Ed News, Friday, October 17, 2014 Edition

The ED NEWS

 “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:
 
CAPITAL & MAIN Desert TrailsCOLOR
 
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) 
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