Ed News, Tuesday, October 21, 2014 Edition


“Education is the movement from darkness to light.”
Allan Bloom
Saturday’s L.A. Times had 4 more items about LAUSD Supt. John Deasy stepping down.  The first possibly confirmed a suspicion the “Ed News” raised in its previous issue regarding the school board’s decision not to make an internal report public regarding the bidding process surrounding the purchases of iPads for all as a quid pro quo for the resignation of Deasy.  The board cited confidential information contained in the report as the reason it decided to keep the findings private.  Sounds a little suspicious, no?  The article contains some of the provisions of the separation agreement reached between Deasy and the board and reports on some of the reasons why he believes he was let go.   It also believes that, at this time, he will most likely be cleared of any misconduct.              Times editorial board member Karin Klein had an opinion piece decrying the quashing of the report and demanding that Deasy’s role be made public.   “Will the public eventually find out the truth,” she asked, “regarding the question-raising emails between John Deasy and the two companies that won the contract to provide iPads to students in the Los Angeles Unified School District? The terms of the separation agreement and the blithe, happy-talk announcement from the board make that look less likely than ever. That would be a completely unacceptable outcome.”         Third is the Sandy Banks column.  She profiles what she believes to be his accomplishments and chronicles his shortcomings.  Regarding the latter, she writes: “He pushed too hard, bristled at criticism, didn’t know how to build consensus. He plowed ahead because he thought he knew better than everyone else.”               The fourth item was the “Numbers and Letters” feature that runs every Saturday.  “534 printable letters to the editor were received between last Friday and this Friday.”  The number 1 topic with 86 was ebola.  Runner-up with 44 was the upcoming mid-term election.  “37 readers reacted to John Deasy’s resignation from the L.A. Unified School District,” which made that topic the third most discussed.               Valerie Strauss weighs in on the Deasy story on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post.  She suggests all the twists and turns in the tale would make an excellent movie (this being Hollywood and all) but that nobody would ever believe some of the plot lines which she’s glad to lay out.
As childhood obesity continues to increase in the U.S., elementary schools continue to cut back on the amount of time they devote to recess and physical activity.  That’s the topic explored by the author of an op-ed from the Seattle Times.   He utilizes facts and figures from that city but the same trend can easily be observed among most states and school districts.  “Unfortunately,” he notes, “Seattle is following a national trend in reducing recess time in primary grades as school districts obsess about raising test scores. This obsession is driven by the federal education policy of the No Child Left Behind Act and the Race to the Top Fund.”
Why do so many charter schools spend so much time and, often, money tooting their own horns?  Public schools don’t exhibit this type of behavior which is another reason why it’s often unfair to even attempt to compare the two.  Jersey Jazzman call this “charter cheerleading” which he distinguishes from charter school advocacy.  He describes the former as “an insufferably smug form of braggadocio, lacking in any sort of reasoned consideration of the facts. Charter cheerleaders suffer from delusions of grandeur, fully confident in their own good will while casually questioning the motives of others who may disagree with them.”
Peter Greene, on his always entertaining and enlightening CURMUDGUCATION blog, take s(a long) time to explain why he thinks things like “merit pay” and “performance incentives” don’t work with public sector employees like teachers.  He begins by demonstrating why firefighters are not given merit pay.
“100-Year-Old Math Teacher Still Going Strong at Brooklyn Elementary School.”  Yes, you read that right.  100 years old!  DNAinfoNewYork profiles Madeline Scotto who didn’t begin her career in the classroom until she was 40 but who has been teaching up a storm for the past 60 years at the same school that she graduated from in 1928.  She celebrated her 100th birthday on Thursday.  You have to check out the two short videos (37 seconds and 58 seconds) featuring Scotto whose ” tips for a long life are simple: Eat well, stay active, be frugal, don’t worry too much.”
There is an organization in New York City called “Families for Excellent Schools” that is a strong supporter of charters.  You’d think this might be some grassroots group that encourages individuals and families to donate small amounts of money to fight for charters.  You’d be right if the “families” were named Broad or Walton.  Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” for deutsch29 did some sleuthing and was able to dig up some of the big foundations and pro-charter organizations that have provided much more than small donations to the group.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan penned an opinion piece in The Washington Post in which he, rather astonishingly, urged a cutback on the use of standardized tests.  This from the same person who pushed Pres. Obama’s Race to The Top that doubled down on the previous administration’s No Child Left Behind when it came to the scope of testing.  He further suggests a thorough reexamination of how assessment results are being used.  “The standardized tests my kids take are one gauge on the dashboard,” Duncan writes, “but parents and educators know that tests are not the only indicator.”  He really wrote that.  Honest!              Two officials from the BATS (Badass Teachers Association) had a quick response to Sec. Duncan’s column.  They have the temerity to mention that he is partially responsible for many of the things he doesn’t like about the glut of assessments.   “Arne Duncan fails to recognize a few important factors in his piece,” they opine.  “He fails to acknowledge his role, in conjunction with the Department of Education, for paving the way for states to become test taking laboratories that are experimenting on children and teachers.”               The author of this piece from the CRUNCHY MOMS blog is a high school English teacher in Maine who is currently on hiatus while taking care of her two young children.  She lists some “positives” regarding standardized tests but still finds them to be burdensome and a terrible waste of valuable time, effort and resources.
The “Ed News” publicized the Network for Public Education’s “Public Education Nation” event held Saturday, Oct. 11, in New York.  The LIVING in DIALOGUE blog has an extensive report on one of the sessions titled “Charter Schools: An Experiment Gone Awry” written by one of the panel members.   It includes a link to the video of the full panel discussion (50:01 minutes).               Sarah Jaffe, writing at truthout, reviews the conference and sees it as the part of the continuing resurgence of public education.  She quotes many of the comments that she heard during the course of the event about how different groups need to coalesce around a common theme and some specific ideas about how to forge ahead.
A professor at Michigan State describes his conversation with two recruiters for Teach for America after he announced they would not be allowed to address his classes.  His experiences are reprinted in Valerie Stauss’ column.
Sunday’s L.A. Times had a prominent front-page article reviewing John Deasy’s stormy 3 1/2 year term as superintendent of the LAUSD and provided some more juicy behind the scenes details about how he was convinced to resign.
The HECHINGER REPORT highlights a surprising new study that finds 1-in-4 low-income urban high schools are actually doing a better job of sending their graduates to a 2- or 4-year college or university than their high-income counterparts.  The second annual study comes from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center and you can find a link to the full report (137 pages) titled “High School Benchmarks, 2014” by clicking here.  “This data speaks to both sides of the debate on education reform,” the author of the story points out.  “Those who say that income determines educational outcomes argue that you can’t reasonably ask schools to overcome a student’s family background. And they can point to the data here which show that students who attend higher income city high schools, on average, are 37 percent more likely to go straight to college than a student from a low income high school. Indeed, the fact that 75 percent of the high-income schools have more students going to college than 75 percent of the low-income schools is great evidence for those who say that income matters.”
Teaching can be a fairly solitary profession.  It pretty much boils down to a single classroom with an educator and a group of students.  Valerie Strauss turns her blog over to 2 professors from the University of Pittsburgh who argue that what really holds a school and the profession together are the relationships between teachers and between teachers and administrators.  The authors  refer to this as “social capital”  and they provide some interesting research to bolster their point.
Much of the focus of education these days seems to be on getting students “college and career ready.”  What ever happened to the critical component of preparing them to participate in our democratic system as informed, caring and involved citizens?  That’s the key question addressed by Joseph Kahne, a professor of education at Mills College, who is a guest commentator on Valerie Strauss’ blog.  “We need to make civic education a priority,” he succinctly concludes.  “It’s not student apathy that threatens democracy. It’s our own.” 

The “Ed News” previously highlighted information regarding steep drops in the number of students enrolling in teacher preparation programs in California.  EDUCATION WEEK reports that a new study finds that phenomenon pretty much occurring nationwide with the Golden State one of the most heavily impacted.  “Massive changes to the profession,” the article relates, “coupled with budget woes, appear to be shaking the image of teaching as a stable, engaging career. Nationwide, enrollments in university teacher-preparation programs have fallen by about 10 percent from 2004 to 2012, according to federal estimates from the U.S. Department of Education’s postsecondary data collection.”  Be sure to click on the sidebar infographic “Teacher-Prep Enrollment Trends by State” to see figures for 5 key states including California.

The L.A. Times took Monday off from reporting on the John Deasy story but today’s paper has 3 items related to it.  The first is a front-page article that describes how other big-city school superintendents have also faced rough sledding as they attempted to implement controversial corporate reforms.  It details, in particular, the battles Deasy fought with the teachers union and community activists over issues like teacher evaluations, expanded school choice and technology related problems with the iPads for all program and the bungled rollout of a new student information system.  “Top leaders,” the piece relates, “in some of the largest districts — in Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Washington, D.C., Texas and elsewhere — have come under tremendous pressure: some lost their jobs, one faced a massive teachers strike, and lawsuits have been filed against them, among other things.”               The second item is a profile of Ramon Cortines’ third return to the head job at LAUSD which began, officially, yesterday.  This story details what his first day was like and outlines some of the plans he has going forward.  “There’s a sense of urgency,” said Cortines at the end of the day. “The last three and a half years there’s been progress in the district, but we have some major challenges that together we have to address.”               The last thing in today’s paper is 4 letters reacting to the story in Sunday’s Times about Deasy’s actions during his 3 1/2 year tenure.  Only one of them supported the ousted superintendent.               If John Deasy and other big-city school superintendents are facing stiff opposition to their reforms the situation in New York City appears to be quite different.  Since school Chancellor Carmen Farina was appointed by new Mayor Bill de Blasio 10 months ago, the outlook in New York has changed significantly from the administration of previous mayor Michael Bloomberg.  EDUCATION WEEK describes the striking contrasts between various districts around the country.  “Supporters say that the chancellor, a former teacher, principal, and deputy chancellor in the 1.1 million-student district,” it claims, “has set a new tone for the New York City school system in which parents are seen as assets and morale among teachers is on the rise after years of acrimonious relations between Mr. Bloomberg and the United Federation of Teachers. The city and the union agreed to a new teachers’ contract earlier this year.”
Diane Ravitch has been featuring an anonymous poet on her blog who goes by the title “Some DAM Poet–Devalue Added Model.”  He/she has penned an ode to the Imagine Charter company in Ohio which has been facing some serious brushes with the law lately.  The verse is called “Imagine” (with sincere apologies to John Lennon) and it’s certainly applicable to a few other charters.  If you know Lennon’s tune you are certainly encouraged to sing along.
And finally, a veteran educator who has been working to improve literacy at underperforming schools around the country asks “What Reflects a Great School?  Not Test Scores.”  She suggests that increases in standardized assessment results are not a valid measure of what’s being learned and offers several other characteristics to look for if one want to measure authentic achievement.  “Enduring achievement gains require not only applying content and concepts worth knowing,” she writes in her commentary for EDUCATION WEEK, “but also ensuring that learning is occurring in a healthy, thriving culture as well. School leaders—including principals, teachers, and district superintendents—are the key players in creating such an environment. In fact, the quality of a school’s culture is a prime indicator in determining whether all learners will experience success.”
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 

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