Ed News, Friday, June 27 Edition

The ED NEWS

 “Ignorance is ultimately the worst enemy of a people who want to be free.” 
― Jonathan HennesseyThe United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation 
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have prompted numerous articles and analyses from both proponents and opponents.  The “Ed News” has highlighted quite a few of them.  Randy Traweek has discovered one that may be a little more unique than the others.  A reporter for The New York Times viewed the standards and assessments through the eyes of a 9-year-old boy from Haiti who moved to America before he was even two-years-old.  The article about the young boy’s struggles will give you some new insights into the raging debate over the Common Core.  It’s a long piece but well worth your time.            The CCSS have engendered fierce debate within the education community but now the issue is spilling over into state politics according to The HECHINGER REPORT.  The author focuses on the decision by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal to delay implementation over the objections of the state’s superintendent of education.  
The author of this piece from the Huffington Post is the head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan.  He has a very jaundiced view of some of the “reformy, changey” proposals that pass for improvement in education today.  He calls most of it “A National Delusion” and goes on to outline what bothers him most about it and, as you will see, he’s upset.  “Every bit of education reform,’ he charges, “– every think tank remedy proposed by wet-behind-the-ears MBAs, every piece of legislation, every one of these things — is an excuse to continue the unconscionable neglect of our children.” 
 
EDUCATION WEEK’S “Photo Blog” focuses on graduation season.  It collected a number of pictures from a variety of sources to illustrate what high school graduations look like around the country.  
 
Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, thinks he may have discovered “Quite Possibly the Stupidest Thing To Come Out of the US DOE.”  Want to guess what that might be?  You can probably think of a long list.   Education Sec. Arne Duncan now believes the reason why students with disabilities do so poorly on standardized tests is . . . . (wait for it) LOW EXPECTATIONS!!!  In a “major shift” in federal special education policy, Duncan is now going to demand that states show educational progress for those students (read: improved test scores?).  Upon hearing that, Greene had a major case of apoplexy.  You have to read what he has to say in response to the latest news from the U.S. Department of Education.  You can listen to the NPR story (2:29 minutes) and/or read the partial transcript that Greene was so exercised about here.            Diane Ravitch also featured the NPR segment on her blog and includes an email reaction to the new policy from a national expert on special education who was also President of the Learning Disabilities Association and President of the Council for Exceptional Children.  She has some very specific bones to pick with Duncan’s directive.              Peter Greene may be feeling ever so slightly remorseful over how he originally portrayed Arne Duncan’s remarks about students with disabilities (see above).  So. to clear things up, Greene suggests that the issue that Duncan raised is a serious one.  He does believe, however, that the Secretary of Education might have addressed the topic in a different way.  Greene offers, in a follow-up column, an alternative way Duncan could have framed the issue.  He headlines this one “What Should Duncan Have Said.”
 
Why are so many billionaires and even (lowly) millionaires interested in the public schools?   The author of this piece, a labor journalist,  from the website Too Much looks at John Arnold, a former Enron (remember them?) trader and hedge fund manager, and his plans for the Dallas school system.   “Billionaire political might,” the author warns, “has come to constitute a clear and present danger to the single most bedrock institution of our democracy: public education.”
 
Here’s a revolutionary idea: what if we let TEACHERS design and run their own schools?  Pretty radical, huh?  Believe it or not, they actually exist in 15 states.  EDUCATION WEEK organized a roundtable on the topic “Should Teachers Run Schools?” and invited both teachers and administrators to contribute their thoughts which varied widely.  You have to click on each person’s entry in order to read the full submission.
The LAUSD board unanimously approved a $6.64 billion budget on Tuesday for the 2014-15 school year.  It included the biggest increase in funds since the Great Recession began in 2008 and is 7% higher than last year’s plan.  An improving economy and new revenues from Prop. 30 brought some favorable news for a change.  The new spending blueprint, described in Wednesday’s L.A. Times, rather disgracefully does NOT include a salary increase for district teachers who have not had a pay raise and, in fact, have taken cuts totaling  8% over the past  seven years.               As the education budget situation brightens in California and Los Angeles, things continue to look bleak in Chicago.  The public school system in the nation’s third largest city just announced lay-offs of 1,150 more teachers and staff.  That news prompted a bitter response from Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis.  Diane Ravitch prints the CTU “News Release” about the cuts on her blog.
 
The author of this item from EDUCATION WEEK and seven other educators traveled to Finland to learn more about the Finnish school system.  They came away with a number of quite specific observations which she titles “Happy Teaching, Happy Learning: 13 Secrets to Finland’s Success.”  
 
EduShyster has an interesting interview with the newly elected president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association who says it time to get serious and fight for public education.  “I think,” she asserts, “we are at a critical moment in history for public education in this country. If we don’t fight, we’re going to lose everything. We’re done.”  She discusses a number of strategies to get the battle started.
Part 3 of the Detroit Free Press expose on charter schools in Michigan focuses on two Summit Academy campuses founded by a husband and wife team who managed to enrich themselves in the course of plundering millions of taxpayer dollars.  The paper again outlines the poor oversight by the state of charter management companies that allows all sorts of examples of nepotism, conflicts-of-interest, insider deals, self-aggrandizement and other scams.   Part 4 looks at how charter school boards are often just rubber stamps for the management companies that run the schools.  They often have little power and exist mostly due to state law.  Members who ask too many questions are often forced out or intimidated into silence.   You can get the rest of the highly detailed and exhaustive week-long investigation into charter schools in Michigan from the Free Press here.            The Florida Sun-Sentinel had a similar two-part expose on charter schools in the Sunshine State.  It’s titled “Florida Charter Schools–Unsupervised” and found a number of the same problems as those unearthed in Michigan.  
You are probably aware in great detail how your colleagues feel about their job and the school where you work.  How do those attitudes compare to secondary educators around the world?  The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has just released its 2014 “Teaching and Learning International Survey” and some of the findings are highlighted in a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  The poll questioned 100,000 teachers in 34 countries about their working conditions.  If you would like a LOT more detail, you can find the full report (at a hefty 442 pages) here.  If you start wading through it now you might finish it by the time school starts up again.
 
“Our schools are under attack from the mega rich who seek to reduce education to standardized test scores while busting unions & denying at-risk youth a rich and holistic school experiences.”  That’s how a press release from the BadAss Teachers of Washington began as they announced a protest rally in front of the Gates Foundation headquarters in Seattle that took place yesterday.  It went on to list the group’s demands, the program and speakers (including Anthony Cody) for the day.  Diane Ravitch featured the gathering on her blog on Wednesday.
California teacher retirees may be able to breath a sign of relief.  Gov. Brown signed into law on Tuesday AB1469 that will fully fund the state teacher pension plan by 2046.  This was a major component of the 2015 fiscal year budget he approved last week and will direct increased payments by the state, districts and individual teachers into the retirement system.  A brief article in EDUCATION WEEK describes what the governor did.
Many school districts, i.e., LAUSD and others, believe the introduction of technology, i.e., iPads-for-all and other gadgets and software, will level the field between students from wealthy families and those from low-income ones.  A story in The HECHINGER REPORT titled “Educational Technology Isn’t Leveling the Playing Field” written by an author, journalist, consultant and speaker who helps people understand how we learn and how we can do it better, features some of the latest research on that issue including a book based on a study in Philadelphia.  The two authors of that book, professors at NYU and La Salle University came to some surprising conclusions.   “The very tool designed to level the playing field,” they discovered, “is, in fact, un-leveling it.”  “While technology has often been hailed as the great equalizer of educational opportunity,” the writer of the article found, “a growing body of evidence indicates that in many cases, tech is actually having the opposite effect: it is increasing the gap between rich and poor, between whites and minorities, and between the school-ready and the less-prepared.”  The most recent research seems to indicate it is not the technology itself that will reduce the achievement gap but HOW that technology is used.  The piece outlines some of those particular practices and includes some concrete suggestions on how districts should proceed.  “It would take all this,” the article warns, “to begin to ‘level the playing field’ for America’s students—far more than a bank of computers in a library, or even one laptop per child.”  [Ed. note: I wonder if the LAUSD and other districts are following this information as they spend billions of dollars providing tablets and other devices to each student.]
 
On Wednesday, Gov. Brown signed into law a bill the would streamline the process for removing teachers for gross misconduct.  The legislation, AB 215 had the support of the California Teachers Association but was opposed by the Association of California School Administrators and LAUSD Supt. John Deasy.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes how the new procedures would work and outlines several other measures signed by the governor.
 
U.S. students are constantly criticized for not being the best on international test scores.  Guess what?  Finally there is something they score tops in–sleepiness.  Yes, you read that right!   EDUCATION WEEK reports on several studies that would seem to prove this point although rating the U.S. first is open to some interpretation.
 
How financially lucrative are investments in charter school management companies?  A number of reports highlighted in the “Ed News” have indicated they are practically cash cows.  Not so fast says the investment rating service Standard & Poor’s.  Valerie Strauss includes their latest report (15 pages) issued Wednesday that extends their “negative” outlook for charter companies.  19% of 214 public charters they looked at were rated “negative” while only 2% garnered a “positive.”
 
In light of a number of high profile school shootings in recent years, several states passed legislation that would authorize teachers and other campus personnel to carry arms.   Georgia was one of those states.  However, many district administrators are turning thumbs down to the new regulations believing that arming school staff will not make their campuses any safer and could, in fact, increase the changes of a shooting on their grounds.   EDUCATION WEEK explains what’s going on in the Peach State.
 
And finally, the U.S. is experiencing a surge of young, school-age immigrants from Central America.  Many of them are arriving unaccompanied.  The impact of this on the nation’s school is already beginning to be felt according to this article in EDUCATION WEEK.  The future effects of this influx on federal and state governments and local school districts is also discussed.
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)
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