Ed News, Tuesday, October 7, 2014 Edition

The ED NEWS

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.
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