Ed News, Friday, August 29, 2014 Edition


Monday is the Labor Day Holiday
[Ed. note: The “Ed News” will be taking a short break over the holiday.  
Look for the next issue on Friday, Sept. 5]. 
“To quote the exceptional teacher Marva Collins, “I will is more important than IQ.” 
It is wonderful to have a terrific mind, but it’s been my experience that having outstanding intelligence
 is a very small part of the total package that leads to success and happiness. 
Discipline, hard work, perseverance, and generosity of spirit are, in the final analysis, far more important.” 
― Rafe EsquithThere Are No Shortcuts
[Ed. note: The author of the above quote spoke to an ALOED gathering in September last year].
And now to the news.
Remember the idea of a FREE public education.  Ever wonder how free it really is?  A Wisconsin parent whose son will start high school in early September adds up the “costs” of his attendance and pens an article in the Daily Kos titled “The Price of a ‘Free’ Public Education Turns Out to be Damn Expensive.”
Robert Reich, on his Robert Reich blog, discusses the widening gap in educational achievement in this country and traces it to family incomes. “American kids are getting ready to head back to school,” he notes.  “But the schools they’re heading back to differ dramatically by family income.  Which helps explain the growing achievement gap between lower and higher-income children.”
One often used statistic to measure child poverty is the number of children on the free or reduced federal meals program.  Now some researchers are beginning to question the accuracy of that metric.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK reviews the history of the statistic, why some experts worry about how precise a measure it is and explores some possible alternatives
The author of this column in the Walworth County, Wisconsin, GazetteXtra, explains why “Testing is a Lousy Way to Hold Schools Accountable.”  He, too, challenges the use of value-added models (VAMs) to rate schools and teachers.  “We’ve been using bubble tests to hold schools and students accountable for a long time,” he maintains, “mostly without anyone asking tough questions about whether the scores were valid measures. Controversy over student testing was slow to develop and then mostly concerned the number of tests and the harsh consequences. We never asked whether the thermometer really measured the temperature, even though our education system is based upon the validity of these tests.”
Thanks to Larry Lawrence for sending a commentary from truthout that begins by reviewing key federal government pronouncements about the state of education over the last 30 years.  It then proceeds to demonstrate how the so-called education “reformers” place the blame for the “crisis” in public education at the feet of parents, teachers and unions.  This conveniently sets up their solution–privatize the schools.  Run them like a for-profit business.  Guess who is waiting to begin collecting those profits?  You got it, the so-called education “reformers.”  The authors of this piece, two education activists from Massachusetts, titled it, appropriately, “Education, Inc.”
The controversy surrounding “iPadgate” deepens.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times had 4 different items.  The first was a front-page story recapping the latest news and noting that several sources were suggesting that an independent investigation be convened to look into a number of issues involved with the program.  “A day after Los Angeles Unified abruptly suspended the contract for its controversial iPad project,” it begins, “there were growing calls for a more thorough investigation into whether the bidding process for the $1-billion program was improperly handled.”              The second was a page 2 Steve Lopez column wondering if LAUSD Supt. John Deasy could maintain his position in light of the growing scandal and his possible involvement in/responsibility for it.  It includes several other problems that have cropped up under his stewardship.  It’s titled “Can Supt. Deasy Survive LAUSD’s iPad Fiasco?”                 The third item was an editorial urging the district and all involved to get to the bottom of the controversy quickly and suggests that dropping the contract with Apple and Pearson doesn’t solve the problem.                  The fourth was several letters published in the paper reacting to Supt. Deasy’s decision to pull the plug on the contract with Apple to provide the iPads.  A couple of them commented on his spelling ability.                Thursday’s Times printed an editorial cartoon about Deasy’s roll in the affair.  You can read the cartoonist’s comments and view it here.                Former LAUSD deputy superintendent Jaime Aquino, who was heavily involved in the discussions that led to the Apple/Pearson contract with the district and was employed by a Pearson subsidiary prior to working in L.A., denied that he did anything illegal or unethical in an article in today’s Times.                 All 5 letters printed in today’s paper were critical of Supt. Deasy and his close ties with Apple and the contract the district signed to provides iPads for everyone.               NPR station 89.3 KPCC continues it’s investigative reporting into the bidding process that led to the partnership between the LAUSD and Apple/Pearson.  Last Friday they were the first to release some of the emails that hinted at the cozy relationships between the 3 principals.  In a piece today KPCC divulges some additional documents that show some of the members of the district’s bid committee received free iPads with Pearson curriculum loaded on them as well as free attendance at a Palm Desert resort for a Pearson conference.  This item also includes a number of key emails and documents related to the growing scandal.
Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, once again reprints a powerful column from award-winning New York principal Carol Burris who, this time, attempts to make sense of the latest test results in her state.  “It is time for . . . . the Board of Regents to alter the course, re-examine the Common Core standards and its tests, and courageously stand for the children of New York,” Burris concludes.  “The original embrace of the Race to the Top reforms was understandable and forgivable. The continuation of the reforms — despite the mounting evidence of failure — is not.”
A short item in EDUCATION WEEK previews two recent books that were highlighted in previous editions of the “Ed News.”  Building a Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green and The Teacher Wars by Dana Goldstein are compared.
On Wednesday, the Lee County, Florida, school board voted 3-2 to opt the entire district out of all statewide standardized tests, becoming the first district in the state to reach that decision.  The Southwest Florida News-Press has the details.  It includes a brief (39 second) video of the audience reaction as the motion was officially approved.                Valerie Strauss reacted to the decision in Lee County on her blog.  She quotes one of the board members who was in favor of the boycott: “It’s an act of civil disobedience. We stood up for what we thought was right.”  Strauss includes an extended video segment (76 minutes) of the debate on the proposal.                Another county school board in Florida is contemplating following in the footsteps of Lee County and opting out of all standardized tests in the state.  Palm Beach County is studying the action according to a piece in the South Florida Sun Sentinel.  [The School Board]  “says testing has gotten out of control and creates too much pressure for students and teachers,” the story begins.  “After discussing the opt-out idea at a recent meeting, board members asked their lawyers for further study. They will discuss it again at a workshop in the next few weeks.”
A newly released book finds that although women are highly represented on local school boards they often don’t always make their voices heard in policy debates.  “School boards have more equitable representation of men and women than any other governing group in the United States,” the item in EDUCATION WEEK begins, “but new studies suggest women’s voices still often aren’t heard.  Women make up more than 40 percent of school board members nationally, more than double the average female participation in other governing groups in the United States. But unless they make up a supermajority of a board, women don’t comment and endorse motions as often as men do.”
Oh, no.  More grief for the LAUSD.  An internal audit by the district’s inspector general discovered that over $2 million in computers could not be accounted for.  Based on the methodology used in the report the losses could be much higher according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  These findings, fortunately for the beleaguered district, were not related to the “iPad for everyone” program.  “For the most part,” the article mentions, “the missing devices covered by the audit did not include iPads that were part of last fall’s rollout of a $1-billion effort to provide a computer to every student, teacher and campus administrator.  However, 96 devices included in that effort also were lost or stolen, with 36 eventually recovered.”
Here a book that’s sure to stir the pot of education reform.  It’s called Badass Teachers Unite and contains a series of essays by Mark Naison, a co-founder of the BATS (BadAss Teachers  Association).  Naison focuses on how the so-called education “reformers” attempt to divert the discussion about what ails education by concentrating on “bad” teachers, their unions  and tenure instead of issues like poverty, racism, hunger, homelessness and income inequality among others.  truthout has a short preview of the book and an excerpt from it.  “Essentially, current school reform policies represent a brilliant tactic to avoid dealing with the real causes of poverty and inequality in society,” the short excerpt concludes, “while finding a convenient scapegoat in public school teachers and their unions. These policies are transparent, ill considered and immoral. And over time, people in the communities most targeted by these reforms will rise up in protest.”
The charter school industry is gearing up a new, slick public relations campaign titled “Truth About Charters.”  Jeff Bryant at the Education Opportunity NETWORK complains that they don’t need an advertising program but more regulation if they want the “truth” to come out about what they do.  He reviews many of the negative stories that have come out recently about charter malfeasance and financial irregularities.
Can teachers be compared like athletes?  Sports have always had a wide array of statistics and numbers to measure individual performance.  Some education “reformers” like to use value-added models (VAMs) as a way to chart teacher effectiveness but that metric has come under increasing pressure for lack of accuracy and consistency.  The author of this piece in EDUCATION WEEK, who is a math teacher in Philadelphia, argues that teaching is not like baseball and VAMs are not at all comparable to the latest sabermetrics being utilized in America’s pastime.  “All teachers are not equal and any system that says otherwise is lying,” he concludes.  “But just because a system mathematically shows differences doesn’t make it better. Blindly firing teachers using flawed data without context doesn’t give students the best possible teachers. Nor does it help teachers grow. Value added-models, as they are currently constructed, feel much more like a war on teachers.”
The HECHINGER REPORT describes, in a lengthy piece, how one middle school in North Carolina could serve as a national model for how to go digital.  It purchased Apple MacBook Air laptops for each of its 600 students as part of a district wide project with money from a federal grant and is making use of the computers in all of its classes.  This item offers specific details about how the conversion to digital learning was accomplished.
And finally, the author of this instructional piece from EDUCATION WEEK is a social studies teacher and department chair at a high school in East Lansing, Michigan.  He has students from many different countries in his classes and describes how he learns about their cultures through writing activities that he assigns early in the year.   “Trying to get to know students is probably one of the best classroom-management techniques there is,” he concludes.  “It’s a long process that takes time. But by starting the year off with a student-centered assignment, teachers can be confident that they will engage students and gain insight into their personal lives in a nonthreatening manner.”
Dave Alpert (Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog.

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