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) 

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