Ed News, Friday, July 25, 2014, Edition

The ED NEWS

“It is a thousand times better to have common sense without education 
than to have education without common sense.” 
― Robert G. Ingersoll
Student results on the PISA tests play a prominent role in how national education systems are compared.  They also were a significant feature of the last ALOED book club selection “The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way.”  Book club participant Tony Dalessi forwarded an interesting video (5:00 minutes) from YouTube that a student sent to him titled “What Does the PISA Report Tells Us About US Education?”  His student saw it at the NEA convention in Denver at the beginning of the month. It was produced by AFT and attempts to counter some of the myths about the poor U.S. results on the PISA exams.
Peter Horton from the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools borrows Anthony Cody’s blog on EDUCATION WEEK to write an open letter to Pres. Obama.  Horton decries many of the Obama/Duncan education policies because a number of them were formulated by business people, philanthropists, education related companies and members of Democrats for Education Reform.  Who was missing from all this “expert” advice?  Teachers and real education experts.  Horton offers some suggestions for improving Obama’s education policies and welcomes an opportunity to meet personally with the president.
There’s been a growing back-and-forth among several bloggers about having an honest conversation about charter schools.  It began with Andy Smarick, writing on the Thomas B. Fordham website who wants everyone to calm down when it comes to charters.  He opens the “debate” with this: “It feels like there are two very different charter-school conversations going on. The first is about policy and practice; the other is about philosophy and politics. Both have their place. But a recent collection of events and articles demonstrate why it’s important to understand the difference between the two.”  Peter DeWitt chimed in with a piece in EDUCATION WEEK. “Sarcasm, fighting, name calling are all the weapons du jour that both sides choose [in the debate over public education],” he maintains, “while many in the middle watch in awe. The politics of education have taken over the conversation, and good learning practices aren’t just taking a back seat, they are in the way, way back.”  Next to join the fray was Peter Greene on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  And finally (at least for now), Mark Weber, aka the Jersey Jazzman, penned a piece titled “Civil Conversations are Honest Conversations.”  Anyone else want to join in?               Speaking of charters, the University of Arkansas Department of Education Reform has a new report claiming that charters are more efficient and a better return on investment.  You can review the full report (43 pages) titled “The Productivity of Public Charter Schools” here.  Bruce Baker over at School Finance 101 has a critique of the findings in which he believes it used “bogus measures” to justify its conclusions.   
 
How effective are “school choice” programs and vouchers, two pillars of the so-called education “reformers?”  You don’t have to go too far to find out.  Sweden instituted a market-driven approach to its educational system in the early 1990s.   A story in Slate titled “Sweden’s School Choice Disaster” details how things worked in that Scandivavian country and what it all means for the U.S.   “Advocates for choice-based solutions should take a look at what’s happened to schools in Sweden,” the author maintains, “where parents and educators would be thrilled to trade their country’s steep drop in PISA scores over the past 10 years for America’s middling but consistent results. “
 
One of the reasons charter schools have been so successful selling themselves is the use of slick public relations campaigns that create and disseminate messages that parents want to hear.  At the recently concluded national convention of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools an 18-page “Messaging Notebook” was distributed that included a number of useful hints on how to promote charters.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, briefly illustrates one section from the booklet.  At the end of her piece she includes a full copy of it.   Do public schools have the money and the ability to do this type of promotion?  If not, does that give an unfair advantage to charters?                Edushyster also weighed in on the pr campaign being waged on behalf of charters and the pamphlet referenced above.               Charter schools are, apparently, not the only entities using high-paid PR firms to promote themselves.  John Merrow, writing on his Taking Note blog, reports that Michelle Rhee, founder of the group StudentsFirst, has spent over $2 million in one year to pay for the services of a prominent PR company.  Rhee has been making use of public relations experts since she was chancellor of the Washington, D.C., Public Schools.  According to Merrow, Rhee has certainly not been spending all the money she raises from donors on students first.  You can read all about her interesting spending habits and her involvement in a cheating scandal in D.C. in his piece.
If you are planning to be in Washington, D.C., on Monday you may want to join the Badass Teachers Association (BATS) “March on Washington.”  Information is on their facebook page.  Click on some of the different items under the “Photos” section for a schedule of events for July 27-28 and a list of demands.
Glenn Beck (yes, that Glenn Beck) used a TV studio in Dallas Tuesday night to beam a 2-hour simulcast to a some 700 theaters nationwide titled “We Will Not Conform.”  What was the subject?  Take a guess!  The topic was why and how Americans should rise up against the Common Core.  An article from EDUCATION WEEK describes the event and includes reactions to it from people who attended.               NPR had a segment on the Glenn Beck extravaganza.  You can listen to it (3:59 minutes) and/or read the transcript here.          NPR did a follow-up story taking a look at the state of the Common Core around the country.  This segment (4:00 minutes) also includes a full transcript.               The Washington Post had one of its education reporters at a theater in Rockville, Md., where 17 people were in attendance.  She described the event and interviewed several attendees.               Chalkbeat reported on Beck’s program from a Colorado perspective.
conform-glenn-beck-education-media.jpg
A major fire swept the Green Dot Animo South Los Angeles campus (LAUSD) Tuesday afternoon.  The school was home to 600 students and with the new year beginning Aug. 12 campus and district officials were scrambling to find alternate space.  A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times describes what happened.
The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted some of the findings from the “Kids Count” report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation.  Valerie Strauss reprints 5 charts from the survey that further delineate the state-by-state status of children in this country.  California, as you will discover, ranks in the bottom half of all the states in the data she presents.  Strauss’ piece contains a link to the full report (60 pages).
The “iPads for all program” in the LAUSD caused a slew of problems for that district.  Apple, however, is making big bucks on sales of its products to other districts in the U.S. and around the world.  A brief item in EDUCATION WEEK details sales figures for the Silicon Valley behemoth in the K-12 education market.
A California appellate court on Wednesday overturned a lower court ruling and denied the request of the L.A. Times to disclose LAUSD teachers’ names and their job performance ratings.  An article in the paper yesterday reviewed the ruling and the reasons for it.            UTLA was pleased with the outcome of the case.  A short press release on the union’s website, UTLA.net, also explained the decision.                 At least temporarily, according to the court’s decision, the public will not be able to view individual LAUSD teachers’ evaluations.  However, don’t despair, a new online database is now available that contains detailed salary and benefit information about superintendents, principals, teachers and other school staff employed by districts around California.  1,058 districts were asked to submit the data but only 653 have complied, so far.  LAUSD, by-the-way, isn’t one of them.  The story about this new resource appears in today’s L.A. Times.  It includes a link to the database compiled by “Transparent California” where you can look up your own compensation package or that or your friends, neighbors or family members. 
The two big national education organizations, NEA and AFT, both held their annual conventions earlier this month.  An analysis in EDUCATION WEEK found a remarkable degree of agreement on many of the burning issues of the day.  “While the actual degree of collaboration between the two unions remains to be seen, “the two authors write, “the conventions illustrated a remarkable policy convergence, portending what could indeed be a more unified response to national and state education issues.” 
An L.A. County superior court judge has tentatively ruled that two charters in Palms and Northridge that were ordered shut down by the LAUSD for financial irregularities may continue when school opens in the district Aug. 12.  A report in today’s L.A. Times details the judge’s ruling and the reasons why the district closed the campuses.
Are you ready for more litigation regarding education policy in California?  A one-day trial is scheduled to begin in an L.A. County Superior Court next week.  The ACLU of Southern California filed a suit in April, 2013, charging the state with not providing additional services to ELLs to assist them in becoming fluent in English.  The U.S. Department of Justice wrote a brief in support of the case last week according to an article about the suit in EdSource.  “The ACLU claims the state,” the author writes,  “has done nothing to force school districts to provide appropriate services for the approximately 20,000 English learners who, according to a 2010-11 survey of school districts, are receiving no services.”
And finally, are students technologically prepared to take new Common Core aligned assessments, particularly writing exams, on computers as most tests will require?  That issue was addressed by a pilot study recently made public by the National Center for Education Statistics.  The study used fourth graders and found that, yes, they are capable of basic skills that will allow them to be assessed.  “However,” the authors of a story about the report in EDUCATION WEEK warned, “whether the results of a computer-based test offer a true measure of students’ writing abilities has yet to be determined.  The study,” they continue, “also presents some ideas for making computer-based assessments more accessible to 4th graders, including by simplifying and reading aloud directions.”
Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71–That’s me happily writing this blog)

 

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