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.

One response »

  1. Hello, Dave,
    Sent here by Larry Lawrence. 🙂 Great blog!

    We’re asking the LAUSD school board and John Deasy to conduct independent and external investigations/audits of the bad ed tech deals (iPads, and now MiSiS) and to make the results public. Can you sign and share our petiton? Almost 400 people have signed so far. We want to reach 1000 by the time of the next school board meeting.


    Thank you! Please do circulate everywhere and anywhere you are online, including to Neighborhood Councils and other parent/teacher groups!

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