Ed News June 17, 2014 Edition


 “Upon the subject of education, not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, 
I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people can be engaged in.” 
― Abraham Lincoln
More Vergara reaction and analysis.  Adam Bessie, on his Automated Teaching Machine blog takes a deeper look at the motivation behind Students Matter, the organization that brought the case in the first place.  He believes they have cleverly co-opted the whole idea of making this case into a “civil rights issue.”  That looks great and so noble on first glance but what are they really trying to achieve?  “Just how did dismantling worker rights,” he asks, “become part of Civil Rights? How did teachers – those like my wife and myself, who have devoted their lives to working with children and adults in public schools – become their greatest enemy?”  If for nothing else, read how he connects the case to the Colombian born supermodel and actress Sofia Vergara.              “Follow the money” has become a familiar adage in a number of fields.  Now it may be time to do it as regards Students Matter.  Who was behind the organization that initiated the Vergara suit in the first place?  Where did the money come from?  What role does David Welch, the billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur, play in all of this.  Thanks to the website Mother Crusader we now have some answers to those questions.             An article in Slate argues that it’s not the issue of tenure that’s harming low-income and minority students but segregation.  “Even if tenure reform is successful, ” it is the author’s contention, “there is little reason to think new teachers hired in high-poverty schools will be much better.”  He goes on to explain what factors led to that thesis.              Other states are looking at what happened in California and contemplating taking similar action in their areas.  Mark Weber, aka the “Jersey Jazzman,”  suggests New Jersey keep its hands off tenure in an op-ed on NorthJersey.com.   He compares his state to California and believes New Jersey’s system of handling tenure is much superior.           Jesse Rothstein, a professor of Economics at UC Berkeley, testified for the defense in the case.  In an op-ed in The New York Times he contents that doing away with tenure is likely to make it more difficult to recruit teachers to work in low-income and minority schools which goes against one of the key aims of the plaintiffs.    “Eliminating tenure,” he suggests, “will do little to address the real barriers to effective teaching in impoverished schools, and may even make them worse.”    “Attacking tenure as a protection racket for ineffective teachers,” Rothstein concludes,  “makes for good headlines. But it does little to close the achievement gap, and risks compounding the problem.”                     Sandy Banks, in her Saturday column in the L.A. Times, has an interesting, what I’d call a middle-of-the-road, pox on both of your houses, take on the case.  It’s titled “Judge’s Ruling On Teacher Tenure Sends  A Message to Unions, Reformers.”            The “Numbers and Letters” feature in the same paper reported that “588 printable letters to the editor were received between last Friday and this Thursday.  64 readers weighed in on the court decision on teacher protection rules, the most-discussed topic.”           Now that the Vergara case has been decided in California predictions have been made that similar litigation will most likely crop up in other states.  The Danbury News Times reports that Connecticut may be one of those states.             Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, has been trolling the internet for stories about the opinion.  What he’s found is a number of  anti-teacher reactions in the comments section following the articles.  He describes many of the authors of them as virulent “teacher-haters.”   He offers a number of pretty nasty examples.   If you get the chance, be sure to read the comments posted after Greene’s piece.           Sunday’s  L.A. Times included 4 letters regarding an op-ed the paper ran Thursday from a professor who argued that getting rid of poor teachers will not, by itself, fix what ails education.                A recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a particularly nasty full-page ad in USA TODAY that vilified teachers because of tenure and seniority.  It was paid for by an extremely anti-union organization.   A member of BATS (Badass Teachers) responds to the item with a reference to Arthur Miller’s play “The Crucible.”  The author, on his Out of the Cave website, is a middle school teacher in Seattle.  He includes a link to the offending ad.             Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, includes posts from two writers about why tenure is important for K-12 teachers.
Under California’s new Local Control Funding Formula, millions of dollars are to be earmarked for students at low-performing schools or who are ELLs.  LAUSD would like to divert $13 million of those new monies to its district police department.  An L.A. County Juvenile Court judge has written an letter to the district objecting to the action.  An article from the Center for Public Integrity explains the situation and why the judge complained.
The question of how to reduce student drop-out rates is always a critical issue in education.  A research professor at Johns Hopkins University School of Education, writing an op-ed in The New York Times, discusses some new information he and some colleagues have compiled about this on-going problem.  “This month, more than three million high school students will receive their diplomas,” he starts off.  “At more than 80 percent, America’s graduation rate is at a record high. More kids are going to college, too. But one-third of the nation’s African-American and Latino young men will not graduate.”  He offers some very specific solutions in the course of his commentary.
Here are some sobering statistics from the FiveThirtyEightEconomics website.  Total public school funding actually declined in 2012 for the first time since 1977 and student-teacher ratios rose to their highest level since 2000.  If you’ve been wondering why your class sizes have been getting larger and the money for salaries, benefits, school supplies, etc. has been shrinking this story and the accompanying charts offer some explanations.
Julian Vasquez Heilig, professor at the University of Texas–Austin, relates some “horror stories” from parents of students at a BASIS charter school in San Antonio.  He writes on his Cloaking Inequity blog.
The American Association of School Administrators (AASA–The School Superintendents Association) has a new report out on their website detailing how district superintendents feel about the Common Core State Standards.  It includes a survey with over 500 responses from 48 states of attitudes toward the standards.  the key finding: implementation of both the standards and assessments needs to be slowed down.  In addition, “AASA opposes the overreliance on standardized testing and the use of one test to assess both student learning and teacher effectiveness, especially so early in the implementation of the new standards.”  Diane Ravitch writes about the report on her blog and includes a link to the full survey (13 pages).
Steve Lopez, in his Sunday column for the L.A. Times, revisits the situation where the LAUSD board refused to reappoint Stuart Magruder, a member of the district’s citizen Bond Oversight Committee, who was highly critical of how bond money was allocated for the iPad-for-all program.  Lopez reviews the history of the committee and discusses some of the issues raised by Magruder and explains how the board could still reappoint him.  An editorial in today’s paper strongly recommends the district retain Mr. Magruder on its committee.  

“The board’s vote to rid itself of Magruder sent a message that the district doesn’t want to deal with critics or answer tough questions,” it concludes.  “Now it has a chance to right this mistake when it reconsiders the Magruder reappointment Tuesday. It should keep him, recognizing that sometimes its biggest critics are its best friends.”            BREAKING NEWS: The LAUSD board voted 4-2 this afternoon to reappoint Magruder to his position on the district’s Bond Oversight Committee.  That overturns a previous action last month in which they refused to take action to return him to that post.  The story was posted this afternoon on the L.A. Times website.

A recent report highlighted in EDUCATION WEEK finds that after New York City principals instituted more rigorous teacher evaluations some of the weaker educators left the system. “Even though the overall percentage of teachers actually denied tenure did not change much,” it begins, “the more-rigorous process appears to have reshaped the workforce—suggesting that changes in practice rather than underlying tenure laws, may bear fruit.”  That point may have some interesting implications in light of the Vergara case.
The race to fill the open District 1 LAUSD school board seat in a special election in August is causing a major split among two key labor unions.  UTLA is backing former principal and district administrator George McKenna.  The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) is supporting Alex Johnson.  Both groups plan to spend lots of money and provide a number of volunteers to assist their candidate, according to Sunday’s L.A. Times.
Many charter schools follow a “no excuses” model for student behavior.  Is it successful?  Controversial?  This story from EDUCATION WEEK uses a case study from several Collegiate Academies in New Orleans to answer those questions.
A LAUSD charter in the Del Rey area of the city is moving after a lengthy dispute with the neighborhood and the district.  The specific reasons for the move are a matter of contention among the parties involved.  As a result, the Citizens of the World Mar Vista charter elementary school will have to be split between two campuses in Westchester.  Yesterday’s L.A. Times sorts out the issues for you.
A bill that would expedite the removal of teachers charged with serious offenses was approved by the California legislature without opposition and now only needs Gov. Brown’s signature.  The story, in today’s L.A. Times, describes the crimes covered and explains the process for getting rid of the alleged perpetrators.  The California Teachers Association favors the bill but the Association of California School Administrators and LAUSD Supt. John Deasy are opposed.
You can earn a lot of things by just taking an exam.  Do you think it’s possible to pass a test and get a college degree without going through all the course work?  If so, it could take a lot less time and save a LOT of money.  The HECHINGER REPORT tells about some programs that do exactly that.  
School districts in 4 southern California counties, L.A., San Bernadino, Ventura and Riverside, posted better rates on reducing student suspensions than the rest of the state.  The figures and analysis were provided by the UCLA Civil Rights Project.  In recent years there has been a push to reduce suspensions from school for misbehavior that causes pupils to miss valuable instructional time while they cool their heals at home or out on the street.  Statewide suspensions dropped 14.1%.   L.A. County topped that figure by 42%.  The item in today’s L.A. Times included specific districts in L.A. County that had the highest reductions.
The latest ratings from the NCTQ (National Council of Teacher Quality) of teacher preparation programs are scheduled for release today.  Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch 29, offers up a warning about them prior to their unveiling.  Her post is titled “Those Nonsense Annual NCTQ Ratings are Coming on June 17.”  She points out, again, why they are not reliable and suggests they are really fronting for the promotion of alternative certification providers, i.e., Teach for America.  “NCTQ remains a well-funded, well-advertised, corporate-reform-promoting facade,” she concludes.            Diane Ravitch reprints a blog she wrote in May, 2012, that takes a look at the origins of NCTQ.              If you’d like to get some  FAQs about the latest ratings here’s a link to U.S. News and World Report which publishes them.  To see the actual 2014 rankings from the same publication, click here.  It includes a search tool to help you locate a specific program.              EDUCATION WEEK has an analysis of the newest report titled “Alternative Certification Deemed Weak by NCTQ in New Teacher-Prep Report.”   
And finally, an editorial in today’s L.A. Times took Gov. Brown and the California Teachers Association to task for a behind-the-scenes addition of an item to the recently approved state budget that would cap  local school district reserve funds when the state starts to build its rainy day fund.   If that explanation doesn’t make any sense, read the piece and see if it brings some clarity.  The paper’s biggest complaint is that “the proposal surfaced last week and had no formal public hearings.”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)

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