Monthly Archives: August 2013

August 9

“All men who have turned out worth anything have had the chief hand in their own education.”  ―    Walter Scott
   Several letters in Tuesday’s L.A. Times had varying opinions about the Catholic school in Glendora that fired a gay teacher when photos of his marriage to his partner were published in a local paper:,0,6091897.story
   The new Common Core State Standards standardized test results are out in New York and the results are not pretty reports this story in Wednesday’s New York Times:        The reaction to this news has been swift.   Valerie Strauss reprints a piece from Carol Burris of South Side High in New York who she’s featured a number of times in her blog for The Washington Post.  It tries to make sense of and tries to put into context the precipitous drop in scores using Charles Dickens’ Hard Times as a backdrop:     Gary Rubinstein on his blog at TEACH FOR US found that charter schools in New York did poorly on the tests compared to their public school counterparts:     Diane Ravitch believes she’s found “The Error that Caused the New York Test Scores to Collapse” and how these results are being improperly interpreted by certain education “reformers” who want to see public schools fail.  Her conclusions are quite provocative:
   Simple question:  Why are the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) laying off thousands of veteran, credentialed teachers while increasing the budget for hiring Teach for America candidates?  Complicated answer provided by this piece from JACOBIN:
   In what Wednesday’s L.A. Times described as a “groundbreaking agreement,” the LAUSD and seven other districts around the state were the first in the nation to be granted waivers on Tuesday by the U.S. Dept. of Education for some of the more onerous requirements of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law.  You can read about the other districts, what they’re now all exempt from, the ramifications of this decision and how others reacted to it here:,0,2735004.story     LAUSD Supt. John Deasy addressed this letter to the district’s “family” regarding the news:     On Tuesday, the California Teachers Association (CTA) issued this statement with a much different view of the decision.  (UTLA reprinted it on their web site):
   The “Ed News” has several times referred to the highly secretive, right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) that is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.  They are holding their annual convention in Chicago this week.  If you’d like a primer on who they are, what they do and who is behind the organization then you should check out this video (11:58 minutes) from The Real News Network (TRNN):      If you’d like to know how ALEC impacts education policy check out this op-ed that suggests they were behind the closing of 50 schools in Chicago:     The Real News Network follows up on the above article with an interview with two experts who discuss ALEC’s role in the privatization of public schools and a report on protesters who were arrested on Monday outside the group’s conference.  You can view a video (16:28 minutes) and/or read a full transcript here:
   The LAUSD is going to an early opening calendar this year.  Classes for schools on a traditional schedule will begin next week on Tuesday, Aug. 13th and end on Thursday, June 5, 2014.  It includes a 3-week winter break that divides the first and second semesters.  Here’s a look at this new calendar from the LAUSD web site:–%202-12-2013.pdf
   In a 3-0 decision the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeal in San Francisco ruled that a lawsuit filed by two hearing-impaired students over transcription services provided by their respective districts in Tustin and Poway could continue.  Wednesday’s L.ATimes has the brief story:,0,2416910.story
   The Gates Foundation continues to pour millions of dollars into grants to try to reinvent the teaching profession.  Valerie Strauss outlines where some of the most recent funds are earmarked:
   Today’s L.A. Times has a front-page, above the fold, #1 story-of-the-day that deals with the release yesterday of 2012-13 standardized test scores.  The results were mixed.  For the first time in 10 years the overall scores slipped in both English and math.  The good news:  LAUSD continued to improve in math and its decline in English was smaller than the statewide decline.  Over all the district is still below state averages.  You can get all the particulars, including some expert analysis of what occurred, right here:,0,5883250.story     For more details go to the “News Release” from the California Department of Education web site:     For specific county, district or school results check out:
   And finally, this Times story from today outlines the comments made by LAUSD Supt. John Deasy yesterday in his annual back-to-school speech to district administrators and board members meeting at Hollywood High School.  It includes a short video (2:01 minutes) from KCAL Channel 9 News about the speech and some surprise comments from a 6th grade student that you won’t want to miss:,0,4615147.story     If you’d like to view all or part of the gathering, LAUSD station KLCS is streaming it (107:40 minutes) on the district web site:

Dave Alpert (’71) Chief Commissar

August 6

“Education…has produced a vast population able to read but unable to distinguish what is worth reading.”  ―    George Macaulay Trevelyan
   Anthony Cody, on his blog “Living in Dialogue” for EDUCATION WEEK, revisits the scandal (covered extensively by the “Ed News”) that caused Florida schools chief Tony Bennett to resign last week over his role in raising the A-F grade of a charter in Indiana when he was superintendent of schools in the Hoosier State.  Cody mulls whether events like this could possibly be the death knell of the entire corporate reform movement as well.  He has some interesting information about Michelle Rhee (see John Merrow and Learning Matters below for more details) and a teaser about a new book by Diane Ravitch coming out next month:     This piece from the Education Opportunity NETWORK explores the issue of grading schools and the politics behind it as it relates to the resignation of Tony Bennett:
   Teach for America (TFA) is becoming more and more ubiquitous in the nation’s urban school districts.  However, critics of the organization are gaining numbers, too.   An event called   “Organizing Resistance to Teach for America and its Role in Privatization” was part of a conference held in Chicago the second week of July.  It brought together a number of alumni of TFA, formed by Wendy Kopp in 1989, who shared stories about what was wrong with the group.  You can read their impressions and experiences here:       Howard Blume, in yesterday’s L.A. Times, wrote a similar story that appeared on the paper’s front-page.  TFA gets a lot of praise from certain “reformers” for what it does but he believes they may have an agenda regarding education policy:,0,7522948,full.story
       Remember “sequestration?”  Those budget cuts that reduced federal outlays to schools and most other programs/  It began in March when Congress could not agree on a compromise plan.  Well, districts are getting ready to begin a new school year with them still in effect.  EDUCATION WEEK says their impact is hard to gauge as the economy improves and state funding increases:
   Newly elected LAUSD board member Monica Ratliff spoke to 400 activists at the UTLA Leadership Conference on Sunday.  Among other comments she urged the union to provide better training and not be perceived as protecting “poor” teachers.  The story, in yesterday’s L.A. Times, mentions some of the problems facing L.A. teachers and features some of the comments from union president Warren Fletcher who will be facing opposition when elections roll around early next year:,0,7636625.story
   They’re back!  ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, the right-wing group formed in 1973 that combines large corporations with conservative state legislators to write model legislation on topics like voter ID, stand your ground and anti-union laws has turned its sights on public education.  They produced a “report card” on nine states that does not paint a very pretty picture.  Care2 highlights a critique of the study that debunks most of the points stressed by the ALEC survey:
   The assessments being developed to go along with the Common Core State Standards are coming in for criticism based on their costs and the technology needed to administer them.  A number of states are concerned and the article refers, several times, to the impact on California.  EDUCATION WEEK has the details:
   Yesterday’s L.A. Times described a summer program to train students from Cal State Dominguez Hills to be math and science teachers in urban, low-performing LAUSD schools.  It’s supported by $13.5 million in grants from the U.S. Dept. of Education:,0,5945453.story
   Could a machine ever replace a teacher in the classroom?  No, you answer?  That’s impossible, right?  Well check out this short story which introduces an extended comic strip (episode 1 of 3) on just that topic–the history and future of teaching machines.  This article includes links to the two other illustrated stories in the series that deal with contemporary issues in the field of education (episodes II and III).  Check it out just to see the comic strip format–it’s DIFFERENT and to the point:
   Thanks to Larry Lawrence for sending along this Valerie Strauss blog in which she excerpts an essay from a brand new book titled Public Education Under Siege.   It’s edited by a University of Pennsylvania historian and UCLA education scholar.  This essay looks at how some “education reformers” have misinterpreted vouchers and school choice as a “civil right” and part of a market-based solution to what ails education today.  It was written by an associate professor in the Graduate School of Education and African American Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley.  Ms. Strauss says the book is well “worth your time.”  Maybe we should add it to our ALOED book club list.  Check out this selection and see what you think:
   Diane Ravitch raised a VERY interesting question on her blog yesterday–“What is the Goal of Common Core Testing?”  She has reported that some of the early administrations of the assessments yielded results in which large numbers of students were unable to pass.  Might that be the point, she asks in a conspiratorial tone?  Do some “reformers” want public schools to fail thus making the argument for charters, vouchers and privatization?  Read her short post and see what you think:
   Valerie Strauss reprints a blog from Larry Cuban, former Social Studies teacher, superintendent and education professor at Stanford, who suggests that turning around a school system requires leaders who are like marathon runners not sprinters.  He uses the example of Paul Vallas who was considered an “expert” at reforming low-performing districts in Chicago, Philadelphia and New Orleans but who, on closer inspection, may not have been as successful as he was touted to be:
   The LAUSD is set to roll-out a first year $30 million pilot program at 47 schools providing iPads to students when the new school year begins.  The plan kicked off with a multi-day training session for teachers on 6 campuses around the district yesterday.  This L.A. Times story in today’s paper focused on the in-service at Roosevelt High and described what instructors were taught and how the tablets will be used:,0,4590894.story
   John Merrow, on his blog “Taking Note” at Learning Matters, tried to get his latest expose about Michelle Rhee published and four papers turned him down.  Three of them were national publications.  One editor told him she’s “not a national story.”  So he went ahead and printed it for you along with some analysis about why people seem so hesitant to publish critical articles about her.  You can read all of it right here:
   TEACHING TOLERANCE revisits the issue of how suspensions affect student achievement and describes how the Southern Poverty Law Center (publishers of TEACHING TOLERANCE) sued the Mobile, Alabama, County Public Schools and what emerged from a recent legal settlement aimed at reforming the problem of student suspensions:
   And finally, for your enjoyment and entertainment Valerie Strauss’ blog today is titled “Five Absurdities about High-Stakes Standardized Tests.”  You have to read this one sitting down and remember all of them are TRUE–they really happened.  Try not to laugh, cry, sigh or cringe too loudly:
Dave Alpert (’71) Chief Commissar

August 2

“Common sense is in spite of, not the result of, education.”  ―    Victor Hugo
The “Ed News” is pleased to welcome Katie Hess to our ALOED discussion group.  We now have 57 members!
   And now to the news.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times has two follow-up articles to stories the “Ed News” has highlighted.  One is a front-page feature about the first couple of days of school at the Adelanto campus that was the first in California to be successfully taken over using the “parent trigger” law passed in the state in 2010.  The Desert Hills Preparatory Academy, a public charter affiliated with the University of La Verne, opened this week.  (They have both a longer school day and year then traditional campuses.),0,2997402.story      The second story tells about the appointment of a new principal to the “leadership challenged” downtown Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts (LAUSD).  She comes from the highly regarded New York City performing arts school and had accepted the post at least twice before, according to the Times, so keep your fingers crossed this time:,0,1993505.story
   “The Rachel Maddow Show” on MSNBC (with guest host Melissa Harris-Perry) featured the scandal involving Tony Bennett (not the crooner), the former Indiana and current Florida school superintendent, who is accused of changing the grade of a charter in Indiana to appease a campaign donor.  The segment (3:28 minutes) explains the situation:    A column in the Indianapolis Star tries to clarify what’s going on with the scandal:     This cartoon appeared in the same paper:
Follow Gary Varvel on Twitter @varvel and like him on Facebook.
Thanks to Randy Traweek for sending along this story from EDUCATION WEEK reporting that Mr. Bennett RESIGNED his post yesterday over the scandal:       Reaction was prompt from many quarters:  Valerie Srauss was quick to respond to the news with a blog titled “The Biggest Loser in the Tony Bennett Resignation:”      Diane Ravitch had a very brief but trenchant comment to the departure:     Bob Sikes wonders why Bennett left so quickly and suggests there is more to the story than just the one scandal.  His post, by the way, includes a number of links to other articles about this story:
   Teach for America (TFA) is set to increase its presence at L.A. schools thanks, in part, to a $20 million grant from the Walton Foundation.  The funds went to a non-profit that recruits TFA candidates and are enough to send up to 700 of their college graduates to campuses in Los Angeles.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times has the details:,0,4348367.story    In reference to TFA, Diane Ravitch reprints a short item from Arthur Camins who suggests that the candidates, themselves, not be criticized, but the philosophy behind Teach for America is a fair target:
   A detailed profile in last weeks (July 19-25) edition of the L.A. Weekly focused on newly elected LAUSD board president Richard Vladovic.  You can read about him, warts and all, and his adversarial relationship with district superintendent John Deasy here:
   Verbun Dei, the all-male Catholic high school in Watts, was always known for the athletic prowess of its students.  Now, according to this uplifting front-page story in today’s L.A. Times, they stress academics.  100% of their 2013 grads are headed to college.  The article focuses on a pair of twins and their single mother to explain how the school gets poor, mostly African-American and Latino kids to succeed:,0,1073872.htmlstory
   Valerie Strauss reprints a blog that wonders why “reformers” want to hold teachers accountable for all the problems in education these days yet the profession is held in such low esteem.  The author is a professor of political science at Rhodes College in Memphis and his piece is titled “The Problem with ‘the Problem With Teachers’:”
   This item from today’s L.A. Times is sure to shake things up a bit.  An L.A. County Superior Court judge ruled yesterday that the LAUSD should release individual teacher value-added results to the paper.  The story reviews his reasoning for the decision and explains why both the district and UTLA were against disclosure.  It includes a link to the full judicial decision (26 pages):–20130801,0,165579.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+lanowblog+%28L.A.+Now%29
   An op-ed in yesterday’s Washington Post actually tried to defend standardized testing.  It’s written by the former chair and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corp.:     Diane Ravitch didn’t waste any time responding to his arguments:
   And finally, the firing of a gay Glendora Catholic high school teacher, after the wedding to his partner was publicized in a local paper, has sparked wide controversy and a petition drive to have him reinstated.  The piece was first posted on the L.A. Times web site yesterday evening and was updated this morning.  You can catch up on the details here:,0,2261767.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+lanowblog+%28L.A.+Now%29
Dave Alpert (’71) Chief Commissar

July 30

PROGRAM UPDATE:  Dave Alpert, his wife and Larry Lawrence attended the screening of the brand new documentary film “Go Public:  A Day in the Life of an American School District” at the All Saints Church in Pasadena on Friday.  They all agreed it was an accurate look at what goes on in a large urban public school district and that Pasadena was THE appropriate place to view the film as the “school district” in the title is Pasadena Unified.  A discussion was held after the movie that included the husband and wife film-maker team, a principal, teacher, parent and a member of the film crew.  Both Larry and Dave believe it would make an excellent ALOED event to show the movie to as wide an audience as possible on the Oxy campus.  Dave will present that idea to the next board meeting.  You can find all kinds of information about the film at    If you click on “50 Films” you can get short vignettes of the stories that were covered in the full documentary.
“What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us.
 The greatest university of all is a collection of books.”
―    Thomas Carlyle
   How much time and money do schools spend on standardized testing?  VERY good question.  Valerie Strauss highlights a new study from the American Federation of Teachers that looks at two unnamed school districts in the Midwest and the East to see exactly how much time and money are committed to the testing program.  You can read her article, which includes a link to the full press release, here:    You can read the full report (28 pages) titled “Testing More, Testing Less:  What America’s Obsession with Student Testing Costs in Money and Lost Instructional Time” here:
   Diane Ravitch highlights a video (4:41 minutes) made by the Badass Teachers Association, the group recently introduced to you by the “Ed News,” that looks at Eli Broad Foundation trained school superintendents and their impact on the school districts where they end up:
   Remember the “parent-trigger” law battle over Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto in the Central Valley?  The “Ed News” followed the situation from start to finish.  Well, guess what?  The newly reconstituted campus opened its doors for the first time on Monday.  This item from EDUCATION WEEK reviews the tempestuous steps that led to opening day:
   How much accountability do charter schools have?  Apparently not that much.  A story (via the AP) posted yesterday on the Tampa Bay Times web site describes how the former Indiana and current Florida schools chief changed the grade of an Indiana charter school to placate a prominent Republican campaign donor who runs the school.  Sound sleazy?  You can get all the sordid details here:     Diane Ravitch had a brief comment on her blog about this developing story.  It has a link to a piece in the Miami Herald with all the latest details and the impact the scandal might have on Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection chances:
   Today’s L.A. Times describes a program being run at two L.A. County juvenile probation facilities that takes teenage inmates and teaches them literacy and life skills.  It apparently is a big success according to two offenders who went through the five-week program called “Freedom School:”,0,623175.story
   This item from the Education Opportunity NETWORK is from a speech the author delivered last week in Washington, D.C., to a group called “Young Elected Officials.”  He provides 5 myths about public education that, he suggests, need to be debunked if we wish to talk about reforming the field:
   Remember the whole discussion about having guns on campus after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in December?  Well, one small school district in Arkansas is allowing some of its administrators, teachers and other staff to walk around their campuses with concealed weapons.  The Huffington Post has all the details:
   And finally, Diane Ravitch received an email today from U.S. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell who explained to her why privatization and school choice are good for students and parents.  As usual, she had some VERY strong responses:
Dave Alpert (’71) Chief Commissar

July 26

“Education breeds confidence. Confidence breeds hope. Hope breeds peace.”  ―    Confucius
   Thanks to Jill Asbjornsen for sending along the following:  For many reasons the Teach for America (TFA) program has sparked a LOT of controversy.  This video segment (28:04 minutes) from the HUFFPOST LIVE is titled “A Critical Look at Teach for America” and presents both sides of many of the issues people have with TFA.  It originally aired on Monday:
   The title of this EDUCATION WEEK article is in the form of a test question: “True or False:  Teacher Evaluations Improve Accountability and Raise Achievement.”  Care to venture an answer?  You may wish to read this very perceptive article first if you need help:
   A while back Florida adopted an “A” to “F” grading system for each of its schools in order to improve accountability.  That plan comes under withering criticism from this op-ed in The Gainsville Star written by the co-founder of a Sunshine State education advocacy group.  If nothing else, check out the cartoon that accompanies this piece:
   When it comes to school “reform” policies one group that is often neglected is parents.  What do THEY want to improve the schools where their children attend?  Interestingly, it is not more “choice” and a market-based approach to learning that is the aim of the corporate “reform” crowd.  In fact, what parents seem to want is more in line with what TEACHERS want!  Surprised?  This story from the Education Opportunity NETWORK highlights a poll of 1000 parents conducted for the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).  It was released on Monday with some rather eye-opening results:     You can find the official “Press Release” from AFT with even more details about the survey here:     You can read the full report (9 pages) titled “Public School Parents and the Promise of Public Education” here:
   One thing everyone seems to agree on regarding the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is that they are going to be expensive to implement.  The two groups developing the assessments have just come out with the prices for their tests.  Georgia took one look at the cost and promptly pulled out.  Valerie Strauss discusses the dollar figures in her blog for The Washington Post and concludes “The one thing that’s certain about all of this is that testing companies are going to make a lot of money.”   You can read her po$t here [Ed. note: California, by the way, is part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium] :
   Do you know what “co-location of charter schools” means?  Diane Ravitch briefly describes what it means and how the policy is causing problems at the 100-year old Lorena Street Elementary School (LAUSD) in Boyle Heights:
   Valerie Strauss reprints “a highly unusual post” (those are her words) written by David Lee Finkle, a middle school teacher in Florida, who draws the “Mr. Fitz” cartoon for the Daytona Beach News-Journal.  The comic strip character is a teacher who has recently gone through a period of depression, much like the artist, over the state of education and teaching today.  Finkle includes 25 of his drawings in his article.  Here’s just one example:


   A front-page feature in yesterday’s L.A. Times, part of an on-going series on the makeover of the Jordan Downs housing project in Watts, focuses on the reconstitution of Jordan High School (LAUSD) after it was turned over to Green Dot and the Partnership for L.A. Schools:,0,4556539,full.story
Dave Alpert (’71) Chief Commissar

July 23

“Play is the highest form of research.”  ―    Albert Einstein
   Think there’s any connection between prison and standardized tests?  The exams have been singled out for all sorts of dastardly consequences but this has got to be a far-fetched charge.  Right?  Well, guess again!  An interesting study has discovered that students who fail high-stakes exit exams have a 12% more likely chance of being incarcerated.  Still don’t believe it?  Check out this story from The Real News Network.  You can read the transcript and/or watch the video (12:53 minutes) here:
   The Republican-controlled House of Representatives on Friday passed, on a 221-207 vote, the GOP version of the renewal of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA).  You can catch up on the details of what is called “The Student Success Act” from the CAMPAIGN FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE    EDUCATION WEEK previewed some of the specifics of the bill prior to the final vote:     An editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times  took the opportunity of the passage of the bill in the House to opine on it and the role of the federal government in education:,0,3644768.story
  Is there a movement afoot to replace LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy?  A surprise letter from a board member requesting a “succession plan” caught many people off-guard.  This item was posted on the L.A. Times web site after 10:30 Friday night:,0,2600845.story?track=rss&utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+lanowblog+%28L.A.+Now%29    Thanks to Randy Traweek for forwarding two items related to this story.  The first is the actual letter from board member Bennett Kayser:    The second is an article from the L.A. Daily News about the story:
   Following the ALOED book club discussion last week on Brain Rules, the current (July 29) edition of Time magazine has a feature story on how learning a second language can spur brain development and possibly stave off dementia and Alzheimer’s.  It uses a growing language immersion program in Utah to demonstrate the latest science regarding the brain:,33009,2147707,00.html
   4 students from Markham Middle School (LAUSD)  defeated teams from 8 other states in a national engineering competition.  Their winning entry?  A prosthetic arm.  You can read all about it and what the victory means for the individual students in this item from Sunday’s L.A. Times:,0,6120200.story
   Should IQ scores be the only measure of “giftedness?”  This adjunct assistant professor of psychology at New York University thinks an array of characteristics need to be added to the mix.  He describes the limitations of a single IQ result and offers alternatives in this op-ed in the same paper:,0,7120055.story
   Valerie Strauss features a blog from Oxy’s own Peter Dreier that reviews the new documentary film “Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District.”  Dreier had a more detailed article about the film and the role of the “billionaire boys club” [Ed. note: That’s Diane Ravitch’s term) published last week that was included in the “Ed News.”  Strauss titles her piece “Finally, A Film that Celebrates Public Education:”   The film will be screening this Friday at the All Saints Church in Pasadena.  ALOED members Larry Lawrence and Dave Alpert will be attending.   For information and to pre-order tickets:
   Are children more content these days and satisfied with their lot in life?  Yesterday’s L.A. Times highlights a survey from Nickelodeon of kids aged 8-14 that found that 85% of them responded that they liked being children these days.  It includes several other reports on attitudes among both parents and children.   [Ed. note: Check out the author of this piece.  No, we are not related]:,0,5306201,full.story
   “What Keeps Good Teachers Teaching?” is the title of this blog from Valerie Strauss.  She reprints an article from an associate professor of Bard College’s M.A. in Teaching program who has some perceptive answers to that question:
   And finally, a pilot program using MOOCs (massive open online courses) at San Jose State did not end well when a large number of students were unable to pass the classes.  The “Ed News” highlighted this story last week.  An editorial in today’s L.A. Times reviews the program, what went wrong and urges a go-slow approach:,0,3407868.story
Dave Alpert (’71) Chief Commissar