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.

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