Ed News, Tuesday, October 28, 2014 Edition

The ED NEWS

“Promote, then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge.
In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened.”
― George WashingtonGeorge Washington’s Farewell Address
TIME magazine provoked a firestorm of criticism over its latest cover (Nov. 3) titled “Rotten Apples, It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire A Bad Teacher, Some Tech Millionaires May Have Found A Way to Change That.”  Interestingly, the story inside was a little more fair and balanced as it detailed the issues surrounding the Vergara case in California and the wealthy Silicon Valley entrepreneur behind it.  The story also raised some legitimate questions about testing and value-added models (VAM).                 Diane Ravitch promptly lambasted the publication for the cover.  A number of other commentators were also highly critical of  its title but had less of a problem with the story.  Ravitch printed a response from AFT President Randi Weingarten who has started a petition drive to complain to TIME.  It includes a link if you wish to sign it.                            Peter Greene, the “grumpy old teacher” who blogs at CURMUDGUCATION, found the piece to be “close to balanced reporting of the story” but he concluded “it’s only part of the picture.”  [Ed. note: Greene wrote this column prior to seeing the cover.]                 One reader of Diane Ravitch’scolumn took particular umbrage with the author of the piece, Haley Sweetland Edwards.  He/she found Edwards to have written a previous article that contained some factually challenged material.               Valerie Strauss in her blog for The Washington Post titled her piece “A Time Magazine Cover Enrages Teachers–Again.”  It includes a picture of the current cover and one that featured Michelle Rhee from Dec., 2008.               Common Dreams titled its piece “TIME Magazine Criticized for ‘Malicious’ Anti-Teacher Cover.”               Jersey Jazzman in part 1 of a series of posts about the story insists “It’s NOT Hard to Fire A Teacher” and he goes on to explain why.  Be sure to check out the Ted Rall cartoon at the end of his blog.               TIME decided to print some responses on its website to the controversial cover and story.  One was from AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten.  Another came from new NEA Pres. Lily Eskelsen Garcia.  At the bottom of each of them are links to other people who wrote in including a member of Congress, a student, a teacher, a parent and members of various education groups.
 
 
 
Moving on to more “mundane” matters, Saturday’s L.A. Times had a front-page story chronicling how the race for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction is garnering unusual national attention.  “The race to be California’s schools chief is typically sleepy: Incumbents have little power but usually waltz to reelection,” it begins.  “This year’s contest, however, is one of the tightest and costliest on the statewide ballot, the reflection of an emerging fault line in the Democratic Party over education policy.  Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson is in the fight of his life against upstart challenger and fellow Democrat Marshall Tuck.  The battle has drawn national attention, along with millions of dollars from traditionalist teachers unions on one side and from those who want to wholly overhaul the way schools are run on the other.  The result could reverberate far beyond California.”               Curious to see who is supporting Marshall Tuck with some late infusions of campaign cash?  California Secretary of State Debra Bowen’s website has a list of names and amounts donated over just the past 3 weeks.  Can you spot Michael Bloomberg, Eli Broad and Alice Walton (of Walmart fame)?             Here’s a similar list from the same website for Tom Torlakson.  Recognize any of those names?               Diane Ravitch had a short reaction on her blog to the Tuck list.                As noted in the articles above a lot of money has been earmarked for the race for the California schools chief.  EdSource has developed an app that provides specific information about where the money is coming from and how it’s being spent.  An article explaining the app has some general data on the finances involved in the campaign.
 
A lawsuit was filed earlier this month in Kern County that charges students of color in the Kern High School District were expelled from area  schools at disproportionately higher rates than non-minority students and placed in alternative educational programs of inferior quality.  The story appears on The Center for Public Integrity website.  “Kern County, in the Golden State’s Central Valley,” it pointed out, “had the highest rate of student expulsion in California, not just on a per capita basis, but actually numerically higher than populous Los Angeles County.  In 2013, the Center and KQED radio reported that Kern County kids, among them Hispanic children of farmworkers, were removed from regular school for minor reasons and placed in alternative schools so far from home — as much as 40 miles away — that many kids dropped out or were told to perform independent study at home.”
 
Would it be an obvious conflict-of-interest for a public school board member to have extensive investments in local charter schools?  If so, what should the offending party do about it?  The Buffalo (New York) News reports on just such a situation.  Seems a member of the city school board, developer Carl Paladino, is heavily involved financially in 6 local charter schools and sees nothing wrong it that.  “If I didn’t [invest in the charters], I’d be a frigging idiot,” he’s quoted in the article as saying.  Paladino became a member of the public school board over a year ago but his elevation to that position has raised questions from the start.
 
The school board in Nashville voted to terminate 4 teachers based on back-to-back poor ratings on the state’s new evaluation system which is based, in part, on student test scores and controversial value-added results.  “If we have bad teachers in the classroom, I fully agree that we need to get them out of the classroom,” said board member Amy Frogge, who voted against certifying the termination of each of the  teachers. “The problem is, I’m not sure we’re using a fair measure to do that.”  She was quoted in the article from The (Nashville) Tennessean.
 
The author of this commentary from the Athens (Georgia) Banner-Herald argues why it’s “Time to Rise Up Against Student Testing Regimen.”  “All the tests we administer,” she writes, “can’t predict a child’s future. The tests don’t measure real learning. They measure test-taking ability.”               A number of school superintendents in Northeast Ohio districts are reacting adversely to the number of standardized tests and the amount of time they take from instruction.  A story from the Cleveland Plain Dealer website reports that students in most grades will be subject to double the number of hours of testing under the new Common Core-aligned assessments.
 
From the “charter school scandal of the day:”  The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that the Broward County School Board voted to close two local charter schools for poor academics and financial mismanagement.  The two campuses, located in Ft. Lauderdale, were given 90-day termination notices.  The piece includes a short video (1:20 minutes) about the closures.
 
More and more school districts around the country are getting a little squeamish about rolling out the new Common Core aligned assessments.  The head of the Chicago Public Schools, Barbara Byrd-Bennett is the latest to add her voice to a growing chorus of leaders requesting delays.  The Chicago Tribune provides the details.  Byrd-Bennett’s “request comes amid rising concerns over new tests based on more rigorous Common Core standards,” the article explains.  “Critics have questioned the cost of the new exams, the quantity and time involved in testing, and the loss of local power over standards and testing.”
 
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the UC Irvine school of law has a commentary in the New York Daily News titled “Teacher Tenure: Wrong Target” in which he explains that things like job protections for teachers actually help to bring more competent people into the profession.  “The problem of inner-city schools is not that the dedicated teachers who work in them have too many rights,” he argues, “but that the students who go to them are disadvantaged in many ways, the schools have inadequate resources and the schools are surrounded by communities that are dangerous, lack essential services and are largely segregated both by race and class.”
 
From our “if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again” file comes this article from Saturday’s L.A. Times about LAUSD’s renewed decision to allow students to take their “iPads-for-all” devices home in the very near future.  District officials believe they have dealt with security issues and problems that cropped up regarding accountability it the tablets are lost or stolen.  As that other old adage goes: “Only time will tell.”  
 
Laura H. Chapman is quoted on Diane Ravtich’s blog writing about why education is NOT like a business.  Chapman, who lives in Cincinnati, uses the example of home town company Proctor & Gamble to make her point.  
 
Saturday’s L.A. Times has a regular feature titled “Numbers and Letters” which includes an always interesting breakdown of the letters-to-the-editor by the topic.  “587 usable letters to the editor were received from readers between last Friday and this Friday.  69” were on the “most-discussed topic” of ebola.  The runner-up topic, with 57 missives, dealt with the election in November and “50 letters weighed in on issues involving the L.A. Unified School District, the third-most discussed topic.”  From the Times’ “Mailbag” feature came 3 letters reacting to the resignation of John Deasy as superintendent of LAUSD and a comment about the notes from the paper’s letters editor.
 
Anthony Cody’s LIVING in DIALOGUE presents another of the lively panels from the Network for Public Education’s “Public Education Nation” conference in New York on Oct. 11.  The topic of this one is “Testing and the Common Core” and was moderated by award-winning principal and prolific blogger (often on Valerie Strauss’ column) Carol Burris.  It includes a link to the video (46:59 minutes) of the presentation.  The article is written by one of the featured panelists.               An item in the Long Island Press had an excellent overview of the conference with a review of some of the main speakers and summaries of the panel discussions.  “Booming voices carried over the raucous crowd,” it describes, “that packed a Brooklyn public school’s auditorium earlier this month for a wide-ranging discussion about the country’s public education system. At times, the passionate audience got so caught up in the spirit of the message that they felt compelled to yell right back.”
 
The KIPP Charter School group, one of the largest in the U.S., has unveiled an ambitious expansion plan in Los Angeles.  It hopes to more than double its enrollment to 9,000 students on 20 campuses by the end of 2020.  The story from yesterday’s L.A. Times details the effort.
 
When the School Reform Commission in Philadelphia arbitrarily terminated the teachers contract a couple of weeks ago, a story covered by the “Ed News,” the action set off an avalanche of criticism from a number of sources.  Some of those referred to the action as the “nuclear option” as it will force the teachers in the financially-challenged Philadelphia Public Schools to begin contributing to their health benefits.  That kind of decision is usually part of the negotiating process with the union but by cancelling the contract the SRC unilaterally denied teachers their hard-won collective bargaining rights.  EDUCATION WEEK provides the details.  “Observers across the political spectrum,” it notes, “view the action as the latest salvo in an ongoing national battle over the collective bargaining rights of public-sector workers. In recent years, teachers and other public employees from Louisiana to Wisconsin have found themselves on the defensive as management has sought to roll back benefits and job protections.”
 
Texas has been one of the most heavily committed states when it comes to standardized testing.  Remember, it’s the home of George W. Bush of No Child Left Behind fame.  Unfortunately, the latest test results show that almost every district in the state if failing to make gains. A special report from the Dallas Morning News describes what’s going on and raises some serious questions about whether Texas students are not learning or if the tests are not measuring accurately what kids know.               Students in Colorado are having similar difficulties based on recently released results from the state’s new science and social studies assessments.  The Denver Post has the details.
 
People were surprised when U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan began to backtrack on the growing testing regimen surrounding the Common Core, particularly after he’d been a major booster of the standards and the accompanying assessments.  Where had this apparent shift in policy come from?  Some knowledgeable sources are saying it originated in the White House!  Yes, Pres. Obama may be reassessing his position on standardized testing and that may be causing some uncomfortable moments for his Education Secretary and close friend.  EDUCATION WEEK has some interesting observations on this rapidly developing story and offers some reasons for the change of heart on testing.
 
An extended editorial in today’s L.A. Times urges the LAUSD board to take advantage of the search for a new superintendent to clean up its own dysfunctional act.  The piece offers several common goals that the new leader and board members need to work together to achieve.  “With John Deasy no longer in charge at the Los Angeles Unified School District,” it begins, “the school board needs a new superintendent who shares his passion for improving the lives of children in poverty, but not his adversarial approach or his refusal to listen to critics.  Even if the board finds such a person, however, that alone won’t clear the poisonous atmosphere or do away with the rancorous politics that regularly slow progress at L.A. Unified.”
 
In light of the deadly Friday shooting at a high school in Washington State, the question is once again being raised regarding teachers carrying guns.  A commentary in EDUCATION WEEK by a legal gun owner and principal of a junior high in New York is titled “No, Teachers Should Not Carry Guns.”  He offers a number of well thought-out reasons for his position.  “I do not have enough faith in our citizenry—regardless of their comfort level with handling guns—to believe that everyone would have and/or use the proper judgment in the many uncomfortable and sometimes intimidating, even threatening interactions that can and do present themselves in the school yard or building,” he opines.  “And, referring again to last week’s school shooting in Marysville, Wash., the shooter reportedly was confronted by an unarmed teacher, who is being considered a hero for her actions.”  This picture, accompanying the piece, is a little unsettling and doesn’t offer much solace:
 
 
With the recent roll out of the LAUSD’s new computerized student information system such a fiasco, officials have ordered a complete review of all of the nearly 38,000 high school seniors’ transcripts to make sure they are still on track to graduate and to meet college entrance requirements.  Temporary staff is being hired and additional funds earmarked for the recheck according to an article in today’s L.A. Times.
 
And finally, a little levity.  BuzzFeed has a short video (2:09 minutes) titled “If Teachers Were Treated Like Football Stars.’  You don’t even need to be a sports fan to get a chuckle out of it.  Enjoy! 
 
 

Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
 That’s me working diligently on the blog.
 
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