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. 

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