Ed News, Tuesday, July 29, Edition


 “Everything can be explained to the people,

on the single condition that you want them to understand.”
― Frantz FanonThe Wretched of the Earth

The issue of “inequality” has come to the fore recently when comparing things like salaries for CEOs and the minimum wage.  The question also arises in education.  Oxy professor Peter Dreier, writing for the Huffington Post, addresses how inequity is becoming more and more prominent in regards to our schools.  He points out how states vary widely in per-pupil spending and mentions an article, highlighted in the L.A. Times, about private parent foundations creating summer school courses for a fee in more affluent areas, among a litany of other examples  Dreier offers two concrete solutions to the problem.  He titles his commentary “America’s Classist Education System.”  Thanks to ALOED board member and past president Nancy Kuechle for sending this item along.               Speaking of educational fairness and equity, how does this situation sound to you?  According to a piece from Reader Supported News, Mississippi reduced educational spending by $1.3 billion and promptly turned around and gave Nissan Motors $1.33 billion in tax breaks to provide good paying jobs.  A large number of those positions were actually temporary work with reduced pay and no health and retirement benefits according to a study by the United Auto Workers.  Is the Magnolia State the only one doing things like this?  “While Mississippi is paying for a giant chunk of Nissan’s subsidies with the exact amount of money it cut from schools in the last six years,” the author mentions, “the state is actually following a nationwide trend. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonprofit think tank, most states are funding schools even less than they used to before the global recession, which officially ended in 2009.”  How’s that for fairness and equity?               Here’s another issue regarding fairness.  The Friday “Ed News” highlighted an article about a new online database that contains compensation information for superintendents, principals, teachers and other campus staff for public school districts throughout California.  However, the House in North Carolina passed a bill that protects the privacy of salary information for people who run charter-management companies, even though they are paid with public funds.  Fair?  The details come from a story from the NC POLICY WATCH.

Jeff Bryant, writing on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, describes the Netroots Nation convention held this year in the middle of July in Phoenix as “arguably the most important annual event in the progressive community.”  He reviews some of the education issues that arose during the gathering and some of the topics that were discussed at previous conferences.

A special election will be held Aug. 12, to fill a vacant seat on the LAUSD school board.  The two candidates in the race are George McKenna, a long-time district principal and administrator, and Alex Johnson, an education advisor to L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.  Sandy Banks, in her Saturday column in the L.A. Times, complains about a mailer put out by the Johnson campaign that took a quote by McKenna about the Miramonte scandal out of context.  In addition, she reviews the McKenna’s career.

EduShyster turns her blog over to a guest author, a 5th grade teacher in South Carolina, who wants to know if you could ask Arne Duncan one question, what would it be?  He offers a few suggestions and you might think of a couple of your own.

Remember the old adage “practice makes perfect?”  Well, some recent research raises questions about it.  Alfie Kohn, writing on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, reviews a new study that tends to debunk the old saying.  He describes the implications of this on theories of learning and teaching.  [Ed. note:  What is the meaning of all of this in regards to the recent ALOED book club selection “Strings Attached” about a “tyrannical” music teacher who demanded perfection, through constant practice, from his students?]

If you are billionaire Charles Koch, can you use your millions to fund a high school economics class at a public school that pushes your libertarian, free-market ideas?   If you think that can’t be possible than you have another thing coming.  The Huffington Post describes how Koch paid for a program called “Youth Entrepreneurs” for the Topeka, Kansas, schools that did just such a thing.  Shocked?  Read on!!!

Raise your hand if you remember the popular novel published in 1965 “Up the Down Staircase.”  It was written by Bel Kaufman and was based on her experiences teaching in a New York City classrooms.  The book was about an idealistic inner-city school English teacher.  Kaufman died at age 103 on Friday.  Her passing was noted in an item in EDUCATION WEEK.  It includes  an extended video (43:39 minutes) of an interview she conducted at Iona College in 2011 in which she extols teaching as a career, yet describes the many challenges it entails.  The article describes it as “something special: she was a hoot.”  [Ed. note:  Kaufman had a very famous grandfather.  Can you guess who it was?  Answer: read the article.]

The New York Times Sunday Magazine had an extensive article titled “Why Americans Stink at Math.”  It is adapted from a book the author wrote titled “Building a Better Teacher.”  In the Times piece she reviews the history of math education going back to the “New Math” of the 1960s up to, and including, the Common Core math standards and explains why American students seem to do so poorly on international math tests.               Robert M. Berkman, who has taught math, science and technology for the past 30 years in New York City, takes umbrage with some of her reasoning in the article on his Better Living Through Mathematics blog.  “This article is clearly well-researched,” Berkman writes, “and I hope Ms. Green’s book sells well and that ‘Chalkbeat,’ the website where she is the chief executive, gets a bazillion hits. However, it appears that Green is pretty poor at math herself, and the Times let her get away with it.”

Mark Naison, a professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and a co-founder of the BATS (Badass Teachers Association), writes on his blog With A Brooklyn Accent why he sees charter school scandals as the subprime mortgages of today.  ” While the comparison is not exact,” he explains, “there are some powerful similarities between what happened to subprime mortgages and what is currently taking place with charter schools, another ‘short cut’ to opportunity which has been seized upon by elites for financial and political gain, to the detriment of those for whom the charter school was initially designed to help.”  If you are not sure what “subprime mortgages” are Naison takes the time to describe what they are and how they work.

2 letters in the Sunday L.A. Times reacted to the paper’s Thursday story about a judge who ruled the Times could not publish individual LAUSD teachers’ evaluations.

2 other letters in the paper on Sunday wrote about the article in the Friday Times about a new online database with salary and benefit information for a number of school district personnel from around California.

Valerie Strauss, in her blog for The Washington Post, reprints a piece from a former writer/producer of some famous TV shows who decided, in 2007, that she wanted to become an English Teacher.  The woman took a job at a South Los Angeles charter school and has been writing about her experiences ever since.  In this installment she describes that one student she had in class “who utterly infuriated me.”  We’ve all had those kind of pupils.  How do her adventures compare to ones you’ve had?

As more states and school districts use valued-added models (VAMs) as significant chunks of teacher evaluations, a very critical question is being asked, how effective are VAMs at determining teacher excellence?  More and more new research is coming in that says they are not a good predictor.  Two studies by Chetty, Friedman and Rockoff from the National Bureau of Economic Research found VAMs to be strong indicators of teacher effectiveness.  However, a review of their findings and methodology from the National Education Policy Center raises serious doubts about what they concluded.  You can read an abstract of the latest research on the NEPC website.  It includes links to the two original reports, the full study from NEPC (14 pages) and responses from the three original authors.

LITIGATION seems to be the watchword in education these days.  If one can’t achieve the changes one wants through traditional means, i.e., school boards, state legislatures or Congress, you can always TAKE YOUR ISSUE TO COURT.  The Vergara case earlier this year, a recent court ruling denying (at least temporarily) the L.A. Times the ability to publish individual LAUSD teacher evaluation results, The ACLU suing for services required for ELLs, ad infinitum.  And now comes word of a suit filed in San Francisco County Superior Court that charges a number of districts around California with not providing the mandated number of minutes of physical education for elementary students.  Details of the case appeared in a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.              Taking cases to court is not confined to California.  EDUCATION WEEK has a brief item reporting that a second Vergara-inspired suit was filed in New York yesterday morning.

If you think your class sizes are large check out this story from the Detroit Free Press.  An experiment in bankruptcy plagued Detroit combined three kindergarten classes on one campus’s library to create a room with almost 100 children.  How is it working out?  This article includes a short video (1:39 minutes) describing how things are going at the Brenda Scott Academy which is part of the state’s reform district for low-performing schools.

An extended day experiment at one Connecticut school has been terminated because it proved not to work as intended.  The  HECHINGER REPORT describes how having a schedule that went from 8:20 to 4:15 four-days-a-week, with an early dismissal on Wednesdays, was terminated after only one year.  “The experiment had exhausted students and teachers,” the author explains, “without making progress towards its goal: closing the achievement gap between [the] largely poor and minority students and their suburban peers.”

An op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times laments the possibly low voter turnout for a one-race special election to fill an important LAUSD school board seat on Aug. 12.  The author suggests the stakes are too high for as little as 10-11% of registered voters to cast ballots.  “What I find most troubling about low turnout,” the author states, “however, is not so much that it decides outcomes or favors interests: It’s that it suggests the public is drifting away from democracy itself — that voters are disillusioned and don’t see much point in exercising their right to choose their representatives.”

After the BATS (Badass Teachers Association) rally in Washington, D.C., on Monday a delegation of educators met with the Office of Civil Rights in the Dept. of Education.  A surprise guest showed up.  None other than Arne Duncan!  Mark Naison, on his With a Brooklyn Accent website, describes what was a less than friendly encounter.  He says the secretary got “an earful.”  His article is an eye-opener.  “We spoke truth to power, without fear and without compromise,” Naison summed up.  “Whether we will be called back to continue the conversation only time will tell.”            Diane Ravitch reprints an item from Politico.com describing the BATS protest rally.

And finally, everyone knows about the controversy surrounding the Common Core.  However, the author of this piece from The HECHINGER REPORT, asks a question that hasn’t gotten much attention: “Can Special Education Students Keep Up With the Common Core?”  She focuses on a self-contained elementary classroom on Long Island to illustrate her premise.  “The Common Core isn’t necessarily the culprit,” she suggests, “but rather the way the standards are being interpreted in the state-approved curriculum.”


Dave Alpert

(‘Occidental College, ’71–That’s me happily writing the blog!)


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