Ed News, June 20, 2014 Edition


Summer officially arrives at 3:51 a.m. tomorrow.
“Ignorance is ultimately the worst enemy of a people who want to be free.” 
Most veteran educators and experts know that a child’s academic success and career earnings are very closely linked to the family background of the student.  A new study from a trio of researchers at Johns Hopkins University followed  almost 800 pupils from elementary school in 1982 until they were nearly 30-years old.  That correlation was supported again by the report’s findings.  A short article in EDUCATION WEEK highlights the study, describes the authors’ major conclusions and includes a link to the press release about their conclusions which they have turned into a book.
In a follow-up to his column in Sunday’s L.A. Times (highlighted in the Tuesday edition of the “Ed News”), Steve Lopez writes in Wednesday’s paper about the LAUSD board’s decision to return Stuart Magruder, a frequent critic of the district’s iPad-for-all program, to the Bond Oversight Committee that he was unceremoniously refused reappointment to last month. Diane Ravitch printed a comment on her blog from Karin Klein, a member of the Times  editorial board, who wished to clarify some of the paper’s positions on educational policy including the controversy over the reappointment of Mr. Magruder. 
Many business leaders (i.e., Gates, Broad, Walton, etc.) like to stick their noses into education .  They are quick to suggest that schools be run more like businesses.  How informed are those leaders on educational issues?  According to a survey of superintendents from the largest school districts in the U.S. the answer is “not very!”  The Harvard Business School and Boston Consulting Group conducted a poll last fall and the results were published in a story in EDUCATION WEEK from earlier in the year.  “The researchers found that just 3 percent of school superintendents rate business leaders as ‘well-informed’ about public education,” the article points out, “and 14 percent of the survey respondents say corporate leaders are actually misinformed.”  The story includes a link to the full report (24 pages) titled “Partial Credit: How America’s School Superintendents See Business as a Partner.”  [Ed. note: I wonder how many businesspeople would be happy to have superintendents, principals or even TEACHERS telling them how to run their companies?]             Speaking of businesses, do you ever wonder WHY Pearson (self-styled “the world’s leading education company”) is so heavily involved in education?  Is it truly an altruistic believe in improving learning for students and making education more efficient and effective?  Guess again!  A commentary in the Huffington Post details the company itself and some of its practices.  The bottom line for most businesses is pretty straight forward–PROFITS!!!!  “‘Pearson Personalized Learning’ is not about supporting schools; it is about replacing them,” the author charges.  “And it is about replacing them without any evidence that their products work or any concern for the impact of their products on schools and student learning.”            David Sirota, writing at PandoDaily, again points out why so many business millionaires and billionaires are so enamored of charter schools.  Many of them make huge PROFITS!!!  Surprise, surprise!  “If the simplest explanation is most often the correct one,” Sirota suggests, “then it stands to reason that at least some corporate titans promote charter schools to do what they do best: make money.”  He concludes his commentary with this: “that doesn’t mean everyone supporting charter schools is doing so to make a quick buck. But it does mean that we cannot have an honest or reasoned debate if everyone pretends the profit motive is somehow completely absent from education politics and policy.”
More Vergara reaction.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times published 3 letters reacting to Sandy Banks’ column in Saturday’s paper about the Vergara case.                If you thought that the Vergara case was the end of the line for this type of litigation you are sadly mistaken.  Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, on her VAMboozled blog describes how the team that filed the suit in the first place is taking their act on the road.  She predicts stops in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho and Kansas.  If the “tour” has even minor success in any of those places you can bet they will try even more.  Fasten your seat belts.  It could be a bumpy trip for teachers, unions and the public schools.            Why are the so-called education “reformers” going after tenure in the first place?  Shaun Johnson, on the @ THE CHALK FACE blog,  thinks they are going about it all wrong.  “Obsessions with teacher tenure, or tenure in any academic profession,” he maintains, “is all about union busting, and flipping the teaching profession into an unprofessional, short-term, part-time, scab workforce.”  Johnson goes on to propose some concrete ways to improve “high-priority” schools.            Kevin Welner, director of the National Education Policy Center, an attorney and a professor of education policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder, wrote an article last week on the case titled “A Silver Lining in the Vergara Trial” (highlighted, by the way, in the “Ed News).  Valerie Strauss turns over her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post to him as he answers 5 key questions about the case and its future in the judicial process.  This piece includes a link to his previous article.               Ronald Brownstein, a senior writer at the National Journal, has an op-ed, titled “Schools Aren’t the Only Problem,” in today’s L.A. Times about the Vergara opinion in which he seems to get it at first but then reverts back to blaming teachers, their work rules and their unions for the achievement gap.  “These trends,” he initially suggests, “send the clear message that truly expanding opportunity for lower-income kids requires a comprehensive response that extends well beyond school reform.  But that awareness,” he unfortunately continues, “doesn’t absolve school systems from taking every possible step to maximize their effectiveness within the classroom. And that means subjecting more work rules that favor the system’s adults over its kids to the exacting scrutiny that produced the Vergara decision.”            Pedro A. Noguera, a professor at NYU, writes an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal titled “In Defense of Teacher Tenure” in which he does exactly that and he refers to California and L.A., in particular, quite liberally.  If you’ve been looking for some good reasons for retaining tenure this will provide you with some excellent ammunition.  Noguera gets it!  “Blaming teacher tenure for the flaws of L.A.’s troubled school system,” he concludes, “is like blaming doctors at Veterans Affairs hospitals for the deep flaws in the VA system. Ending tenure will only make it harder to fix the flaws in a vital public institution.”  [Ed. note:  Unfortunately, the Journal requires to paid subscription to access the article.  I typed the title of it into GOOGLE and got one free preview.  The link, however, doesn’t get you the same privilege.  If locating it on GOOGLE, YAHOO, BING or another search engine doesn’t work you can get a shortened version on Diane Ravitch’s blog here.  It’s well worth the effort.]
U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan appeared on the CBS “This Morning” show on Monday to defend the Common Core State Standards.  EDUCATION WEEK has a brief description of the appearance and a video (6 minutes) of the interview.               Speaking of Arne Duncan . . . . the same publication has an article on their “Politics K-12” blog titled “Five Items on Arne Duncan’s Summer To-Do List.”  You might think of it as “homework” for the Secretary of Education while he’s off for the summer.               Returning to the topic of the Common Core State Standards, EDUCATION WEEK has a brief item about a new MSN/Wall Street Journal poll regarding them.  Less than half (47%) of 1,000 American adults who were asked about them had even heard of the standards.  The piece has a link to the full poll (27 pages) with a number of other questions regarding politics (Obama approval rating, feelings about the political parties, Hillary Clinton, November elections, immigration, climate change, etc.)  Only questions 25-27, out of 39, on p. 21 dealt with education.
Peter Greene, who usually writes on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, this time comments on the Huffington Post.  He believes he’s uncovered the scenario by which the so-called education “reformers” can destroy the public schools.  Consider this: create very difficult tests, students score poorly, blame the teachers, eliminate tenure and seniority which weakens unions and opens the door for charters, vouchers and privatization.  Sound too conspiratorial for you?  How far along do you think people are on that timeline?  Where would the Vergara decision fit in?  Interesting stuff.  If those “reformers” want to define “effective” teaching as high test scores you can see how easy it is to go down the road outlined above.  Check out what Greene has to say about it.
The National Council on Teacher Quality’s (NCTQ) ratings of teacher preparation programs came out on Tuesday.  Reaction to them was quick.  Prof. Edward J. Fuller of Penn State University on his A “Fuller” Look at Education Issues blog had a detailed and extensive critique of the limitations and shortcomings of the study.  It is based on an even more complete paper that he wrote for the Journal of Teacher Education that he has a link to.
From the “charter school scandal of the day” file:  The Hartford Courant reports that the CEO of a charter organization in Hartford, Connecticut, had two criminal convictions in the 80s (one was in California) and spent some time in prison.  The paper raises some critical questions about how rigorous the criminal background check is in that state and wonders how the man was able to pass it.  State education officials claimed they had not known of his record.
This looks like it could spark some major blowback.  Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 reports briefly that Louisiana Gov.  Bobby Jindal just announced that his state will drop the Common Core and PARCC assessments.  That was followed, almost immediately, by a statement on the Louisiana Department of Education website from State  Commissioner John White that the state will NOT drop them.  FIGHT!  FIGHT!            Schneider had a much more extensive later post with details of the two sides’ actions and where things stand.
A growing number of after-school tutoring centers are now found in 8 urban areas to teach creative writing to students.  The programs, created by a non-profit called “826 National” began in 2002 with a single center in San Francisco.  It now serves over 30,000 students.  A sidebar to the story in EDUCATION WEEK describes where the programs are located, including one in Los Angeles in conjunction with the LAUSD that began in 2005.
An editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times [Ed. note: The “Ed News” initially missed this one.] was critical of a bill introduced in the State Assembly (AB 1912) that would push the State Board of Education to include the election of Pres. Obama in the public school’s U.S. History curriculum.  The paper’s major complaint was that this was a case of the politicians “meddling” in decisions that academics should be making.  “Decisions about coherent, well-structured curriculum and textbooks,” it concludes, “should be made by educators and academic experts, not by politicians.”            That item prompted a letter in Wednesday’s Times from the author of the bill, Assemblyman Chris R. Holden, reacting to the paper’s position.
Grading students is one of the more difficult responsibilities faced by all teachers.  Is it possible to make it more “personal” and “enjoyable?”  That’s the topic addressed in this piece from EDUCATION WEEK.  It’s written by a National Board-certified teacher who is a 10-year veteran and currently teaches high school English/language arts in Boston.  She makes ample use of formative assessments and student portfolios and goes into detail about how her system works.
Typically, Teach for America recruits have been placed in large urban school districts that had difficulties filling teaching positions.  Diane Ravitch prints a note from a parent and education activist who reports on 3 TFA members who want to  start a charter school in a RURAL area of Tennessee.  That may sounds like an innocuous idea but if it is established it will compete with already existing public schools for state money and students and probably lead to a divisive split in the community.
The District of Columbia Public Schools announced yesterday they will not use student standardized test scores on teacher evaluations for the next school year as the district transitions to new assessments aligned to the Common Core.  EDUCATION WEEK (via the AP) has a brief piece on the statement issued by Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson.
Jeff Bryant in the Educational Opportunity NETWORK titles his piece “Dirty Secret in Education Wars:  Money Matters.”  He reviews how many so-called education “reformers” want to privatize the schools while at the same time advocating for deep budget cuts and tax breaks for the wealthy and corporations which, unfortunately, translates into less money for public schools.  “The dirty, little secret in America’s education wars, he reveals, “is that spending more money on schools is what most people really want – and for good reason, because it really tends to help. Yet what we’ve been seeing in a ‘reform’ agenda that has dominated the debate is an emphasis on anything else but.  The conventional wisdom,” he continues, “tends to be that asking for more money is a policy cop out – throwing money at the problem, while the Very Serious People grapple with the ever-more-so weighty topics of Value Added Measures and Adequate Yearly Progress.”
Occidental is in the news again.  Unfortunately it’s about the sexual assault scandal.  In a twist to the original story a male freshman who was expelled from the school last year for an alleged sexual assault won a ruling from an L.A. County Superior Court  judge to prevent the college from sealing portions of the suit he filed against the school.  An article in yesterday’s L.A. Times discusses the judge’s decision.
And finally, one school district in North Carolina, faced with a significant lack of financial resources, is making a major push into the technique of “personalized learning.”  They are hoping to both educate students and save money at the same time.  The story of how they are accomplishing those twin goals appears in EDUCATION WEEK.  It includes a short video (1:32 minutes) demonstrating how the district is teaching it’s students with limited funding.
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)


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