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

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