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. 

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