT has an interesting interview with a venture capitalist who is also the executive producer of a new documentary titled “Most Likely to Succeed” which focuses on High Tech High charter in San Diego.  He’s Ted Dintersmith and in the Q & A he offers some ways to improve high school education in the 21st century.  The film “focuses on the innovative High Tech High, part of a growing network of San Diego charter schools,”  the article notes, “first launched in 2007 by a coalition of business leaders and educators. It portrays our current education system as both outdated and obsolete, one that bores today’s students to tears via rote memorization and endless standardized tests, without teaching them what they need to know for the jobs of the future.”  The piece includes the trailer (2:23 minutes) to the film.
 
Student Voters
Sandy Banks’ column in today’s L.A. Times focuses on a voter registration drive among high school students in L.A.  It zeroes in on Esteban Torres High School (LAUSD) and discusses why students seem so apathetic towards voting and how they can become more involved in the political process.  “The student-led effort took shape in the wake of a shameful turnout in the March 3 primary,” Banks explains.  “Nine in every 10 registered voters in Los Angeles County sat that one out; it was the worst showing in the state.”
 
ALOED Book Club Review
And finally, what timing.  The next ALOED book club discussion will focus on Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars (see the beginning of this edition of the “Ed News” for the “Upcoming Program Note.”)  A timely review of the volume appears in the Spring, 2015, edition of DISSENT magazine.  The author is a graduate of the public school system in Chicago and writes about the education reform movement for the magazine.
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Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)

That’s me working diligently on the “Ed News.”

 


 

Ed News, Friday, May 1, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“These days, many well-meaning school districts bring together teachers, coaches, curriculum supervisors, and a cast of thousands to determine what skills your child needs to be successful. Once these ‘standards’ have been established, pacing plans are then drawn up to make sure that each particular skill is taught at the same rate and in the same way to all children.  This is, of course, absurd.   It gets even worse when one considers the very real fact that nothing of value is learned permanently by a child in a day or two.”
Rafe Esquith, Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World     
Network for Public Education Conference
Not everyone was enamored of the NPE conference held over the past weekend in Chicago and highlighted extensively in the “Ed News.”  ALOED member Randy Traweek sends along a piece from Jim Horn at School Matters that’s critical of the players being invited to be part of the coalition supporting NPE.  In addition, he believes the NPE strategy of simply waiting out the corporate “reformers” may be shortsighted and, ultimately, unsuccessful as they have a vested (monetary?) interest in the long term takeover of the public schools.   Instead of at least demanding loyalty, if nothing else, to the defense of the public school homeland,” Horn argues, “Ravitch wants a coalition that is open to bad actors with long histories of deceit, treachery, and traitorous behavior.  In short, she wants to bring AFT and NEA into her headquarters, where knowledge of operations and strategy will be jointly developed with those that can be counted upon to provide active assistance to the enemy.  If there were, in fact, an enemy or enemies.”                If you missed the NPE conference and the extended reviews and videos in the last edition of the “Ed News,” you can catch up on two the the main sessions courtesy of the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  The first one (38:56 minutes) features a discussion between Diane Ravitch and Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis.  The second (65:37 minutes) includes a conversation with NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT president Randi Weingarten, again moderated by Diane Ravitch.               Former Oxy book club author Yong Zhao gave an interesting and well received presentation (55:31 minutes) at the conference.  You can view it, courtesy of vimeo, by clicking here.  Diane Ravitch raved about it on her website: “His speech was spectacular! He was witty, informative, actually hilarious. The audience loved him. . . . This is one of the best presentations I have ever seen about education today,” she enthused.  “Don’t take my word for it.  Judge for yourself.” 
 
Corporate Education Reforms Not Fit for Corporations
An article in the Wall St. Journal [Ed. note: Unfortunately, the original is behind a pay all] titled “The Trouble With Grading Employees” recently pointed out how a number of corporations are dropping the use of performance ratings because they tend to demoralize employees and promote a less efficient workplace.  So why do the corporate “reformers” promote just such a concept for the schools?  Good question.  Fortunately, Diane Ravitch’s blog was able to reprint the WSJ article so you can read why more and more companies are doing away with this type of rating and you’ll be free to contemplate an answer to the above question.  “Companies that have gotten rid of ratings say their employees feel better about their jobs,” the original story notes, “and actually listen to managers’ feedback instead of obsessing over a number.”  [Ed. note: The “Ed News” highlighted a similar reaction to the WSJ piece in Tuesday’s edition.]
 
Plot Thickens in LAUSD School Board Race 
The LAUSD school board race to be determined at the May 19 election between incumbent Bennett Kayser and challenger Ref Rodriguez took an odd turn recently.  District 5, which includes the area around Occidental College, features one candidate, Kayser, who has been a consistent and long-time critic of charter schools and Rodriguez, who co-founded and works for the Lakeview Charter Academy.   The district, apparently at the behest of board member Monica Garcia, a political ally of Rodriguez, decided to delay the public release of an audit of Lakeview Charter.  The board race has become a flashpoint for pro and anti-charter forces.  A piece posted on the L.A. Times website Tuesday evening has all the details of this latest twist in the campaign.  Diane Ravitch noted on her blog that  it should be a conflict of interest for a charter operator to be a member of the board that allegedly oversees his operation.  Los Angeles needs sunlight.  It needs to see the audit of Ref’s school.  It needs board members dedicated to serving the public interest, not the charter industry.”               NPR station 89.3KPCC obtained a copy of the audit and disclosed some of the findings               A follow-up story was posted on the L.A. Times website yesterday afternoon with the news that the LAUSD had agreed to release to the public the audit of Lakeview Charter.  The action came after a Public Records Act request by the paper and several other media outlets.  “The charter school was out of compliance with some terms and conditions of its agreement with L.A. Unified, auditors found. The review faults the school,” the article points out, “for not providing internal financial reports to the district on time and not supporting some transactions with adequate documentation. The school also repeatedly failed to maintain minimum financial reserves required by its charter agreement and by California law.”  [Ed. curious note: Neither one of the L.A. Times’ stories about the Lakeview audit (see above) made it into the print edition of the paper as of the publication of the “Ed News.”  I wonder why?  Could it be that Times endorsement of Rodriguez for the District 5 board seat?  I’ll leave an answer up to you.]
 
Closing Schools?
Peter Greene, over on the CURMUDGUCATION blog, has some issues with a recent article in the Wall St. Journal [Ed. note: Unfortunately, again behind a pay wall] by two researchers from the Fordham Institute that touts the closing of low-performing schools.  Fordham’s claim is simple– when schools are closed and the students are moved to a new school,” Greene summarizes, “those students gain forty-nine extra days of learning.  Closing the school and moving the students raises the student achievement.  That’s the claim. How is it baloney? Let me count the ways.”  Greene offer 4 specific responses to the authors’ claims and concludes “Closing schools and dispersing the students weakens the community, weakens the forces that are needed to help students rise and advance.  It is exactly the wrong thing to do, and therefore, proposing to do so ought to come with a pretty convincing list of large and transformative benefits.  Fordham is not making that case, not even remotely.”
 
8th Grade NAEP Results for U.S. History, Civics and Geography
The latest NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) results for 8th grade U.S. History, Civics and Geography were released on Wednesday.  The tests were given between January and March, 2014, to 29,000 students in 1,300 schools nationwide.  The last time the exams were administered was in 2010.  The results?  According to the report, “no significant change.”  EDUCATION WEEK has all the details about this latest report.  “The report also notes that students’ average test scores correlated with the education level attained by their parents,” the story mentions in regards to the achievement gap.  “Students whose parents finished high school and college did better on the tests than those whose parents ended their formal education earlier.”
 
Opt-Out/Testing
The “Ed News” recently highlighted a number of reports about large numbers of students choosing to skip the ELA standardized tests, especially in New York.  Now that the math portion has concluded in New York the percentages of students opting-out is, in some cases, even higher.  The Long Island Press provides some of the latest figures.  “ Record-breaking numbers of students throughout Long Island and New York State refused to take the Common Core ELA (English Language Arts) exam two weeks ago,” it states, “and unprecedented scores opted out of the math portion of the standardized tests last week.”               The State of North Carolina does not allow students to opt-out of standardized tests for any reason.  The mother of a 9-year-old child who has severe learning disabilities and other serious disorders believes that making him take the tests is unfair and may even border on child abuse.  Her very poignant op-ed explaining why is in the Charlotte News & Observer.  It’s titled “Why NC Needs An Opt-Out Option for School Testing.”  “As his mother, I have spent all his life trying to protect him and doing what I believed to be best for him,” she movingly writes.  “So this did not sit well [that he was required “by law” to take the tests]. I envisioned him having to sit at a desk for three hours at a time, trying to answer questions he doesn’t know the answers to. To me, that is child abuse.”               THE HECHINGER REPORT conducts a Q & A with a third-grade teacher in Mississippi who describes “the changes and challenges” she’s faced as the state taught the Common Core and used Core-aligned, computer-based exams for the first time this year.  The piece is titled “Testing Gives Third-Graders Upset Stomachs, Tears and Even Fevers.”  The introduction of the Common Core went much better, BTW (by the way).
LAUSD/State Graduation Rates
According to a press release posted on the LAUSD website the graduation rates for district students exceeded expectations.  “The Los Angeles Unified School District achieved a graduation rate of 70 percent for 2013-14, according to figures released [Tuesday] by the California Department of Education,” it points out.  “That figure exceeds by three percent the District’s preliminary estimate last October.  For comprehensive high schools, the typical option for students in the ninth through 12th grade, final graduation rate of nearly 82 percent is higher than the 77 percent previously released.”               A similar press release was issued by the California Department of Education reporting statewide graduation rates for 2013-14 had increased to 80.8%, an increase of .4 percentage points from the previous year.  In 2010 the rate was 74.7%.
 
Poll on Sexual Assault at Oxy
Occidental College made the results of a poll on sexual assault on campus public this week.  Almost 8% of those surveyed revealed they’d been sexually assaulted.  630 students responded to the anonymous online questionnaire between Feb. 16 and March 13.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times reports on the poll.  One Oxy professor believes the survey is “flawed” and campus administrators caution against drawing conclusions from it since a random sample was not employed.  “Occidental is one of 57 colleges or universities that participated in the survey,” the article relates, “which was conducted by the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium, a nonprofit based in Crawfordsville, Ind. . . . Occidental officials decided to release the survey now while classes were still in session because they wanted to be transparent, said campus spokesman James Tranquada. The school will make a presentation about the survey to students in the fall, he said.”
 
New Role for K-12 Librarians in Digital Age
The digital age and blended learning may be helping to recast the role of librarians on K-12 campuses.  EDUCATION WEEK describes how one librarian, at a school in Vancouver, Washington, is helping to alter the traditional role of librarians in light of new technologies and demands.  “Librarians have traditionally served an important role in school systems as teachers, particularly in teaching students how to access information,” the item explains.  “Now, in Vancouver and elsewhere, librarians’ roles are evolving, as districts count on them to help teachers use technology to improve instruction, and to troubleshoot problems with digital systems as they emerge.”
 
Atlanta Test Cheating Scandal
Yesterday, the presiding judge in the Atlanta test cheating case reduced the stiffest sentences he had meted out previously.  Three educators had been given 7 year prison terms with 13 years of probation and $25,000 fines.  Judge Baxter reduced those to 3 years in prison with 7 years probation and $10,000 in fines.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the latest developments in this story.                A piece in today’s L.A. Times provides some additional details to the reduced sentences.  It includes a short video (0:52 minutes) of a portion of the statement issued by the judge as to why he did what he did.
 
The Teaching Profession
Simply teaching is a difficult and time-consuming endeavor.  The author of this piece in EDUCATION WEEK argues that to be effective, teachers also need to become involved in political activities, as reluctant as they may be to do that.  “But: Curriculum is political,  he asserts.  “Standards are political.  Testing is political.  Funding is political.  Education is political.  Can teachers not be?”  He goes on to provide some examples of how teachers became “political” and urges you to do the same.
 
Charters
Many charter school chains are proud of the fact and tout that their teachers are non-union.  That’s not always the case.  A charter high school in Philadelphia recently voted overwhelmingly to  affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints the press release issued by the AFT announcing the results.  It notes that the AFT now represents over 120 charters in 12 states.  Ravitch points out that leaves “only” 5,880 charters to go.               Dr. Mark Henry, superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas, has an interesting proposal.  He notes that charter are often quick to take-over “failing” public schools.  He wants to know if public school districts should be allowed to take-over “failing” charters.  He lays out his idea on the district’s Superintendent’s Blog.  I have an even better prescription that Texas should try.  In my solution,” he suggests, “Cypress-Fairbanks ISD will create ‘The Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Opportunity School District’ to take over and manage failing charter schools.  Around 8.2 percent of public school campuses are classified as failing, but nearly 17 percent of charter schools are designated as failing.”
An Exemplary Teacher
And finally, with all the negative, depressing news out there these days about education, the “Ed News” would like you to read about an exemplary public school teacher.  University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky has been penning an ongoing series in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on “Great Georgia Teachers.”  Here he describes a third-grade educator who really seems to understand what makes third-graders tick.  May we introduce you to Cameron Brooks from the Chase Street Elementary School in Athens, Georgia.  You’re welcome to smile and maybe feel a little better about the profession as you read about him.
 
      
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Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the “Ed News.”

 

 

Ed News, Tuesday, April 28, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. 
 All too often we are giving young people cut flowers
when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.”
John W. Gardner
Atlanta Cheating Scandal
The Nation magazine headlines its story “Why Were Atlanta Teachers Prosecuted Under a Law Meant for Organized Crime?”  The author suggests that blame rests with NCLB under the George W. Bush administration and Race to the Top under Pres. Obama and the heavy pressures that developed under the “test and punish” concepts contained in those laws.  “ The Fulton County [Atlanta] district attorney accused the educators of having ‘altered, fabricated, and falsely certified’ answer sheets as part of a cheating conspiracy that touched a majority of the city’s public elementary and middle schools,” he relates.  “Remarkably, the educators were charged under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act—an unprecedented application of a law intended to attack organized crime.”
 
Letters to the LAT
The Saturday “Numbers and Letters” feature in the L.A. Times reports that “678 usable letters to the editor were received between last Friday and this Friday.  64 letters were written about the drought, the week’s most-discussed topic.  58 readers discussed eliminating vaccine exemptions in California, the week’s runner-up.”
 
Testing and Common Core
Need a little humorous respite from all the seriousness and controversy surrounding standardized testing?  Check out this item from the Kids’ Wings website titled “Severe Weather Protocols During State Testing.”  Even though southern California is not plagued by tornadoes you could probably substitute the term “earthquakes” for them in this list of 10 items.  Just to pique your interest here’s number 9: “When rescue workers arrive to dig you out of the rubble, please make sure that they do not, at any time, look at or handle the testing materials. Once you have been treated for your injuries, you will still be responsible for checking your materials back in. Search dogs will not be allowed to sift through the rubble for lost tests, unless of course they have been through standardized test training. ”               The Long Island Business News has an interesting article about the money to be made behind the Common Core and testing.  “While debate rages over whether to opt out of the rigorous testing,” the extended piece notes, “little attention is being paid to the British company that helped craft the Common Core curriculum and created those tests administered in New York and much of the nation.  Headquartered in London and with U.S. operations based in Iowa, Pearson PLC has quietly grown into possibly the most powerful education firm in the United States.  It has $16.7 billion in market capitalization, $7.2 billion in sales and $357 million in 2014 profits globally.  At a time when teachers are being fired due to budget shortfalls, hundreds of millions of dollars are being pumped into testing companies, with Pearson emerging as the biggest winner in this race to the top of the testing world.”               A public charter system in a poor and crime-ridden neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, is demonstrating how art and music can be put to very good use to teach the Common Core.  THE HECHINGER REPORT tells about what is going on at 7 campuses of the Ascend Learning network.  “Such conviction is rare in an age where public education has become synonymous with the annual tests whose results can singlehandedly determine the fates of teachers, administrators and students,” it suggests.  “Amid budget cuts and long hours of drills in reading and math, the arts have been decimated in the many of the classrooms serving the nation’s neediest students.”
School Governance Experiment
The Clark County (Las Vegas) and Denver school systems are trying out an experimental program that allows successful principals to lead more than one school at a time.  An item in EDUCATION WEEK describes this very interesting and innovative idea.  “The hope is that the selected principals will produce the same high achievement in the additional school they are responsible for managing,” it mentions.  “The pilot programs . . . . –which borrow tenets from franchising in the business world—are an attempt to solve a persistent conundrum in K-12: how to scale the successes of exceptional school leaders and maximize their exposure to more teachers and students.”  Specific examples of how this concept works in both districts are provided.  The story also addresses the key issue of overextending principals who already have barely enough time to manage one campus.

NPE Conference

The Network for Public Education (NPE) held their national conference in Chicago over the past weekend.  Steven Singer who writes the gadflyonthewallblog provides three separate posts about some of the public education “heroes” he met and some of the things going on at the gathering.  His first column is titled “The Resistance is Real–They’re All Here at the Network for Public Education Conference.”  “I feel energized and part of a growing community of people,” he explains excitedly, “dedicated to righting the course of public education. The profiteers and privatizers have a war chest loaded with cash on their side.  But we’ve got people.  Real people.  I’ll side with people any day.”  Entry number 2 is titled “Here Come  
 
thumbnail
Everyone–A Day of Inspiration and Advocacy at the Network for Public Education.”  Singer points out some of the well-known personalities he got to hob-nob with [Ed. note: Be sure to check out the photos he took with most of them] and summarizes a couple of the sessions. “Let me ask you a hypothetical question:  If you could have dinner with any five people in the world, who would they be?  You don’t have to ask me that question,” he gushes like a school kid.  “I not only had dinner with them, I spent the whole freaking day with them at the Network for Public Education Conference!  And there were more like 500 of those folks!  Imagine everyone you’ve ever read about in the resistance to corporate education reform.  Imagine them all in one place, standing in line all around you waiting to select a Danish.  Yeah. That was breakfast.”   Part 3 Singer titles “Clash of the Titans–Unionism at the Network for Public Education” and he features a discussion between the NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia and the AFT’s Randi Weingarten which was moderated by Diane Ravitch (see below).  It covered topics like accepting money from corporate “reform” foundations, Common Core, testing and the role of teachers in today’s society.  Again check out the photos Singer took with the two principles.  He also describes a couple of union-related events from the conference.               Diane Ravitch, who attended the conference and moderated two sessions, offers a report about it on her Diane Ravitch’s blog.  Everyone I spoke to told me how much they enjoyed the conference,” she concludes, “how energized they felt, and that they would return home to pick up the struggle with renewed vigor.  It was a wonderful and inspiring event!!”              Peter Goodman, who writes the Ed in The Apple blog, offers his take on the NPE conference.                  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, reviewed the conference and summarized what some of the other observers had commented about it.  “Hardly a week goes by where some education-related group gathers somewhere to talk about something,” she begins, “but a gathering of education activists this past weekend in Chicago was different from the usual. . . .  It reflects the growth and seriousness of the movement that is fighting corporate school reform.  Sometimes incorrectly labeled in the media as being union-launched and led, the movement against the privatization of public education and standardized test-based accountability systems,” Strauss continues, “has grown in large part because the people in schools who have traditionally kept quiet about reforms they found ineffective or harmful to students — teachers, principals and superintendents —  began to speak out publicly.  Parents began to organize and students did as well.”             If you’d prefer to skip what other people thought of the gathering, you can view almost every minute of it on the school house LIVE website which has 3 separate livestream video segments (221:32 minutes on Saturday, 267:37 minutes also on Saturday and 288:36 minutes on Sunday for a total of almost 13 hours of coverage) of the events that took place over the weekend. 
New Alternative Math Class
Yesterday’s L.A. Times describes an alternative math class called Data Science that’s being piloted in 10 high scho0ls based on a National Science Foundation grant awarded to the LAUSD in 2010 to create additional options to standard math courses.  “The class,” the story explains, “gives students an alternative to traditional math; its curriculum is grounded in hands-on data collection, plus lessons in computer programming so students can get answers from data, a trade highly valued in many industries.”  This piece goes on to profile how the class works and some of the things students are learning.
 
Charter Schools
A recent article in The New York Times (highlighted in the “Ed News”) described the controversial philosophies and methods of the Success Academy Charter chain in New York City.  Reactions to the piece (also highlighted in the “Ed News”) were both diverse and plentiful.  Diane Ravitch’s blog prints an item from a former SA teacher who paints a rather bleak picture of the school where she worked for two years for faculty, staff and the students.  “To this day I feel sick to my stomach over the way I was made to speak to my students, and the things I was forced to demand from them,” the anonymous teacher laments.  “Backs straight, hands still, eyes tracking the speaker every second.  Walking in the hallways silently and with their hands crossed over their chests so they wouldn’t touch things they weren’t supposed to.  Working in complete silence almost all day long and hardly ever given an opportunity for collaborative work.  For most of one of my years there the first and second graders ate lunch in silence too, because our principal had decided they couldn’t handle talking at an appropriate volume.”  [Ed. note: This sounds like the “prison” described by George Bernard Shaw in the quote that led off last Friday’s “Ed News.”]               A new report, released yesterday, found over $200 million of waste and fraud has been uncovered in the charter school sector and that’s only the “tip of the iceberg” according to the authors.  Valerie Strauss features the document in her column for The Washington Post.  She selects 4 areas, including California, where waste and fraud were uncovered and highlighted in the report that was put together by two nonprofit groups, The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and the Center for Popular Democracy.  “[The report] notes that these figures only represent fraud and waste in the charter sector uncovered so far,” she writes, “and that the total that federal, state and local governments ‘stand to lose’ in 2015 is probably more than $1.4 billion. It says, ‘The vast majority of the fraud perpetrated by charter officials will go undetected because the federal government, the states, and local charter authorizers lack the oversight necessary to detect the fraud’.”
 
Diane Ravitch’s blog Celebrates Third Birthday and Another Milestone
Diane Ravitch’s blog celebrated its third birthday on Sunday.  Yesterday it registered 20 million page views which is just 19.999999 million more than the “Ed News.”  Congratulations to Diane and may she continue to be such a strong and powerful advocate for public education for many, many years to come!  You can read about her thoughts on the anniversary by clicking here.
 
Opt-Out
When New York Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch offered to postpone, for one year, the implementation of new teacher evaluations that relied heavily on student test scores, state legislators and union members were pleased.  However, several parent groups said the move was not “enough” and they are still “dissatisfied.”  The CAPITAL (New York) website has the latest details.  “The parent activists,” it points out, “who claim nearly 200,000 students participated in this month’s unprecedented statewide boycott of standardized testing in public schools, see Tisch’s announcement last week as an attempt to placate them without removing the testing regimen they’re protesting.”               A California parent wrote a thank you note to Leonie Haimson, founder of the Class Size Matters group and tireless advocate for student privacy, about those privacy issues, data mining, high stakes testing and opting-out.  The public letter was reprinted on Diane Ravitch’s blog and is titled “Leonie Haimson’s Opt-Out Message Rang Out Loud and Clear on the West Coast.”               The opt-out movement is apparently very contagious.  Large numbers of students have decided not to take standardized tests in New York and Florida (as previously reported by the “Ed News”).  Now the “contagion” has spread to California.  The Paly Voice, the school paper at Palo Alto High, reports that less than half of the juniors reported to take the SBAC test yesterday.  “Many students did not show up to take the test because they felt it had no meaningful purpose,” the article suggested.              A veteran high school level English teacher in Colorado offers an opposite view to the opt-out movement.  His piece, which appears on the Chalkbeat COLORADO website, is titled “A Few Common Sense Reasons Not to Opt out of Tests.”  “Opting out from participating in an assessment that needs all the feedback it can get is not the best way to solve some of the real problems surrounding testing,” he argues.  “Opting out from an assessment that helps to show if a school is meeting expectations and providing a quality education is not the best decision.  Parents, I challenge you to educate yourself by researching both sides of the issue. I challenge you to read material from the media through a skeptical lens.  I challenge you to truly understand what ‘opting out’ entails when it comes to the school your child attends.”
The Teaching Profession
An Amarillo, Texas, English teacher was named 2015 National Teacher of the Year yesterday.  She’s the 13th English instructor to win the honor in the 64-year history of the award.  EDUCATION WEEK has the story.  You can watch the announcement (5:11 minutes) which was made public on the “CBS This Morning” show yesterday and read more about it by clicking here.              A former Colorado elementary school principal and the former Director of Teacher Effectiveness at the Colorado League of Charter Schools offer some concrete suggestions for improving those often formulative parent-teacher conferences.  They have co-authored a book titled Partnering With Students to Build Ownership of Learning which will be out later this spring.  Their ideas on contained in a story from ED WEEK.  By empowering students to own their learning and providing a meaningful conference experience for everyone involved,” the two authors maintain, “conferences can be changed forever and so can students! “
“Corporate Reform”
And finally, why does much of “corporate reform” demand changes to the public schools that most companies aren’t or wouldn’t do themselves?  That’s the question tackled by William Doyle, guest columnist on Valerie Strauss’ blog for The Washington Post.  It is a mistake to refer to failing education reforms as ‘corporate reform.’  No leading company,” he contends, “would place the entire foundation of its business on inaccurate, unreliable, system-distorting and often ‘bad’ data like multiple-choice standardized tests.  No leading company would roll out a multi-billion-dollar national venture (like Common Core) nationally without extensive field-and-market testing first.”
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Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the “Ed News.”