Ed News, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 Edition


 “I have an unshaken conviction that democracy can never be undermined 
if we maintain our library resources and a national intelligence capable of utilizing them.”
A new poll from the Gallup organization finds that most teachers surveyed favor the Common Core State Standards (76% positive) but find the assessments linked to them problematic.  A scant 9% favored using student test scores to evaluate teachers.  Those and other results can be found on the Gallup website.               A second survey from the same source asked parents about their attitudes towards the standards and compared the findings to a similar one in April.   
John Merrow on his Taking Note blog has a very interesting article in which he compares Baker Mitchell, charter school owner in North Carolina, to Jesse James, notorious bank and train robber.  Merrow speculates that by the end of his career Mitchell will have made a lot more money than James every did and it will all be above board and perfectly legal.  Merrow outlines how Mitchell is able to make out like a thief by sharing some of the numbers involved in running four non-profit charter schools that funnel millions of taxpayer dollars to his for-profit private companies.  “I’m guessing that Jesse James,” Merrow concludes, “wherever he now resides, is wishing he could return to earth, renounce his criminal ways, move to North Carolina, and open some charter schools.”
Michelle Rhee, longtime darling of the so-called education “reformers,” is again showing her true colors.  StudentsFirst, the group she founded after leaving the chancellorship of the Washington, D.C., public schools has been channeling large amounts of campaign cash to conservative Republican governors and state legislators who support her pro-charter, pro-choice, anti-public school agenda.  A piece in SALON is titled “Michelle Rhee’s Favorite Wingnuts: A Look at the GOP Candidates the Education ‘Reformer” is Backing.”  It focuses on her attempt to swing a number of races for the New York state Senate.
“iPadgate update:” Both Apple and Pearson aggressively contacted LAUSD board members prior to gaining contracts to provide district students with computer tablets and curriculum according to a story in Saturday’s L.A. Times.  These latest details come from newly released emails and other documents.  “The communications with the board and representatives from Apple and Pearson,” the article indicates, “far exceeded those with other vendors vying for a share of the $1.3-billion initiative to provide a computer, loaded with curriculum, to every student, teacher and campus administrator.  The emails and documents do not indicate that board members violated laws or L.A. Unified’s ethics policy. But they show how the two companies tried to win lucrative contracts with the nation’s second-largest school system. Both companies offered to give school board members informational sessions about their products and to explain how they were currently being used within the district and elsewhere.”
New Jersey has taken steps to deal with the fledgling opt-out movement in that state by issuing thinly veiled threats of disciplinary action against students based on decisions made by their parents.  That set off one parent in particular.  Sarah Blaine, a mother, former teacher and full-time attorney, fired back at the acting education commissioner David C. Hespe who issued the guidelines about how to handle students who wish to skip the tests.  Her comments appeared on Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post.  “So as awful as this guidance is,” Blaine thunders in conclusion, “it tells me that we’re winning. In a post-Citizens United world, there’s still some hope for grassroots activism and organizing. We are winning the war to do away with excessive and punitive standardized testing. And, of course, the whole education reform movement relies on its standardized testing foundation.”
A few so-called education “experts” have been making some pretty wild claims about the Common Core.  Now the Center for American Progress is promising that the Standards will close the gender gap and open up more STEM opportunities for women and girls.  “More engaging and challenging standards build a strong academic foundation for all students,” it predicts. “Girls—and in particular, girls of color—have a lot to gain from more-rigorous learning standards that better prepare them for college and career success. By raising the expectations for student learning, the Common Core State Standards allow girls the opportunity to seize STEM learning opportunities while in grade school; to pursue a diverse set of college majors; and to obtain jobs that command higher salaries. The Common Core State Standards can expand on the progress girls have made since Title IX and can have a long-lasting impact on women in society.”               Peter Greene was a mite skeptical about all this on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  “The Common Core is great for the ladies, he opens.  “At least that’s what we can learn from a new CAP (Center for American Progress) article that combines two now-classic Core-boosting rhetorical techniques– wacky leaps of logic, and taking credit for what was already happening.”   He doesn’t have any problem with the data that CAP presents regarding the gender gap but wonders how the standards are going to successfully close it.
Diane Ravitch comments on “the worst constitutional amendment to appear on any state ballot in 2014.”  The good news is it’s not in California; the bad news, it proposes to add some pretty wacky things to the Missouri constitution like using value-added models to teacher evaluations, disallowing collective bargaining over those evaluations, elimination of seniority and tenure and basing teacher retention, promotion and salaries on student test scores.  Halloween may be over but those are scary ideas by themselves and to attempt to enshrine them in the state constitution is downright terrifying!  Ravitch identifies the group behind the resolution and provides some information about the  individual funding it.  
Two letters published in Saturday’s L.A. Times commented on the paper’s extended Tuesday editorial on what needs to be done to “fix” the LAUSD now that Supt. Deasy is gone.  One of the letters was written by former UTLA President John Perez.  
Diane Ravitch reviews the new book by former ALOED book club author Yong Zhao for the latest edition of The New York Review of Books.  The volume is titled Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Dragon? Why China Has the Best (And Worst) Education System in the World.  She titles her piece “The Myth of Chinese Super Schools.”  Zhao “tells us that China has the best education system,” she writes, “because it can produce the highest test scores. But, he says, it has the worst education system in the world because those test scores are purchased by sacrificing creativity, divergent thinking, originality, and individualism.”
Saturday’s L.A. Times has some additional details about the resignation on Friday of the  LAUSD’s Chief Information Officer Ron Chandler.  The story was highlighted in the previous edition of the “Ed News” after it was first reported by the LA SCHOOL REPORT.  Problems with the iPad-for-all program and the trouble-plagued new computerized student information system, MiSIS, led to Chandler’s decision to leave his post.  
If you think the education situation is California is bad, wait until you read these next two items describing what’s been going on in North Carolina over the past few years.  The first one is from a high school social studies teacher who offers a detailed statistical view of what’s been happening in the Tarheel State.  His comments appear on the Red4EDNC website.  “Why do our schools lag behind?” he asks.  “Why is North Carolina racing to the bottom when it comes to public education? The state’s choice to not adequately fund public schools is the opportunity cost for changes in the tax code geared to benefit private sector businesses and the wealthy.”               The second item is a detailed report posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog from a professor at Duke University and her husband who used to be the education editor at The New York Times.  Their piece is titled “What’s Up With Education Policy in North Carolina?”  “The purpose of this document,” they write in an introductory note, “is to help people both outside and inside North Carolina understand what is currently happening to education policy in this state. The document is neither an academic paper nor an advocacy piece. Instead it is simply our best effort to describe and to put into context the significant policy changes affecting education in North Carolina. We write it as concerned citizens and hope it will be useful to others.”               Things are not a whole lot better in New York.  Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo is up for re-election today and has been using his hostility to public education, unions, tenure and teachers as a solid plank in his campaign.  Prof. Daniel Katz of Seton Hall University, on his Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog, reviews some of the positions Cuomo took in a conversation with the editorial board of the New York Daily News last week.  Katz maintains that Cuomo is now “at war with teachers.”  “Governor Andrew Cuomo may not only be at war with teachers,” Katz concludes.  “He may be at war with the very concept of public education.  If he does indeed win a second term on Tuesday, he must be opposed at every step of his distorted and dangerous ideas about our public schools.”
Steve Lopez, in his column in Sunday’s L.A. Times, writes about a dedicated and talented LAUSD math and science teacher at John Burroughs Middle School in Hancock Park who came late to the profession after stints in other fields.  Charlie Unkeless tells Lopez that “teaching is the most rewarding and important  job I have ever had.”  However, he’s so frustrated by salary cuts, increases in class size and lack of materials and supplies that he may just “walk away” from it all.  His story is both heartwarming and maddening and Lopez tells it very well.  
Many people have weighed in on the controversial TIME magazine cover about “Rotten Apple” teachers and how hard it is to get rid of them.  The “Ed News” has highlighted many of their comments since the story broke a little over a week ago.  Diane Ravitch offers her take on the piece by dividing it into 3 parts: the cover, the story itself and an introductory column by Nancy Gibbs, the magazine’s managing editor.  Whether you agree with Ravitch or not she makes some very salient points about the package that has raised such a ruckus.               EDUCATION WEEK columnist Nancy Flanagan, a National Board Certified veteran music teacher in Michigan, took umbrage with the TIME cover and claimed “No, It’s Not ‘Nearly Impossible’ to Fire Bad Teachers.”  Flanagan noted, as many others have, that the story is much more even-handed.  “How do I know,” she asks, “that it’s not ‘nearly impossible’ to fire bad teachers? Because my medium-sized, semi-rural district did so, repeatedly, during the 30 years I worked there.”
There’s a very good chance you won’t be reading this until after the polls close this evening at 8 pm but it’s still an interesting piece.  LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer explained on his Facebook page why he was voting for Tom Torlakson to retain his seat as State Superintendent of Public Instruction.  He was particularly incensed by all the campaign contributions that went to challenger Marshall Tuck from what Diane Ravitch refers to as the “Billionaire Boys Club.”  Zimmer’s comments were reprinted on
Ravitch’s blog.               Speaking of gobs of outside money impacting political races.  The Network for Public Education (NPE) has put out an alert outlining some of the school board races in places like Denver, Austin and Minneapolis among others where outside money is having a major impact.  The article even zeroes in on a battle in Richmond, CA, where a pro-charter PAC has contributed a big chunk of dough.               In addition, NPE endorsed Tom Torlakson in his race against fellow Democrat, Marshall Tuck.                EdSource takes a look at the California school chief’s race and what’s at stake in the contest.  “Spending in the race for California superintendent of public instruction,” it notes, “has by far outstripped all other statewide races, including the campaign for governor. Although the superintendent has limited power, donors to incumbent Tom Torlakson and challenger Marshall Tuck are spending big sums to influence what they consider is at stake in this election: the direction of education reform.”               Valerie Strauss weighed in on the Torlakson/Tuck contest and was also appalled by the amount of money (almost $30 million and counting) that was spent by both sides.  She wonders what might have happened had that sum been directed to boosting the education budget in the state instead.  She also notes that the battle is between two Democrats and only demonstrates how divided the party is when it comes to education policy, at least in California.
EDUCATION WEEK has the latest news on how schools and districts around the country are coping with Ebola.  The author of the piece is not an educator but is, in fact, a doctor of internal medicine.  He offers a primer on the disease and discusses specific things individuals  and schools can do to prevent a possible spread of Ebola and deals head-on with some of the fears and misinformation that’s out there about the contagion.  
The next ALOED book club discussion (coming up on Nov. 12) focuses on the book How Children Succeed–Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character by Paul Tough.  It goes into detail about how KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) charter schools are not only teaching academics but also concentrating on improving their students’ “character.”  For a slightly different view of what’s going on check out New York  high school math teacher/blogger Gary Rubenstein’s appearance at the Network for Pubic Education’s “Public Education Nation” conference that took place in Brooklyn on Oct. 11.  He was part of a panel discussion on Charter Schools and describes a visit he made to a KIPP school.  You can view a short piece of his speech (3 minutes) that appeared on Anthony Cody’s blog LIVING in DIALOGUE or click on this link for the full panel discussion (50:01 minutes, Rubenstein’s segment runs from 18:17 to 27:11 and he briefly mentions observing a “grit class.”) 
The U.S. Dept. of Education will shortly be releasing  new guidelines for teacher preparation programs at the nations’ colleges and universities.  This is a second attempt after the first one, announced in 2012, was met with almost total condemnation.  Valerie Strauss turns her blog over to Donald E. Heller, Dean of the College of Education at Michigan State University who offers some suggestions on what the new DoE regulations should contain. 
If you’d like some idea of what it’s like to teach in other countries check out this documentary (41:00 minutes) produced by Education International on YouTube.  It’s titled “Teachers: A Day in A Life” and presents educators from India, Belgium, Togo, Canada and Argentina representing 5 continents who share some of their experiences and their vision of a quality education.
And finally, California is part of the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) so this story from EDUCATION WEEK is rather disturbing.  During field testing last spring of the consortium’s math and English tests that are tied to the Common Core a number of high school students reported that the tests were much tougher than the previous ones they took and they didn’t test what the students had been taught in their classrooms.  This is all according to a report released by the consortium last week.  “Whether teachers’ instruction isn’t sufficiently aligned to the common core,” the article concludes, “or whether the tests aren’t fully aligned, the findings offer a sobering picture of what students could experience when they take the operational tests this school year.”  The Ed Week story includes a link to the full SBAC survey (18 pages) titled “Smarter Balanced “Tests of the Test’ Successful: Field Test Provides Clear Path Forward.”  
Dave Alpert
(Occidentaly College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog.

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