Ed News, Tuesday, July 15, Edition


 “A child’s education should begin at least 100 years before he was born.” 
The American Federation of Teachers held their annual conference at the L.A. Convention Center July 11-14.  There were a number of stories about things that took place over the four days:  
 K-12 education issues are often important in most political campaigns.  They are certainly significant in the California governor’s race.   Democratic Incumbent Jerry Brown, speaking to the delegates on Friday, extolled his new program of funding for the neediest students while his Republican challenger Neel Kashkari, responding to reporters outside the gathering, criticized his opponent for his silence on the Vergara case.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times highlighted some of their different views and the politics involved.                           Peter Goodman who writes about education issues in New York on his Ed In the Apple blog describes some of the key events from day 1, Friday, of the AFT convention.  He includes links to some of the key speakers and events from the opening session.  Diane Ravitch offered her observations about what took place on her blog based on Goodman’s piece.                    If you have 40:45 minutes check out the speech delivered at the opening session of the conference by the Rev.  William Barber, II, who organized the “Moral Monday” protests in Raleigh, North Carolina, and see how it applies to the movement to save public education.  It comes to you courtesy of the Fred Klonsky blog and YouTube.              EDUCATION WEEK has a brief item discussing the creation of a new group called Democrats for Public Education that was announced at the gathering.  It will support teacher unions and counter another organization called Democrats for Education Reform that has been less than supportive of public schools, to put it kindly.                UTLA is apparently planning for a possible STRIKE!  Newly installed president Alex Caputo-Pearl, speaking at a Saturday evening session with union leaders from other big-city school systems, mentioned the idea and warned his members to start making contingency plans.  A story posted on the L.A. Times website late Sunday afternoon describes his specific remarks and the context in which they were delivered.               A short item on POLITICO comments on a resolution passed on Sunday that adds the AFT’s voice to the call for Dept. of Education Sec. Arne Duncan to resign if he doesn’t show any improvement.              An “angry debate” took place over a resolution that ultimately passed  to allow more teacher input in the implementation of the Common Core.  EDUCATION WEEK describe the maneuvering surrounding the passage of the item.   It includes some of the arguments, both pro and con, regarding the standards.               Diane Ravitch commented on several of the actions at the conclave on her blog.            Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 was not at all impressed with the Duncan and CCSS resolutions passed by the AFT.  Neither were the BATS (BadAss Teachers Association) who issued a press release blasting the AFT for its position on the Common Core and its go easy approach to Arne Duncan.            With the conclusion of the AFT convention yesterday and the NEA’s conference that ran from July 1-6, The “Politics K-12” blog on EDUCATION WEEK wraps up some of the key political issues that surfaced during the course of both annual gatherings.
Finland is known for a number of innovative practices that have boosted its students to the top of the international ratings.  One that may not be as well known is providing 15 minute  recess breaks every hour.  An American teacher now working in that country discovered that it help his charges focus much better on the subject at hand.  His observations are from The Atlantic and are titled “How Finland Keeps Kids Focused Through Free Play.”
Maryland reported scores for the first time since implementing new assessments linked to the Common Core.  Guess what?  Like the other states that started using the exams student results dropped “significantly.”  The Washington Post has the discouraging news.
An op-ed from The HECHINGER REPORT asks “Why Did the GOP Flip Flop on the Common Core?”    It uses Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2016, as a case-in-point.  “The complaint that’s found a receptive audience,” the author writes, “among right wing politicians, though, is that Common Core is just one more example of big government intrusion, right up there with health care reform, contraceptive coverage mandates, tough new environmental standards and more.”  
Paul Thomas on Alter Net reviewed a number of comments made by U.S. Dept. of Education Secretary Arne Duncan over the past couple of years and discovered what he thinks is a common thread in Duncan’s remarks:  low test scores are the result of low expectations.  Thomas prints some of the secretary’s more significant assertions and explains his theory.  “It seems increasingly evident,” Thomas posits, “that the only place where low expectations are the main sources of failure is inside the USDOE itself—specifically with the appointment of Duncan.” 

Oh, oh!  Here’s a pretty strong argument against some types of technology.  SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN offers an article titled “A Learning Secret: Don’t Take Notes With a Laptop” that points out that college students who used handwriting had a deeper understanding and better recall of the material presented.  Two researchers from Princeton University and UCLA found that more information can be collected on a laptop since people can type faster than they can write but the impact on learning and retention of the information was less.
Most “older” folks still contend that a college education is well worth the time and effort in job opportunities and lifetime earnings.  How do younger people perceive that?  A new poll of “younger” Americans, aged 18 to 29, found that getting a college degree is worthwhile but overpriced.  A short item from EDUCATION WEEK highlights the 2014 Reason-Rupe survey of 2,000 respondents from the millennial generation.  It includes a link to the full report (105 pages) titled “Millennials: The Politically Unclaimed  Generation” that covers a number of other topics besides post-secondary education.
Diane Ravitch prints the comments of an anonymous teacher who laments that teaching no longer presents the opportunity for creative lessons because so much time is taken up with TESTING!  “The Common Core and PARCC will ruin education as we know it,” he/she begins.  “And, of course, it is all part of the overall plan.”
The science of HOW children learn was the focus of a newly released study that appeared in the magazine “Natural Communications.”  The research found that almost half of a student’s ability to learn is tied to DNA.  The study looked at almost 1,500 pairs of 12-year-old twins to ascertain the affect of genetics and environmental issues in learning.  The findings were reported in a story posted on the L.A. Times website Friday afternoon.
The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a piece by Valerie Strauss on her blog that featured a report by one of the 4 teachers who met over lunch with Pres. Obama and Sec. of Education Arne Duncan last week.  In a follow-up item, Strauss reprints a number of reader comments that she received about the original column.  Several of them include reactions from the author of that story.
With massive budget cuts the last couple of years many districts eliminated summer school programs except for some very limited offerings to assist students to complete graduation requirements.  A number of nonprofit foundations filled the breach by offering courses for a price.  U.S. History could be taken for $798, Spanish for $775 and creative writing for $605 plus a $25 registration fee.  Most of these classes were offered in more affluent areas which raised questions about equity according to a story in Sunday’s L.A. Times.
After a prolonged push by so-called education “reformers” to include student test scores as a significant part of teacher evaluations, wiser heads are beginning to prevail.  Gov. Chris Christie announced that the practice would be scaled back from 30% to 10%  in his state of New Jersey according to an article on the NorthJersey.com website.  “The Christie administration’s rollback of new standardized tests as a measure for teacher evaluations marks a major concession by the governor,” the piece begins, “who has been a strong supporter of the new academic standards linked to those exams.”
EDUCATION WEEK highlights a new report that suggests states need to “rethink” the use of high school exit exams in light of the implementation of the Common Core.  The study was done under the auspices of the New American Foundation.  24 states, including California, now require high school students to pass exams in various subjects in order to fulfill graduation requirements.  The story includes a link to the full report (40 pages) titled “The Case Against Exit Exams.” 
The Gulen Charter Schools are the largest charter chain in the U.S.   They are linked to a reclusive Turkish cleric.  A story in The Washington Post describes the leader and his involvement in his country’s politics and and his ties to over 130 campuses in 26 states in the U.S.  Like other charter management companies some Gulen schools have come under legal scrutiny for various financial, ethical and other problems.  The Columbus Dispatch reports on what is going on in Ohio.  “The Ohio Board of Education,” the article begins, “ordered an immediate investigation of a chain of 19 charter schools in the state today after hearing allegations of test cheating, attendance tampering, sexual misconduct and other misdeeds.”                In addition, the LA SCHOOL REPORT describes the sudden closure by the LAUSD board of 2 Gulen schools in Palms and Van Nuys for “fiscal mismanagement” and a number of other irregularities.  For a complete list of all 139 Gulen schools (as of Jan. 12, 2014), arranged by state, click here.
And finally, we conclude with something fun.  Remember ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic?  (If you’re under 50 you may not, so click here.)  EDUCATION WEEK features him in a parody video of the misogynistic Robin Thicke song “Blurred Lines” that is used, believe it or not, to help teach students grammar.  You can view the original Thicke music video (4:31 minutes) here.   However, you have to take 3:45 minutes, at least, to savor “Weird Al’s” educational version which he calls “Word Crimes.”  Enjoy and try not to laugh/chuckle too loudly.
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)


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