Monthly Archives: September 2014

Ed News, Friday, September 26, 2014 Edition


EVENT REMINDER:  ALOED and the Oxy Education Dept. are cosponsoring a free screening of the important documentary “Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District” on Tuesday, Oct. 14, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Choi Auditorium on the Occidental College campus.  A discussion with the producers of the film will follow the showing.   For more information and to RSVP please click here.
“The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation
 is the philosophy of government in the next.” 
― Abraham Lincoln
In light of the Vergara case, EDUCATION WEEK takes an interesting look at the varied state-by-state rules and laws governing teacher due process and dismissal rights.  “In essence,” the piece notes, “the debate over due process amounts to this: Do current laws appropriately balance expediency with the fairness enshrined in the concept of due process? If not, how should they be revised?”  The story has an interesting sidebar that compares how a couple of specific states handle the firing of educators.                3 letters in yesterday’s L.A. Times commented on the op-ed the paper ran on Sunday about a better way to address issues of teacher tenure and due process rights (highlighted in Tuesday’s “Ed News.”)  One of them was penned by the president of the Garvey School District school board.
Obtaining the latest technological gadgetry seems to be the most important goal for many school districts.  Why does education seem to lag behind business when it comes to keeping up with the latest trends?  Forbes, however, thinks we have it all wrong.  In a story titled “You Are Asking the Wrong Questions About Education Technology” it lays out what should be the proper emphasis for schools as they promote technological literacy for their students.  “We should certainly embrace tools and technologies,” the author posits, “that will help educators become more impactful. But we should do it because it works, not for the sake of modern humanity’s obsession with progress, newness, innovation, and disruption.”
Sara Stevenson, on her personal blog Public Education Today, worries about all the blame being placed on teachers for the problems faced by public education by the so-called “reformers.”  Because of these attacks she’s afraid that many of them will get fed up and quit the profession.  She titles her piece “Get Ready for the Great Teacher Exodus.” 
A high school English teacher in Kansas writes in EDUCATION WEEK that “The Common Core is Working in My Classroom.”  He describes how his lessons on Moby Dick have been enhanced using some of the techniques that are part of the standards.   “That the common core has become a punching bag in my home state of Kansas and other places has more to do with political partisanship than reasoned review.” he claims.
Former President Bill Clinton weighted in on the topic of charter schools at an international symposium of businesspeople and philanthropists earlier this week.  He had some specific comments regarding how they should be dealt with and when they should lose their charters.  He also addressed some other education-related subjects.  You can read about his remarks in a story in the Huffington Post.  Thanks to Randy Traweek for sending it along.   
EduShyster writes about the disappearing number of minorities among the teaching profession and is confused by all the pronouncements about the need to diversify the ranks.    “[E]ven as a much-needed conversation about the vital importance of having teachers of color in front of an increasingly diverse student body is taking place,” she notes, “a bouquet of reform policies is effectively pushing out existing teachers of color.”  She identifies some culprits for this phenomenon and is not afraid to point fingers with a “trip” to Boston to bolster her point.
There’s been a recent focus on a wave of unaccompanied minors from Central America crossing U.S. borders and their impact on the school system.  However, a recurring problem is getting a renewed emphasis–homeless students.  U.S. News & World Report has a piece titled “Number of Homeless Students Reaches All-Time High.”  “The United States has set a record,” the story begins, “but it’s not a good one: there are more homeless students in the nation than ever before, and many are living completely on their own, without parents or guardians, new data from the Department of Education show.”  The numbers from the DoE are depressing.  An 8% increase in student homelessness from 2011-12 to 2012-13 and a shocking 85% jump since 2006-07.
Hundreds of students walked out of their classes for 3 straight days earlier this week in suburban Denver protesting changes to the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum.  A new conservative school board wants to emphasize more “positive aspects” of the country and downplay topics about “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times covers the battle.
Things are getting really nasty from certain corners of the “reform” movement.  The rabidly anti-union “Center for Union Facts” mailed a vicious 11 page letter to 125,000 households nationwide blaming AFT President Randi Weingarten for  causing the failure of our public schools.  The Washington Post quotes from the letter and identifies who is behind it.  It also has a picture of the outside of the envelope.                Diane Ravitch had some brief (but choice) comments about the campaign on her blog.
EduShyster (aka Jennifer Berkshire) has an interesting question about school choice in a post titled “No Choice:” “If choice is the only choice is it still choice?”  She’s taking us on a field trip “to Camden, New Jersey, where school choice is on its way, whether people there choose to choose it or not.”
Diane Ravitch calls this next story “the most important article you will read this week, this month, maybe this year.”  The Nation has an in-depth look at how the for-profit sector is salivating over the $788.7 BILLION K-12 education market.  Venture capitalists, entrepreneurs and fly-by-night scammers are developing all kinds of ways of getting a piece of that huge pie.  “The explosion of investor interest in education raises a number of questions,” it points out, “among them: What kind of influence will the for-profit education sector attempt to exert over education policy? And if school reform is crafted to maximize the potential for investor profit, will students benefit, as boosters claim—or will they suffer?”
With the midterm elections rapidly approaching on Nov. 4, and the partisan battle for control of the U.S. Senate and a number of governor’s jobs in play, Jeff Bryant on the Education Opportunity NETWORK looks at a possible winning strategy for the Democrats and how they can achieve it.  Believe it or not, it revolves around the issue of education and how to pay for our public schools.  “Democrats looking to score points with the voting public,” he simply states, “should talk up public education.”  Bryant offers some new polling data to support his point.
This item should certainly stir the pot a bit.  The principal at Crenshaw High (LAUSD) testified at a hearing Thursday that the 12 educators who had filed suit over their dismissal when the school was reconstituted claiming they were removed for their union activities were actually let go for various education-related issues.  A story in today’s L.A. Times describes the contretemps.
A newly released analysis out from Education Trust-West identifies 11 unified school districts in California that are achieving success with their English Language Learners.  The report looked at data for the 2012-13 school year from 276 districts that enrolled at least 100 ELLs.  EDUCATION WEEK had a short article about the findings.  You can find the full report (40 pages) titled “The Language of Reform: English Learners in California’s Shifting Education Landscape” here.
And finally, the LAUSD’s bond oversight committee refused to commit $42 million for the purchase of new computers.  The district had indicated an urgent need to the devices in order for students to use them for testing in the spring.  You can read both sides of the dispute and its ramifications in an article in today’s L.A. Times.  “The district’s proposal,” it explains, “was discussed for the first time in a meeting of the independent School Construction Bond Citizens’ Oversight Committee, which reviews the use of school construction money. The bond panel rejected the plan, saying that L.A. Unified had not proved that it urgently needed these devices.”
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me diligently working on the blog

Ed News, Tuesday, September 23, 2014 Edition


Fall officially began at 7:29 pm yesterday.

The Jewish New Year holiday of Rosh Hashanah begins at sundown tomorrow.
“Philosophers have long conceded, however, that every man has two educators: ‘that which is given to him,
 and the other that which he gives himself. Of the two kinds the latter is by far the more desirable. 
Indeed all that is most worthy in man he must work out and conquer for himself. 
It is that which constitutes our real and best nourishment. 
What we are merely taught seldom nourishes the mind like that which we teach ourselves.” 
― Carter G. WoodsonThe Mis-Education of the Negro
The Center for Public Integrity reports that a number of children’s rights organizations sent a letter last week to the U.S. Dept. of Defense urging officials there to cease providing military-grade weapons to local school districts.  “News reports and lists of recipients of surplus hardware,” it notes, “reveal that assault-style rifles, armored vehicles and other military supplies have been handed over to school districts large and small, from California, Texas, Nevada and Utah to Florida, Georgia, Kansas and Michigan.”  Last week the “Ed News” highlighted stories about weaponry that had been handed over to the LAUSD and San Diego Unified and some of the stuff was subsequently returned.
The Washington Post’s “Wonkblog” conducted an interview with Jesse Rothstein, an Assistant Professor of Economics at UC Berkeley, who addressed the issue of tenure.  The piece is titled “Teacher Tenure Has Little to Do With Student Achievement, Economist Says.”  “Getting good teachers in front of classrooms is tricky,” the introduction states, “and Rothstein argues it would still be a challenge without tenure, possibly even harder. There are only so many people willing to consider teaching as a career, and getting rid of tenure could eliminate one of the job’s main attractions.”
Frank Breslin, a retired high school teacher, writing on the Huffington Post, joins a growing chorus demanding that the U.S. Congress hold hearings on the misuse and overuse of standardized tests in the U.S.   Last year, the Network for Public Education was one of the first organizations to call for the legislature to intervene.  “It is now clear to tens of thousands of parents across America,” he begins, “that their children are being victimized by mandated standardized testing.  Outraged by the effrontery of this illegal intrusion by the federal government into the classroom and Washington’s dismissal of their parental rights, they have opted out of having their children tested.”
Matthew Di Carlo at he Shanker Blog pinpoints “The Fatal Flaw of Education Reform.”  Most of the so-called “reformers” promise a lot in a very short time but fail to deliver.  “[O]ne needn’t look very far to notice a tendency in ‘reformer’ circles,” he notes, “to sell their policy prescriptions by promising the kind of short- and medium-term results that most education policies, no matter how well-designed and implemented, simply cannot deliver.  School quality is important, it can be improved, and even small improvements can make a big difference. But it is critical to maintain a level head regarding the magnitude and speed of impacts. We as a nation must be prepared for the long haul, and there is a thin line between ambitious goals and unrealistic promises.”
Peter Goodman, who writes the Ed in the Apple blog, addresses what he predicts will happen to the Vergara case in California and a similar one, still to be heard, in New York.  The news is pretty good if you believe in tenure and other job protections for teachers.  “I believe,” he concludes, “the California Vergara decision will be reversed and the New York State anti-decision may be dismissed before trial.  Hopefully we can move forward to debate issues that truly impact teaching and learning.”
Here’s a story topic the “Ed News” has not covered before.  A former Newport Harbor High School teacher is suing the Newport-Mesa Unified School District in Orange County for retaliation after she publicly objected to her students having to dissect cat carcasses.   The details appeared in an article in Saturday’s L.A. Times.  “Karen Coyne claims in her Orange County Superior Court lawsuit,” it explains, “that the district and several employees created a hostile work environment, violated her free speech rights and transferred her without her consent.  Coyne is seeking a year of salary and benefits, which amount to about $84,000, plus unspecified damages for emotional distress and pain and suffering.”
Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, writes about the Gates Foundation shifting its focus in regards to how it views public education.  Before all they focused on was how much of a “failure” the public schools were and how “bad” teachers had to be removed.  Now the narrative seems to be on the order of finding a few successful charters and other market-based programs and touting them by funding certain media outlets to highlight this positive spin.  Cody quotes from a number of different sources to bolster his argument. 
Corporal punishment was banned in California in 1986.  What about in the other states?  Do some still retain the policy?  If you answered “No” you’d be wrong.  Any guesses how many states still allow the use of corporal punishment?  Correct answer is 19.  In light of the controversy surrounding NFL running back Adrian Peterson, Valerie Strauss revisits the topic in her ‘Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post.  “A federal data analysis found that on average,” she wrote, “one child is hit in public school every 30 seconds somewhere in the United States.”  Strauss lists the 19 states and includes a video segment (5:03 minutes) from a previous “The Daily Show” that pokes fun at a proposed bill in Kansas (it was ultimately defeated) that would have allowed designated people, including teachers, to hit kids harder. 
In the Saturday L.A. Times feature “Numbers and Letters” the paper indicated it received 536 “printable letters” between Friday, Sept. 12, and Friday, Sept. 19.  “42 readers discussed controversies at the L.A. Unified School District, the runner-up topic” for the period indicated.  The number 1 topic?  72 letters addressed topics about the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS).  
Thanks to Larry Lawrence for sending along this article from the EDUCATIONALCHEMY website.  It’s titled “What’s Wrong With Standards-Based Education?  Let Me Count the Ways” and goes on to ask and answer a number of key questions about what is meant by systems like the Common Core State Standards.  “[S]tandards suggest that we are staving chaos off at the gate … that without some sort of standards steering our educational system,” it contends, “schools and educators will operate like some Wild West show with no rules or order, resulting in national unmanageability. So when we hear the word ‘standards’ based education, the phrase alone lulls many people into a false sense of stability and security that our children are being taken care of because these standards are the gate keeper at the door between success in learning and abject chaos.”
Anthony Cody turns over his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog to Yong Zhao, a previous ALOED book club author, who writes a compelling piece against the use of high stakes testing and those who promote it.  
An op-ed in Sunday’s L.A. Times suggests that court cases and other tinkering around the edge of changes to tenure rules and laws getting rid of “bad” teachers are not enough and are not going to bring about the changes needed.  The author, a professor emeritus at CS Sacramento and an expert witness for the defendants in the Vergara case, believes what is needed is much more.  “Stakeholders must come together,” he maintains, “around a ‘grand bargain’ that would address not only teacher incompetence but all the obstacles educators face that, in the end, prevent many students from learning.”  He discusses some recommendations from a recent report that he was part of.
TNTP, formerly know as The New Teacher Project, was founded by Michelle Rhee.  They came out with a report (4 pages) titled “Rebalancing Teacher Tenure, A Post-Vergara Guide for Policymakers.”  It contains 8 ideas for reforming tenure and you can read it here.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog offered a point-by-point critique of it.  “While TNTP’s proposal has some worthwhile components,” he concludes, “it still contains the basic outline of a system that throws out tenure and replaces it with a teacher employment system based on test results. That serves the interests of nobody (not teachers, students, taxpayers, citizens, or parents) except for folks who want to reimagine teaching as the sort of job that never becomes a lifetime career.”
Raising the minimum wage so that people can make a living that’s above the poverty line has been an important issue recently.  SALON has a surprising story about the number of adjunct professors on college and university campuses who make very low salaries and are forced to accept food stamps and other types of welfare.  “You’ve probably heard the old stereotypes,” it begins, “about professors in their ivory tower lecturing about Kafka while clad in a tweed jacket. But for many professors today, the reality is quite different: being so poorly paid and treated, that they’re more likely to be found bargain-hunting at day-old bread stores. This is academia in 2014.”
One of the main claims made by many charter companies is that they could educate students more effectively and save lots of taxpayer money while doing it.  Not so, apparently, in New York.  A charter operator there is suing the state for “more taxpayer support.”  Diane Ravitch, on her blog, reprints a press release about the suit and adds some pointed comments.
“The Common Core is Not Ready” is the title of a commentary in EDUCATION WEEK.  It is penned by a former teacher and writer who is not opposed to the standards but believes their implementation needs to be delayed at least for another year so that additional piloting and refining can take place.  “I don’t believe we should abandon the Common Core State Standards. Despite the imperfections of the initiative,” he maintains, “many have broadly celebrated its essential vision and its best features with good reason, including the core’s compelling introductory materials and appendices.  But it is time to insist,” he suggests, “that those who are leading the initiative do what should have been done up front: Conduct actual small-scale pilot testing of the grade-by-grade standards themselves for at least a year.”  The first two paragraphs of his piece should really really grab you.  They pulled me in.
Reams of material has been written about the Common Core by both proponents and those who are opposed.  Here’s a question that’s scarcely been addressed: How do you present them to parents?  That’s the topic of this piece in the same publication.  It’s written by Jane Ching Fung, a National Board Certified first grade teacher in Los Angeles.  “As a teacher,” she explains, “I need parents to be involved in the shift to the common core. As a parent, I want to know what my child is going to be expected to know and do and how I can support his or her learning at home.  Teachers can’t expect all parents to be up to date with the latest changes in curriculum and shifts in education. We need to remember that most parents rely on what they hear—from teachers, school communications, other parents, and the media.”  The author provides a useful practical guide to presenting the standards to parents. 
The Thursday editorial in the L.A. Times titled “The Bad-Old Days at LAUSD” (highlighted in the previous edition of the “Ed News”) that complimented Supt. Deasy and others for the progress made by the district and chastised the poor relationship that has redeveloped between the union and the school chief prompted 4 letters in Sunday’s paper.  
Peggy Robertson, a teacher and literacy coach in Colorado and a co-founder of United Opt-Out, writes a letter to the citizens of Colorado.  It appears on Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post and details why she is refusing to administer the PARCC Common Core assessment to her students this year.  “It is risky,” Strauss notes, “for teachers to refuse to administer a mandated test; they can lose their jobs. But some are doing it anyway as a protest against the number and importance of standardized tests in today’s education reform.”
And finally, thanks to Randy Traweek for sending along this story from EDUCATION WEEK which should be placed in the “What were they thinking” file.  The student editor of a high school newspaper in Pennsylvania was suspended for a MONTH for refusing to print the “Redskin” nickname of the school.  The teacher advisor was suspended for two days.  Randy highlighted this quote from an attorney with the Student Press Law Center: “It may be possible to get dumber people on a school board, but I don’t how you go about it.”  I won’t print what Randy said in response to that.
 Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog.

Ed News, Friday, September 19, 2014 Edition


“Proper teaching is recognized with ease. You can know it without fail 
because it awakens within you that sensation which tells you this is something you have always known.” 
― Frank HerbertDune
The LAUSD responded promptly to an item about obtaining military-grade weapons from the Pentagon that appeared on the L.A. Times website late last week and was highlighted in Friday’s “Ed News.” The district’s school police force announced that it would be returning the 3 grenade launchers it received but would retain the 61 assault rifles and the MRAP armoured vehicle.  A story in Wednesday’s paper explained the turnaround.               When comedian Stephen Colbert, on his Comedy Central show “The Colbert Report” Wednesday night, discovered that the Pentagon was not only giving local police departments military-grade weapons but also some school district police forces, he had a field day.  If you don’t think he can get some humor out of an armoured vehicle you don’t know Colbert.  Check out his very brief (2:22 minutes) take on the situation where he pokes particular fun at San Diego Unified and LAUSD.  Try not to laugh too much; you won’t be able to read the rest of this blog!               San Diego and L.A. weren’t the only school districts to accept surplus military gear from the Pentagon.  According to a story in theguardian (via the AP) 26 districts around the country took advantage of the offer including 6 in California.  Despite what Colbert says (see above) this isn’t particularly funny when you get right down to it.               Two letters in today’s L.A. Times reacted to all that military hardware at the LAUSD.               It’s interesting what happens when one shines a light on some of these little know acquisitions and policies.  The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that  San Diego Unified will return its MRAP according to a statement released late yesterday by the district’s superintendent.  I have one thought.  If the LAUSD and San Diego Unified were so quick to return their grenade launchers and armoured vehicle, respectively, what were they planning to do with them in the first place?
Larry Ferlazzo turns his “Classroom Q & A” column in EDUCATION WEEK over to 4 educators (from Miami, Mississippi, Los Angeles and Burbank)  who address the question: How should teachers dress?  It’s an interesting issue, particularly with the very hot temperatures we’ve been experiencing lately.  Each one of his guests offers some practical advice and some generalized common sense ideas on the topic.  [Ed. note: Each of Ferlazzo’s guests make some excellent points about educators attire but all 4 were female.  Couldn’t at least one of them approach the question from a male point of view?  Am I off base here?]
The always entertaining and extremely well-informed Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 dissects the recent Intelligence Squared debate that took up the issue of the Common Core.  It used an Oxford-style format and took place in New York.  (The “Ed News” highlighted the video and transcript in a recent edition).  In this first column she takes a “long” and detailed look at the side that favored the standards.                 Proponents of the Common Core have produced a new commercial to “tout their product.”  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, includes the video (1:56 minutes) for you to view for yourself.  The tagline at the end of the ad: “Common Core–It’s Better Than You’ve Heard.”  He can’t believe how awful the whole thing is and offers several observations why.               THE DAILY CALLER also had a poor response to the ad.              Carol Burris, the award-winning New York principal and often guest blogger on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post, also took a potshot at the ad.  In addition, she addressed “Four Common Core ‘Flimflams.'”  “Since the standards were first introduced,” Burris maintains, “Common Core supporters have created amorphous platitudes and spin to market it. Even as more Americans like me ‘wise up,’ do not expect the Common Core-ites to give up. Think tanks have received millions from Gates to support it and education companies are making millions on new Core-aligned materials. There is big money being spent — and big money to be made — in the Common Core.”
The PBS NEWSHOUR program broadcast a segment about a school in the Oakland Unified School District that has spearheaded a plan to provide local, healthy food for students throughout the district.  “On Earth Day this year, [a group of students] launched a new program that is at the heart of the farm-to-school effort, California Thursday.  The goal of the farm-to-school initiative,” the piece notes, “is to offer fresh locally grown food each week to every student in the Oakland public schools.”  You can watch the video (4:18 minutes) and/or read a transcript of the segment.  A word of caution: viewing this story could make you hungry!
EDUCATION WEEK has a piece that attempts to debunk “3 myths” regarding the new Common Core assessments and the idea of tying student test scores to teacher accountability.  “The accountability waters are as choppy as ever,” it concludes, “but teachers needn’t drown in them. If their priorities are questioned, teachers must stand firm in the belief that their decisions are based on what they believe to be in the best interest of their students. They must concentrate on how their students learn, reflect on their practice, and seek the support they need to improve their instructional skills. By keeping the focus squarely on their professional raison d’être—their students—teachers can ride out the storm, protecting themselves from what threatens to damage their practice and, instead, build on what they know works.”
Ideological battles over state textbook adoptions have occurred for a long time over disparate topics.  A panel in Texas is proposing to accept several books at various grade levels that deny climate change and offer, as supporting evidence, views from a right-wing think tank.  An item from the theguardian describes what’s taking place.  “The proposed text books – which come up for public hearing at the Texas state board of education on Tuesday – were already attracting criticism,” it notes, “when it emerged that the science section had been altered to reflect the doctrine of the Heartland Institute, which has been funded by the Koch oil billionaires.”
An editorial in Wednesday’s L.A. Times endorsed Marshall Tuck over incumbent Tom Torlakson for the position of Superintendent of Public Instruction on the November ballot.  “The two runoff candidates for the nonpartisan job of California’s superintendent of public instruction are Democrats,” it begins, “but they have clearly differentiated viewpoints about public schools. Of the two, political newcomer Marshall Tuck is the one with the vision and sense of urgency that California’s schools most need right now.”
Everyone knows how much kids these days love to play video games.  They even prefer them to doing their homework (Duh!).  A story from The HECHINGER REPORT describes a new generation of educational games that is making the idea of learning FUN!  As the students might respond: “For Real?”  “A new generation of educational games is harnessing students’ love of video games and turning them into voracious learners — without them even realizing it,” the article points out.  “That’s the promise, anyway. Unlike previous educational games that functioned like glorified worksheets or tech-enhanced tests, the latest game developers say they are closer to figuring out how to unlock kids’ passion for gaming.”
Diane Ravitch, on her blog, briefly reacted to the L.A. Times editorial on Tuesday (highlighted in the “Ed News”) that was critical of the LAUSD school board for again micromanaging decisions made by Supt. Deasy.  
Valerie Strauss, on her blog, begins a new series of stories that will follow a real life high school senior, and her college advisor, as she navigates the waters of college admissions.  “[The student’s] story may help debunk some myths surrounding selective college admission,” Strauss notes about the series, “while providing a window into a time of transition for one young woman growing up in rural New Hampshire.”  
3 letters published in Wednesday’s L.A. Times reacted to the paper’s op-ed piece on Monday (highlighted in the “Ed News”) about the LAUSD needing to spend money on improving libraries rather than iPads.  Two of the authors were retired teachers.
Diane Ravitch, on her blog, is touting a “major event” sponsored by the Network for Public Education.  It’s called “Public Education Nation” and will be held on Sat., Oct. 11, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. PT in New York City.  “[T]his will be a low-budget, high-interest opportunity to meet education activists who are fighting corporate education ‘reform’ and working for better public schools,” she relates.  “The event will be live-streamed and can be viewed from anywhere. If you are in the New York City area, admission is free.”  There will be four panels and the event will conclude with a conversation between Ravitch and Jitu Brown, a leading community activist.  The live stream will be available on that date here so mark your calendars for this important happening.

An independent investigation into the LAUSD’s iPad-for-everyone program produced by the American Institutes for Research was highly critical of how it is going so far.  The report, highlighted in a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times, listed a number of problems with the devices including difficulties logging in, slow loading times, limited use of available tablets and poor quality or missing curricula among others.               In light of some of the criticisms cited by the above report the LAUSD announced that it was doubling the number of staff  “who will help with technical and instructional issues” related to the iPad for everyone program.  That news was in a story in today’s paper.
Yesterday’s L.A. Times ran an extended editorial titled “The Bad-Old Days at LAUSD” that lamented the seemingly return of open conflict between Supt. Deasy and UTLA.  Relations have deteriorated so badly that the district chief was again hinting he might quit and other voices were demanding he be fired.  “So, yeah, teachers are angry, and many would be happy to see the superintendent go. But before anyone grows too nostalgic,” it recounts, “let’s remember a few things about the old days. Life may have been easier for teachers in some cases, but it was not so great for students, especially poor ones.”               An L.A. teacher had a well written response to this Times editorial about the “Bad-Old Days.”  The brief comments appeared on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  “I have been a teacher for over 20 years,” the anonymous educator relates.  “Most of my teaching career has been spent in East Los Angeles. Teaching in this community has never been easy. I don’t know what ‘nostalgia’  I’m supposed to feel about the past.”  The person goes on to describe what the “good old days” were like and wonders what has happened to them under Supt. Deasy’s tenure.
And finally, the popular syndicated game show “Wheel of Fortune” kicked off its new season on Monday with a special “Teacher’s [sic] Week.”  One contestant, a middle school math instructor from Silver Springs, Maryland, on Wednesday won a $1 million grand prize.  Interestingly much of the story from EDUCATION WEEK describing the show concentrated on a grammatical debate over the proper spelling of the title (Teacher’s vs Teachers’).  Be sure to click on the brief promotional video (30 seconds) about the show.
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College,’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog

Ed News, Tuesday, September 16, 2014 Edition


 “Human resources are like natural resources; they’re often buried deep. 
You have to go looking for them, they’re not just lying around on the surface. 
You have to create the circumstances where they show themselves.” 
― Ken Robinson
The fallout over “iPadgate” from recent email disclosures has apparently caused fissures in the LAUSD school board to deepen and is bringing Supt. John Deasy to question whether he can continue in his job.  A front-page story in Saturday’s L.A. Times discussed the situation with the latest updates and reactions to the issue.  “The controversy engulfing Los Angeles Unified’s $1.3-billion technology project,” it begins, “has inflamed long-held tensions between the Board of Education and Supt. John Deasy, who is questioning whether he should step down.”               An extended editorial in today’s paper bemoans the return of the dysfunctional relationship between the LAUSD superintendent and the school board.  “After a period of relative peace between reform-oriented and union-allied political forces,” it states, “things are now back to where they were last October. Board members are questioning Deasy about every step. Deasy is responding in an increasingly hostile way and talking once again about quitting.”               Two letters in the same paper commented on the article above about Deasy questioning whether he can continue to do an effective job and one reacted to the paper’s editorial last week about the LAUSD looking into deleting certain emails. 
Here’s a novel idea that’s definitely been heard (a lot) before.  With all the ideas for “reform” from philanthropists, businesspeople and other “experts” why not let the people with the most educational expertise–TEACHERS–guide the way forward.  The author of this commentary in The Tennessean is a member of the Metro Nashville School Board and she includes a number of concrete ideas for improving schools not only in her city but nationwide.  “The education policy debate, increasingly fueled by corporate interests and profit motives,” she complains, “has strayed from evidence-based practices. With the current national fixation on standardized tests, which come at a high cost to schools, our focus has been diverted from best practices to a competitive gaming of the system. This threatens to create a tiered educational system that serves some children well and leaves many others behind. We should refocus our efforts on research-based solutions and find ways to implement healthy practices across the system.”
Many people have lamented the sorry state of American education today due to the overemphasis on standardized testing.  The author of this article, a retired high school teacher writing on the Huffington Post, goes all the way back in time to Charles Dickens to rather graphically condemn what he sees as the destruction of our once excellent school system.  “These are dark times for America’s schools,” he intones.  “They have been subjected to a federal mandate of perpetual testing and retesting of the basic skills of reading and math. What was once a proud, well-rounded, time-honored tradition has been reduced to the smoking hulk of the pitiful, dumbed-down remnants of its former self.”               Many people complain about the overuse of standardized testing and how much time it takes away from the curriculum.  Has anyone ever offered any proof that too many exams hurt students?  The author of this commentary in The Des Moines Register is a fifth grade teacher in Iowa and was confronted with that challenge and decided to offer some examples to show that “Excessive Testing Hurts Iowa Children.”   What she discovers certainly applies to kids in every state.
Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, defends the Peer Assistance and Review program as an excellent way to evaluate and improve teachers.  He starts out by giving a detailed view of how PAR works and provides some examples from his experiences as a Consulting Teacher.
On Sunday, Sept. 7, The New York Times ran a laudatory article about Eva Moscowitz and her Success Academy chain of charters in New York City.  The “Ed News” highlighted the piece along with a complaint from Diane Ravitch that the author included only two critics of the schools: her and the head of the United Federation of Teachers.  On the NYC Public School Parents blog a group of parents, teachers and community members registered their objections to the item.  Needless to say, their list is rather long.
Here’s a curious story that should go in the “what were they thinking file.”  Under a federal government post-9/11 program, the Pentagon provided the LAUSD with 3 grenade launchers, 61 military-style assault rifles and one MRAP (mine resistant ambush protected) vehicle.  We know there are persistent negotiation differences between the district and UTLA and tensions between the superintendent and the school board (see story above) but why would a large, urban school district need those types of weapons?  According to a commentary posted on the L.A. Times website on Friday afternoon (it hasn’t appeared in the print edition) school police officials believe there are some good reasons why those things are necessary.  Check out the article and see if you agree.
A surplus U.S. military MRAP similar to the 
one now in the possession of the LAUSD
This is getting out of hand.  Not to be outdone, the San Diego Unified School District recently acquired a MRAP of its own from the military under the same program that the LAUSD utilized (see story above).  You can read all about why the district believes it needs a military-grade weapon of this sort along with viewing some pictures of the vehicle on the VICE NEWS website.
Teach for America has instituted a program to diversify the recruits it sends to take over classrooms.  One person of color reports her experiences with the organization and how it made her feel “strange and guilty” to work in a charter school in Chicago.  Her thoughts appear on the Cloaking Inequity blog. 
Think arming teachers at school is a good idea?  Check out this short article from THINK PROGRESS titled “This is the Second Week In A Row That An American Teacher Accidentally Shot Themselves At School.”               Charles Pierce, writing in Esquire, had a witty reaction to one of the serious incident described above at an elementary school in Utah. 
How is the anti-testing movement faring around the country?  Valerie Strauss, on her blog in The Washington Post, finds that it is “growing [and] finding success around the country” based on a new report from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (known as FairTest).  She lists some of the states and cities where that is happening.  You can read  the full report (24 pages) titled “Testing Reform Victories: The First Wave” here.  
How effective is the privatization of the public school system in improving the academic success of students?  You don’t have to look far to get a pretty clear answer.  Sweden began a process of creating “independent” (private) schools supported by government vouchers in 1992.  Nearly 20% of Swedish pupils have enrolled in these schools but the results have not been positive according to this piece from The CONVERSATION.  “The Swedish experience shows that allowing for-profit providers into the ‘school market’ has not lead to increased standards and improved schools,” the author concludes, “but instead permitted another vested interest into education in pursuit of aims above those of childrens’ education, in this respect: profit.”
Many charter schools subscribe to the “no excuses” philosophy for dealing with student misbehavior.  EduShyster conducts a Q & A with the director of the Teach for America program and a professor at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania who discusses the concept of “no excuses” charter schools “and the price paid by students who attend them.”                 Peter Greene was quick to react to the interview on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  He found it to be “depressing” for the way it treats children as “less than” real human beings and it reminded him of some things he’d read by Frederick Douglass about slavery.  “So in reading the Edushyster interview,” Greene laments, “it’s heartbreaking to see not just the students being treated as if they are Less Than, but the entire new generation of young teachers being taught to do it.”
Jeannie Kaplan, on her Kaplan for Kids blog, thinks she has the answer for the best reform to improve student (particularly teenage) learning.  JUST START SCHOOL LATER.  This is not a new idea but she brings it up again and reviews some of the relevant research on the topic.  She titles her piece “Sawing the ZZZ’s.”  The vintage Peanuts cartoon that leads off the commentary is worth a look.   [Ed. note: Please try not to read this if you are at all sleepy.]
Based on international tests we all know how U.S. students stack up to their peers around the world.  How do teachers compare?  Which country requires its educators to spend the most time in the classroom?  If you said Finland or China or Korea you’d be . . . . wrong.  The correct answer: the United States!  Shocked?  A story in the Huffington Post highlights a recent report from the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) that has some very intriguing statistics about not only time in the classroom but teacher salaries as well.  It includes a link to the full report (570 pages!) titled “Education at a Glance 2014 OECD Indicators” which is chalk full (as you can probably guess) of all sorts of data.  Just a glace at the Table of Contents (which covers 8 pages) will give you a good idea of the breadth of information it contains.               A story from AAAS (American Association for the Advancement of Science) referred to the same report but chose to highlight how different countries handled education spending between 2008 and 2011, the years of the Great Recession worldwide.  Only 6 nations chose to cut monies to schools over that period.  Guess which one was among the 6.  If you guessed Finland, China or Korea you’d be wrong again.  The six were the U.S., Italy, Iceland, Russia, Estonia and Hungary.  
Many of the so-called education “reformers” have all kinds of “good” ideas on how to improve teacher evaluations.  Many of these “experts” have never been in a classroom since they went through school  Most of their ideas include large proportions for student test scores.  EDUCATION WEEK turns its pages over to a high school social studies TEACHER in the Baltimore City system who has some ideas of her own based, shockingly, on her classroom experiences.  It’s titled “A Teacher’s Advice on Getting Teacher Evaluation Right.”  “When you’re designing a new teacher-evaluation system,” she suggests, “don’t do something because it’s common or trendy, do something because it delivers authentic results. It’s worth it.”
The same publication prints some brief observations from Walt Gardner who taught in the LAUSD for 28 years and was a lecturer at the UCLA Graduate School of Education who answers the question “What Makes A Teacher Great?”  
Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, tackles the question of how the Common Core became so “politicized.”  “Asking why the Common Core are wrapped up in politics is like asking why human beings are so involved with blood,” he writes.  “The Common Core were birthed in politics. They were weaned on politics. And every time they have looked tired and in trouble, they have been revived with a fresh transfusion of politics.”
The author of this opinion piece, a member of the Texas State Board of Education, writes in the Longview (Texas) News-Journal advising parents to compare public schools in Texas with charters before making any choices for their children.  He uses two areas of accountability: financial and academic.  “During the 2012-13 school year (the most recent year of the rating),” he discovered, “Texas’ traditional public schools far outperformed charter schools in both academic and financial measurements. Don’t take my word for it, look at the information straight from the Texas Education Agency.”  He goes on to provide detailed support from that government entity.  
The State of New York has rolled out a new teacher evaluation system that consists of 60% for observations, 20% for student scores on state tests and 20% for local assessments.  That seems pretty straight forward, however, the results have caused a lot of confusion.  A piece from the Lower Hudson Valley Journal News describes some of the problems that have arisen around the state and the difficulty in determining who is truly an “effective teacher.”  “So what,” it begins, “can the recently released state-mandated teacher evaluations tell you about the quality of your teachers?  Not a whole lot, it turns out.”               Many so-called education “reformers” want to hold teachers more accountable for what goes on in their classrooms through more stringent evaluations.  What about superintendents, principals, assistant principals and other school leaders?  Changes are being made in how they are being evaluated, too.  A new set of standards, officially known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium Standards, were released for public comment yesterday.  The guidelines were first developed in 1996 and were last updated in 2008.  EDUCATION WEEK looks at what they are and what their focus is.   “The benchmarks are used  nationally to guide state and district policies,” it explains, “forming the basis of principal preparation programs, professional development, and evaluations, among others.”  The article includes a link to the full draft standards (33 pages).
The “Ed News” has highlighted a Q & A with the author and several reviews of Dana Goldstein’s new book Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession.  Thanks to Ron Oswald for sending along an article from THE NATIONAL MEMO with an excerpt from the book.  It concentrates on one of our presidents, LBJ, who had been a teacher and how he used his experiences in the classroom to produce one of the most progressive legislative programs in the nation’s history.  
The author of an op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times is the founder and executive director of a nonprofit that works for the improvement of school libraries.  She argues that the LAUSD needs to spend more on libraries rather than on gadgets like iPads.  “Like Supt. John Deasy and others in the Los Angeles Unified School District,” she begins, ‘I am concerned about the educational civil rights of the district’s students. While the iPad-for-every-student controversy has gotten much media coverage lately, a long-term problem has gotten very little attention: the lack of equal access to a quality school library.”
Another age-old issue that faces educators is the role of homework, particularly for elementary school students.  An article in EDUCATION WEEK reviews some of the latest research and finds mixed opinions on the topic. 
When the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics met in New Orleans earlier this year they were faced with an array of materials aligned to the Common Core.  NPR station WWNO (New Orleans) broadcast a story titled “Common Core Math Standards Add Up to Big Money for Education Companies.”  The HECHINGER REPORT has the audio segment (5:38 minutes) plus a printed transcript of the story.
A new Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll finds that adults nationwide are in favor of longer and more rigorous teacher preparation programs.  The survey questioned about 1,000 adults and addressed other education-related issues.  A short item in EDUCATION WEEK featured the poll and included a link to the full report.               Emily Richmond, on the ewa (Education Writers Association) blog had a detailed analysis and discussion of the PDK/Gallup poll.  One interesting (sad?) result she noted from the survey: 43% of parents said they didn’t want their children to become teachers.  That was up from 33% in 2005.
And finally, the new superintendent of the Anaheim Union High School district takes a special interest in the homeless students who attend his schools.  One of the main reasons he does this is because of his own family connection to the Japanese internment camps of World War II.  In an age of sometime tyrannical district leaders [Ed. note: We won’t mention any names.] it’s refreshing to find one who truly seems to care about kids.  Yesterday’s L.A. Times had the encouraging story of Michael Matsuda.  It’s a tough one to put down but it will warm your heart.  [Ed. note: I promise.]
Hope it’s cool or at least cooler where you are!
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog.

Ed News, Friday, September 12, 2014 Edition


“All of us must cross the line between ignorance and insight
many times before we truly understand.”
David Hawkins
A 21-year veteran high school English teacher from Portland, Oregon, reflects on why he went into teaching and why he continues in a very moving essay on the GOLOCALPDX website titled, very simply, “Why I Teach.”   
Apparently, not everyone is enamored of the Finnish school system.  A new book, by a Finnish author and 30-year veteran primary school teacher, raises questions about how students are treated and what she describes as outdated and uninspiring pedagogy.  Thanks to Marie Chaplar’s daughter (who earned her teaching credential at Oxy) who found this on the Finnish website  [Ed. note: It’s in English, in case you’re wondering.] yle UUTISET.  It includes a short video (4:21 minutes) of the author discussing some of the key issues raised in her book.  “[The book’s author] argues that Finland’s consistently high performance in international PISA rankings,” the article states, “a test of problem-solving skills among 15-year-olds, has led to complacency among Finland’s educational establishment, and has blinded teachers and decision-makers to the reality of teaching today.”

The editor missed this one when it first appeared in Sunday’s L.A. Times.  It previews the opening, later this month, of a trial of 12 former Atlanta Public School employees for various alleged misconduct concerning a cheating scandal on standardized tests.  The educators could face up to 35 years in prison if convicted.  The piece details what the defendants are being charged with and how the community is reacting to the trial. 

More and more districts are adding health and wellness data to the metrics they collect and distribute to the public.  Besides math and reading scores, attendance statistics and other academic numbers they are measuring amounts of time for recess and PE and whether there is a nurse on campus.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK focuses on how this is playing out in Colorado.

Peter Greene on his CURMUGUCATION blog features HBO comedian John Oliver who has a hilarious extended segment (16:16 minutes) on student debt.  He describes the amounts of money many students owe upon graduation and calls out, in particular, the for-profit colleges as prime culprits.  Be sure to read Greene’s brief comments about the “edubiz” and how it’s attempting to turn public education into a private business.

Stephen Krashen, on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, takes on Bill Nye (“The Science Guy”) who is a strong advocate for the Common Core.  Krashen is not against standards, per se, but has a specific problem with the way the Common Core are designed.  “Educators have pointed out that the standards themselves are developmentally inappropriate,” Krashen warns in no uncertain terms, “were created without sufficient consultation with teachers and research on learning, and their validity has never even been investigated. In a recent article in US News, the standards are described as a ‘poison pill for learning.’  In addition,” he continues, “the CCSS imposes more testing than we have ever seen on our planet, despite research showing that increasing testing does not increase achievement.”

The HECHINGER REPORT delves into the critical issue of too many American elementary schools not having adequate internet connections.  The item is titled “When Schools Can’t Get Online.”  “The federal government estimates,” it reports, “that fewer than 30 percent of K-12 schools nationwide have adequate broadband infrastructure, and has pledged financing to help improve the situation.”

Patt Morrison (Oxy, ’74) in her interview column in Wednesday’s L.A. Times featured new UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl.  Her first question to him was “How would you rate the superintendent?”  The rest of the Q & A is just as provocative.  

An extended and substantive Oxford-style debate was held on Tuesday in New York City to argue a motion to “Embrace the Common Core” sponsored by an organization called Intelligence Squared U.S. (IQ2US).    You can find a transcript of the discussion (55 pages) here and/or view the video (103:42 minutes) here (click “See Full Debate Video” red button).  The pre-and post-debate results were markedly different.  The studio audience was 50% in favor before which increased to 67% afterwards.  However, online respondents were 89% against the motion upon the conclusion. You can view a graphic of the complete results here (click “See Results” gray button).

A bevy of education stories appeared in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  The first was a front-page article about the large number of unaccompanied minors recently arriving at U.S. borders from Central America and their impact on school systems in states along the border and beyond.  It focuses on what’s been happening in Houston.  “Nowhere is the impact of the recent surge of immigration felt more strongly,” the story indicates, “than in Texas.  More than 66,000 unaccompanied young immigrants crossed into the U.S. illegally in the past fiscal year, most entering through Texas’ Rio Grande Valley.”               The second was a page 2 column by George Skelton who reports that issues like school quality, teacher tenure and other job protections have finally taken center stage in the California races for governor and State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Those questions caused some heated exchanges during a debate last week between Gov. Brown and his opponent Neel Kashkari.                Next was a piece about a labor hearing in which 12 former Crenshaw High School (LAUSD) teachers claimed they had been targeted and removed from their positions by the district due to their union activities.  One of those 12 was UTLA rep at the time and now head of the union Alex Caputo-Pearl who testified at the inquest on Wednesday.                 The final one raises some suspicions regarding a new policy to delete LAUSD emails after one year.  “The Los Angeles Unified School District took steps this week [Tuesday] to enforce rules under which emails are deleted after one year,” it begins, “raising concerns about whether important public records would be destroyed in the process.  The school board approved a contract to license a Microsoft product that would make it easier to retrieve emails, but also would automatically destroy them according to a schedule set by L.A. Unified.”  In light of several emails that were made public recently regarding the involvement of Supt. Deasy and a former assistant superintendent in “iPadgate,” this smells fishy.  Sniff, sniff!!               NPR station 89.3KPCC reported that the board decided a day later to back-track on its decision to delete emails after one year.  “The Los Angeles Unified School District said Wednesday,” the station explained, “the board will revisit its email archiving policy a day after the board approved the purchase of new software that would automatically destroy one-year-old internal emails.   No emails will be deleted until the school board makes a final decision.  School board member Monica Ratliff,” it continued, “called for changes to the school district’s policy for retaining those records.”               An editorial in today’s L.A. Times called for the board to rescind its recently enacted policy to delete emails after one year.  “The requirement that most emails at the Los Angeles Unified School District be destroyed after one year may not be legal under California public records law,” it begins.  “But even if it is, it’s a terrible policy. The emails that are now under so much scrutiny — electronic discussions, in effect, between Supt. John Deasy, his then-deputy and the company that hoped to sell half a billion dollars worth of iPads to the district — might never have come to light if the district had implemented this rule earlier.”

The author of this opinion piece in The HECHINGER REPORT was a founding teacher of the Avalon School in St. Paul, Minnesota, where she is now a program coordinator and advisor.  She argues that the recent decision in the Vergara case demonstrates the necessity of a new “teacher-powered education strategy.”  “The Vergara v. California ruling,” she begins, “that every student has a Constitutional right to learn from an effective teacher has been labeled bold — but it actually mirrors the counterproductive strategy long dominating reform efforts that ignores teachers’ professional expertise and then blames them for poor student outcomes.  This decision pits unions against reformers. However, we’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn’t believe that every student deserves an effective teacher and high-quality education.”  She goes on to detail what she means by a “teacher-powered” strategy.  It has some refreshing new ideas as exemplified by her own campus compared to some of the top down mandates about running schools like businesses.

EDUCATION WEEK features a new report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce [Ed. note: You might need to take this with a grain of salt] that looks at academic progress on an A-F scale state-by-state.  “A caveat,” the article warns, “is that some will find ideological or other reasons to be critical of the organizations and indicators used by the Chamber. The group relies on a variety of assessments and K-12 policy organizations for its rankings, including the National Council on Teacher Quality and Education Next magazine. Some have questioned NCTQ’s research practices, for example, and Education Next publishes articles supporting school choice. The Chamber also praises the states for adopting ‘higher standards,’ a reference to the Common Core State Standards.”  The Ed Week story contains a link to the full report (100 pages) titled “Leaders & Laggards: A State-By-State Report Card on K-12 Educational Effectiveness.”  The Chamber published a similar report in 2007.

Oooo!  Things are getting nasty in regards to “iPadgate.”  With the release of emails last week that tended to show a rather cozy relationship between Supt. John Deasy and his former Assistant Supt. Jaime Aquino with Apple and Pearson comes news that Deasy has requested any emails or other communications between members of his board and any of the technology companies involved in the bidding process to provide tablets for everyone.  Today’s L.A. Times provides all the juicy details.  

A story in EDCATION WEEK describes how education issues like Common Core and school funding could play a role in several key U.S. Senate races that could possibly tip control of that body to the Republicans.  The three states: North Carolina, Georgia and Iowa.  A sidebar to this item summarizes the important issues and reviews the candidates’ positions on them.

A new report from the California Attorney General’s office using data from the State Department of Education indicates that low-income students in the state have higher truancy rates than their more affluent peers with the highest truancy rates in the earliest years of school.   The results came from a voluntary survey of 32 districts statewide that enrolled 150,000 students.  The story from today’s L.A. Times includes a link to the full report titled “In School + On Track 2014–Attorney General’s 2014 Report on California’s Elementary School Truancy & Absenteeism Crisis.”  

The HECHINGER REPORT has an interesting Q & A with the founder of Venture Academy, a nontraditional grade 6-12 charter in Minneapolis, about some of the challenges of starting a new school and some of the lessons learned from the experience.  

A new federal study of teacher retention and mobility finds that half the teachers who leave the profession discover better working conditions in their new jobs.  EDUCATION WEEK has a brief article on data from the National Center for Education Statistics.  

And finally, here’s a rather odd story.  A graduate of Newport Harbor High School is suing the Newport-Mesa Unified School District to revoke the diploma she was awarded after suffering a traumatic brain injury when she was hit by a car.  The young woman and her family claim she was denied the proper completion of her education when the school changed some of her grades in order for her to graduate with her class.  The details of the rather complicated case are covered in a piece in today’s L.A. Times.

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

Ed News, Tuesday, September 9, 2014 Edition


“Education…beyond all other devices of human origin, is a great equalizer of conditions of men 
–the balance wheel of the social machinery…It does better than to disarm the poor of their hostility toward the rich; 
it prevents being poor.”
Horace Mann
Here’s an age old education question: Does holding students back a year aid them academically?  To help with the answer we turn to Paul Thomas an Associate Professor of Education at Furman University in South Carolina.  “Back in 2012, 14 states plus the District of Columbia had policies in place that hold students back a year on the basis of their reading ability,” he begins.  “New efforts to reverse the trend, in states such as Oklahoma, remain rare. This is despite research showing that holding children back a grade – known as grade retention – causes more harm than good.”  He proceeds to review a lot of the recent research on the topic.  His comments appear on THE CONVERSATION–Academic rigour, Journalistic flair website.
American students are constantly compared, often unfavorably, to their compatriots around the world.  When it comes to many U.S. school lunches, however, there is no doubt we come in second best.  This interesting piece from AlterNet takes a look at what pupils in France eat for lunch as opposed to what American kids consume.  After reading the article, which meal would you choose?  [Ed. note:  You may not want to check this one out if you’re hungry.  It comes with pictures of a typical weekly French  school lunch menu which you can click on to enlarge for a better taste, oops, view.]
The Saturday L.A. Times feature “Numbers and Letters” logged 554 “printable” letters to the editor between Aug. 29 and Sept. 5.  Of those, 35 “mentioned LAUSD Supt. John Deasy and the district’s iPad program, the runner-up topic” for the week.
Thanks to Nancy Kuechle for sending this item from the The Wall Street Journal.  Dana Goldstein, author of the new book The Teacher Wars, wrote a commentary for the paper titled “Four Ways to Spot a Great Teacher.”  With the new school year still rolling out around the country, it’s generally a guide for parents who might want to find the best teacher for their child but also presents Goldstein’s ideas of what constitutes an excellent educator.  “Parents shouldn’t be the only ones looking for these four traits,” Goldstein concludes.  “Principals and policy makers should focus less on standardized test scores than on these more sophisticated measures of excellence. Together, we can create a groundswell of demand for great teaching in every classroom.”  What do you think of her list?
As faculty and staff return to their campuses for the new school year they will, once again, be faced with PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT.  What do they think of it and is is at all helpful?  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, turn her column over to the CEO of the largest online provider of PD who takes a took at the state of the art today and ties teacher training to the ongoing debate over tenure and other job protections.  “Good teachers want to be great teachers,” he maintains.  “But no one – not even the most ardent supporters or detractors of tenure – can argue that many teachers are getting the support and training they need to be effective and efficient in many of today’s classrooms.  Unfortunately, the structure of teacher professional development is letting them – and us – down. In truth, the situation is far worse than many realize.”
The superintendent of the Madison (Connecticut) Public Schools wrote a commentary for his district’s website in which he decries the campaign being used by proponents to sell the Common Core to the public. “Perhaps the most prevalent persuasive technique among common core enthusiasts,” the author begins, “is an appeal to fear, namely, fear of economic doom, fear of our students being outperformed on tests by other nations, fear of falling behind the rest of the world. Although this can be an effective technique, this particular approach lacks intellectual honesty.”  He goes on to explain why he believes this approach is not supported by the facts.
David Kirp, professor of public policy at UC Berkeley and author of a new book Improbable Scholars: The Rebirth of a Great American School System and a Strategy for American Schools, will be speaking at Occidental on Wednesday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.  EduShyster has an interesting interview with him that touches on a recent article he wrote in which he made the case for why teaching is not a business (which was highlighted in a previous “Ed News”).
The New York Times Magazine, in it’s “Education” issue, ran an extended piece on Eva Moscowitz who runs the Success Academy charter schools in New York City.  It is quite laudatory and explains how her chain of campuses has expanded from Harlem to other parts of the city, hence “Harlem” was dropped from the title.  It also delineates her battles with various city politicians and other officials over education policy.  Diane Ravitch was highly critical of the item and even spoke by phone with the author about it.  She recounts her conversations with him on her blog.                Another article in the same issue describes a course in World History that Bill Gates (yes, that Bill Gates) has created and is marketing to high schools around the country.  
A total of 5 letters appeared in the Sunday L.A. Times reacting to a couple of stories in Thursday’s paper about the LAUSD iPad fiasco and Supt. Deasy’s possible culpability.   Another letter in the same paper commented on the heartwarming article in Tuesday’s print edition about people in the LAUSD donating their sick days to a fellow teacher who had used hers up recuperating from breast cancer treatments.                 Ellen Lubic on the CITYWATCH blog thinks events have progressed enough that a grand jury should be empaneled to look into possible criminal involvement by Supt. Deasy in “iPadgate.”  She also calls for an independent audit and lists a number of Deasy’s “shortcomings” as reasons for him to be terminated by the board.               The author of a piece in EDUCATION WEEK offers 3 important lessons to be learned from LAUSD’s iPad experience.  “For many in the field,” he write, “the LAUSD’s effort—beset last school year by a series of implementation problems—remains an object lesson in how not to bring 1-to-1 digital computing to K-12 classrooms.”
Katie Osgood on her Miss Katie’s Ramblings blog warns everyone not to be so quick to celebrate Teach for America’s push to recruit more diverse candidates (a story that was highlighted n an earlier edition of the “Ed News”).  “TFA’s overall mission, actions, and impact,” she charges, “absolutely negate any benefit from their inauthentic push for diversity. Over the past five years, this darling of the media has come under increasing attacks and criticism even from within their own ranks.  As a result, TFA has used ‘diversity’ as a way to rebrand.  But their core mission which undermines public education and increases inequality remains unchanged.”
Here’s another problem with some charters.  They sometimes close abruptly leaving students, parents, faculty and staff high and dry.  An elementary campus in Pasadena serving some 300 students closed its doors suddenly when the fire department found the location to be “dangerous and unsafe.”  An article in yesterday’s L.A. Times provides the
I know some of the these posts begin to sound a little repetitive, however, they represent the feelings of many educators out there in the classroom and need to be heard.  A 25-year elementary school teaching veteran in Ohio has her piece reprinted on Valerie Strauss’ blog.  It’s titled “No Longer Can I Throw My Students to the ‘Testing Wolves.'”  “In this powerful post,” Strauss introduces, “[the author] explains how her work as a teacher has been skewed by mandated standardized testing and how students are reacting.”
Diane Ravitch and LAUSD Supt. John Deasy appeared separately on the PBS program the “Tavis Smiley Show” last night.  You can view Ravitch’s segment (11:16 minutes) here.  Today, on her blog, she commented briefly on the appearance.   Be sure to read the comments posted under her blog.  John Deasy followed Ravitch and you can watch his segment (12:23 minutes) here.   Both addressed the Vergara case, the issue of tenure and other pertinent topics related to education today.
Sandy Banks’ column in today’s L.A. Times deals with a group of Garfield High School (LAUSD) boys who wore  an overtly sexist shirt to school and the reaction it got from one English teacher who wasn’t going to let the incident pass.  Banks describes how the teacher’s actions got the offensive shirt pulled from a store’s shelves and the manufacturer agreed to discontinue making it.
And finally, the Urban Teacher Education Consortium is a group of educators who are working hard to improve the teacher preparation programs for city school districts around the U.S.  They recently issued a Position Paper describing the state of teacher training: where it is now and where they’d like it to be in the future.  Valerie Strauss kindly reprinted their statement on her blog.  It’s signed by 40 professionals including 4 from California.
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog. 

Ed News, Friday, September 5, 2014 Edition

                                      The ED NEWS

“Education does not mean teaching people what they do not know.
It means teaching them to behave as they do not behave.” 
 John Ruskin
Why do many of the so-called education “reformers” belong to what Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, calls the “Cult of Order?”  Not exactly sure what he’s driving at?   Check out what he has to say.  Here’s a hint: “Many, many, many reformsters are members of the Cult of Order, he begins.  “The Cult of Order believes in blind, unthinking devotion to Order. Everything must be in its proper place. Everything must go according to plan. Everything must be under control.”  Still mystified by his point?  Read the whole story.
The title of this commentary from EDUCATION WEEK is “Charter Activists Suffer from Truth Deprivation.”  “It is truly difficult to comprehend the escalating commitment to, and major infusion of federal and state funds for, [the charter] movement—especially in the absence of supportive data on its effectiveness in the education of young people,” the author argues.  He goes on to chronicle a number of reports and studies that show that many charters do worse or only as well as similar public schools, despite what advocates continue to claim.
David B. Cohen, a Nation Board Certified teacher, blogger and author, takes time to deconstruct some of the arguments in favor of doing away with tenure on the InterACT website.  He focuses, in particular, on a column by Frank Bruni in The New York Times titled “The Trouble With Tenure.”  “You’ve heard this all before: too few teachers are fired because it’s too hard to fire them,” Cohen relates, “and since they know they can’t effectively be fired, they don’t worry about their job performance. Those assumptions are, at best, difficult to support and to apply broadly – and at worst, they’re just wrong about teachers and organizational management.”
The latest trend in physical fitness is to get Americans to stand up more than they sit down.  Research shows that standing burns more calories than sitting and contributes to a person’s improved health.  How might that relate to education?  Are you ready for standing desks in the classroom?  EDUCATION WEEK describes an experiment at Bryan Collegiate High School in Texas where 13 classrooms tried out the idea.  The results were quite positive regarding student attention and reducing childhood issues with obesity.  To keep with the concept, why don’t you try standing up while reading the piece.  Better yet, stay on your feet while perusing this edition of the “Ed News.”  Remember, it’s for your health! 

Larry Lawrence forwarded the following article just prior to the time the Aug. 29th edition of the “Ed News” was being sent out and the editor didn’t see it until I had already hit the “send” button.  John Thompson, in the first of two posts on Anthony Cody’s LIVING in DIALOGUEblog, writes about the political agenda of the Dept. of Ed. Sec. Arne Duncan and the negative effects it is having on public education.   Thompson titles his piece “Arne Duncan’s Edu-Politics 101.”   If nothing else, check out the great caricature of Duncan that accompanies the article.
A conservative think tank, Bellwether Education, just published a paper with their take on how to improve teacher evaluations.  You can read the full report (40 pages) titled “Teacher Evaluations in an Era of Rapid Change: From ‘Unsatisfactory’ to ‘Needs Improvement'” here.  [Ed. note: Interesting.  Nobody, apparently, gets rated above “Needs Improvement” in their system.  Says a lot about what they think of the teaching profession today!]                 Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, does a detailed analysis of the paper and finds two major shortcomings.  “So,” he harrumphs, “having an argument about how to best make use of teacher evaluation data based on student achievement is like trying to decide which Chicago restaurant to eat supper at when you are still stranded in Tallahassee in a car with no wheels. This is not the cart before the horse. This is the cart before the horse has even been born.”
Diane Ravitch reports that the Lee County, Florida, school board which voted last week to become the first district in the state to opt out of all standardized tests met on Tuesday and reversed that decision.   Ravitch got the news from Bob Schaeffer of FairTest who lives in the county and passed along the brief story.                The Florida state Dept. of Education could end up playing hardball with districts that want to opt out of standardized tests.  In addition, a memo from the Florida School Boards Association warned districts they could face sanctions for taking such actions or risk the loss of state money.  NPR and PBS station WLRN in South Florida provided the details in a piece titled “Opting Out of Testing Would Come at a Cost to Florida School Districts.”
The U.S. requires more standardized tests more often than any of the top -10 performing countries on the PISA exams.  That finding comes from a study done by the Center on International Education Benchmarking.  The article contains three charts comparing when tests are administered and what is tested in countries like Canada, China and Taiwan as well as Finland, Poland and Korea.  The latter 3 countries were featured in the last ALOED book discussion of The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way.               Here’s anothergraphic that presents the information mentioned in the article above.  
A district in North Carolina voted to terminate its relationship with Teach for America.  The school board in Durham criticized the TFA’s minimal two-year commitment and the fact it placed brand new, inexperienced teachers, in high-needs schools.  The story from The Durham Herald-Sun explains further why the district took the action.
The L.A. Times had a number of items over the extended Labor Day weekend.   The first was a Sandy Banks column on Saturday in which she addressed the “iPadgate” issue and other fiascoes in a larger context.   She sees it as a rebuke of the top down management style of LAUSD Supt. John Deasy.  “So instead of a groundbreaker,” she complains, “the district has become a national model of the tensions that stifle public school reform. Our technology projects were stranded between high-minded ideals and grass-roots realities; tripped up by jockeying over priorities, politics and power.”                      Yesterday’s Times published two letters reacting to Banks’ column.               A second item in Saturday’s paper had to do with the 550 publishable letters the paper received between Aug. 22-29.  35 of them “commented on the problematic LAUSD iPad issue and Supt. John Deasy.” That happened to be the number 1 topic for the week.                 Monday’sTimes reported that Gov. Brown had filed an official appeal of the controversial Vergara case that had determined teacher tenure and seniority rights were unconstitutional in a decision announced in June.  The California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers, the two largest teachers unions in the state, are expected to support the appeal.   The action has political implications as both Brown and state Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson support the appeal while their opponents, Neel Kashkari and Marshall Tuck support the original court ruling.                 On Wednesday the CTA and CFT both filed official appeals of the case according to a story fromEDUCATION WEEK.               In July, the Compton Unified school board unanimously approved the carrying of high-powered AR-15 semiautomatic rifles by school police in order to adequately protect students from possibly well armed campus intruders.  If you find that rather surprising, you should be aware that at least 6 other districts around the state have a similar policy.  That story appeared in the same paper.                The LAUSD board voted to increase funding for early childhood education programs in the district that had faced severe cuts during the last couple of years according to a story also in Monday’s Times.               Here’s a definite feel good story from Tuesday’s paper.  When a sixth grade teacher at Jaime Escalante Elementary (LAUSD) in Cudahy missed a number of days of work as she recovered from breast cancer treatment her husband, a fellow teacher at the school, appealed for fellow employees to donate some of their sick days as his wife had exhausted hers.  The outpouring of support was overwhelming.  Check out the story in Tuesday’s paper to see how many days she received.  It will help make your day!               In a follow-up to a story covered a while ago in the “Ed News,” Coachella Valley High has decided to eliminate its “Arab” mascot that many found offensive.  In a compromise with critics the school will retain the “Arab” nickname and will develop a more positive logo.  That story also was published in Tuesday’s Times.                How important is attendance to a child’s academic success?  A new study found that California 4th and 8th graders had better attendance than pupils in 40 other states and that was reflected in their performance on national math and reading tests based on a piece in Tuesday’s Times.    You can find the full report (16 pages) from the group Attendance Works titled “Absences Add Up: How School Attendance Influences Student Success”  here.           And finally another article in the same paper describes a plan to introduce a much more extensive computer science curriculum in K-12 schools statewide.  The nonprofit Silicon Valley Education Foundation explained what it had in mind to a number of school and business leaders last week.  “The purpose of the round table discussion,” the story points out, “was not to take action but to identify what students should learn, how to raise awareness about computer science courses and how to increase access to them.”
How is the largest online charter school in Ohio faring as compared to large urban districts in the Buckeye state?  According to an Ohio blogger on PB Plunderbund, it ranks below the 8 largest districts despite getting almost $100 million in taxpayer funds last year.  How is the founder of Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow, William Lager, able to continue doing this in lieu of the poor results?  He’s wealthy enough to make HUGE campaign contributions to the politicians who make the decisions about keeping his program open and funding it.  “Let’s just say that Lager is living pretty well,” the author remarks, “thanks to Ohio’s Republican legislators who keep the money flowing.  While Ohio’s public schools are pinching pennies due to funding cuts and most public school employees are seeing modest (if any) raises, Lager’s companies take is increasing at a rate of nearly 15% per year.  Lager is living large off of public education funding.”
As the new school year continues to open for districts around the country EDUCATION WEEK takes a look at the impact of new standardized assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards that nearly all states are required to make use of this year.  “For four years, schools in nearly every state have been working to put the Common Core State Standards into practice in classrooms,” the author points out, “but few have put them to the test—literally. This year, that changes.  The 2014-15 academic year is when nearly every state must have assessments in place to reflect the common core, or other ‘college- and career-ready’ standards they have adopted.”               Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, provides you with all sorts of statistics regarding the new school year.  As school commences around the country she looks at figures regarding number of students and teachers, number of school districts and funding among other categories for both K-12 and post secondary education.  She headlines her piece “Back to School 2014-15–By the Numbers.”  Her figures come from the U.S. Dept. of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics.
Here’s another review of Dana Goldstein’s new book The Teacher Wars.  This one appears in The Atlantic and comes with the provocative title “Why Do Americans Love to Blame Teachers?”  “America hates teachers,” it rather boldly begins.  “That’s not exactly the thesis of Dana Goldstein’s The Teacher Wars, but her account of 200 years of education policy provides plenty of evidence for it. ‘The history of education reform,’ she notes, ‘shows … recurring attacks on veteran educators.'”                The award-winning Social Studies and English teacher at Luther Burbank High School and EDUCATION WEEK columnist Larry Ferlazzo conducts a Q & A with Dana Goldstein about her new book. 
A veteran English and Journalism teacher in Los Angeles believes that the Vergara case might just prove to be an opportunity for the profession despite the widespread belief that it was a major policy defeat for teachers and their unions.  The final ruling in the case was issued by the superior court last week.  The original decision was made public back in June.  “In the legal precedent laid out in the controversialVergara decision relating to teacher tenure in California,” the author indicates, “I see a potential window of opportunity opened for all of us to rethink our current conceptions of accountability and advocate for something that will serve both students and teachers better.”  Check out his piece from EDUCATION WEEK and see if you agree with what he perceives to be a silver lining.
“iPadgate” returns.  LAUSD Supt. John Deasy sent the school board on Tuesday a 6-page memo outlining his involvement with Apple and Pearson regarding the iPad for all program.  “No violations of any legal requirements took place,” he wrote.  An article in Wednesday’s L.A. Times has the details of his note.                  An editorial in the same paper calls for transparency in getting to the bottom of the issue.  It also suggests the district release a previous report put together by the district’s inspector general into the computer for all program.  “There is no room for secrecy,” it begins, “when it comes to the billion-dollar technology project undertaken by the Los Angeles Unified School District and its superintendent, John Deasy.”               Yesterday’s Times had a front-page feature recapping “iPadgate” and quoting more extensively from the memo Deasy sent to the board (see above).  Critics of the superintendent’s actions were also skeptical of a promotional video he made for Apple back in 2011 among other things.             Here’s a novel idea.  UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl recommends that LAUSD Supt. John Deasy report to teacher jail until he’s fully cleared of any legal or ethical wrongdoing involving the bidding process with Apple and Pearson.  Deasy has been doing the same with any teachers accused of inappropriate behavior or activities regarding students.  This item, from yesterday’s paper, also includes a short video (2:00 minutes) from KTLA channel 5 about Caputo-Pearl’s suggestion.
What do you guess happened to Walter Stroup, an associate professor at the University of Texas College of Education, who testified before a state legislative committee that what standardized tests in that state measured was not what students learned but how well they took tests?  To further attempt to cloud your answer what if you discovered that Texas just signed a VERY lucrative contract with Pearson to supply assessments to that state AND Pearson’s philanthropic foundation had created a $1 million endowment at the college which gave it some very powerful leverage.  Sure enough, the school challenged Stroup’s tenure based on what they said was his lack of publishing and presentations at scholarly conferences.  The Texas Observer retells the entire story and describes where Stroup stands.  The piece is headlined “Mute the Messenger.”  It’s not a pleasant picture.  ““Stroup had picked a fight with a special interest in front of politicians,” it explains.  “The winner wouldn’t be determined by reason and science but by politics and power. Pearson’s real counterattack took place largely out of public view, where the company attempted to discredit Stroup’s research. Instead of a public debate, Pearson used its money and influence to engage in the time-honored academic tradition of trashing its rival’s work and career behind his back.”
Why are the hosts of the Fox News program Fox & Friends pushing for the arming of school teachers and staff?  That’s the point-of-view they were promoting on a segment about a school district in Texas (where else?) that posted a sign warning that the staff were armed. MediaMatters has the chilling details.  It provides some statistics about the impact of armed personnel on campus and their ability to halt campus shootings.
Is this what experts mean when they complain about the overuse of standardized testing and the amount of instructional time it replaces?  The Miami Herald reports that the Miami-Dade school board approved its testing calendar for this school year and it showed tests being administered during every day of the 180-day school year except 8!  It goes on to explain that not all students are tested 172 days a year but . . . . enough is enough!  “Though not every student will take every test,” the article points out, “the number and consequences of testing are facing a growing backlash from parents, teachers and even some district officials.”
And finally, all four of the public and private post-secondary education branches in California have pledged their support for the Common Core and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium that goes along with the standards.  That position came in a letter they jointly sent to the state board of education at the end of August.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK explains how the UC, CSU, Community college and independent college and university systems in the state plan to align their admissions and teacher preparation programs with the Common Core.
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the blog