Ed News, Friday, August 15 Edition


“It is the mark of a truly educated man to know what not to read.” 
Whoppi Goldberg recently jumped into the deep end of the tenure debate without a life jacket on the ABC talk show that she cohosts called “The View.”  The reaction to some of her comments was swift and rather unkind.  The “Ed News” highlighted the give-and-take in a previous edition.  Two teachers from New York joined the fray on the Due Process, Explained blog and in an extended piece titled “Tenure=Due Process” they try to set the entertainer straight.  “The subject of teacher tenure and teacher unions has recently been a recurring topic on your show, The View,” they begin.  “We understand and appreciate that you are pro-teacher and pro-education, but believe that your perception of due process (aka “tenure”) is incorrect and are taking the liberty of writing you to correct any inaccuracies.”               What would the teaching profession be really like in the absence of tenure protections?  That question is addressed by Peter Greene, in light of Whoppi Goldberg’s comments, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  “Civilians need to understand– the biggest problem with the destruction of tenure is not that a handful of teachers will lose their jobs,” he suggests, “but that entire buildings full of teachers will lose the freedom to do their jobs well.”
JOB OPENING: The L.A. County High School for the Arts is looking to fill its principal position.  The school is located on the campus of Cal State University, Los Angeles and includes 29 academic and 82 arts faculty in the fields of Music, Dance, Visual Arts and Theatre. Application deadline is Aug. 29.  For more information go to the job listing from EDUCATION WEEK by clicking here.
The author of this commentary for EDUCATION WEEK is a Professor of Physics at the New York Institute of Technology and served for 40 years as the head of a nationally recognized accrediting agency.  His essay is titled “Let’s Be Honest: We Don’t Know How to Make Great Teachers.”  He opens his piece this way: “Well-intended efforts [to identify teaching quality] are based on reasonable theoretical constructs, and on the assumption that we know what constitutes great teaching.  The fact is, however, we don’t really know. We are choking on data,” he continues, “but there are few if any properly validated experiments, and therefore no real knowledge.”  Maybe this entire debate boils down to the famous Justice Potter Stewart quote regarding obscenity in a U.S. Supreme Court opinion: “I know it when I see it.”
The Michigan State Board of Education voted on Tuesday to ask the legislature to make major changes to the way the state oversees charter schools in regards to educational quality, accountability and transparency.  The Detroit Free-Press reprints the specific recommendations from the Board in its story.
A Los Angeles County Superior Court judge ruled on Tuesday that California had failed to live up to state and federal laws that require it to provide proper educational support to ELLs.  The ACLU of Southern California website explains the court’s decision and the ramifications for California.
In the closely watched special election to fill a vacant seat on the LAUSD school board, veteran district principal and administrator George McKenna won a decisive victory over his opponent Alex Johnson.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times provided details of the early unofficial results.                 A follow-up story in yesterday’s paper had semi-official results, a brief recap of the campaign and an analysis of why McKenna won (53%) over Johnson (47%) who outspent McKenna by almost 3-to-1.
This may be a new twist in opposition to charter schools.  A school board in Louisiana is suing the state school board over that body’s decision to divert substantial funds from the local district to pay for the newly created charter.  The Iberville Parish School System would lose almost a quarter of its annual budget in order to provide for the charter start up.  THE ADVOCATE (Baton Rouge) describes the case and why it’s being filed.  
Michelle Rhee announced Wednesday that she is stepping down as CEO of the organization StudentsFirst that she founded 4 years ago.  The article in the Sacramento Bee  contained the statement from Rhee and went on to explain what she plans to be doing in the future.  The Huffington Post also reported the story and offered some additional details including a short video segment (2:05 minutes) about Rhee’s decision.                Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, reacted promptly to the news.  He penned a “Dear Michelle” letter bidding her “a fond” farewell.  “So I’m glad to read that you and education are breaking up,” he concluded.  “You were bad for education, and it will be better off without you. Good luck in your new endeavors; may they take you far away from American schools.”               Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, commented on Rhee’s stepping down.               The author of this extensive analysis on POLITICO digs deeply into the reasons WHY Rhee stepped down from her post as CEO.  “As she prepares to step down as CEO,” it asserts, “she leaves a trail of disappointment and disillusionment. Reform activists who shared her vision say she never built an effective national organization and never found a way to use her celebrity status to drive real change.”  In addition, one anonymous reform leader stated in the article: ““There was a growing consensus in the education reform community that she didn’t play well in the sandbox.”

School opened Tuesday in the LAUSD and the news was generally positive.  The biggest budget increase in 7 years greeted the over 640,000 students who showed up on the first day of classes.  The district was able to hire almost 1,600 new teachers, administrators and support staff.  The picture was not totally rosy for the nation’s second largest school district based on a story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times.  “L.A. Unified also launched an expanded online student information system this month,” it noted, “but it ran into some problems logging attendance and assigning students to teachers.”               Another area unfortunately plagued by continuing budget cuts is for school crossing guards.  “Since 2008,” a story in the same paper reported, “the guard ranks have declined 37% to 358 this year, according to data compiled by a city union group. Much of that is due to attrition: A hiring freeze that began in 2009 prevented the city transportation department from replacing guards who retired.”

A school district in Florida is looking into the idea of “opting-out” of all standardized tests.  A story in the (Fort Myers) News-Record describes the proposed action in the Lee County schools.               The Oklahoma PTA at their annual convention last month voted unanimously to request a ban on all high stakes testing and to refrain from using student scores from those tests as a way to evaluate teachers.  The very brief announcement of their action appeared on the Oklahoma PTA website.
Campbell Brown’s appearance on the “Colbert Report” on July 31st will not go away easily.  The former CNN anchor took a lot of flack for refusing to divulge who funds her organizations and her support of several Vergara-like cases in New York.  She decided to fire back and chose Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog on The Washington Post as her platform.  She again addresses issues like tenure, teacher dismissal rules and attacks on her personally but makes no mention of those mysterious groups that provide her funding.               Peter Greene jumped into the fray and responded to Brown’s latest comments in a “Dear Campbell Brown” letter.  “You’ve disseminated your talking points pretty clearly at this point,” he lectures in conclusion, “and those of us out in the cheap seats have pointed out repeatedly where the gaps in your argument lie. Simple repetition will not move the conversation forward. You need to fill in those gaps if your claims to concern about students and education are to be taken seriously.”
The LAUSD was recently touting increased numbers of Advanced Placement classes and students taking the exams.  However, a former high school history teacher with the LAUSD and a current doctoral candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s School of Education, was not totally excited by the figures cited.  He discussed a number of drawbacks to the whole system in an op-ed in Wednesday’s L.A. Times.  “As AP courses have expanded,” he laments, “and as universities depend on them to separate and sort applicants, high schools have developed their own skill sets to ensure higher success and pass rates in both the courses and their associated exams. Sadly, the space for more inquiry- and discussion-driven, deeper and more complex learning is all but disappearing.”
Teachers in North Carolina will be getting, on average, a 7% pay increase based on a bill signed into law by the governor last week.  However, the new raises will come with a pretty steep price: “a radical revamping of the state salary schedule and the specter of new differentiated-pay plans” according to a story in EDUCATION WEEK that points out why the 7% is not exactly what it appears to be.
Rhode Island hopes to become “the first state to fully blend technology into all schools” using a partnership with a California-based nonprofit to help achieve that lofty goal.  The HECHINGER REPORT conducts a Q & A with the state’s Education Commissioner who defines her ambitious plans and the steps to reach it.  “Critics of increased use of technology in classrooms,” the author maintains, “say it doesn’t necessarily lead to more positive student outcomes and is a poor replacement for a teacher. Supporters say when properly used, technology can greatly improve achievement and empower students to progress at their own pace.”
How many of you have ever attended a local, state, national or even international convention?  In the days before PowerPoint how did the presenters hold your attention and get their information across?  The author of this piece in EDUCATION WEEK titles his work “Goodbye PowerPoint: How Education Conferences are Branching Out” and he tackles the issue of how to engage attendees in this already tech-heavy age.  “With so many conferences for educators to choose from,” he maintains, “finding new ways to engage potential attendees—and keep those who do show up coming back—remains a priority for organizers.”  He offers several innovative ideas as solutions to the issue.  What do you think of them?
New York released its 2014 test scores yesterday.  This was the second year under the new Common Core assessments.  The numbers for English Language Arts were flat and only a small improvement was registered in math.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK detailed the latest results.               An activist group of parents and educators was outraged at the quality of the tests and the accuracy of the scores.  They issued an immediate press release which Diane Ravitch reprinted on her blog.               Another item explains that the only reason the scores in New York remained “flat” or were “up slightly” was due to the fact that the state lowered the cut scores this year.  Lacetothetop demonstrates what’s going on.
The “Ed News” covered the story in a previous edition about the influx of unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border into the U.S. from countries like Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala.  As school years commence those children are beginning to show up for classes at districts all over the nation and this feature in yesterday’s L.A. Times illustrates how the LAUSD is greeting these immigrants with open arms.
If poverty rates have a significant impact on student learning than the latest figures from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 25th annual “KidsCount” survey don’t bode well for the future.  It discovered that increased child poverty rates, as a result of the latest recession, are having a bigger effect on the youngest pupils.  The figures on this issue appear in an article in The HECHINGER REPORT.  “There has been a recent uptick in the single most important factor for predicting a child’s school readiness and life outcomes generally: whether or not he or she lives in poverty.  After recessions end,” the story points out, “the child poverty rate tends to continue climbing, and current circumstances appear no different.”
The “Education Week Research Center” released the results of an online poll yesterday of 457 educators in states that had adopted the Common Core.  It sought responses to a number of aspects of the new standards ranging from training, preparedness, curricular resources and awareness of the standards and the accompanying assessments.  Some of the results were published in EDUCATION WEEK.  It includes a link to the full survey (37 pages) titled “FROM ADOPTION TO PRACTICE–Teacher Perspectives on the Common Core.”
Through a legal interpretation of a federal law, the LAUSD has determined that the state parent trigger law does not apply and is on hold for a year.  That contention is not universally accepted by all circles as detailed in a story in today’s L.A. Times.
Not only did the Gates Foundation spend millions of dollars creating, promoting and helping to implement the Common Core, now, POLITICO reports that the organization is helping to fund a new nonprofit that plans to rate textbooks and other curricular materials related to the new standards.  Does that seem like a conflict-of-interest to you?  (Only the first two paragraphs in POLITICO  are related to this story.  The rest are on other education-related topics.)
And finally, when the new school year started on Tuesday the LAUSD rolled out its computerized  “My Integrated Student Information System” (MiSiS).  It was doing just fine until it went live and then all sorts of problems cropped up.  Student programs were missing or not correct, attendance had to be taken on paper and records were inadvertently deleted among other glitches.  The system was quickly jettisoned until the bugs could be worked out according to a story in the L.A. Daily News.   CBS Los Angeles Channel 2 had a report and video segment (2:26 minutes) on the problems that was broadcast this morning.  How many of you are old enough to remember the district’s new computerized payroll fiasco from about a decade ago?  Then, there’s the recent “iPad for everyone” disaster and the Obamacare website snafu.  Anyone spotting a trend here?  Oops!  That last one was not the district’s fault.  Sorry.
Enjoy the weekend if you are back in school and the rest of your summer if you’re not!

Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me happily working on the blog.

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