Ed News, Friday, August 22, 2014 Edition


“Thought breeds thought; children familiar with great thoughts take as naturally to thinking
for themselves as the well-nourished body takes to growing; and we must bear in mind
that growth, physical, intellectual, moral, spiritual, is the sole end of education.” 
Diane Ravitch prints a commentary on her blog titled “It’s Time to Reform the Reformers.”  It’s written by two educators, one a former superintendent of a school district in Georgia and the other a Professor of English Education at the University of Georgia.  They make use of schools and statistics from the Peach State to bolster their thesis but you’ll find that their argument is universal.  “Schools, like any complex social institutions,” they conclude, “require continual maintenance and rethinking; we hope that in our careers as teachers and school administrators we contributed to that challenging project. But the current “reform” movement, we believe, is not solving actual problems, and in contrast is manufacturing new ones with each dedication of funds to corporations instead of schools. Reforming the ways of the reformers would make better sense to us.”
According to a story in EDUCATION WEEK, for the first time ever the percentage of minority students in American public schools will become a “majority.”  The number of Latino, African-American and Asian students is projected to hit 50.3% this school year based on figures from the National Center for Education Statistics.  “It’s a shift that poses a plain imperative for public schools and society at large,” the article suggests, “demographers and educators say: The United States must vastly improve the educational outcomes for this new and diverse majority of American students, whose success is inextricably linked to the well-being of the nation.”  This item is actually part of a package of stories about the change in demographics that you can find links to in the sidebar.               Jeff Bryant on the Education Opportunity NETWORK comments on this historic milestone and how some people will refuse to see themselves as a “minority” in the schools after being in the “majority” up until now.
A front-page feature in Wednesday’s L.A. Times elaborates on a brief item highlighted in the previous “Ed News” about a new policing policy in the LAUSD that will refer students who commit minor offences to counseling rather than issuing a citation or arrest which would then involve them in the juvenile justice system.  “The decisive step back from punitive law enforcement actions reflects growing research that handling minor offenses with police actions does not necessarily make campuses safer,” the article describes, “but often push struggling students to drop out and get in more serious trouble with the law.”                 An editorial in yesterday’s paper supported the district’s new school police policies.  “The Los Angeles Unified School District this week took a welcome step away from a longstanding disciplinary system,” it begins, “in which police issued citations to students ages 13 to 17 who committed minor offenses, a system that effectively criminalizes what is often merely coming-of-age behavior while emphasizing punishment over education.”
An article from POLITICO is headlined “A Bad Week for Common Core.”  It features two polls (and some other news) that show the standards declining in popularity.  The first poll, from EducationNext, was highlighted in the Tuesday edition of the “Ed News.”  A new survey, released Wednesday, from the Gallup Organization and Phi Delta Kappa finds similar reactions.  The article does a good job of comparing the results of the two polls and what it all means for the Common Core.  You can read the full PDK/Gallup poll (12 pages) titled “Try It Again, Uncle Sam” here.  It contains responses on a number of interesting topics besides the standards.  California’s EdSource had a prompt response to and analysis of the latest poll.                 The oft cited Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, has some theories about why teachers have shown such a major decline in support for the Common Core as discovered in the EducationNext poll.  (Teacher support dropped from 76% to 46% from 2013 to this year.)                       Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, looks at the results of the two polls and tries to explain why Common Core support continues to plummet.               In a later blog, Greene refers to a third poll released by Rasmussen Reports earlier in the year that found support for the Core among parents of school-aged children had dropped from 52% in November, 2013 to 34% in June of this year.  Anyone spotting a trend here?
If you think things are/were bad in Los Angeles, wait until you read about the plight of educators in financially troubled Detroit.  The state of Michigan approved a 10% pay cut for teachers, an increase in class sizes and the closure of 24 schools or buildings over 4 years commencing with the next academic year.  The Detroit News provides the details and how the parents, school staff and the community are fighting back. 
As the “Ed News” previously highlighted, last week the LAUSD rolled out a new $20 million student database when classes resumed.  It immediately ran into trouble on some district campuses as students were not issued class schedules or were placed in incorrect classes, attendance was difficult to take and some classes were vastly oversized among other problems.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times outlines the difficulties and the criticisms they engendered from UTLA.
EDUCATION WEEK is sponsoring a free live webinar this coming Wednesday from 11 a.m. to noon PDT titled “Personalizing Math Through Technology and Differentiated Instruction.”  The featured presenter is a founding math teacher and instructional coach at KIPP Washington Heights Middle School in New York City.  For more information and to RSVP (required) click here.               Here’s another free live webinar hosted by the same publication that might be particularly useful for the LAUSD in light of their troubled “iPad for All” program.  It will be broadcast on Monday also from 11 to noon PDT and is aptly titled “Helping Teachers Manage iPads in the Digital Classroom.”  For more information and to preregister (required) click here.
Yesterday a local superior court judge in North Carolina ruled that the state’s voucher program was unconstitutional and any funds already distributed had to be recovered.  An item from NC POLICY WATCH outlines the court’s ruling and what the implications are for the state.
George Skelton, in his Thursday column for the L.A. Times, takes Gov. Brown to task for not proposing a fix for the school construction bond situation.  Skelton points out that Brown has complained about the current system for several years but has failed to offer any alternatives.
There’s a new book out that might make a good selection for the ALOED book club.  It’s titled “Building A Better Teacher”  and is written by Elizabeth Green.  A review of the book appeared on the Andrea Gabor website.  “By the time I finished reading the nicely written,” Andrea Gabor wrote, “highly detailed descriptions of some of the latest efforts to improve teaching, I was alternatively gratified, intrigued and more-than-a-little frustrated.”
U.S. Dept. of Education Sec. Arne Duncan announced yesterday that most states would get an extra year before they will need to include student test results as part of new teacher evaluations.  That was pretty straightforward.  But what else he said about testing was pretty surprising.  He made some comments about complaints he’s heard from teachers about the number of tests, the time set aside for test prep and other issues pertaining to the assessments.  EDUCATION WEEK reports on what he had to say and includes the full text of his remarks (3 pages) so you can read and digest them for yourself.               Reaction to Duncan’s comments was swift and a little doubtful of its sincerity.  Anthony Cody on his own new Living in Dialogue blog thought the secretary was being a little disingenuous.    Duncan’s announcement of the one year delay reflects that “the Department of Ed is closely listening to the Gates Foundation,” Cody suggests, “which called for such a moratorium just two months ago. It is an acknowledgement of the fast-growing rejection of Common Core and associated tests, and in particular, an effort to shore up support among teachers by providing some level of reassurance that they will not be punished immediately by these tests.”               Peter Greene checked in with some potent observations of Duncan’s remarks on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  “Reading Duncan’s words,” he groans, “always induces an odd sort of vertiginous disorientation as one tries to take in the huge measured-in-light-years distance between the things he says and the policies he pursues.”
An internal investigation of the LAUSD “iPads for All” program was highly critical of the bidding process, lack of transparency and issues over conflicts-of-interest among other things.  A portion of the report was leaked to the L.A. Times and their story appeared as a front-page feature in today’s paper.
And finally, we end on a sad note.  James Foley, the photojournalist executed by ISIS earlier in the week, was a former teacher and an alumnus of Teach for America.  He taught at an elementary school in Phoenix from 1996 to 1999.  He went on to earn a master’s degree in journalism in 2008 reports this short memorial from EDUCATION WEEK.  Our thoughts are with his family and friends at this very difficult time. 
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog

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