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and 30-year veteran primary school teacher, raises questions about how students are treated and what she describes as outdated and uninspiring pedagogy.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.

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