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 
 
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