Ed News, Friday, October 24, 2014 Edition


“Truth persuades by teaching, but does not teach by persuading.” 
― Tertullian
The author of this item is the Executive Director of the Annenberg Institute for School Reform at Brown University.  He proposes a series of concrete ideas that are included in a report published by his organization for making charter schools more transparent and accountable.   You can find the full report (16 pages) titled “Public Accountability for Charter Schools–Standards and Policy Recommendations for Effective Oversight” by clicking here.               Peter Greene over on CURMUDGUCATION has developed a set of four requirements for determining if a charter school truly qualifies as a public school.  Many charters love to claim they are part of the public school system but a good number of them certainly don’t play by the same rules.  What do you think of Greene’s “test?”               Keeping to the theme of charter school accountability, Wendy Lecker, a columnist and senior attorney at the Education Law Center, writing for the Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate believes it’s time to reassess the whole idea of charters given all the reports of “fraud and mismanagement” that are seemingly a daily occurrence regarding them.  “Recall the original promises,” she points out, “made by charter proponents: that they would benefit all public schools — showing public schools the way by using ‘innovative’ methods to deliver a better education to struggling students in an efficient, less expensive manner.  None of those promises have been kept.”  Interestingly, she believes the proposals contained in the Annenberg Institute’s report (see above) are a “good starting point” for attempting to clean up charter’s act.
EDUCATION WEEK reports on a new short documentary film titled “Crenshaw” about the South L.A. high school that underwent a reconstitution under the direction of then LAUSD Supt. John Deasy and how the community attempted to fight the change.  To find out more about the film and to view the official trailer (1:19 minutes) click here.
A previous edition of the “Ed News” raised the question of why so much money from outside philanthropists, hedge fund managers and businesspeople was being poured into seemingly mundane local school board races.  The answer, so that those groups could gain control of the committees and push their charter, privatization, voucher, and school choice agendas.  Need a case in point?  Chalkbeat Indiana calls out a number of such groups that are taking a very big (financial) interest in just such a school board election in Indianapolis.
EdSource is highlighting a new report that urges that the overemphasis on standardized testing needs to be rethought.  “With a nod to California,” the story begins, “a new report suggests overhauling how school and student success is measured in the United States.  The report, by the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education and the National Center for Innovation in Education at the University of Kentucky, recommends alternatives to annual standardized tests. It says there should be far more emphasis on ongoing assessments of students as part of regular classroom instruction.”  The article includes a link to the full report (45 pages) titled “Accountability for College and Career Readiness–Developing a New Paradigm” which is, by the way, co-authored by Linda Darling-Hammond, the director of the Stanford program.
Linda Darling-Hammond
American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten takes over the pages of EDUCATION WEEK to offer a commentary titled “Four Solutions to Public School Problems.”  “Public education is one of the only highways to opportunity for many kids,” she maintains.  “Yet, its promise is not always realized, particularly for those who have the least.”  Before reading the piece, what 4 things do you think she might propose?  After reading it, how close were you to what she wrote?
CURMUDGUCATION blogger Peter Greene wonders if Teach for America is a good way to train long-term teachers or is it just a steppingstone for candidates to get good jobs in the tech industry.  He refers to an article in a business magazine that touts that TFA is certainly the latter.  “I often discuss TFA,” Greene notes, “as if it is dismissive of teaching as a profession, that it belittles the whole idea of teaching. But this is actually worse, because teaching isn’t even on the radar in this article. It’s just one more life experience for a college grad who’s just passing through, unable to see the children for all the visions of Googlebucks.”
The LAUSD’s teachers union UTLA was the target of some critical comments by L.A. Times columnist Steve Lopez on Wednesday.  Lopez believes the organization could be a little more flexible in its stance on a number of issues.  He describes a situation that took place at a parents’ back-to-school night at Thomas Starr King Middle School to buttress his point.  Lopez titles his piece “Is the L.A. Teachers Union Tone Deaf?”
Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, reprints 25 “great tips for teachers on how to manage a classroom” that came from the edutopia website.  They are meant for both new and veteran educators.  Even it you think you know everything about classroom control and behavior you may want to check this list out.  
Teachers’ unions at the state and local levels are heavily involved in financially supporting selected candidates in both political and school related races.  So says an article from EDUCATION WEEK.  “Deep-pocketed teachers’ unions,” it begins, “hoping to affect education policy at the state and local levels, are expecting to pour more money into those campaigns in the 2014 midterm elections than ever before.”  The piece proceeds to profile a number of specific contests being targeted by the NEA and AFT including a mention of the race for California Superintendent of Pubic Instruction.  
U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan was in town briefly on Tuesday and he had words of praise for both John Deasy and his successor Ramon Cortines according to a story in the following day’s L.A. Times.  “‘In a short amount of time, John Deasy did a fantastic job of accelerating the rate of student learning,’ said Duncan, who noted that others, including teachers, share the credit,” the article stated.
The Common Core and related standardized assessments really only test what students are learning academically.  What about those qualities that schools also inculcate into students regarding character and things like honesty, integrity, fairness and all the others.  Don’t those matter any more or are we just interested in test scores on math and English?  “Non-cognitive skills and character competencies have as much of an effect on success as academic skill, researchers from the Center on Children and Families at the Brookings Institution” concluded in a recent study.  Those conclusions are highlighted in a story from EDUCATION WEEK.  You can find the full report (35 pages) titled “The Character Factor: Measures and Impact of Drive and Prudence” here.  [Ed. aside:  How many of you remember Michael Josephson’s “Character Counts” program?  Wow, that’s a lot!  Thanks, you can put your hands down.]

Ebola has been a major topic of conversation and, for some, worry, as of late.  How might it impact schools and are districts doing anything about it?  EDUCATION WEEK tackles that timely topic and offers some words of caution and descriptions of how several schools are handling the situation.  “Even as worries about Ebola have prompted school closings and other K-12 precautions in recent weeks,” it begins, “medical experts are advising school officials to take a measured approach in response to the handful of U.S. cases of the virus.”
New LAUSD superintendent Ramon Cortines (he’s officially NOT an “interim”) is already raising questions about some of the more controversial policies of his predecessor John Deasy.  In an interview with the L.A. Times, that was published in print yesterday, Cortines believes using bond money to pay for the iPad-for-all program and the curriculum to go along with it are an improper use of taxpayer funds.  The article goes into some detail about the intricacies of what bond money can be used for and how Deasy attempted to justify its use.  Cortines was quite blunt: “I don’t believe the curriculum should be paid for with bond funds, period.”
EDUCATION WEEK has a good profile of the two candidates vying for the job of California State Superintendent of Public Instruction, challenger Marshall Tuck and incumbent Tom Torlakson.  Even though both are Democrats it outlines their rather stark policy differences on a number of issues.  The two “represent divisions within the Democratic Party,” the article points out, “over the right labor protections for teachers, the political power of teachers’ unions, and the proper relationship between more money for schools and certain forms of accountability.”
What is the role of a liberal arts education in today’s world?  Is it still appropriate in the 21st century’s global economy?Those are particularly critical questions for schools like Occidental who have built their reputation on providing a strong liberal arts foundation for their students.  The issue is discussed in a commentary written by the president of the University of Redlands in The HECHINGER REPORT.  “The liberal arts are not and have never been stodgy;” he maintains, “they evolve to meet the needs of a contemporary and future society. A revitalization of the liberal arts means creating a more relevant educational experience for students and employers alike.”  The author uses examples of some of the things taking place on his own campus to bolster his point. 
The Ocean View School District in Orange County got some good news regarding the discovery of asbestos at several campuses.  Tests at all schools in the district found that most of them had only “insignificant” amounts that were well within safe levels.  However, 3 campuses will remain closed for up to 2 months in order to remove more elevated levels according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.
Valerie Strauss continues her ongoing series of articles featuring a New Hampshire high school senior and the process she’s going through to find  the right college or university to attend in the fall.  A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the first one but we seem to have missed number 2.  Strauss includes links to the first 2 stories if you’d like to catch up.
Jeff Bryant, at the Education Opportunity NETWORK, continues to look at the issue of education and how it could be a winning one for Democrats in the mid-term elections that are now a scant 11 days away.  “When evidence emerged a month ago that education is the top ‘turnout message’ for the Democratic Party in the upcoming election,” he begins, “some candidates may have chosen to act on that information.  Indeed, Democratic-leaning activists have stepped up their ground game to make support for public education a wedge issue in campaigns around the country. And the fate of some Democratic candidates could rely on how they play an education card in their contests.”  Bryant proceeds to survey a number of contests where the issue of education is now in play.
EDUCATION WEEK is hosting a free online webinar titled “How Much Digital Literacy Do Students Need?” this Thursday from 11 am to noon PT.  For more information and to register (required) click here.
Forbes takes a detailed look at the Common Core and wonders if they are developmentally appropriate and really worth all the effort and cost.  What have some of the experts had to say about the standards?  “Child development experts and early childhood educators,” the author maintains, “believe that there is actually quite a lot to lose. The issue is not at all ideological, they say – it’s partly pedagogical, and partly psychological. According to experts, a poorly conceived set of standards has the potential to be, at best, fruitless and, at worst, detrimental to the youngest kids who are on the frontline of the Common Core. In the long run, the argument goes, it might be associated with a lot more cost than benefit.”  Diane Ravitch wrote this about the story: “This is an excellent article, not only because the author interviewed experts in child development and approached the subject with balance, but because it was published in Forbes and will reach people in the business world who need to hear these informed views.”
How many states are still strongly against charters?  (A) None (B) 8 (C) 11 (D) 15?  If you guessed “B” you are correct!  Can you name any or all of them?  Alabama, Kentucky, Nebraska, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Vermont and West Virginia.  What do most of them have in common? Heavily Republican, highly rural and mostly against ideas regarding  school choice like vouchers.  EDUCATION WEEK suggests that the upcoming midterm elections could bring changes in the resistance to charters in at least the first 3 states on the list.  “The eight states that have staunchly resisted charter laws,” it begins, “could shrink in number after midterm elections next month. That, combined with forceful advocacy efforts, could help push the holdouts toward embracing the publicly funded, independently operated schools.” 
And finally, comes this heartwarming story, courtesy of Randy Traweek, about a poor Rwandan orphan who, aided by an American charity worker, enrolled at Harvard in the fall.  The young man’s amazing odyssey is recounted in a story in The New York Times.  It’s titled “From a Rwandan Dump to the Halls of Harvard.”  They don’t get any better than this!
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 

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