Monthly Archives: October 2014

Ed News, Tuesday, October 28, 2014 Edition


“Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.
In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”
― George WashingtonGeorge Washington’s Farewell Address
TIME magazine provoked a firestorm of criticism over its latest cover (Nov. 3) titled “Rotten Apples, It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire A Bad Teacher, Some Tech Millionaires May Have Found A Way to Change That.”  Interestingly, the story inside was a little more fair and balanced as it detailed the issues surrounding the Vergara case in California and the wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur behind it.  The story also raised some legitimate questions about testing and value-added models (VAM).                 Diane Ravitch promptly lambasted the publication for the cover.  A number of other commentators were also highly critical of  its title but had less of a problem with the story.  Ravitch printed a response from AFT President Randi Weingarten who has started a petition drive to complain to TIME.  It includes a link if you wish to sign it.                            Peter Greene, the “grumpy old teacher” who blogs at CURMUDGUCATION, found the piece to be “close to balanced reporting of the story” but he concluded “it’s only part of the picture.”  [Ed. note: Greene wrote this column prior to seeing the cover.]                 One reader of Diane Ravitch’scolumn took particular umbrage with the author of the piece, Haley Sweetland Edwards.  He/she found Edwards to have written a previous article that contained some factually challenged material.               Valerie Strauss in her blog for The Washington Post titled her piece “A Time Magazine Cover Enrages Teachers–Again.”  It includes a picture of the current cover and one that featured Michelle Rhee from Dec., 2008.               Common Dreams titled its piece “TIME Magazine Criticized for ‘Malicious’ Anti-Teacher Cover.”               Jersey Jazzman in part 1 of a series of posts about the story insists “It’s NOT Hard to Fire A Teacher” and he goes on to explain why.  Be sure to check out the Ted Rall cartoon at the end of his blog.               TIME decided to print some responses on its website to the controversial cover and story.  One was from AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten.  Another came from new NEA Pres. Lily Eskelsen Garcia.  At the bottom of each of them are links to other people who wrote in including a member of Congress, a student, a teacher, a parent and members of various education groups.
Moving on to more “mundane” matters, Saturday’s L.A. Times had a front-page story chronicling how the race for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction is garnering unusual national attention.  “The race to be California’s schools chief is typically sleepy: Incumbents have little power but usually waltz to reelection,” it begins.  “This year’s contest, however, is one of the tightest and costliest on the statewide ballot, the reflection of an emerging fault line in the Democratic Party over education policy.  Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is in the fight of his life against upstart challenger and fellow Democrat Marshall Tuck.  The battle has drawn national attention, along with millions of dollars from traditionalist teachers unions on one side and from those who want to wholly overhaul the way schools are run on the other.  The result could reverberate far beyond California.”               Curious to see who is supporting Marshall Tuck with some late infusions of campaign cash?  California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s website has a list of names and amounts donated over just the past 3 weeks.  Can you spot Michael Bloomberg, Eli Broad and Alice Walton (of Walmart fame)?             Here’s a similar list from the same website for Tom Torlakson.  Recognize any of those names?               Diane Ravitch had a short reaction on her blog to the Tuck list.                As noted in the articles above a lot of money has been earmarked for the race for the California schools chief.  EdSource has developed an app that provides specific information about where the money is coming from and how it’s being spent.  An article explaining the app has some general data on the finances involved in the campaign.
A lawsuit was filed earlier this month in Kern County that charges students of color in the Kern High School District were expelled from area  schools at disproportionately higher rates than non-minority students and placed in alternative educational programs of inferior quality.  The story appears on The Center for Public Integrity website.  “Kern County, in the Golden State’s Central Valley,” it pointed out, “had the highest rate of student expulsion in California, not just on a per capita basis, but actually numerically higher than populous Los Angeles County.  In 2013, the Center and KQED radio reported that Kern County kids, among them Hispanic children of farmworkers, were removed from regular school for minor reasons and placed in alternative schools so far from home — as much as 40 miles away — that many kids dropped out or were told to perform independent study at home.”
Would it be an obvious conflict-of-interest for a public school board member to have extensive investments in local charter schools?  If so, what should the offending party do about it?  The Buffalo (New York) News reports on just such a situation.  Seems a member of the city school board, developer Carl Paladino, is heavily involved financially in 6 local charter schools and sees nothing wrong it that.  “If I didn’t [invest in the charters], I’d be a frigging idiot,” he’s quoted in the article as saying.  Paladino became a member of the public school board over a year ago but his elevation to that position has raised questions from the start.
The school board in Nashville voted to terminate 4 teachers based on back-to-back poor ratings on the state’s new evaluation system which is based, in part, on student test scores and controversial value-added results.  “If we have bad teachers in the classroom, I fully agree that we need to get them out of the classroom,” said board member Amy Frogge, who voted against certifying the termination of each of the  teachers. “The problem is, I’m not sure we’re using a fair measure to do that.”  She was quoted in the article from The (Nashville) Tennessean.
The author of this commentary from the Athens (Georgia) Banner-Herald argues why it’s “Time to Rise Up Against Student Testing Regimen.”  “All the tests we administer,” she writes, “can’t predict a child’s future. The tests don’t measure real learning. They measure test-taking ability.”               A number of school superintendents in Northeast Ohio districts are reacting adversely to the number of standardized tests and the amount of time they take from instruction.  A story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer website reports that students in most grades will be subject to double the number of hours of testing under the new Common Core-aligned assessments.
From the “charter school scandal of the day:”  The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that the Broward County School Board voted to close two local charter schools for poor academics and financial mismanagement.  The two campuses, located in Ft. Lauderdale, were given 90-day termination notices.  The piece includes a short video (1:20 minutes) about the closures.
More and more school districts around the country are getting a little squeamish about rolling out the new Common Core aligned assessments.  The head of the Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett is the latest to add her voice to a growing chorus of leaders requesting delays.  The Chicago Tribune provides the details.  Byrd-Bennett’s “request comes amid rising concerns over new tests based on more rigorous Common Core standards,” the article explains.  “Critics have questioned the cost of the new exams, the quantity and time involved in testing, and the loss of local power over standards and testing.”
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine school of law has a commentary in the New York Daily News titled “Teacher Tenure: Wrong Target” in which he explains that things like job protections for teachers actually help to bring more competent people into the profession.  “The problem of inner-city schools is not that the dedicated teachers who work in them have too many rights,” he argues, “but that the students who go to them are disadvantaged in many ways, the schools have inadequate resources and the schools are surrounded by communities that are dangerous, lack essential services and are largely segregated both by race and class.”
From our “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” file comes this article from Saturday’s L.A. Times about LAUSD’s renewed decision to allow students to take their “iPads-for-all” devices home in the very near future.  District officials believe they have dealt with security issues and problems that cropped up regarding accountability it the tablets are lost or stolen.  As that other old adage goes: “Only time will tell.”  
Laura H. Chapman is quoted on Diane Ravtich’s blog writing about why education is NOT like a business.  Chapman, who lives in Cincinnati, uses the example of home town company Proctor & Gamble to make her point.  
Saturday’s L.A. Times has a regular feature titled “Numbers and Letters” which includes an always interesting breakdown of the letters-to-the-editor by the topic.  “587 usable letters to the editor were received from readers between last Friday and this Friday.  69” were on the “most-discussed topic” of ebola.  The runner-up topic, with 57 missives, dealt with the election in November and “50 letters weighed in on issues involving the L.A. Unified School District, the third-most discussed topic.”  From the Times’ “Mailbag” feature came 3 letters reacting to the resignation of John Deasy as superintendent of LAUSD and a comment about the notes from the paper’s letters editor.
Anthony Cody’s LIVING in DIALOGUE presents another of the lively panels from the Network for Public Education’s “Public Education Nation” conference in New York on Oct. 11.  The topic of this one is “Testing and the Common Core” and was moderated by award-winning principal and prolific blogger (often on Valerie Strauss’ column) Carol Burris.  It includes a link to the video (46:59 minutes) of the presentation.  The article is written by one of the featured panelists.               An item in the Long Island Press had an excellent overview of the conference with a review of some of the main speakers and summaries of the panel discussions.  “Booming voices carried over the raucous crowd,” it describes, “that packed a Brooklyn public school’s auditorium earlier this month for a wide-ranging discussion about the country’s public education system. At times, the passionate audience got so caught up in the spirit of the message that they felt compelled to yell right back.”
The KIPP Charter School group, one of the largest in the U.S., has unveiled an ambitious expansion plan in Los Angeles.  It hopes to more than double its enrollment to 9,000 students on 20 campuses by the end of 2020.  The story from yesterday’s L.A. Times details the effort.
When the School Reform Commission in Philadelphia arbitrarily terminated the teachers contract a couple of weeks ago, a story covered by the “Ed News,” the action set off an avalanche of criticism from a number of sources.  Some of those referred to the action as the “nuclear option” as it will force the teachers in the financially-challenged Philadelphia Public Schools to begin contributing to their health benefits.  That kind of decision is usually part of the negotiating process with the union but by cancelling the contract the SRC unilaterally denied teachers their hard-won collective bargaining rights.  EDUCATION WEEK provides the details.  “Observers across the political spectrum,” it notes, “view the action as the latest salvo in an ongoing national battle over the collective bargaining rights of public-sector workers. In recent years, teachers and other public employees from Louisiana to Wisconsin have found themselves on the defensive as management has sought to roll back benefits and job protections.”
Texas has been one of the most heavily committed states when it comes to standardized testing.  Remember, it’s the home of George W. Bush of No Child Left Behind fame.  Unfortunately, the latest test results show that almost every district in the state if failing to make gains. A special report from the Dallas Morning News describes what’s going on and raises some serious questions about whether Texas students are not learning or if the tests are not measuring accurately what kids know.               Students in Colorado are having similar difficulties based on recently released results from the state’s new science and social studies assessments.  The Denver Post has the details.
People were surprised when U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan began to backtrack on the growing testing regimen surrounding the Common Core, particularly after he’d been a major booster of the standards and the accompanying assessments.  Where had this apparent shift in policy come from?  Some knowledgeable sources are saying it originated in the White House!  Yes, Pres. Obama may be reassessing his position on standardized testing and that may be causing some uncomfortable moments for his Education Secretary and close friend.  EDUCATION WEEK has some interesting observations on this rapidly developing story and offers some reasons for the change of heart on testing.
An extended editorial in today’s L.A. Times urges the LAUSD board to take advantage of the search for a new superintendent to clean up its own dysfunctional act.  The piece offers several common goals that the new leader and board members need to work together to achieve.  “With John Deasy no longer in charge at the Los Angeles Unified School District,” it begins, “the school board needs a new superintendent who shares his passion for improving the lives of children in poverty, but not his adversarial approach or his refusal to listen to critics.  Even if the board finds such a person, however, that alone won’t clear the poisonous atmosphere or do away with the rancorous politics that regularly slow progress at L.A. Unified.”
In light of the deadly Friday shooting at a high school in Washington State, the question is once again being raised regarding teachers carrying guns.  A commentary in EDUCATION WEEK by a legal gun owner and principal of a junior high in New York is titled “No, Teachers Should Not Carry Guns.”  He offers a number of well thought-out reasons for his position.  “I do not have enough faith in our citizenry—regardless of their comfort level with handling guns—to believe that everyone would have and/or use the proper judgment in the many uncomfortable and sometimes intimidating, even threatening interactions that can and do present themselves in the school yard or building,” he opines.  “And, referring again to last week’s school shooting in Marysville, Wash., the shooter reportedly was confronted by an unarmed teacher, who is being considered a hero for her actions.”  This picture, accompanying the piece, is a little unsettling and doesn’t offer much solace:
With the recent roll out of the LAUSD’s new computerized student information system such a fiasco, officials have ordered a complete review of all of the nearly 38,000 high school seniors’ transcripts to make sure they are still on track to graduate and to meet college entrance requirements.  Temporary staff is being hired and additional funds earmarked for the recheck according to an article in today’s L.A. Times.
And finally, a little levity.  BuzzFeed has a short video (2:09 minutes) titled “If Teachers Were Treated Like Football Stars.’  You don’t even need to be a sports fan to get a chuckle out of it.  Enjoy! 

Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
 That’s me working diligently on the blog.

Ed News, Friday, October 24, 2014 Edition


“Truth persuades by teaching, but does not teach by persuading.” 
― Tertullian
The author of this item is the Executive Director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.  He proposes a series of concrete ideas that are included in a report published by his organization for making charter schools more transparent and accountable.   You can find the full report (16 pages) titled “Public Accountability for Charter Schools–Standards and Policy Recommendations for Effective Oversight” by clicking here.               Peter Greene over on CURMUDGUCATION has developed a set of four requirements for determining if a charter school truly qualifies as a public school.  Many charters love to claim they are part of the public school system but a good number of them certainly don’t play by the same rules.  What do you think of Greene’s “test?”               Keeping to the theme of charter school accountability, Wendy Lecker, a columnist and senior attorney at the Education Law Center, writing for the Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate believes it’s time to reassess the whole idea of charters given all the reports of “fraud and mismanagement” that are seemingly a daily occurrence regarding them.  “Recall the original promises,” she points out, “made by charter proponents: that they would benefit all public schools — showing public schools the way by using ‘innovative’ methods to deliver a better education to struggling students in an efficient, less expensive manner.  None of those promises have been kept.”  Interestingly, she believes the proposals contained in the Annenberg Institute’s report (see above) are a “good starting point” for attempting to clean up charter’s act.
EDUCATION WEEK reports on a new short documentary film titled “Crenshaw” about the South L.A. high school that underwent a reconstitution under the direction of then LAUSD Supt. John Deasy and how the community attempted to fight the change.  To find out more about the film and to view the official trailer (1:19 minutes) click here.
A previous edition of the “Ed News” raised the question of why so much money from outside philanthropists, hedge fund managers and businesspeople was being poured into seemingly mundane local school board races.  The answer, so that those groups could gain control of the committees and push their charter, privatization, voucher, and school choice agendas.  Need a case in point?  Chalkbeat Indiana calls out a number of such groups that are taking a very big (financial) interest in just such a school board election in Indianapolis.
EdSource is highlighting a new report that urges that the overemphasis on standardized testing needs to be rethought.  “With a nod to California,” the story begins, “a new report suggests overhauling how school and student success is measured in the United States.  The report, by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and the National Center for Innovation in Education at the University of Kentucky, recommends alternatives to annual standardized tests. It says there should be far more emphasis on ongoing assessments of students as part of regular classroom instruction.”  The article includes a link to the full report (45 pages) titled “Accountability for College and Career Readiness–Developing a New Paradigm” which is, by the way, co-authored by Linda Darling-Hammond, the director of the Stanford program.
Linda Darling-Hammond
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten takes over the pages of EDUCATION WEEK to offer a commentary titled “Four Solutions to Public School Problems.”  “Public education is one of the only highways to opportunity for many kids,” she maintains.  “Yet, its promise is not always realized, particularly for those who have the least.”  Before reading the piece, what 4 things do you think she might propose?  After reading it, how close were you to what she wrote?
CURMUDGUCATION blogger Peter Greene wonders if Teach for America is a good way to train long-term teachers or is it just a steppingstone for candidates to get good jobs in the tech industry.  He refers to an article in a business magazine that touts that TFA is certainly the latter.  “I often discuss TFA,” Greene notes, “as if it is dismissive of teaching as a profession, that it belittles the whole idea of teaching. But this is actually worse, because teaching isn’t even on the radar in this article. It’s just one more life experience for a college grad who’s just passing through, unable to see the children for all the visions of Googlebucks.”
The LAUSD’s teachers union UTLA was the target of some critical comments by L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez on Wednesday.  Lopez believes the organization could be a little more flexible in its stance on a number of issues.  He describes a situation that took place at a parents’ back-to-school night at Thomas Starr King Middle School to buttress his point.  Lopez titles his piece “Is the L.A. Teachers Union Tone Deaf?”
Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, reprints 25 “great tips for teachers on how to manage a classroom” that came from the edutopia website.  They are meant for both new and veteran educators.  Even it you think you know everything about classroom control and behavior you may want to check this list out.  
Teachers’ unions at the state and local levels are heavily involved in financially supporting selected candidates in both political and school related races.  So says an article from EDUCATION WEEK.  “Deep-pocketed teachers’ unions,” it begins, “hoping to affect education policy at the state and local levels, are expecting to pour more money into those campaigns in the 2014 midterm elections than ever before.”  The piece proceeds to profile a number of specific contests being targeted by the NEA and AFT including a mention of the race for California Superintendent of Pubic Instruction.  
U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan was in town briefly on Tuesday and he had words of praise for both John Deasy and his successor Ramon Cortines according to a story in the following day’s L.A. Times.  “‘In a short amount of time, John Deasy did a fantastic job of accelerating the rate of student learning,’ said Duncan, who noted that others, including teachers, share the credit,” the article stated.
The Common Core and related standardized assessments really only test what students are learning academically.  What about those qualities that schools also inculcate into students regarding character and things like honesty, integrity, fairness and all the others.  Don’t those matter any more or are we just interested in test scores on math and English?  “Non-cognitive skills and character competencies have as much of an effect on success as academic skill, researchers from the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution” concluded in a recent study.  Those conclusions are highlighted in a story from EDUCATION WEEK.  You can find the full report (35 pages) titled “The Character Factor: Measures and Impact of Drive and Prudence” here.  [Ed. aside:  How many of you remember Michael Josephson’s “Character Counts” program?  Wow, that’s a lot!  Thanks, you can put your hands down.]

Ebola has been a major topic of conversation and, for some, worry, as of late.  How might it impact schools and are districts doing anything about it?  EDUCATION WEEK tackles that timely topic and offers some words of caution and descriptions of how several schools are handling the situation.  “Even as worries about Ebola have prompted school closings and other K-12 precautions in recent weeks,” it begins, “medical experts are advising school officials to take a measured approach in response to the handful of U.S. cases of the virus.”
New LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortines (he’s officially NOT an “interim”) is already raising questions about some of the more controversial policies of his predecessor John Deasy.  In an interview with the L.A. Times, that was published in print yesterday, Cortines believes using bond money to pay for the iPad-for-all program and the curriculum to go along with it are an improper use of taxpayer funds.  The article goes into some detail about the intricacies of what bond money can be used for and how Deasy attempted to justify its use.  Cortines was quite blunt: “I don’t believe the curriculum should be paid for with bond funds, period.”
EDUCATION WEEK has a good profile of the two candidates vying for the job of California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, challenger Marshall Tuck and incumbent Tom Torlakson.  Even though both are Democrats it outlines their rather stark policy differences on a number of issues.  The two “represent divisions within the Democratic Party,” the article points out, “over the right labor protections for teachers, the political power of teachers’ unions, and the proper relationship between more money for schools and certain forms of accountability.”
What is the role of a liberal arts education in today’s world?  Is it still appropriate in the 21st century’s global economy?Those are particularly critical questions for schools like Occidental who have built their reputation on providing a strong liberal arts foundation for their students.  The issue is discussed in a commentary written by the president of the University of Redlands in The HECHINGER REPORT.  “The liberal arts are not and have never been stodgy;” he maintains, “they evolve to meet the needs of a contemporary and future society. A revitalization of the liberal arts means creating a more relevant educational experience for students and employers alike.”  The author uses examples of some of the things taking place on his own campus to bolster his point. 
The Ocean View School District in Orange County got some good news regarding the discovery of asbestos at several campuses.  Tests at all schools in the district found that most of them had only “insignificant” amounts that were well within safe levels.  However, 3 campuses will remain closed for up to 2 months in order to remove more elevated levels according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.
Valerie Strauss continues her ongoing series of articles featuring a New Hampshire high school senior and the process she’s going through to find  the right college or university to attend in the fall.  A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the first one but we seem to have missed number 2.  Strauss includes links to the first 2 stories if you’d like to catch up.
Jeff Bryant, at the Education Opportunity NETWORK, continues to look at the issue of education and how it could be a winning one for Democrats in the mid-term elections that are now a scant 11 days away.  “When evidence emerged a month ago that education is the top ‘turnout message’ for the Democratic Party in the upcoming election,” he begins, “some candidates may have chosen to act on that information.  Indeed, Democratic-leaning activists have stepped up their ground game to make support for public education a wedge issue in campaigns around the country. And the fate of some Democratic candidates could rely on how they play an education card in their contests.”  Bryant proceeds to survey a number of contests where the issue of education is now in play.
EDUCATION WEEK is hosting a free online webinar titled “How Much Digital Literacy Do Students Need?” this Thursday from 11 am to noon PT.  For more information and to register (required) click here.
Forbes takes a detailed look at the Common Core and wonders if they are developmentally appropriate and really worth all the effort and cost.  What have some of the experts had to say about the standards?  “Child development experts and early childhood educators,” the author maintains, “believe that there is actually quite a lot to lose. The issue is not at all ideological, they say – it’s partly pedagogical, and partly psychological. According to experts, a poorly conceived set of standards has the potential to be, at best, fruitless and, at worst, detrimental to the youngest kids who are on the frontline of the Common Core. In the long run, the argument goes, it might be associated with a lot more cost than benefit.”  Diane Ravitch wrote this about the story: “This is an excellent article, not only because the author interviewed experts in child development and approached the subject with balance, but because it was published in Forbes and will reach people in the business world who need to hear these informed views.”
How many states are still strongly against charters?  (A) None (B) 8 (C) 11 (D) 15?  If you guessed “B” you are correct!  Can you name any or all of them?  Alabama, Kentucky, Nebraska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia.  What do most of them have in common? Heavily Republican, highly rural and mostly against ideas regarding  school choice like vouchers.  EDUCATION WEEK suggests that the upcoming midterm elections could bring changes in the resistance to charters in at least the first 3 states on the list.  “The eight states that have staunchly resisted charter laws,” it begins, “could shrink in number after midterm elections next month. That, combined with forceful advocacy efforts, could help push the holdouts toward embracing the publicly funded, independently operated schools.” 
And finally, comes this heartwarming story, courtesy of Randy Traweek, about a poor Rwandan orphan who, aided by an American charity worker, enrolled at Harvard in the fall.  The young man’s amazing odyssey is recounted in a story in The New York Times.  It’s titled “From a Rwandan Dump to the Halls of Harvard.”  They don’t get any better than this!
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 

Ed News, Tuesday, October 21, 2014 Edition


“Education is the movement from darkness to light.”
Allan Bloom
Saturday’s L.A. Times had 4 more items about LAUSD Supt. John Deasy stepping down.  The first possibly confirmed a suspicion the “Ed News” raised in its previous issue regarding the school board’s decision not to make an internal report public regarding the bidding process surrounding the purchases of iPads for all as a quid pro quo for the resignation of Deasy.  The board cited confidential information contained in the report as the reason it decided to keep the findings private.  Sounds a little suspicious, no?  The article contains some of the provisions of the separation agreement reached between Deasy and the board and reports on some of the reasons why he believes he was let go.   It also believes that, at this time, he will most likely be cleared of any misconduct.              Times editorial board member Karin Klein had an opinion piece decrying the quashing of the report and demanding that Deasy’s role be made public.   “Will the public eventually find out the truth,” she asked, “regarding the question-raising emails between John Deasy and the two companies that won the contract to provide iPads to students in the Los Angeles Unified School District? The terms of the separation agreement and the blithe, happy-talk announcement from the board make that look less likely than ever. That would be a completely unacceptable outcome.”         Third is the Sandy Banks column.  She profiles what she believes to be his accomplishments and chronicles his shortcomings.  Regarding the latter, she writes: “He pushed too hard, bristled at criticism, didn’t know how to build consensus. He plowed ahead because he thought he knew better than everyone else.”               The fourth item was the “Numbers and Letters” feature that runs every Saturday.  “534 printable letters to the editor were received between last Friday and this Friday.”  The number 1 topic with 86 was ebola.  Runner-up with 44 was the upcoming mid-term election.  “37 readers reacted to John Deasy’s resignation from the L.A. Unified School District,” which made that topic the third most discussed.               Valerie Strauss weighs in on the Deasy story on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post.  She suggests all the twists and turns in the tale would make an excellent movie (this being Hollywood and all) but that nobody would ever believe some of the plot lines which she’s glad to lay out.
As childhood obesity continues to increase in the U.S., elementary schools continue to cut back on the amount of time they devote to recess and physical activity.  That’s the topic explored by the author of an op-ed from the Seattle Times.   He utilizes facts and figures from that city but the same trend can easily be observed among most states and school districts.  “Unfortunately,” he notes, “Seattle is following a national trend in reducing recess time in primary grades as school districts obsess about raising test scores. This obsession is driven by the federal education policy of the No Child Left Behind Act and the Race to the Top Fund.”
Why do so many charter schools spend so much time and, often, money tooting their own horns?  Public schools don’t exhibit this type of behavior which is another reason why it’s often unfair to even attempt to compare the two.  Jersey Jazzman call this “charter cheerleading” which he distinguishes from charter school advocacy.  He describes the former as “an insufferably smug form of braggadocio, lacking in any sort of reasoned consideration of the facts. Charter cheerleaders suffer from delusions of grandeur, fully confident in their own good will while casually questioning the motives of others who may disagree with them.”
Peter Greene, on his always entertaining and enlightening CURMUDGUCATION blog, take s(a long) time to explain why he thinks things like “merit pay” and “performance incentives” don’t work with public sector employees like teachers.  He begins by demonstrating why firefighters are not given merit pay.
“100-Year-Old Math Teacher Still Going Strong at Brooklyn Elementary School.”  Yes, you read that right.  100 years old!  DNAinfoNewYork profiles Madeline Scotto who didn’t begin her career in the classroom until she was 40 but who has been teaching up a storm for the past 60 years at the same school that she graduated from in 1928.  She celebrated her 100th birthday on Thursday.  You have to check out the two short videos (37 seconds and 58 seconds) featuring Scotto whose ” tips for a long life are simple: Eat well, stay active, be frugal, don’t worry too much.”
There is an organization in New York City called “Families for Excellent Schools” that is a strong supporter of charters.  You’d think this might be some grassroots group that encourages individuals and families to donate small amounts of money to fight for charters.  You’d be right if the “families” were named Broad or Walton.  Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” for deutsch29 did some sleuthing and was able to dig up some of the big foundations and pro-charter organizations that have provided much more than small donations to the group.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan penned an opinion piece in The Washington Post in which he, rather astonishingly, urged a cutback on the use of standardized tests.  This from the same person who pushed Pres. Obama’s Race to The Top that doubled down on the previous administration’s No Child Left Behind when it came to the scope of testing.  He further suggests a thorough reexamination of how assessment results are being used.  “The standardized tests my kids take are one gauge on the dashboard,” Duncan writes, “but parents and educators know that tests are not the only indicator.”  He really wrote that.  Honest!              Two officials from the BATS (Badass Teachers Association) had a quick response to Sec. Duncan’s column.  They have the temerity to mention that he is partially responsible for many of the things he doesn’t like about the glut of assessments.   “Arne Duncan fails to recognize a few important factors in his piece,” they opine.  “He fails to acknowledge his role, in conjunction with the Department of Education, for paving the way for states to become test taking laboratories that are experimenting on children and teachers.”               The author of this piece from the CRUNCHY MOMS blog is a high school English teacher in Maine who is currently on hiatus while taking care of her two young children.  She lists some “positives” regarding standardized tests but still finds them to be burdensome and a terrible waste of valuable time, effort and resources.
The “Ed News” publicized the Network for Public Education’s “Public Education Nation” event held Saturday, Oct. 11, in New York.  The LIVING in DIALOGUE blog has an extensive report on one of the sessions titled “Charter Schools: An Experiment Gone Awry” written by one of the panel members.   It includes a link to the video of the full panel discussion (50:01 minutes).               Sarah Jaffe, writing at truthout, reviews the conference and sees it as the part of the continuing resurgence of public education.  She quotes many of the comments that she heard during the course of the event about how different groups need to coalesce around a common theme and some specific ideas about how to forge ahead.
A professor at Michigan State describes his conversation with two recruiters for Teach for America after he announced they would not be allowed to address his classes.  His experiences are reprinted in Valerie Stauss’ column.
Sunday’s L.A. Times had a prominent front-page article reviewing John Deasy’s stormy 3 1/2 year term as superintendent of the LAUSD and provided some more juicy behind the scenes details about how he was convinced to resign.
The HECHINGER REPORT highlights a surprising new study that finds 1-in-4 low-income urban high schools are actually doing a better job of sending their graduates to a 2- or 4-year college or university than their high-income counterparts.  The second annual study comes from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and you can find a link to the full report (137 pages) titled “High School Benchmarks, 2014” by clicking here.  “This data speaks to both sides of the debate on education reform,” the author of the story points out.  “Those who say that income determines educational outcomes argue that you can’t reasonably ask schools to overcome a student’s family background. And they can point to the data here which show that students who attend higher income city high schools, on average, are 37 percent more likely to go straight to college than a student from a low income high school. Indeed, the fact that 75 percent of the high-income schools have more students going to college than 75 percent of the low-income schools is great evidence for those who say that income matters.”
Teaching can be a fairly solitary profession.  It pretty much boils down to a single classroom with an educator and a group of students.  Valerie Strauss turns her blog over to 2 professors from the University of Pittsburgh who argue that what really holds a school and the profession together are the relationships between teachers and between teachers and administrators.  The authors  refer to this as “social capital”  and they provide some interesting research to bolster their point.
Much of the focus of education these days seems to be on getting students “college and career ready.”  What ever happened to the critical component of preparing them to participate in our democratic system as informed, caring and involved citizens?  That’s the key question addressed by Joseph Kahne, a professor of education at Mills College, who is a guest commentator on Valerie Strauss’ blog.  “We need to make civic education a priority,” he succinctly concludes.  “It’s not student apathy that threatens democracy. It’s our own.” 

The “Ed News” previously highlighted information regarding steep drops in the number of students enrolling in teacher preparation programs in California.  EDUCATION WEEK reports that a new study finds that phenomenon pretty much occurring nationwide with the Golden State one of the most heavily impacted.  “Massive changes to the profession,” the article relates, “coupled with budget woes, appear to be shaking the image of teaching as a stable, engaging career. Nationwide, enrollments in university teacher-preparation programs have fallen by about 10 percent from 2004 to 2012, according to federal estimates from the U.S. Department of Education’s postsecondary data collection.”  Be sure to click on the sidebar infographic “Teacher-Prep Enrollment Trends by State” to see figures for 5 key states including California.

The L.A. Times took Monday off from reporting on the John Deasy story but today’s paper has 3 items related to it.  The first is a front-page article that describes how other big-city school superintendents have also faced rough sledding as they attempted to implement controversial corporate reforms.  It details, in particular, the battles Deasy fought with the teachers union and community activists over issues like teacher evaluations, expanded school choice and technology related problems with the iPads for all program and the bungled rollout of a new student information system.  “Top leaders,” the piece relates, “in some of the largest districts — in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., Texas and elsewhere — have come under tremendous pressure: some lost their jobs, one faced a massive teachers strike, and lawsuits have been filed against them, among other things.”               The second item is a profile of Ramon Cortines’ third return to the head job at LAUSD which began, officially, yesterday.  This story details what his first day was like and outlines some of the plans he has going forward.  “There’s a sense of urgency,” said Cortines at the end of the day. “The last three and a half years there’s been progress in the district, but we have some major challenges that together we have to address.”               The last thing in today’s paper is 4 letters reacting to the story in Sunday’s Times about Deasy’s actions during his 3 1/2 year tenure.  Only one of them supported the ousted superintendent.               If John Deasy and other big-city school superintendents are facing stiff opposition to their reforms the situation in New York City appears to be quite different.  Since school Chancellor Carmen Farina was appointed by new Mayor Bill de Blasio 10 months ago, the outlook in New York has changed significantly from the administration of previous mayor Michael Bloomberg.  EDUCATION WEEK describes the striking contrasts between various districts around the country.  “Supporters say that the chancellor, a former teacher, principal, and deputy chancellor in the 1.1 million-student district,” it claims, “has set a new tone for the New York City school system in which parents are seen as assets and morale among teachers is on the rise after years of acrimonious relations between Mr. Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers. The city and the union agreed to a new teachers’ contract earlier this year.”
Diane Ravitch has been featuring an anonymous poet on her blog who goes by the title “Some DAM Poet–Devalue Added Model.”  He/she has penned an ode to the Imagine Charter company in Ohio which has been facing some serious brushes with the law lately.  The verse is called “Imagine” (with sincere apologies to John Lennon) and it’s certainly applicable to a few other charters.  If you know Lennon’s tune you are certainly encouraged to sing along.
And finally, a veteran educator who has been working to improve literacy at underperforming schools around the country asks “What Reflects a Great School?  Not Test Scores.”  She suggests that increases in standardized assessment results are not a valid measure of what’s being learned and offers several other characteristics to look for if one want to measure authentic achievement.  “Enduring achievement gains require not only applying content and concepts worth knowing,” she writes in her commentary for EDUCATION WEEK, “but also ensuring that learning is occurring in a healthy, thriving culture as well. School leaders—including principals, teachers, and district superintendents—are the key players in creating such an environment. In fact, the quality of a school’s culture is a prime indicator in determining whether all learners will experience success.”
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 

Ed News, Friday, October 17, 2014 Edition


 “The soul of him who has education is whole and perfect and escapes the worst disease, but, if a man’s education be neglected, he walks lamely through life and returns good for nothing to the world below.”

― Plato

EXTRA!  EXTRA!  Yesterday’s L.A. Times reported that an agreement had been reached between the LAUSD board and the district’s superintendent and John Deasy will step down.  The story was first posted on the paper’s website late Wednesday evening and appeared in the print edition yesterday.  Preliminary details of the fast breaking story can be found here.  Deasy served as the head of the district for 3 1/2 years.  A follow-up story on the Times’ website noted that the board vote to accept his resignation was 6-1 and that former superintendent Ramon Cortines would serve as leader in the interim.  The second item includes a clip (3:10 minutes) from KTLA Channel 5 news about the change in leadership.               EDUCATION WEEK had an article about the Deasy resignation that included the joint statement issued by Deasy and the board regarding the action.               Might there be a connection?  An inspector general’s report that looked into the LAUSD’s hiring of Apple and Pearson for it’s massive “iPad for all project” will not be released to the public.  The board, on a 4-3 vote, maintained the information was confidential and should not be disseminated.               Today’s L.A. Times has 4 items related to the Deasy resignation.  The first is a front-page story that looks at the impact his leaving will have on the district and what needs to take place in the near future.  “The end of Supt. John Deasy’s dynamic and controversial 3 1/2 year reign,” it begins, “over public schools in Los Angeles leaves school district leaders with the daunting task of mending broken relationships with employees, especially teachers, while stoking a continued upswing in student achievement.”               The second is also a front-page item that profiles Ramon Cortines who will step in for Deasy starting Monday and serve as interim superintendent until a permanent replacement is selected.  It reviews his background and suggests some of the things the 82-year-old education veteran will try to do while filling the position.               The third is an extended editorial about the Deasy departure.  “So although many people are undoubtedly happy to hear that Deasy has resigned,” it points out, “in truth there is no cause for celebration. More than anything else, Deasy’s departure is a dispiriting sign of a district that is in grave danger of losing its way.”  It goes on to review some of his triumphs and lists a few of his mistakes as well.                 The last item is 3 letters reacting to the initial reports in the paper that Deasy was leaving.    
With mid-term elections now less than 3 weeks away, a group of conservative Republicans around the country who pushed tax cuts and the slashing of public spending and other austerity measures are trying to desperately backpedal from those issues as they relate to education.  GOP candidates in Kansas, North Carolina, Michigan, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Florida are facing strong voter backlash against proposals that seriously trimmed spending on K-12 schools.  “The issue features prominently not only in local and gubernatorial campaigns,” the story in THE Nation maintains, “but also in Senate races that many predicted would be referenda on Barack Obama, not on conservative governance at the state level.”  The piece is titled “This Is What Happens When Republicans Try to Destroy Public Education.”
Mark Naison, on his WITH A BROOKLYN ACCENT blog, decries the closing of community schools under pressure from No Child Left Behind and Race to The Top and likens it to what “urban renewal” did to many inner-city neighborhoods in the period after World War II.  “Destroying neighborhood institutions and the historic memory invested in them,” he concludes, “is a form of psychic violence that should not be underestimated. School closings, and displacement of the people who worked in them are wreaking havoc with the lives of people who need stability, continuity and support more than continuous upheaval.”
What happens when a school district claims to have created a “miracle” with amazing gains in student achievement and it all turns out to be not true?  Couldn’t/wouldn’t happen you claim.  Wait until you read what’s been going on with the Recovery School District that took over in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and has now transformed the district into an all charter system.  The details are provided by the Louisiana Educator.  “The sad part of this education reform hoax,” it relates, “is that thousands of students and teachers have been harmed in the process. Dedicated teachers were unfairly fired; thousands of students have been pushed out into the streets while the new charter managers cooked the books, and the charter operators made off with huge profits from our tax dollars.”               Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 describes how the Cowen Institute at Tulane University has been producing reports touting the RSD miracle.  They have been implicated in the problems cited in the piece above.  Schneider highlights a supposed value-added model that Cowen used to bolster its point about success in New Orleans.  There’s just one problem.  It had some serious flaws in its methodology and was removed by the institute from its reports.  So, partly based on that, NO MIRACLE!  And yet, certain so-called education “reformers” continue to tout the advances made by the RSD.  To paraphrase Shakespeare: “There is something rotten in the state of Louisiana.”
EduShyster has an interview with former ALOED book club author Yong Zhao about his latest volume titled Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon?  Why China Has the Best and Worst Education System in the World.  Zhao is currently a professor at the University of Oregon.
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The LAUSD board met in an extended closed-door session on Tuesday and eventually decided to allocate $1.1 million to help pay for rectifying the programming fiasco at Jefferson High.  That money will go towards extending the school day by 30 minutes, offering more sections of academic classes and bringing in additional staff to deal with ongoing problems related to the computer snafus that have plagued the campus since school opened on Aug. 12.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times provides the specifics.
Is it time for a national moratorium on standardized testing?  If so, would it work?  How?  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, reprints a fact sheet from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, better known as FairTest, that addresses those intriguing questions through a Q & A format. “To restore reason to assessment and accountability and sanity to our schools,” it suggests, “we need a full-scale indefinite moratorium and an assessment overhaul. Already some school boards and state unions have begun work in this direction.”
For the first time in a decade-and-a-half Massachusetts may decide not to authorize any new independent charter schools in the Bay State.  A story in The Boston Globe describes what happened and how charter proponents are stunned by the decision.  
Are there lessons to be learned from the LAUSD’s bumpy experience with trying to supply every student and teacher with an iPad?  One major lesson, according to an item from The HECHINGER REPORT, is that “Classroom technology is here to stay, but it is important to choose wisely.” It proceeds to detail what other districts have gleaned from what took place in L.A.
“America’s Crusade Against Its Public School Children” is the eyeopening headline in the Huffington Post written by a retired high school teacher.  He blasts the growing battle over education that pits billionaire philanthropists, hedge fund managers, lobbyists and legislators against the public schools.  With Halloween just two weeks away the piece ominously begins: “A specter is haunting America – the privatization of its public schools, and Big Money has entered into an unholy alliance to aid and abet it. Multi-billionaire philanthropists, newspaper moguls, governors, legislators, private investors, hedge fund managers, testing and computer companies are making common cause to hasten the destruction of public schools.”  The author offers a stirring defense of the public school system and how it helped to make America great.  He fears the “Big Money” assault on public education and what it might do to the concepts of democracy and equal opportunity in the  U.S. 
Are you aware that some charter schools offer cash incentives or prizes to get parents to enroll their children?  Can public schools do that?  The answer to the latter question is a resounding “no!”  In order to pad enrollment figures and earn money from the state some charters were offering the incentives.  A brief piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel describes an ordinance that was recently passed by the city’s Common Council that now bans the practice and ultimately hopes to extent the prohibition to the entire state.
EDUCATION WEEK has a commentary titled “Technology is Not the Answer: A Student’s Perspective” written by a high school junior from Connecticut.  He reviews some of the attempts to provide “1-to-1” computers for all students (including LAUSD’s) and concludes that “the rush to expand educational technology, to become advanced or ‘forward-thinking,’ has produced results that not only can be unhelpful, but also can be detrimental to the goal of assisting in students’ educations.”
Steve Lopez’s column in Wednesday’s L.A. Times offers another tale of woe for the LAUSD and embattled Supt. John Deasy.  What now?  With the new Common Core now being fully implemented it seems the district was not able to afford some math textbooks that were aligned to the standards.  So teachers, several of whom Lopez interviews, have had to resort to either pre-Core books or providing lessons of their own making and spending hours (and thousands of dollars) duplicating them.  The online version of the piece is titled “A Fortune for iPads, But Not Enough for Math Books.”
Why do some people get into the charter business?  Is it really and truly to help out poor and minority kids?  For some, it’s because they CAN MAKE A LOT OF MONEY!!!  The tale of one such entrepreneur, Baker Mitchell who owns 4 campuses in North Carolina, is told in an investigative piece in the Raleigh News & Observer.  It outlines how conflicts of interest, special legislative breaks and a lack of transparency help to boost profits.  Things, that if they took place in public schools, would be illegal.  “It’s impossible to know how much Mitchell is profiting from his companies,” the story lays out.  “He has fought to keep most of the financial details secret. Still, audited financial statements show that over six years, companies owned by Mitchell took in close to $20 million in revenue from his first two schools.”
As more and more special education students are mainstreamed the trend towards co-teaching classes gains momentum.  A secondary language arts educator from New York City offers “Eight Tips For Making the Most of Co-Teaching.”  Her suggestions appear in EDUCATION WEEK. “While there’s no silver bullet that will ensure an effective teaching partnership,” she notes, “I’ve learned some practical tips that have helped me (a general education middle school English teacher) collaborate successfully with many wonderful special educators.”
Jeff Bryant, at the Education Opportunity NETWORK, thinks it’s time we “Change the Way We Talk About Education.”  Since 2002, when No Child Left Behind was passed by the George W. Bush administration and then to the policy of Race to The Top by Pres. Obama, the conversation has focused more and more on standardized testing.  Things have gotten to the point where that’s about the only thing people talk about when you mention education.   Bryant believes reformers need to get back to the concept of “learning” as the true metric of how well our schools are doing.  He touts a new book with the extended title “Dumb Ideas Won’t Create Smart Kids: Straight Talk About Bad School Reform, Good Teaching, and Better Learning.”
Students at 3 elementary campuses of the Ocean View School District in Orange County who were unable to attend classes while an asbestos problem was cleaned up, will be able to return but they will have to be transported to nearby schools in neighboring districts until the offending material is completely removed.  An article in yesterday’s L.A. Times explains what’s going on.
You may remember several years ago Desert Trails Elementary School in Adelanto in the High Desert area of California became the first and so far only school in the country to be taken over through the parent-trigger process.  The “Ed News” highlighted the story back then.  The campus became the Desert Trails Preparatory Academy at the start of the 2013-14 school year.  How have things gone now that the first year has been completed?  CAPITAL & MAIN provides an extended “Adelanto Report Card: Year Zero of the Parent Trigger Revolution” and the picture it paints is not a pretty one.  “At the end of Desert Trail’s inaugural, 2013-14 school year,” it states, “a group of eight former Desert Trails teachers hand-delivered a 15-page complaint to the Adelanto Elementary School District (AESD), charging Desert Trails with an array of improprieties and its executive director, Debra Tarver, with unprofessional and sometimes unethical conduct.”  The story proceeds to detail the charges contained in the letter.  This cartoon accompanies the article:
The Louisiana Supreme Court issued a ruling that upheld that state’s changes to teacher tenure rules and evaluations that is, in some ways, similar to the Vergara case in California.  The law, initially passed in 2012 and tweaked this year, was ruled constitutional by the court, thus overturning a lower court decision.  The story appears in EDUCATION WEEK.  “The law, which ties teacher pay to new evaluations,” it explains, “requires decisions about layoffs to be based on performance on those evaluations rather than seniority, and only grants tenure to teachers if they achieve adequate performance ratings in a certain number of years.”
The nea website carries a statement by new President Lily Eskelsen Garcia that is sharply critical of the “standardized testing mania” that’s taken hold, like an octopus, of the K-12 public schools in this country.  “As educators,” she explains, “we support testing as a way to guide instruction for our students and tailor lessons to their individual needs. When students spend increasing amounts of class time preparing for and taking state and federally mandated standardized tests, we know the system is broken. As experts in educational practice,” Eskelsen Garcia continues, “we know that the current system of standardized tests does not provide educators or students with the feedback or accountability any of us need to promote the success and learning of students. It also doesn’t address the main issues that plague our education system, like ensuring equity and opportunity for all students.
And finally, a new study from a researcher at the University of Connecticut finds a growing skills gap between students of different family income levels when it comes to comprehending information on the internet versus reading it in print.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK features the report (23 pages) titled “The New Literacies of Online Research and Comprehension: Rethinking the Reading Achievement Gap” and includes a link to it.   “Long a cause for alarm,” the article begins, “the gap in reading skills between poor students and their more affluent peers is well-established and worsening, researchers say.  Now, there is more bad news: The real magnitude of that reading achievement gap may be greater than previously believed, because educators and researchers have not adequately accounted for the different skills that are required to successfully read online, as opposed to in print.”
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 

Ed News, TUESDAY, October 14, 2014 Edition


“Teaching kids how to feed themselves and how to live
 in a community responsibly is the center of an education.” 
The Oct. 13, edition of THE Nation magazine is a special issue titled “Saving Our Public Schools.”  The “Ed News” has already featured several of the articles.   Pedro Noguera has another one titled “Why Don’t We Have Real Data on Charter Schools?”  He looks into why public schools have to reveal just about everything to the public while charters are able to conceal a great deal of information.  “The problem here,” he states matter-of-factly, “is that charter schools are frequently not accountable.  Indeed, they are stunningly opaque, more black boxes than transparent laboratories for education.”  At the end of the piece is a list of the other stories from the special issue.
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An interesting example of educational graffiti made an unexpected appearance in a park across the street from a magnet school in Hartford, Connecticut, prior to a talk delivered in a nearby city by Diane Ravitch.  You can view the work and a very brief comment about it at the Real Hartford website.  Ravitch also had a very brief reaction to the artwork on her blog.
The “Ed News” has highlighted Anthony Cody’s new book The Educator and the Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges Bill Gates.”  Valerie Strauss recently conducted a very interesting interview (via email) with the author, teacher and prolific blogger about his latest effort.  
A charter company, Concept Schools, founded by followers of a reclusive Turkish imam runs 17 schools in Ohio and has been able to hire a large percentage of teachers from Turkey to staff its campuses.  You’d think with all the recent budget cuts there would be an excess of American educators who would be eager to fill the positions.  To make matters worse, the company ” already is under federal and state scrutiny for possible irregularities in teacher licensing, testing and technology contracts,” according to an investigative piece from the Cincinnati Inquirer.  It goes on to detail the hiring practices of the business.
Jack Schneider, assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross, uses Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post to explain why “Educating Kids Isn’t Rocket Science.  It’s Harder.”  He’s particularly nonplussed by philanthropists, politicians and businesspeople who profess to be education “experts” and know what needs to be done to improve education.  Would those same people tell NASA how to launch a rocket or tell a businessperson how to run her business?  Not likely, yet everyone seems to have ideas about how to fix the schools.  “[T]he egotism and ignorance of the so-called education reform movement,” the author complains, “are all too often on display. Because the work of improving schools isn’t as simple as reformers believe.”  Diane Ravitch calls this “a powerful column.”
One way the so-called education “reformers” and billionaire philanthropists hope to influence school policy is through the strategy of winning individual school board races and taking control of those committees.  From that point they can push their agenda of “choice,” charters, privatization and vouchers to destroy the pubic schools and begin to take advantage of the billions of dollars available in the K-12 system.  Has any of this “buying” of elections taken place before?  You betcha!  A close analysis of a number of individual school board elections finds outside money to be a key determinant of the winner.  An interesting piece from IN THESE TIMES describes a single race for a school board seat in Minneapolis and how both Teach for America and a very wealthy Californian are attempting to influence the outcome.
Having teachers armed on campus may prove to be more of a threat to school safety than if they are not.  The DAILY KOS reports on the third accidental discharge of a firearm at school since the new year started.  This one took place in Illinois.  The author of the piece refers to these incidents as getting “Second Amendmented.”  This may be cause for some humor but it’s really not funny!
State and LAUSD officials met on Friday to develop a plan to fix the ongoing programming fiasco at Jefferson High School in South L.A.  Proposals included a suggestions  from teachers to extend the day and expand class offerings.  Details of the remedies and a description of what’s been going on at the campus since school began on Aug. 12, are in a story in Saturday’s L.A. Times.                Sandy Banks, in her Saturday column in the paper, is shocked at the lack of response from LAUSD Supt. John Deasy to the programming mess.  She finds his actions indefensible in light of the fact he often trumpets how much he wants to help poor and minority students level the playing field.            An opinion piece appeared on the Times’ website Saturday morning pointing out the hypocrisy of LAUSD Supt. Deasy for joining a lawsuit AGAINST his own district for actions he seemed to have control over.  If this all sounds rather convoluted check out the item titled “Definition of Strange: John Deasy Lauds Ruling Confirming His Failures.”               Sunday’s paper published 3 highly critical letters about the story in Thursday’s Times regarding the court intervening in the Jefferson situation and ordering the state to get involved.               Want to know who’s to blame for the mess at Jefferson?  According to “district officials and school administrators” the blame lies with the TEACHERS, loss of certain grant monies, administrative changes at the campus and last, but not least, the computer system.  Not even a hint of accountability from the superintendent’s office.  Talk about passing the buck!!!!  This is all gleaned from a real eyeopener of a story from THE LA SCHOOL REPORT.  You have to check out the reader comments at the end of it to get a sense of how people are reacting.               the redqueeninla blog has a LONG list or reasons why Deasy should be fired by the LAUSD school board.  It’s titled “How Many Sufficient And Complete Reasons Are Required to Fire a Fraud?”   This is a VERY serious indictment.               Today’s paper has 3 letters reacting to Sandy Banks’ column on Saturday (see above) about how disappointed she was in how Supt. Deasy was handling the Jefferson High situation.
Here’s an interesting chart that was making the rounds on Twitter that shows a direct correlation between SAT scores and family income.  The information was provided by the College Board and prompted The Wall Street Journal to suggest the exam be renamed the “Student Affluence Test.”  The so-called “experts” who argue that poverty doesn’t play a role in education and learning may want to take a peak at the chart.
The discovery of asbestos at a Huntington Beach elementary school has forced the indefinite closure of the campus and caused a great deal of trepidation and uncertainly among parents.  Lake View Elementary could be closed for almost 3 months as officials of the Ocean View School District attempt to mitigate the situation.  Two other campuses were temporary declared off limits while a search for asbestos was conducted.  An item in Saturday’s L.A. Times discusses the ongoing problems.  It includes a video segment (2:44 minutes) from KTLA Channel 5 news regarding the latest situation.               The recent discovery of asbestos in the Ocean View School District in Orange County that caused the closure of one campus for up to 10 weeks and temporarily shuttered two other schools has led some parents to seek interdistrict transfers for their children.  A number have requested moves to neighboring Huntington Beach City School District which could threaten the financial stability of Ocean View.  An article in yesterday’s Times details the latest developments. 
The latest edition of Time magazine (Oct. 20) has a feature article about the “paperless classroom” which describes how more and more districts around the country are eschewing the traditional paper and pen/pencil curriculum in order to provide each student with a computer for lessons, presentations and assessments.  The story revolves around an elementary school teacher in Calistoga, California, and mentions, in passing, the LAUSD experience (fiasco?) with “iPadgate.”
More grief for the beleaguered LAUSD.  A front-page story in Sunday’s L.A. Times details the major problems the district has been having with its new student data system, MISIS (My Integrated Student Information System).  If you thought the rollout of the Obamacare website last year was a fiasco, wait until you read about this one.  How many of you are old enough to recollect the introduction of the LAUSD’s “wonderful” new computerized payroll system about 10 years ago?  MAJOR disaster.  Thousands of teachers got overpaid, underpaid, not paid, etc..  [Ed. note:  I was relatively untouched until I got $2,500 inexplicably added to my June paycheck.  I kiddingly told my wife it was the first time I’d ever received a year end “bonus” in my entire career with the district.  A very short time later I got a very serious (threatening?) note that if I didn’t return the money posthaste, all kinds of nasty things would happen to me, like having it deducted from my next check.  Luckily, I hadn’t splurged on some frivolous purchase with the funds.  I considered requesting they pay me interest on the amount for all the inconvenience, but thought better of it and promptly sent the money back.]  Many other teachers and colleagues had much worse horror stories to tell about the experience, like almost losing a house for a lack of several mortgage payments due to lack of pay.  Now that’s not funny!  Anyway, back to the Times piece.  “[T]he Los Angeles Unified School District’s student information system,” it explains, “which has cost more than $130 million, has become a technological disaster. The system made its debut this semester and promptly overloaded the district’s database servers, requiring an emergency re-engineering. In the days and weeks that followed,” the horror story continues, “many teachers were unable to enter grades or attendance or even figure out which students were enrolled in class.”  The rest of the story is very depressing and certainly doesn’t reflect very well on Supt. Deasy, especially with his performance review up for scrutiny by the board on Oct. 21.               Today’s L.A. Times has some good news and some bad news for the poor LAUSD.  First, the apparently positive story.  It seems the severe problems at Jefferson High ARE getting fixed.  The aren’t totally rectified yet, but they are getting there.  “Los Angeles school officials tried to reassure concerned parents Monday,” it begins, “that they have resolved most scheduling problems at Jefferson High School and also will make up for class time students have lost.”  The second item, the negative news, relates again to the difficulties with the MISIS.  A court-appointed monitor found that there were still major glitches with its ability to track and service special needs students which is why the system was created in the first place.
Some school superintendents are beginning to act like megalomaniacs or tyrants.  The head of the Dallas Independent School District, Mike Miles, had a member of his school board removed by police from a middle school campus for trespassing.  Why was she there?  Miles had sacked the top administrators at the school and ten teachers on Friday and the board member was there to find out what was going on and to attend an emergency staff meeting according to a story from the Dallas Morning News.
EDUCATION WEEK notes a growing trend to limit the number of federally mandated tests in response to an increasing backlash against the assessments from various states.  “There are signs that the movement to limit the number of federally mandated tests students take,” it observes, “may be gaining momentum—and it could pick up more steam as the Obama administration draws to a close and the 2016 presidential election begins in earnest.”
Does holding kids back (repeating a grade), especially in elementary school do more harm than good?  That’s the age old question addressed by a brand new study from a sociologist at Notre Dame.  The author of that report “mined two large data sets in a way no researcher has done before and concludes that kids who repeat a year between kindergarten and fifth grade are 60 percent less likely to graduate high school than kids with similar backgrounds, and even 60 percent less likely to graduate high school than siblings in the same family.”  Her findings are highlighted in a piece in The HECHINGER REPORT.   The full report (33 pages) titled “The Scarring Effects of Primary Grade Retention?  A Study of Cumulative Advantage in the Educational Career” can be found by clicking here.  It was published in the Sept. 26, edition of the journal “Social Forces.”
And finally, an op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times urges post-Vergara reformers to get input from teachers before attempting to change the tenure and seniority rules and the processes for teacher dismissal.  The author is a veteran LAUSD elementary educator who is currently a program advisor for the district.  “Our students can’t afford to wait for the appeals process to play out in the court system. Changes in tenure, dismissal and layoff practices should begin now,” she concludes.  “The school district and the state should work with teachers to begin reforms: Make performance a meaningful part of the process with fair and nuanced evaluations; lengthen the time it takes to get tenure; mandate feedback and development programs that help all teachers get better.”
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 

Ed News, Friday, October 10, 2014 Edition


FINAL REMINDER:  ALOED and the Oxy Education Department are co-sponsoring a free screening of the important documentary “Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District” on Tuesday, Oct. 14, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Choi Auditorium.  A discussion with the producers of the film will follow the showing.   For more information (including a link to the official trailer) and to RSVP please click here.
“There is no such thing as educational value in the abstract. 
The notion that some subjects and methods and that acquaintance with certain facts and truths 
possess educational value in and of themselves is the reason why traditional education 
reduced the material of education so largely to a diet of predigested materials.” 
― John DeweyExperience and Education
There are a lot of so-called “grassroots” education “reform” groups out there these days.  How many of them are interested in “real” reform and are actually from the “grassroots?”  That’s the question that Daniel Katz, professor of education at Seton Hall University, tackles on his Daniel Katz, Ph. D. blog.  He mentions a number of different groups and offers several “clues” that will help you tell which ones are real and which ones are fake. 
The Vergara case is back in the news.  (Did it ever go away?)  A former school superintendent in Long Beach and San Diego and current member of the California State Board of Education offers “What’s Wrong with the Vergara Ruling?” on the EdSource blog.   “What’s wrong with the ruling,” he simply lays out, “is that it reinforces a completely false narrative in which incompetent teachers are portrayed as the central problem facing urban schools.”

With the start of the trial in Atlanta earlier this week of 12 former teachers and administrators charged with cheating on standardized tests in that city, a story in AlterNet describes a new study about the, unfortunately, widespread nature of the situation.  “According to the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest), it’s time to prepare to be shocked,” the article warns.  “The organization has recently compiled data indicating that the scandal in Atlanta is ‘just the tip of the iceberg’ when it comes to cheating on standardized tests in our nation’s schools. Specifically, FairTest has found documented cases of cheating, and in some cases, systematic manipulation of scores, in 39 states and the District of Columbia, over the last five years alone. The organization has also identified,” it continues, “more than 60 methods administrators and teachers have used to alter student scores on these tests, from urging low-scorers to be absent the day of the test, to shouting out and otherwise indicating correct answers during testing.”


“What is the Damage Done by TFA?” is the question addressed in the latest segment of a continuing series of conversations between columnist Jack Schneider and Julian Vasquez Heilig about  that darling of the so-called education “reformers,” Teach for America.  It appears on the “Beyond Rhetoric” blog in EDUCATION WEEK .  In this segment they attempt to assess problems caused by TFA.  “In my view, TFA is a gateway drug,” Heilig rather colorfully explains.  “They are the unabashed leaders of a movement that says sending poorly trained, temporary teachers to poor kids is a civil right. They’re given millions of dollars by foundations and billionaires to buy research that demonstrates that this approach has a ‘positive’ effect on student achievement.”

This may be a novel way to protest the Common Core.  The Portland, Oregon, school board may simply refuse to set annual achievement objectives for the assessments.  The (Portland) Oregonian spells out what the board is up to and why.

Several prominent ed technology companies have signed a pledge not to reveal private student  information.  The action quickly drew both praise and criticism according to a story from EDUCATION WEEK.  “The pledge was created as parents’ worries about the privacy and security of their students’ data have resonated in state legislatures,” the piece states, “and as the state of California enacted a strict privacy law last month.”

Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, often features the excellent commentary of Carol Burris, an award-winning high school principal from New York.  This time Burris suggests that it’s not the implementation of the Common Core that is causing all the problems but the standards themselves.  Those are pretty heavy charges from a former supporter of the Core.  The piece is titled “How to Start Cleaning Up the Common Core.”  “No matter what investments in time or materials have been made,” Burris maintains, “here is the bottom line. The Common Core is a lemon and no amount of professional development will make it run right. ”  She offers “3 relatively simple first steps” for getting started.
The Tuesday edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a new book by Anthony Cody titled The Educator and the Oligarch: A Teacher Challenges Bill Gates.  Diane Ravitch is touting the volume on her blog possibly because she wrote the preface to it which she gladly reprints for one and all to read.
Bad news for another Southern California school district.  (NOT LAUSD this time!)  The Ocean View School District in Huntington Beach discovered asbestos in classrooms at three elementary campuses and announced that all schools in the district would be tested.  A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times described the situation.  It includes a short clip (1:42 minutes) from KTLA Channel 5 News about the discovery.
EDUCATION WEEK is highlighting new survey results released Wednesday from the Center for Education Policy that find implementation of the Common Core is seriously lagging.  The poll contains findings from a representative national sample of 211 districts.  “About 30 percent of district superintendents surveyed said, for instance, that they won’t fully implement the standards in both math and English/language arts in all their schools until the 2015-16 school year or later, or that they weren’t sure when they’d be implemented. About one-third said they will reach that milestone during this school year.”  The article includes a link to the full report (27 pages) titled “Common Core State Standards in 2014: Districts’ Perceptions, Progress and Challenges.”
Diane Ravitch reports on her blog that U.S. Dept. of Education Sec. Arne Duncan has handed out over $36 million in grants to a number of CHARTER schools around the county.  She reprints a press release from the DoE that explains the awards and lists the programs that were presented with them.  Several California campuses appear in the second list given for “Replication and Expansion of High Quality Charter Schools.”  
Most everyone knows that the Common Core State Standards apply to K-12 students and schools.  Is there a similar program for post-secondary education?  You may be surprised to learn the answer is “yes.”  So far, they are voluntary measures of what a student should know upon earning various degrees.  A short piece from The HECHINGER REPORT provides some information on these standards. “The ‘Degree Qualifications Profile’ specifies what students should know,” the article explains, “and be able to do at every level of their higher educations—what a bachelor’s or master’s degree actually represents, in other words—rather than simply relying on how many hours they’ve sat through how many courses.”  Believe it or not, the new standards are already being piloted at 400 colleges and universities in 45 states.
Ever heard of the “Pygmalion Effect?”  Does it apply to education?  EDUCATION WEEK features another new survey that finds that teacher expectations correlate to student performance.  “The study focuses on the Pygmalion Effect,” the story begins, “the theory holding that higher expectations of a person lead to higher performance. The opposite can also be true: If low expectations are placed on someone, they’re more likely to perform poorly. This means that a teacher’s faith, or lack thereof, in a student’s abilities may influence the student’s future achievement.”  You can find the full report (7 pages) titled “The Power of the Pygmalion Effect, Teachers Expectations Strongly Predict College Completion” here.
The previous edition of the “Ed News” reported on the abrupt cancellation on Monday of the teachers’ contract in Philadelphia by the School Reform Commission as a cost saving measure in the cash-strapped district.  newsworks reports that students at 2 district high schools marched out of their classes on Wednesday in support of their teachers and staged a loud protest on the streets outside their campuses.
Another black eye for a southern California school district.  (This time it IS the LAUSD!)  A superior court judge, as part of a previous lawsuit, intervened in the ongoing mess at Jefferson High School in South L.A.  Students there have faced major problems regarding their class schedules since the year commenced on Aug. 12.  Missing programs, incorrect classes, duplicate classes have been just some of the issues.  The judge ordered the state to get involved and fix the situation.  All the details of the matter can be found in a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.
A middle school principal in an urban area of Denver describes how things like an extended day and other strategies led to the turnaround of his campus.  The HECHINGER REPORT provides his insights.
As of today (Friday) the mid-term elections are only 26 days away.  Voters in 11 states (not California) will be faced with various propositions, measures and amendments related to issues like school funding and teacher reforms among others.  EDUCATION WEEK lays out some of the specific issues and which states will be voting on them.
Yesterday’s L.A. Times had an editorial siding with a lawsuit brought by several organizations that would eliminate the placement of high school students in non-academic classes like service periods, study hall or even instances of free periods or blocks of time when they are sent home.  “Every student,” it concludes, “should have timely access to all courses required for graduation and for admission to college. Anything less is unacceptable. State and local officials need to work together to rescue students from an untenable situation.”
One of the key questions faced by educators is why do so many teachers leave the profession?  A panel on Wednesday, sponsored by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Federation of Teachers, addressed that issue and came up with some specific reasons why instructors leave and offered some suggestions for retention.  Information about the event was highlighted in EDUCATION WEEK.  “The panelists . . . stressed,” it relates, “that teacher shortages are not a recruitment issue so much as a retention issue.”  Be sure to check out the graphic that accompanies the article that articulates reasons why people leave.  You can view the full video (103:42 minutes) of the panel discussion on YouTube.               Speaking of recruiting and retaining teachers.   EdSource provides the rather depressing news that the number of students enrolled in teacher preparation programs in California is continuing to plummet.  The data comes from a study done by the Commission on Teacher Credentialing and finds that enrollments have dropped 53% from 2008-09 to 2012-13, the latest year in the study.  Since 2001-02 the numbers have declined by a mind numbing 74%!  “The declining enrollments,” the story points out, “are coming at an especially challenging time for California schools. The state’s nearly 1,000 school districts are embarking on a slew of new reforms – including the Common Core standards, the New Generation Science Standards, Smarter Balanced assessments and focusing on several new ‘priority areas’ specified in the state’s new school financing law – that will require a highly trained and enthusiastic workforce to ensure their success.”  The article includes a link to the full report (44 pages) from the CTC titled “Annual Report Card on California Teacher Preparation.”
Interesting finding from NC POLICY WATCH.  Over 90% of taxpayer voucher funds are going to private religious schools.  The program was NOT approved by the voters.  It was passed by the state legislature last year under the guise of  “Opportunity Scholarships.”  And now the situation gets dicey.  “The largest recipient of school voucher dollars thus far.” the article points out, “is Greensboro Islamic Academy. The school has received more than $90,000 from taxpayers while information has surfaced indicating that the school is in financial trouble and has inflated its tuition rates to reap as many publicly-funded vouchers as possible to stay afloat.”  In addition, a Superior Court judge ruled that the entire program was unconstitutional.  You’ll have to read the piece to discover why the money is still being disbursed.               An investigative story in the same publication details the problems faced by the Greenboro Islamic Academy.  It includes a video (3:54 minutes) of the school’s fundraising appeal.  
Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, believes the so-called education “reformers” have actually lost the public relations war they’ve been waging in order to privatize the public schools.  He demonstrates how a number of issues they’ve been crying “wolf” about have not come to pass.  “For instance, for some thirty years, influential power-brokers and political leaders,” he maintains, “have tried to convince Americans that their system of public education is broken to the extent it poses a ‘risk’ to the nation’s prosperity – indeed, even a threat to national security.  Despite nearly a generation of browbeating and finger wagging, the efforts of the ‘education reform’ campaign have completely and utterly failed.”

And finally some really heartwarming news courtesy of EDUCATION WEEK.  Malala Yousafzai became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize today.  She is the now 17-year-old Pakistani girl who was shot while riding on her school bus in 2012 by the Taliban because of her promotion of education for girls in her country.  She shared the tribute this year with a 60-year-old man from India who had worked almost his entire life to end child trafficking and exploitation.  “Despite her youth,” the Nobel committee stated in announcing the award, “Malala Yousafzay has already fought for several years for the right of girls to education, and has shown by example that children and young people, too, can contribute to improving their own situations.”  Hear! Hear!
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 

Ed News, Tuesday, October 7, 2014 Edition


EVENT REMINDER:  ALOED and the Oxy Education Department are co-sponsoring a free screening of the important documentary “Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District” on Tuesday, Oct. 14, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Choi Auditorium.  A discussion with the producers of the film will follow the showing.   For more information (including a link to the official trailer) and to RSVP (deadline is Oct. 10) please click here.
“Children are notoriously curious about everything, everything except… 
the things people want them to know. 
It then remains for us to refrain from forcing any kind of knowledge upon them, 
and they will be curious about everything.” 
― Floyd Dell 
Wednesday’s L.A. Times had an article about the battle in Colorado about the new A.P. U.S. History curriculum that was being challenged by the Republican National Committee and a conservative school board in a suburb of Denver.  “Just weeks before the school year began,” it explains, “the change sparked a political feud over how children should be taught about American history — and whose version.  From the tea party to talk radio,” the piece continues, “conservatives have taken aim at the new curriculum, describing it as liberally biased and anti-American.”               A follow-up story in theguardian reported that the Jefferson County School Board approved a controversial review of the new APUSH class by a vote of 3-2.  Students had been protesting any changes for weeks but the board ignored their stance.               4 letters in Sunday’s paper commented on the first story about the conservative attack on the curriculum.  Two of them chose to focus on an unfortunate misspelling on one student’s handmade sign.                 The author of this op-ed in the Athens (Georgia) Banner-Herald weighs in on the fight taking place over how to teach American History.  “It truly worries me,” she proclaims, “when how we teach American history becomes politicized and labeled as ‘conservative’ or ‘liberal.’ That turns students into pawns in a political game, subject to constant revisions of stories, depending on who is in control. It bounces them around and does little to prepare them for higher education, critical thinking and life as productive, participatory adults.”
With the introducation of Common Core and the new assessments supposedly aligned to it the author of this commentary in Fox & Hounds asks if all this innovation is coming at too high a cost for school districts in California.  As the “Great Recession” continues can states afford mandated new curriculum and technology on slimmed down budgets?  Her piece is titled “Is Common Core Technology Worth It?” and features a new study that focuses on 5 major school districts in the state (including LAUSD) and how they are coping financially with the new requirements.
Teachers in British Columbia, Canada, recently concluded a relatively successful strike (they didn’t get 100% of what they wanted but it was close).  You can read about the details of the labor action and three lessons the educators learned from it that are certainly applicable to other organizations contemplating similar activities in an article from The Tyee.
Why is the L.A. Times so supportive of LAUSD Supt. John Deasy?  That’s the issue taken up by Schools Matter penned by a social justice writer and public education advocate.  He minces no words in his opposition to Deasy.  
The LAUSD is reporting a substantial increase in graduation rates over the previous year.   The numbers jumped from 65% in 2012-13 to 77% in 2013-14.  HOWEVER, as the story in Saturday’s L.A. Times explains, the district does not factor in the rate for its “alternative” or “opportunity” high schools.  “But the good news comes with a substantial caveat,” it points out.  “The rate is calculated based on students enrolled in comprehensive high schools, and it leaves out students who transfer to alternative programs — which frequently include those most at risk of dropping out.”  The article provides several examples of how the numbers change.
A story in The New York Times describes how the policies of No Child Left Behind as carried out by U.S. Dept. of Education Secretary Arne Duncan have placed a number of highly successful schools in Washington State in a quandry over NCLB waivers.  “The schools in Washington,” it spells out, “are caught in the political crossfire of a battle over education policy. Because the State Legislature has refused to require that teacher evaluations be based in part on student test scores, schools are being held to an outdated benchmark that is all but impossible to achieve — that by 2014, every single student would be proficient in reading and math. Thousands of schools in California, Iowa, North Dakota, Vermont and Wyoming have also been declared failing for the same reason.”               Speaking of NCLB, a piece in EDUCATION WEEK introduces a new satirical video game that pokes fun at the law, charter schools and standardized assessments.  It’s called “No Pineapple Left Behind.”  “In NPLB,” a promotional email quoted in the article explains, “an evil wizard turns all of the students to pineapples. Pineapples are very simple; all they do is take tests and get grades. If they get good grades, their school makes more money. But if left unattended, pineapples turn back into children. Children are very complicated and much harder to deal with. You are the principal and you have to run the school.”  The article includes a conversation with the creator behind the game.  [Ed. note:  The video link to the game’s trailer at the end of the article didn’t seem to work.  Click here for a trailer (2:44 minutes) that appeared on YouTube.]
The “Numbers and Letters” feature in Saturday’s L.A. Times reported “561 printable letters to the editor were received between” Friday, Sept. 26, and Friday, Oct. 3.  “48 letters mentioned LAUSD Supt. John Deasy, the week’s most-discussed topic.”  39 letters discussed the U.S. military campaign against ISIS, the second most popular topic.               The “Mailbag” column in the same paper had 3 more letters on the topic of the embattled superintendent.  One was from a current LAUSD educator and another from former UTLA president John Perez.  Of the almost 50 notes the Times received last week about Deasy ONLY 3 supported him.
Peter Greene’s CURMUDGUCATION blog jumps into the California race for Superintendent of Public Instruction between incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck.  Greene is upset over certain celebrities who are endorsing the anti-public school Tuck and the hugh amounts of money the candidate is drawing from the so-called education “reform” movement.  Be sure to check out the newly released ad for Tuck (2:30 minutes) that caused Greene to do a slow burn.
A reader left a comment (in the form of a mini-essay) on Diane Ravitch’s blog regarding whether questions on standardized tests that attempt to interpret reading segments or literature should have only one correct answer.  He uses as an example Robert Burn’s poem “A Red, Red Rose.”  You have to admit, he has a point.  Read what he has to say and see if you agree.
Anthony Cody, of LIVING in DIALOGUE fame, has a brand new book out titled The Educator and the Oligarch–A Teacher Challenges the Gates Foundation.  Cody includes an excerpt from his introduction and an early review of the volume on his blog.  ““A powerful and important book,” writes Jonathan Kozol on the front cover, “by one of the most courageous advocates for sanity and simple justice in our public schools.”
ac-gp-book-page-thmbnail.jpg (800×1280) 
“Why Can’t the Grown-ups Get It Right on Education?” is the question that headlines Steve Lopez’s Sunday column in the L.A. Times.  He believes the students are doing there job to the best of their ability but it’s the adults, i.e., the administrators, school board members and the teachers’ union that can’t seem to get along.  Lopez interviews former LAUSD Supt. Roy Tomer (2000-06) and former UTLA President A.J. Duffy (2005-11) and uses them as two previous examples of adults who could get along and get things done.  “They went at each other, but they also established a working relationship and mutual respect that led to a number of accomplishments,” Lopez indicates, “including the establishment of pilot schools that operate with greater autonomy and teacher input than regular schools.  It was the kind of relationship you don’t see among the combatants in today’s LAUSD.”
A study released on Friday has found that New York State’s teacher evaluation system is “irreparably flawed” and led a regional superintendent’s organization to call for the ratings to be abandoned.  A piece from the Lower Hudson Valley Journal News describes the findings of the report and why the school districts leaders made the decision to call for the evaluation system to be scrapped.
Here’s a great way to start the week.  The Philadelphia Public Schools have under state control since 1998.  Yesterday the School Reform Commission, created to run the schools in the wake of the state takeover, unilaterally and suddenly decided to cancel the teachers’ contract as a way to save money for the financially challenged district.  You read that right.  They simply abrogated the negotiated agreement without even informing the teachers’ union.  “The district says it will not cut the wages of 15,000 teachers, counselors, nurses, secretaries and other PFT members. But it plans to dismantle the long-standing Philadelphia Federation of Teachers Health and Welfare Fund, which is controlled by the union, and take over administering benefits.”  The shocking details and what it all means can be found in a story from the Philadelphia Inquirer website.              
The “Network for Public Eduation” is holding its “Public Education Nation” conference in New York this Saturday from 9 am to 2 pm PDT.  For a description of the 4 discussion panels and for more information  about the gathering click here.  Sessions will be livestreamed for those who can’t travel to the east coast for the event.  LIVING in DIALOGUE has a cute (and short) video (1:12 minutes) with tips on how to view the livestream.
Bob Herbert, a columnist for The New York Times from 1993 to 2011, has a new book out called Losing Our Way: An Intimate Portrait of a Troubled America.  In it he has a section about public education titled “The Plot Against Public Education: How Millionaires and Billionaires are Ruining Our Schools.”  An extended excerpt from it appears in POLITICO MAGAZINE.  “I’ve covered [Bill] Gates,” Herbert notes, “and his desire to improve the quality of education in America seemed sincere. But his outsized influence on school policy has, to say the least, not always been helpful.”  Herbert doesn’t just pick on Bill Gates.  He delves into charters, online schools, Pearson, Michael Bloomberg and others.  “Those who are genuinely interested in improving the quality of education for all American youngsters,” Herbert concludes, “are faced with two fundamental questions: First, how long can school systems continue to pursue market-based reforms that have failed year after demoralizing year to improve the education of the nation’s most disadvantaged children? And second, why should a small group of America’s richest individuals, families, and foundations be allowed to exercise such overwhelming—and often such toxic—influence over the ways in which public school students are taught?

More discord between LAUSD Supt. John Deasy and the school board.  An article in today’s L.A. Times explains how he’s part of a lawsuit against his own district regarding the scheduling of high school students into non-academic periods.  The case is highly critical of certain district policies and schools.  It may not be such a good idea to sue the company that employs you but that’s what Deasy is doing.  Keep in mind also that Deasy was a key witness for the plantiffs in the Vergara case that eventually overturned rules on teacher tenure and dismissal.  He did that without board approval according to the story.

Today the College Board released some preliminary results from the SAT, Advanced Placement tests and the PSAT.  Scores on the college entrance exam dropped by one point from the previous year while particpation in AP exams increased by 3.8%.  More data and analysis can be found in a story in EDUCATION WEEK.

Today’s L.A. Times published 3 letters that reacted to the paper’s editorial on Friday that urged the LAUSD board to retain Supt. Deasy.
And finally, a Florida high school principal has been selected as “2015 National Principal of the Year” by the National Association of Secondary School Principals.  EDUCATION WEEK has a feature on her and some of the innovations she’s brought to her campus to garner the award.
Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me diligently working on the blog.

Ed News, Friday, October 3, 2014 Edition


EVENT REMINDER:  ALOED and the Oxy Education Department are co-sponsoring a free screening of the important documentary “Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District” on Tuesday, Oct. 14, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Choi Auditorium.  A discussion with the producers of the film will follow the showing.   For more information (including a link to the official trailer) and to RSVP please click here.
The Jewish high holiday of Yom Kippur (The Day of Atonement) began at sundown this evening.
“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 are some teachers feeling so demoralized and beaten down?  The author of this blog from ctpost is a former professor at Fairfield University in Connecticut.  He traces those emotions to a “war on teachers” that began with No Child Left Behind and has continued with Race to the Top.  “[B]oth programs are what is commonly referred to by public school educators,” he characterizes, “as ‘test and punish’ testing programs that are used primarily for closing schools, ranking students, demonizing teachers and for assessing teacher effectiveness.”  No wonder teachers are feeling so mistreated and students are choosing not to go into the profession!  By the way, how are you feeling about the direction of education these days?
How are businesspeople and politicians working to destroy public education?  A former Massachusetts high school science teacher and Professor Emeritus of Science Education at Georgia State University thinks it has to do with “influence peddling.”  “[P]oliticians, lobbyists and corporate executives have worked together to peddle their influence in the name of educational reform,” he complains.   “This triad of influence is dismantling public education one charter school, voucher, tax incentive, and law at a time.”  His commentary appears on The Art of Teaching Science blog.  Diane Ravitch insists “this post is a must-read.”
Opposition to the Common Core has become pretty widespread.  An article in SALON finds that it is no longer a partisan issue as critics appear from both the right and left of the political spectrum.  “Under ideal circumstances,” the author concludes, “national education standards would ensure students across the country are getting the instruction they need to prepare them for college, and help bring some uniformity to widely varying state curricula. But the effort has floundered for a familiar reason: Americans’ enduring distrust of the federal government. With the Department of Education unable to take a strong lead, Common Core has been hijacked by the for-profit school-reform movement. Whether Common Core ends up doing any good largely depends on what each state decides to do with the benchmarks, which sort of undermines the whole point of having national standards in the first place.”
Are you currently retired?  Nearing retirement?  Ever going to be retired?  If you answered “yes” to any of those questions you might want to check out the “Money Makeover” feature in the “Business” section of Sunday’s L.A. Times.  It focuses on a 67-year-old, 30-year LAUSD teaching veteran who’s been retired for 7 years and offers some concrete suggestions on how she can make her limited pension check last longer.  Although the ideas are specific to Sasha Firman’s situation you may find them useful.  The article includes a short video (2:27 minutes) of Ms. Firman and some of the advice offered to her.
How many of you have ever worked with a new teacher or been asked to mentor a struggling veteran?  It’s not always the easiest task and can take a lot of your valuable time.  The author of this item from EDUCATION WEEK is a reading and language arts teacher at a junior high in Illinois who works with early-career educators.   She offers “Eight Qualities of a Great Teacher Mentor.”  It contains some excellent advice for the next time you’re formally asked to help a colleague or when you volunteer to do it on your own.  “Mentors may be formally ‘assigned,’ or they may informally walk into your life,” she offers.  “Mentorship can occur in a mandated mentor program, when one teacher is looking out for another, taking a struggling teacher under your wing, or simply welcoming a new person to the team. Mentorship doesn’t have to be a formal process—but it is a crucial form of support for new and early career teachers.”
New York City has SEEN THE LIGHT.  Schools chancellor Carmen Farina announced  on Tuesday that teacher evaluations will now de-emphasize the use of student test scores and the city will no longer issue A to F ratings for individual schools.  Criteria will now include things like strength of curriculum and school environment.  The New York Times provides the details.
An Associated Press story on YAHOO! NEWS finds that stepped up education spending by affluent parents is actually  increasing the wealth gap in the U.S.  The story looks at the specifics of how this has happened.
A group of Harvard students has requested that the university cut ties with Teach for America unless the organization makes some major changes to its program of teacher preparation.  The Student Labor Action Movement, the on-campus association, maintains “that Teach For America is working to privatize education through its relationships with big-name corporations that are threatening the sanctity of public education.”  The item appeared on the NPQ (NONPROFIT QUARTERLY) website.
Do you know what “deeper learning” is?  A recent study that compared 20 high schools in California and New York found that students who were taught the technique did better on graduation rates and test scores and had better social skills than similar students at 13 other schools using more traditional methods.  The article highlighting the findings was in EDUCATION WEEK and it contains an excellent definition of “deeper learning.”  
The much anticipated closed-door session held by the LAUSD board on Tuesday afternoon regarding the criteria for Supt. Deasy’s performance review ended up lasting 4 hours.  “We haven’t decided anything, and we agreed not to talk about it,” said board President Richard Vladovic. “We all agreed not to discuss anything because it is to be continued. I can’t say anymore because I promised not to say a word.”  A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times contained the latest developments and be sure to stay tuned for news about Deasy’s formal evaluation scheduled for Oct. 21.                Members of the LAUSD board are not saying anything about Tuesday’s meeting, but apparently someone with inside knowledge of what took place is talking.  According to a piece in yesterday’s paper the board did authorize discussions to take place regarding a possible departure agreement with Supt. Deasy.  “The board’s action stops short of signaling the end of the Deasy superintendency,” the article speculates, “but it’s a step in that direction. The overture was described by sources as ‘amicable,’ suggesting that acrimony could be avoided or explicitly forbidden as part of a separation agreement.”               Yesterday’s Times published 4 letters reacting to Jim Newton’s op-ed on Monday about the many things Supt. Deasy has done to “improve” education in L.A.                An extended editorial in today’s paper urges the board to retain Deasy because he’s “done a good job and shouldn’t be fired.”  It also suggests “he needs to work better with the school board.”
Surprise, surprise.  EDUCATION WEEK describes how most of the contracts for Common Core assessments have gone to the biggest and most well-known vendors like Pearson, McGraw-Hill and Educational Testing Service.  Who would have guessed that might happen especially since the standards were developed with much input from the testing companies.  To date, contracts to develop those Core-aligned exams total over $300 million and there’s lots more out there.  Be sure to click on the “Money Flowing For Common-Core Assessments” sidebar infographic.  [Ed. note: Toward the bottom of the article is a reference to Tony Alpert, the chief operating officer for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC).  He is NOT a relative.]

Dr. Daniel Katz, director of Secondary Education and Secondary Special Education Teacher Preparation at Seton Hall University, was more than put off by the pro-charter rally promoted by Eva Moscowitz and her Success Academy schools that was held yesterday in New York City.  He cites her for “hypocrisy” for promising things to students that she can’t possibly deliver.  “Ms. Moskowitz is going to excuse her teachers and students from a day of school,” he writes on his Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog, “to rally in alleged support of all of those kids she claims are ‘trapped’ in ‘failing’ DOE [Dept. of Education public] schools, and there is no doubt that an unacceptable number of our most vulnerable students are indeed in schools that struggle.  But there is NO evidence that Ms. Moskowitz wants all or even a bare majority of those students in HER schools.  There IS plenty of evidence that the most vulnerable children to reach a Success Academy find it very difficult to remain there,” Katz insists, “and there is incontrovertible evidence that Ms. Moskowitz and her financial backers support the reelection of a Governor [Andrew Cuomo] who has choked schools of money for his entire first term in office.”                The New York Times described the pro-charter rally held in New York City yesterday.  The gathering “was part of a coordinated campaign,” it explains, “organized primarily by charter school advocates, to put pressure on Mayor Bill de Blasio as he and legislators in Albany develop their education agendas in the coming months.”  Students were encouraged to skip school to attend (could public schools get away with that?) along with parents who were bused from their campuses to the downtown rally.

Many schools in California and throughout the nation deal with immigrant students and English Language Learners.  How to make children in those categories feel welcome in schools in the U.S. was the topic of a recent panel discussion held by the Center for Applied Linguistics and Welcoming America at a campus in Washington, D.C.  An article from EDUCATION WEEK reviews some of the suggestions generated from the participants and includes the trailer (2:51 minutes) of a new documentary titled “I Learn America” about a group of 5 immigrant teenagers as they make their way through life in their new country.  “Public schools have often struggled to create environments in which immigrant students feel comfortable.” the piece points out, “and can thrive academically.  But it’s an increasingly important issue that demands educators’ attention as English-language learners—many of whom are U.S. born, but are the children of at least one immigrant parent—continue to be the fastest growing segment in K-12 public schools. And educators in many communities are also grappling with how best to serve newcomer immigrant youth from Central America, many of whom have arrived in the United States over the last 18 months without adult family members or guardians.”
The new organization Democrats for Public Education released a poll today that found widespread support for public education.  1,200 people were contacted by phone for the poll.  Survey results were reported by POLITICO. “The survey validates that those who castigate public schools and teachers are simply out-of-step and out-of-touch with the American people, parents and voters. It’s also troubling that teachers are being laid off and public school funding is being slashed,” the article states, “while additional tax breaks are handed out to corporations and the uber-wealthy. Respondents believe that precious taxpayer dollars should go toward funding education, rather than corporate profits, CEOs or advertising budgets.”  The piece includes a memo from the company that conducted the poll with the specific questions and results.
The HECHINGER REPORT headlines an interesting question: “Are Math Specialists the Answer to Teaching Better Math?”  The article concludes that they can be a very valuable resource.  It focuses on one elementary school in New York and describes what the math specialist does (he had formerly taught in California).  “Math specialists provide continuing, comprehensive support,” the article explains, “to the teachers and students in one specific school; they don’t move from place to place putting on three-day workshops. Unlike reading specialists, they focus primarily on teacher development rather than working with small groups of students.  Most math specialists had years of experience as classroom teachers before getting advanced instruction in math education—sometimes on their own dime, sometimes with funding from their school or district.”
Jeff Bryant at the Education Opportunity NETWORK uses a recent student protest in Denver to ponder the issue of what it all means when students decide to stage walk-outs over particular problems, principles or causes.  He titles his commentary “Student Protests Are a Bigger Deal Than You Think.”  In it he reviews a number of other student demonstrations around the country. 
Valerie Strauss turns her column in The Washington Post over to Kevin Welner, a professor at the University of Colorado, and Carol Burris, award-winning principal in New York and frequent contributor to Strauss’ blog, who have an announcement about a new program to recognize successful schools.  Welner and Burris explain why they launched “Schools of Opportunity” and how it will work.  It will begin with pilot programs in New York and Colorado.  “The project will recognize public high schools,” they write, “that demonstrate an extraordinary commitment to equity and excellence by giving all students the opportunity to succeed. It’s about rewarding schools for doing the right things, even if they do not enroll the nation’s top students. It’s also about highlighting the practices of schools that are energetically closing the opportunity gap by engaging in research-based practices designed to make sure that all students have rich opportunities to succeed.”  The important news is that they plan to spotlight schools WITHOUT having to rely on student test scores.  
Several civil rights groups have asked an Alameda County Superior Court Judge to intervene in the ongoing mess at Jefferson High School (LAUSD).  Students and community members have complained since school started on Aug. 12, that student schedules are incorrect among other problems.  The request is based on a lawsuit filed earlier in the year that maintained the state was not meeting its constitutional obligations to provide every student with a minimum level of instruction.  In September a group of students walked out of class to protest the mismanagement of administrators in dealing with serious issues on the south L.A. campus.  You can read all the latest details in an article in today’s L.A. Times.
And finally, Sunday is World Teacher Day.  In honor of that Wallet Hub has a brand new list of “2014’s Best and Worst States for Teachers.”  It used 18 criteria for making its rankings.  Best state in their list–Wyoming(?)!  Worst–North Carolina.  California? check out the story which also has some other interesting facts regarding states and education and a detailed look at methodology and a break-down of the 18 key metrics used.  Anyone interested in moving to Wyoming?
 Dave Alpert
(Occidental College,’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog.

Ed News, Tuesday, September 30, 2014 Edition


EVENT REMINDER:  ALOED and the Oxy Education Department are co-sponsoring a free screening of the important documentary “Go Public: A Day in the Life of an American School District” on Tuesday, Oct. 14, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. in Choi Auditorium.  A discussion with the producers of the film will follow the showing.   For more information (including a link to the official trailer) and to RSVP please click here.
“The problem in our society and in our schools is to inculcate,
without overdoing it, the notion of education, 
as in the Latin educere–to lead,
to bring out what is in someone rather than merely to indoctrinate him/her from the outside.” 
― Joseph CampbellThou Art That: Transforming Religious Metaphor
One of the key arguments advanced by the plaintiffs in the Vergara trial was that eliminating teacher tenure was a civil rights issue.  The judge’s decision in the case seemed to buy that point.  The author of an article in the Huffington Post explains why that point-of-view is specious.  “The champions of corporate education reform insist, he begins, “that efforts to strip teachers of the procedural guarantees of due process embedded in tenure are somehow an extension of the Civil Rights Movement. In the latest iteration of this make-believe history, former CNN anchor Campbell Brown and her ally, lawyer David Boies, wax philosophical about how their campaign to end tenure is really ‘about Civil Rights.'”
What are some of the hidden goals of the public school privatization movement?  A story in THE Nation suggests it wants to create a segregated system that replaces teachers with technology.  “Sixty years after Brown v. Board of Education,” the author maintains, “a new type of segregation is spreading across the urban landscape. The US Chamber of Commerce, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), Americans for Prosperity and their legislative allies are promoting an ambitious, two-pronged agenda for poor cities: replace public schools with privately run charter schools, and replace teachers with technology.”  The piece goes on to cite the examples of the all-charter district in New Orleans, Rocketship Education charter company and online courses to bolster its premise.
A survey of teachers in Tennessee has some more bad news for the Common Core.  The state was one of the first to work with the new standards and after 3 years of experience 56% of educators surveyed want to abandon them, 13% want to delay implementation and only 31% want to proceed.  A similar poll was done last year and serves as a useful comparison according to a story in The (Nashville) TENNESSEAN.
An item from the LA SCHOOL REPORT stated that the LAUSD school board has scheduled a special closed-door session for today at 4 p.m. to discuss the criteria of Supt. John Deasy’s performance review slated for Oct., 21.  “According to people familiar with the closed session agenda, board members will have the opportunity to discuss what they consider fair game for Deasy’s annual performance evaluation. Under no circumstances, said one of the sources, would a vote be held to determine Deasy’s employment.”
L.A. Times op-ed columnist Jim Newton looked at the rocky tenure of LAUSD Supt. John Deasy in an article in yesterday’s paper.  Newton lists some of the policy accomplishments of the embattled chief and enumerates several of his problems and character flaws.  “There’s a storm cloud gathering over Los Angeles politics these days,” Newton begins, “and the man at its center is schools Supt. John Deasy.  In office since 2010, Deasy has fenced with his bosses, the seven-member school board, almost from the get-go. Lately, however, the situation has deteriorated: United Teachers Los Angeles, the union that represents teachers in the L.A. Unified School District, has sharpened its critique of the superintendent, calling for him to be held ‘accountable’ in his upcoming evaluation.”                A group of political and business leaders sent a letter to the LAUSD board in support of Supt. Deasy as that body was preparing to review the parameters of the chief’s evaluation at today’s closed-do0r meeting.  Another letter taking the same position came from the leaders of several local organizations.  A story in today’s paper has all the latest developments.             Diane Ravitch couldn’t wait to weigh in on the soap opera that she calls “the endless saga of Dr. John Deasy” on her blog yesterday.   
THE Nation had another excerpt from Dana Goldstein’s new book The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession.  [Ed. note: The title is already a future ALOED book club selection for the spring of 2015].  This one describes the pivotal 1968 teacher strikes in New York City and its ramifications for education felt even today.  It’s an engrossing tale and will give you a head start on reading the book.
More harmful news about the LAUSD.  Mark Berndt, the now imprisoned focus of the Miramonte Elementary School lewd conduct scandal, was apparently reported to district officials for alleged sexual misconduct as early as 1983 according to a front-page story in Saturday’s L.A. Times.  The information was based on newly released documents that were made public in relation to an ongoing civil suit against the district. 
With droughts, floods, wildfires and more powerful hurricanes ravaging different parts of the planet, climate change is an existential issue facing the entire world’s population.  The United Nations addressed the issue last week just a day after the largest climate protest ever took place in New York City and in other places around the globe.  Many people are taking the issue seriously and are seeking solutions to reducing our fearful carbon footprint.  An interesting story in THINKPROGRESS is proposing a novel idea: installing solar panels on school rooftops in the U.S. could help generate a vast amount of electricity and reduce our dependency on Co2 generating fossil fuels.  “According to a new report,” the article maintains, “by the Energy Department and the Solar Foundation — the research arm of the Solar Energy Industries Association, a solar trade organization — if schools took advantage of their full potential for solar, they would add 5.4 gigawatts to the country’s solar capacity. That’s just over a third of the 16 gigawatts of total capacity America currently boasts. That would be enough to power roughly one million homes, and a carbon emissions reduction equivalent to taking around one million passenger vehicles off the road.”  If nothing else, the idea is certainly food for thought and think of the great science lesson about solar energy teachers could present.
Diane Ravitch reports on her blog that the National Urban League has been broadcasting ads in support of the Common Core.  She quotes a brief piece in Politico and adds that the organization has been accepting Gates Foundation money to the tune of more than $5 million in recent years. 
Valerie Strauss, in her “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post, turns her blog over to guest Andy Hargreaves, a Professor of  Education at Boston College and an advisor to the premier and Minister of Education in Ontario, Canada, who explains why trying to reform both the math and reading curricula at the same time is too big a job.  He cites examples from England and New York. His piece is titled “Why We Can’t Reform Literacy and Math All At Once.”
Who says the playing field is level for charters and public schools?  CAPITAL, a journal of local and state news in New York, reports that a charter organization is making an almost $500,000 media buy to run ads in the New York City area in conjunction with a pro-charter, anti-public school rally to be held on Thursday in the city.   Parents are being strongly urged to attend by the charter advocacy group Families for Excellent Schools.               Diane Ravitch had a brief riposte to the whole thing on her blog.  
An op-ed in Sunday’s L.A. Times makes the very valid point that just because a low socio-economic school does well on standardized test scores or ups its enrollment in AP classes that it has solved the problems that underlie why it is a low socio-economic school in the first place.   Those positive results don’t, by themselves, alleviate the poverty, hunger and homelessness of the students that must ultimately be addressed if the U.S. is going to make real progress as a society.  “The battle cry of the school reform movement,” the author complains,” that ‘poverty should never be an excuse for poor academic achievement,’ all too often masks the blithe conviction that good academic achievement can serve as an excuse for poverty.  As long as the test scores are at par, you see, we need not be overly concerned if the pantries are bare, the parents jobless or jailed, and the gap between rich and poor more appalling than it’s been since 1928.”               Today’s paper published 2 letters reacting to the op-ed in Sunday’s paper.  One of them was from Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus of education at USC.
The Glendale Unified School District named a 20-year veteran math teacher from Crescenta Valley High as its “Teacher of the Year.”  Win Saw is a native of Burma who moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was 11.  Both of his parents were teachers and he graduated from UC Santa Barbara according to a profile in the Glendale News-Press.
Valerie Strauss leads off an item on her blog in The Washington Post with this questions: “How much time will it take for students to complete some of the new Common Core standardized math and English Language Arts tests?”  Her answer is a simple “A lot.”  One of the two consortia developing assessments for the states, PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), has just provided guidelines for testing times.  Take a guess at the combined times they are suggesting for the math and ELA exams.  5 hours?  6 hours?  More/less?  Check out her piece for the breakdown by grade level.  Warning: you may be shocked!  She quotes from a middle school English teacher in Washington who translates the time needed for testing into the impact on instruction and how long the computers at his school will be tied up.  Strauss also mentions time allotments for the other consortium, SBAC (Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium), which California is using.                 A new Gallup-EDUCATION WEEK poll of 1,663 superintendents nationwide posed questions about their attitudes toward the Common Core and the related assessments.  64% of respondents believe districts should stick with their current testing consortium and 73% found the standards to be “just about right” for their students.  You can read about those results and others in a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  It includes a link to the full report (15 pages) titled “Understanding Perspectives on American Public Education–Survey 2”
SALON minces few words in a scathing expose of the $1 billion Apple/LAUSD iPad deal titled “Rotten to the Core.”  The article reviews some of the key developments in the story and points fingers at LAUSD administrators, Deasy and Aquino, and greedy tech companies waiting to gobble up billions of K-12 dollars that are there for the taking.  “But at the bottom of this rush to place technology in every classroom is the nagging feeling that the goal in buying expensive devices is not to improve teachers’ abilities,” it concludes, “or to lighten their load. It’s not to create more meaningful learning experiences for students or to lift them out of poverty or neglect. It’s to facilitate more test-making and profit-taking for private industry, and quick, too, before there’s nothing left.”
From our “charter schools scandal of the day” comes this piece in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  The L.A. County Board of Education has alerted the Wisdom Academy for Young Scientists in South L.A. that it is planning to revoke its charter for a series of problems that were revealed in an extensive audit.  “[It] details a litany of financial irregularities at the charter school,” the story points out, “which investigators described as rife with possible criminal fraud, conflicts of interest and misappropriation of public funds.”
Bill Gates appeared at an event sponsored by POLITICO on Monday and sang the praises of the Common Core and Arne Duncan.  You can read about his paeans of joy in an article in the publication which includes a video (1:51 minutes) of some of his comments.   Did he really compare students and education to railroad gauges and electrical plugs?                 Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, jumped all over some of the things Gates said.  He titled his piece “Gates at Politico.  Wrong.  So Wrong.”   In particular he took Gates to task for his similes about trains and outlets.           
The HECHINGER REPORT features a story about a group of teachers in New York who are learning how to integrate blended learning into their classrooms and how to know “when to turn technology on, and when to turn it off.”  Not sure what “blended learning” (also known as individualized learning) is?  The item has a good description of the technique.
Thanks to reader Randy Traweek who sent two “juicy items” (his words) from The New York Times.  The first is about the trial that commenced yesterday regarding a massive cheating scandal on standardized tests in Atlanta.  12 teachers and administrators are charged with various crimes and the case is expected to take up to 3 months.  “As the trial began,” it notes, “a national education group that is critical of what it sees as an over-reliance on standardized testing released a study it said showed that the issues at play in the Atlanta trial were common across the country. The organization, the National Center for Fair And Open Testing, or Fair Test, said cases of manipulating scores in standardized tests have been confirmed in at least 39 states and Washington, D.C.”               The second article raises some serious questions about those rising graduation rates often touted by districts and states around the country.  The reporter on this story travels to Texas and takes an in-depth look at what is behind the numbers there and by extension, in other areas of the nation .  “But the state’s headway with graduation rates has not been matched by similar success in measures that track students’ college and career readiness,” the author maintains, “prompting questions about what it takes to earn a high school diploma.”
California Gov. Jerry Brown yesterday signed into law one of strongest student data privacy protection measures in the country.  “Protecting student data has become an increasingly contentious issue in recent months,” the article notes, “with parents and activists expressing growing concern about the nature and volume of digital data on children that schools now share with third-party vendors.”  EDUCATION WEEK has the details of this “landmark” legislation.
The new A.P. U.S. History curriculum has caused a kerfuffle among some critics in Texas, Colorado and South Carolina who claim it’s un-American, too negative, leaves out some key figures and too closely tied to the Common Core.  The HECHINGER REPORT has an excellent primer on the new APUSH course, what’s in it, how it was developed and all the sturm und drang surrounding it.
And finally, a positive, feel-good story about the LAUSD.  Sandy Banks’ column in today’s L.A. Times describes a now 14-year-old girl who was shuffled through the foster care system to the point that she’d attended 15 schools by the age of 12 and had been designated special ed.  Now, with a more stable home life and heavy support from a number of teachers and staff at Hale Middle School (an LAUSD charter in Woodland Hills), the student is enrolled in several honors classes.  This is truly an uplifting story that will make your week.  The column is headlined “A Success Story For Student and L.A. Unified.”
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the blog.