Ed News June 10, 2014


 “Education isn’t for getting a job. It’s about developing yourself as a human being.” 
[Ed. note: For the latest information, as of press time, on the Vergara case, see the last entry in this edition of the “Ed News.]
truthout reviews a new book out May 27.  The title is “This Is Not A Test: A New Narrative on Race, Class and Education” by Jose Vilson.  The author is a middle school math teacher in New York City who has had articles published on a number of education sites.  Amazon described the book in this manner: José Vilson writes about race, class, and education through stories from the classroom and researched essays. His rise from rookie math teacher to prominent teacher leader takes a twist when he takes on education reform through his now-blocked eponymous blog, TheJoseVilson.com. He calls for the reclaiming of the education profession while seeking social justice.”
Two consortia have been developing assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).  California is one of 17 states that joined the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).  9 states and the District of Columbia are part of PARCC.  If my math is correct, that leaves 24 states that are either developing their own exams or are undecided which ones to select.  That figure translates to 58% or well over half of students who are not part of the two major consortia.   Those surprising statistics were part of an article from EDUCATION WEEK which includes a simple spreadsheet with state-by-state breakdowns.
The NEA’s Education Votes blog reports that a local circuit judge in Alabama (of all places) ruled that the use of taxpayer money to reimburse the tuition parents paid to send their children to private or religious schools was unconstitutional.
Here’s a novel solution to the issue of too many standardized tests.  Two sixth-grade classes in Ipswich, Massachusetts, have demanded payment for the full week of instructional time they lost while field testing new state assessments.  Don’t believe they are really doing this?  Check out the story from the Ipswich Chronicle. 
California is not the only state where teacher tenure rights are under attack.  As Peter Greene reports on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, legislation was recently introduced in Pennsylvania that would reduce or eliminate teacher job protections.  He describes what the bill would do and how it would impact the teaching profession.
Another outstanding teacher, selected local teacher of the year in four of the last 6 years, is calling it quits.  His reasons are achingly similar to many of the others that the “Ed News” has highlighted: budget cuts, too many poorly designed standardized tests, low pay, lack of respect, etc., etc.  We keep printing them not to bore you but to show you the magnitude of the problem.  Stories like the one above certainly don’t encourage people to enter or remain in the profession.  This young man has worked in Waynesboro, Virginia, for the past 6 years and his remarks appear on his own website JWAL.
An extensive story in The Washington Post outlines how two education “reformers” came up with the idea of the Common Core and enlisted Bill Gates to help bankroll their project and win numerous political supporters to their new cause.  The piece is titled “How Bill Gates Pulled Off the Swift Common Core Revolution.”  It includes two video interviews between the reporter and Gates.  The first (2:58 minutes) is an abbreviated version of the second (27:53 minutes).  “Never before has one man had the wealth, the political connections, and the grand ambition to buy American education,” Diane Ravitch wrote after reading this article, “But Bill Gates did it.”            Upon reading the article in the Post, Diane Ravitch thought it was time for Congressional hearings to be held on Gates’ “coup.”  “The story about Bill Gates’ swift and silent takeover of American education is startling,” she begins.  “His role and the role of the U.S. Department of Education in drafting and imposing the Common Core standards on almost every state should be investigated by Congress.”
Larry Lawrence forwarded this next article.  Anthony Cody, for his “Living in Dialogue” blog on EDUCATION WEEK, analyzes a recent op-ed from Randi Weingarten and Linda Darling-Hammond (highlighted in the “Ed News) that used California as an example of how a state might approach the assessments for the CCSS.  Cody is a little more skeptical of how the exams are being developed and implemented as a form of teacher accountability.  He titles his piece “Can California Offer A New Model for Accountability?  Or Are We Still Chasing Test Scores?” 
In an interesting twist to the recent sexual harassment scandal that has engulfed a number of the nation’s colleges and universities (including Occidental), a front-page story in Sunday’s L.A. Times reports that a growing number of MEN are fighting the punishments meted out to them and claiming their due process rights were violated.  A case that involves Oxy is featured in the article.  [Ed. note:  Does anyone recognize the building in the photo that accompanies the piece?  Is it the student union?]                Sandy Banks, in her column in today’s Times, chimed in on the whole issue of “he said, she said” regarding men who are suing their campuses over unfair punishments related to sexual assaults.  Her piece is titled “Campuses Must Distinguish Between  Assault and Youthful Bad Judgment.”
Paul Thomas, on his THE BECOMING RADICAL blog, makes a case for why dropping the Common Core may not be the most educational sound decision and offers a much broader reason for getting rid of them.  Both Oklahoma and his home state of South Carolina have voted to jettison the standards.  What he sees them possibly providing as an alternative is not a whole lot different from what they got rid of. 
Two letters in Sunday’s L.A. Times reacted to the paper’s editorial on Thursday about bringing back bilingual education in California.  The first one is from a retired LAUSD bilingual teacher.
Pasi Sahlberg spoke last month in Boston on what “Massachusetts Can Learn from Finland’s Educational Reforms.”  The tape of his speech (73:17 minutes) is long but contains a number of lessons for everyone to contemplate.  If you haven’t read his books or heard him speak before this is an excellent opportunity.  The talk was sponsored by Citizens for Public Schools and you can find it on YouTube.
Threatened with closure last year, the North Valley Occupational Center-Aviation facility, a LAUSD aircraft mechanics program, that provides training to some 100 adults and students each semester in a two-year program at the Van Nuys airport campus recently received two donated corporate jets.  Sunday’s L.A. Times describes why the planes will be a big boost to the technical school.
The Chicago Teachers Union issued a statement yesterday opposing a bill signed by the governor of Illinois that would reduce pension payments to thousands of city workers and educators.  Diane Ravitch included the press release on her blog.
Boosted by the Common Core, new assessments and increasing budgets, more and more states are making major new investments in educational technology.  An interesting sidebar to this article lists the top revenue-producing companies involved in the sale of K-12 software and digital products.  The details appear in EDUCATION WEEK.
The LAUSD kicked off a summer lunch program yesterday that will provide free meals to over 520,000 students at 317 district campuses through Aug. 8.  An item in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes who will benefit, how it works and where the funding came from.
Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, has an interesting piece from a guest writer.  The woman was a successful television writer/producer who decided seven years ago she wanted to become an English teacher.  She began work at a South Los Angeles charter school and then made the decision to spend the current year visiting classrooms and getting tips from other teachers in L.A.  She titles her commentary “There Are No Miracle Schools, But There Are a Lot of Really Good Ones.”  Her observations are quite enlightening.  
In an interesting development, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has come out for a two-year moratorium on the making of high stakes decisions by states or school districts that are linked to Common Core Assessments.   An article in The New York Times explains this shift.
And finally, reaction to the decision in the “landmark” Vergara case announced this morning has been, as anticipated, extensive and diverse.  The L.A. Times posted a story on their website this evening that will most likely appear in tomorrow’s paper.  It includes a link to the full decision (16 pages) or you can find it here.            UTLA posted a statement on their website UTLA.net that included some earlier stories about the case.              NPR station KPCC had a short reaction to the ruling and included a number of links to other sources about today’s announcement.  The same station aired a segment today (21:36 minutes) on Larry Mantle’s  program “AirTalk” (guest hosted by Patt Morrison, Oxy, ’74) about Vergara.  It includes comments by representatives from both sides and a number of reactions from callers to the  program.            Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, deconstructs the statement issued by U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan about the case.  It’s titled “Arne Tells Teachers to Go to Hell (Again).”  It includes a link to Duncan’s short comment or you can find it here.            The “Teacher Beat” blog on EDUCATION WEEK had a quick reaction to the court ruling and promised a more lengthy analysis in the near future.  The same column, in a separate post, had a number of statements from some prominent educators and key figures in the case.            The L.A. Daily News has an op-ed penned by Ben Austin, the founder and director of “Parent Revolution,” the group that’s been making use of the “parent-trigger” law.            In a similar vein, the San Jose Mercury News has a commentary by Dave Welch, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and founder of the group “StudentsMatter” that brought the lawsuit that became the Vergara case.  You can certainly guess how he feels about the decision.            In a commentary for The Washington Post that is profusely illustrated with graphs and charts the author argues why the ruling was fair and just.  It’s titled “Why A California Judge Just Ruled That Teacher Tenure is Bad For Students.”  Stay tuned.  There will certainly be lots more reporting and commentary about the case in the days ahead.  The “Ed News” will do its best to keep you up-to-date and informed about this significant breaking story!


 Dave Alpert (’71)

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