Ed News, Friday, Oct. 31, 2014 Edition


Happy Halloween!
Tuesday is Election Day.  Be sure to VOTE!
“An English writer telephoned me from London, asking questions.
One was, ‘What’s your alma mater?’ I told him, ‘Books.”
Malcolm X
And now to the news.
Everyone seems to be constantly searching for the Holy Grail that will close the achievement gap.  The latest focus has been on the Common Core, testing and charter schools.  Iris C. Rotberg, Research Professor of Education Policy at George Washington University claims those supposed “silver bullets” are nothing but blanks.  Her thesis about all of this appears on the Teachers College Record website. “The controversy over the Common Core,” she begins, “is the most recent diversion from addressing the basic problems that contribute to the achievement gap between low- and high-income students. In the past decade, the focus has been on charter schools and testing. An enormous amount of time has been spent on promoting, implementing, and debating these initiatives in the hope that they would somehow narrow the achievement gap, even while poverty persisted and income and wealth gaps increased. These policies,” Rotberg continues, “which began with high—perhaps, more accurately, unrealistic—expectations, turned out to be irrelevant to narrowing the gap and, in some cases, reduced rather than expanded opportunities for low-income students.”
A previous edition of the “Ed News” focused on the new book by Anthony Cody titled The Educator and the Oligarch.  John Thompson, historian and inner-city teacher, reviews it and wonders if Bill Gates will read it.  The piece, from the Huffington Post, also has an interesting “evaluation” of Gates as a philanthropist using “typical” standards as he demands from teachers.   Based on it, would you rate Gates “effective,” “needs improvement” or “failing?”  Have fun with it.
If you think your students’ test scores are not important wait until you check out what might be in store in Massachusetts.  A proposal is afoot to not only fire teachers who get several poor evaluations (partly based on those aforementioned test results) but to take away their license to teach as well!  You read that right, and Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, is thoroughly outraged.  “There is no profession anywhere in the country,” he fumes, “that has such astonishing rules. Good lord– even if your manager at McDonalds decides you’re not up to snuff, he doesn’t blackball you from ever working in any fast food joint ever again! Yes, every profession has means of defrocking people who commit egregious and unpardonable offenses. But– and I’m going to repeat this because I’m afraid your This Can’t Be Real filter is keeping you from seeing the words that I’m typing– Massachusetts proposes to take your license to teach away if you have a couple of low evaluations.”               The president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, Barbara Madeloni, had a quick response to the idea of taking away peoples’ licenses to teach in the Bay State.  It was posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  “We know of no other profession, Madeloni pointed out, “in which licensure is contingent on employment evaluation. More insidiously, the employment evaluations include student learning outcomes, thus connecting relicensure to student test scores.”  Madeloni concluded by urging that the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education “withdraw the policy options currently being considered.”
A number of prominent civil rights organizations this week sent a letter to Pres. Obama, Education Sec. Arne Duncan, leaders of Congress and state legislators urging them to drop the standardized-test based accountability system now in vogue.  Valerie Strauss printed the note in full on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post.  It includes 8 specific recommendations.  “We believe,” the signatories state at the outset, “that improved accountability systems at the local, state, and federal levels are central to advancing and broadening equal educational opportunity for each and every child in America. The current educational accountability system has become overly focused on narrow measures of success and, in some cases, has discouraged schools from providing a rich curriculum for all students focused on the 21st century skills they need to acquire.”
Occidental is back in the news, but for all the wrong reasons.  A story in Wednesday L.A. Times highlighted a new outside audit commissioned by Pres. Veitch regarding steps the college has taken to deal with sexual assault complaints.  The report stated the school was “getting it right” but campus activists dismissed its findings as “superficial” and “not an objective investigation.”   “Occidental,” the article mentioned, “has been a hotbed of activism on the issue . . . . since at least 2009. But a ‘stark polarization’ on campus over the issue could derail efforts to make further progress, the audit found.”  You may have received an email from Pres. Veitch this week regarding the audit done by the Pepper Hamilton law firm.  If not, you can read the cover letter (3 pages) and/or the full report (130 pages).
With the mid-term elections on Tuesday, EDUCATION WEEK has put together an “Election Guide” which outlines a number of education-related races and issues around the country.  Which party will have control of the U.S. Senate is one of the key battles and the article outlines what the impact will be on both K-12 and post-secondary education.  California’s campaign for Superintendent of Public Instruction is singled out.
The current (Nov. 3) TIME magazine cover, the one titled “Rotten Apples–It’s Nearly Impossible to Fire A Bad Teacher,” is still sparking a lot of controversy (see the Oct. 28, edition of the “Ed News”).  Jeff Bryant, writing in SALON, not only criticizes the cover but points out the magazine has slipped over the years from its previous prestigious perch.  Bryant goes on to cite a number of people who have been critical of the piece and some of the attacks on teacher tenure and other rights.               A math teacher from New York returns to the debate over tenure that was sparked by the Vergara case and rekindled by the current TIME magazine cover.  His commentary, from The HECHINGER REPORT, is titled “Against Tenure?  Here’s Why You Might Want to Make An Exception for Your Child’s Teacher.”  “People think tenure for a teacher implies lifetime job security,” he explains. “It does not. Tenure insures that teachers receive due process. For example, if the local school board is having budget issues, they cannot simply dismiss the higher paid teachers in order to hire younger ones at half the salary. Tenure also shields them from the constant attacks against not only their teaching ability but often their character.”               Steven Singer, teacher and education advocate, has a blistering response to the story on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG.  He actually goes after the third part of the cover title about the role of “tech millionaires” in education reform.  “A slew of Microsoft wannabes,” he thunders, “is taking up the mantle of the bored rich to once again attack teacher tenure.  They claim it’s almost impossible to fire bad teachers because of worker’s rights.  You know who actually is impossible to fire!? Self-appointed policy experts!  No one hired them to govern our public schools. In fact, they have zero background in education. But they have oodles of cash and insufferable ennui. Somehow that makes them experts!”   Singer proceeds to explain once again, as many others have, what tenure really means and how it works.                AFT President Randi Weingarten appeared on the “Morning Joe Show” on MSNBC (5:04 minutes) on Tuesday to blast the TIME cover.                    Haley Sweetland Edwards, author of the cover story, appeared on the “Washington Journal” program (31:24 minutes) on C-SPAN.  She discussed the piece and responded to questions from viewers who called in.                The  managing editor of the magazine, Nancy Gibbs, appeared on the “Morning Joe Show” yesterday to defend her publication’s controversial cover.  Her portion of the clip runs the first 3:32 minutes.               Brian Ford, a teacher and author, wrote a letter to the editor at TIME about the contentious cover.  His note is reprinted by Diane Ravitch.
U.S. Department of Education Sec. Arne Duncan has been backtracking, at least in words if not in actions, from the massive amount of standardized tests American students are subject to.  He wrote a recent op-ed that questioned the number of exams.  Carol Burris, writing on Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post, wonders who he is trying to fool with that approach.  “Mr. Duncan and the Chief State School Officers,” Burris contends, “need to convince parents that they are listening, too. Their strategy is to say that ‘we are only for good tests, not the bad tests, and we will make all the bad tests go away.’ It is disturbing that they believe that parents would not see through the ruse.”
Charter schools often like to claim that they serve the same population as local public schools.  That may be true in some places by NOT in New Jersey.  On her blog Diane Ravitch discusses a new study by Rutgers University that begs to differ about those statements regarding similar demographics in the Garden State.  “Charter schools across New Jersey educate a very different population of students by income, language proficiency, special needs, race and even gender than their sending district public schools,” Ravitch quotes from the report.
“How long should vendors be allowed to maintain and use the information they collect about school children?  The question cuts to the heart of the tensions that define the digital learning revolution now underway.”  That’s the lead-in to an item from EDUCATION WEEK which delineates the growing battle between technology experts and personal privacy advocates that’s being played out in the nation’s classrooms.
The much maligned organization Teach for America has been criticized for a number of issues–the truncated length of its teacher training, the shortness of its candidates’ tenures, its diversity, the fact it often replaces veteran educators with much lower paid beginners, among other things.  The Nation got a hold of an internal memo from the group that exhibits some of the defensiveness it’s feeling and how it is reacting to the charges with a strong public relations campaign to help cover up its lack of results.  The extended analysis in the article includes a full copy (11 pages) of the TFA memo which carries the titled “Teach for America’s Responses to Critical Media: On the Record Case Studies.”
Jeff Bryant, in his latest piece for the Education Opportunity NETWORK, takes a look at the tsunami of money that’s flowing into political campaigns with an emphasis on how it’s impacting educational races and issues.  He surveys a number of articles on the topic and zeroes in on particular contests including a school board battle in L.A. in 2o12 and the current donnybrook for California State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  “Historically, elections that determine public education governance – from local school board races to contests determining state administrative leadership – have been fairly subdued affairs,” he notes, “in comparison to mayoral and legislative races. . . . But lately, these contests have grown more animated as a new element –money from big business and private individuals and foundations – is now altering the electoral process in new and fundamental ways.”
The anti-testing, opt-out movement has been gaining considerable momentum over the past couple of years.  How did it all get started?  Valerie Strauss publishes an excellent history in her column from Monty Neill, executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (“FairTest”) who looks at the origins, groups, personalities and strategies behind the drive to end/improve standardized assessments.
New LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines is quickly taking matters into his own hands.  The district’s Chief Information Officer, Ron Chandler who was responsible for the introduction of the problem-plagued computerized student information system called MiSIS, resigned today after 4 years with the district.  The LA SCHOOL REPORT has the brief details.
And finally, do you ever wonder what it’s like to be a student today?  A veteran high school teacher decided to follow two students at her school for 2 days to see just what it was like to “walk in their shoes.”  The fascinating and enlightening account appears on the Granted, and . . . blog by Grant Wiggins who maintains the anonymity of the educator in question.  “I have a lot more respect,” the teacher concludes, “and empathy for students after just one day of being one again. Teachers work hard, but I now think that conscientious students work harder. I worry about the messages we send them as they go to our classes and home to do our assigned work, and my hope is that more teachers who are able will try this shadowing and share their findings with each other and their administrations. This could lead to better ‘backwards design’ from the student experience so that we have more engaged, alert, and balanced students sitting (or standing) in our classes.”  Did you ever have any idea that this is what it’s really like?
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog. 

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