Ed News June 13, 2014 Edition


“The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” 
Reports and reactions to the Vergara case continue to dominate the news.  The story about the decision that the Tuesday “Ed News” highlighted from the L.A. Times website
ran as a front-page, number one story in the paper on Wednesday.  That day’s paper had a couple of items about the ruling.  First, was an editorial that supported the judge’s findings and suggested they provide a golden opportunity for the legislature to act.  “It’s time for the state to stop defending laws that are indefensible,” it concludes, “and to get to work on ones that are fairer to students.”              Second, LAUSD Supt. John Deasy, who testified for the winning side during the trial, penned an op-ed that was laudatory, obviously, of the decision.  “The court’s decision in favor of nine student plaintiffs,” he offered, “is a decisive step toward creating a system that puts the educational rights of California students before other interests.”  [Ed. note: I wonder who those “other interests” are that he so quickly brushed aside?]              Another op-ed in yesterday’s paper took the opposite point-of-view.  It was written by an L.A. native who is an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts.  “In short, the problem isn’t that teachers don’t care, he suggests.  “It’s that they work in a field with little support for professional growth.”   In conclusion he writes: “Instead of imagining a world in which teachers are easier to fire, we should work to imagine one in which firing is rarely necessary. Because you don’t put an effective teacher in every classroom by holding a sword over their heads. You do it by putting tools in their hands.”             Fourth, Steve Lopez, wove some comments about the ruling into his Times column Wednesday describing how one parent, in particular, has worked hard to provide educational basics to one LAUSD middle school.              Diane Ravitch, on her blog, scrutinized some of the evidence provided at the trial and found the judge’s interpretation of it rather faulty.            Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post has some personal reaction to the case and includes some of the comments from readers of her paper.              In a separate post she turns her blog over to the director of the National Education Policy Center who is also an attorney and professor of education policy at the University of Colorad0, Boulder.  He finds the court’s opinion “weak” both legally and logically but finds a “silver lining” regarding the issue of education equity.  He further goes on to explain what a lower court ruling means in the context of judicial actions in our system of government.            One blogger at EDUCATION WEEK published a brief comment shortly after the ruling was announced on Tuesday and promised a more detailed response later.  Here is that report and analysis.              The CHRISTIAN SCIENCE MONITOR had a relatively  straightforward account of the case that was headlined “Teacher Tenure Ruling: Not As Earthshaking as it Seems? ”             For a thorough and thoughtful analysis of the opinion and what should be done in the future check out this item from InterACT.              Not sure how you feel about the Vergara decision?  The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” feature held a discussion on the outcome between four prominent experts.  It’s titled “Does Tenure Protect Bad Teachers or Good Schools?”  In favor of the ruling were Eric Hanushek of Stanford University and Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute; against were Brian Jones, a former teacher, and Diane Ravitch.  You can find the link to all 4 of their arguments here.  (You have to click on each one individually.)            The “ON CALIFORNIA” blog for EDUCATION WEEK analyzed the case and described is as ” A Crafty, Limited Decision.”  The authors included 3 key reflections on the opinion and characterized it as only about a 4 on the Richter Scale.  Both authors point out the decision opens the door for the state legislature to amend the laws regarding tenure, seniority and teacher dismissal procedures rather than throwing them out entirely.
Now that the initial wave of articles and stories reporting the basic facts of the Vergara case has pretty much passed, the next phase is analysis and predictions on the impact of the ruling.  L.A. Times reporter Howard Blume had a front-page piece in yesterday’s paper  about what the affect of the case will be at the classroom level.  He includes some interesting statistics describing how other states handle teacher tenure and seniority.          The same paper published 5 letters based on the Times story from the previous day announcing the opinion.            Over at the Huffington Post a California public school teacher and writer believes ending tenure will not achieve the goal of educational equity.  She offers some other solutions.  “The disparities in our schools are not caused by teacher tenure,” she concludes, “but rather by the realities that individual schools and their teachers, as well as their students, face every day.”            Jennifer Berkshire, aka EduShyster, was quick to excoriate those writers who claimed the decision was a victory for the “kids.”  She goes on to list some of the other “winners” who will benefit from the ruling.            Michelle Rhee, in an opinion piece for The Washington Post, claimed the case was “a win for teachers and children.”  [Ed. note:  You’ll just have to read what she wrote in order to decipher her convoluted reasoning.  I can’t figure it out!]            An editorial in The New York Times, titled “A New Battle For Equal Education,” supported the judge’s opinion and went on to issue a challenge to the teachers’ unions.  “Teachers deserve reasonable due process rights and job protections,” it concluded.  “But the unions can either work to change the anachronistic policies cited by the court or they will have change thrust upon them.”               In light of the decision, USA TODAY had a very anti-teachers’ union ad yesterday that said unions were “treating kids like garbage” and the best remedy was to sue the organizations in court.  You can view a picture of that ad here.            Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 quickly exposed the union-bashing group, known as the “Center for Union Facts,” behind the ad.  They are the same bunch who ran a huge ad in Times Square and in The New York Times blaming AFT President Randi Weingarten for the poor U.S. results on the 2012 PISA tests.  So you know where they are coming from.  Her piece includes a video (8:37 minutes) reacting to Vergara from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.            Dana Goldstein, in The ATLANTIC, has an interesting history of tenure from 1909 to the present.  She then proceeds to review the key findings in the case and also zeroes in on the issue of educational equality.             It seems that lawyers for the defense filed a post-trial brief in which they pointed out that none of the nine student plaintiffs in the case had a “grossly ineffective teacher” and that two of them attended a LAUSD charter school that had no tenure or seniority.  Diane Ravitch, on her blog, reports on this intriguing discovery and comments on why it seemed to be ignored by the judge.            L.A. Times Business columnist Michael Hiltzik comments on the Ravitch piece (above) in an item posted Thursday evening on the paper’s website.  He, too, finds the judge’s reasoning suspect.  He titles his contribution “Teacher Tenure Case: Another Sign the Judge’s Ruling Deserves an F.”                    2 letters were published in today’s Times in response to the op-ed written by LAUSD Supt. Deasy (see first section above).               A VERY intriguing item from Slate looks at the key testimony that “1-3% of teachers” in California were ineffective and traces it back to the person who delivered it on the stand during the trial.  That person told the author of this article that it was a “guesstimate” and “is not based on any specific data, or any rigorous research about California schools in particular.”  Yet, the judge cited this number as a significant piece of evidence in his ruling.  The author of this story, titled “Fuzzy Math,” goes on to explain what the ramifications of all of this are when the case is appealed.            AFT President Randi Weingarten wrote a letter to U.S. Dept. of Ed. Sec. Arne Duncan decrying his stance in support of the Vergara decision.  She blasted him for a lack of leadership and a strong tendency to promote polarization rather than collaboration in dealing with the problems facing public education today.  Her comments appear on the union’s website aft A Union of Professionals.
In a story covered in a previous edition of the “Ed News,” thousands of foreign teachers have been hired and brought to the U.S. ostensibly to take positions that couldn’t be filled by American citizens.  As the earlier story discovered many of them were poorly paid and badly exploited due to their limited knowledge of U.S. labor laws.  An investigative piece in the Wall Street Journal focuses on the Garland Independent School District in eastern Texas to show the many ways workers on HB-1 visas have been taken advantage of and how it has now drawn federal scrutiny.  To make matters worse, “the alleged misuse of the visa program,” the article points out, “has also raised concerns that some American teachers may have been pushed out to make room for fee-paying foreign teachers.”
What would you guess was the most important priority based on a U.N. global survey of over 2 million people in both wealthy and undeveloped countries?  If you answered “education” you are correct.  Other top issues included better healthcare and an honest and responsive government according the the “My World” poll highlighted in a report on MSNBC.  At the bottom of the list were items such as climate change, better energy at home, better phone and internet access and political freedoms.
Here’s another interesting court decision unrelated to the Vergara case.  A Circuit Court judge in Virginia ruled the state’s takeover plan of low-performing schools to be unconstitutional.  This decision appeared on the nsba’s (National School Boards Association) website.
All sorts of so-called education “experts” want to make policy for districts, schools and teachers.  However, a 9-year veteran English teacher in El Paso laments “Is Anybody Listening to Teachers?”  Her complaints appear in EDUCATION WEEK.
Jeff Bryant, at the Education Opportunity NETWORK, believes the entire debate over the Common Core has become too political and “The Standards Scolds Are Getting Us Nowhere.”  He wants the discussion/debate/finger pointing to return to the REAL issue–how do we solve the question of education inequality.  In addressing all the bickering he concludes:”What’s needed instead is a pivot to the issue of education inequality, which can only be addressed not by mandating schools reach Common Core Standards, but by ensuring schools have the ‘Common Core Resources’ our children really need.”
A recent report from the Economic Policy Institute suggests that charter schools are leading to a “two-tiered” education system.  It focuses on the City of Milwaukee and the Rocketship Charter Management Company.  The story appears in LABOR NOTES and includes a link to the study, titled “Do Poor Kids Deserve Lower-Quality Education Than Rich Kids?  Evaluating School Privatization Proposals in Milwaukee, written by Gordon Lafer, a University of Oregon professor and political economist.
From the “Charter School Scandal-of-the-Day” file:  The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the FBI and two other federal agencies, armed with search warrants. raided 19 campuses  run by Concept Schools in Illinois, Indiana and Ohio related to “an on-going white collar crime matter” that a spokesperson would not be more specific about. 
A teacher from Oakland writes an article for EDUCATION WEEK titled “Using Project-Based Learning to Cultivate Student Engagement and Trust.”  He uses a project for his 10th graders to create  children’s book for a village in Africa to illustrate his point.
Many so-called education “reformers’ point to the poor results of U.S. students on the PISA tests as a reason for blaming teachers, privatizing schools and attacking teachers’ unions.  A professor at the Graduate School of Education &  Human Development at George Washington University points out how the exams have been full of methodological errors for many years and they still have not been addressed.  The original article from the Teachers College Record requires a paid subscription.  Fortunately, Diane Ravitch has reprinted some of the key points from the piece on her blog.
“Less Sex, Fighting and Smoking Among High School Students” is the headline of a brief item in EDUCATION WEEK that features a few findings from a recent biennial report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention titled “Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey.”  It includes statistics from 42 states and 21 large urban school districts.  You can access the full report (135 pages) here.
More bad news on the financial front for the LAUSD.  Yesterday’s L.A. Times describes a $5 million settlement that the district accepted to cover two legal claims against a teacher from Telfair Elementary in Pacoima who pleaded no contest to 13 counts of lewd acts on a child back in 2012.
The shift to online standardized assessments aligned to the Common Core is forcing California to increase its funding in order to keep up with the technology requirements.  A story in The HECHINGER REPORT details the situation.  It explores how various districts up and down the state are equipped to handle the need for more computers and broadband capacity.  “The move is happening not a minute too soon,” it indicates.  “In California, like many other states, the level of technology available to students varies tremendously from district to district, school to school.”  
And finally, an article in POLITICO wonders if teachers’ unions are losing their clout.  The author cites declining membership and a drop in revenue from dues as well as the decision in the Vergara case and other political losses around the country and divisions over policy within the movement to buttress her argument.

 Dave Alpert (’71)


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