Ed News, Friday, November 14, 2014 Edition


 “If we can’t think for ourselves, if we’re unwilling to question authority,
then we’re just putty in the hands of those in power.
But if the citizens are educated and form their own opinions,
then those in power work for us. In every country,
we should be teaching our children the scientific method
and the reasons for a Bill of Rights.
With it comes a certain decency, humility and community spirit.
In the demon-haunted world that we inhabit by virtue of being human,
this may be all that stands between us and the enveloping darkness.”
Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
Some of the so-called education “reformers” like to point out certain “miracles” that take place when schools are reconstituted or turned into charters.  They use them as examples of how their ideas are superior to what comes out of the public schools.  Unfortunately, when one digs deeper beneath the surface those “miracles” often disappear into thin air.  Gary Rubenstein, on his own Gary Rubenstein’s Blog, delves into the supposed turnaround of Paul Robeson High School in New York City into P-Tech High and finds “all that glitters is not gold” as far as the claims are concerned.  He particularly zeroes in on some comments made by former New York City School Chancellor Joel Klein in a new book.
What happens when charter schools fail to meet expectations?  “Never happens,” you say.  Well, yes, it does.  Is there a procedure for closing them down?  That’s the focus of a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  “The charter sector,” it posits, “has long stood by the premise that if the independently run public schools fail to perform, they are shut down—an idea often referred to as the ‘charter bargain.’  But as the movement matures, it increasingly faces the messy reality of closing schools—a situation that could become more common.”
That outrageous TIME magazine cover story about the difficulty of getting rid of “Rotten Apples” from a couple of week ago, covered extensively by the “Ed New,” is BACK.  Nancy F. Chewning, an assistant principal at a school in Roanoke, Virginia, posted a scathing response to it in the form of a letter to the magazine on her blog, Leading By Example, that went viral.  In case you missed it when it first appeared (the “Ed News” did)  you can read it by clicking here.  “I am furious, incensed, and irate at your November 3, 2014, cover depicting every American public school educator as a Rotten Apple and a billionaire from Silicon Valley as the savior of American public schools,” she begins.  “So forgive me, if this Rotten Apple, tells you exactly what I think of your reporting since you never bothered to interview a public school teacher for your piece.”  Her indignation only grows from that start.
An interesting story in The Hechinger REPORT suggests that looking at absenteeism rates could be a better tool to measure school poverty.  It features a new report on the issue from the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.  “Policy makers should identify troubled schools,” the article maintains, “by their absenteeism rates — a relatively easy data point to obtain — and then work to fix the schools by addressing each one’s unique problems, from homelessness and child abuse to teacher turnover and safety.”  This item includes a link to the full study (35 pages) titled “A Better Picture of Poverty: What Chronic Absenteeism and Risk Load Reveal About NYC’s Lowest-Income Elementary Schools.”
Diane Ravitch looks back at 12 years of No Child Left Behind and 5 years of Race to the Top and wonders why they haven’t been very successful.  She doesn’t just complain about the poor results under those programs but develops a new plan for accountability that she names “No Child Left Out.”  She offers a long list of measures for being sure that students are achieving what they need to.  Her metrics don’t include just math and English but stress characteristics like creativity, imagination, originality and innovation.  “This is only a start. Add your own ideas. The sky is the limit,” she concludes.  “Surely we can do better than this era of soul-crushing standardized testing.”               Along those same lines,  this piece in EDUCATION WEEK believes you CAN combine learning standards with creativity.  The author is a National Board Certified Teacher who works with gifted elementary students in central Florida.  He’s devised a program with the acronym C.R.E.A.T.E.  “As educators face an ever-increasing focus on standards-driven instruction,” he explains, “it may seem like there are fewer opportunities to foster students’ creativity. But I believe that standards-based instruction and creativity are not mutually exclusive.”
Ever wonder why some businesses and organizations are such ardent defenders of the Common Core?  Could the lure of lucrative profits have anything to do with it?  That’s the focus of a story from the Wall Street Journal.  “As states race to implement the Common Core academic standards,” it begins, “companies are fighting for a slice of the accompanying testing market, expected to be worth billions of dollars in coming years.”
Ever wonder how nutritious are school lunches?  A new study from Virginia Tech University finds them to be lower in fat, sugar and iron than the ones kids bring from home.  You can find the details about the report in a brief article from EDUCATION WEEK.
American RadioWorks has produced an extensive audio documentary (53:08 minutes) about the Common Core.  It’s titled “Greater Expectations–The Challenge of the Common Core.”  It reports that most teachers like the standards but have serious concerns about the assessments that are aligned to them.  The piece includes additional links to related essays about the issue.               Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, commented on the above program and stressed the question “Can We “Stop Using Tests to Drive Education Reform?'”  He reviewed several other sources that dealt with the same issue.  His conclusion: “So we’ve yet to hear a coherent answer to, ‘Can we stop using tests to drive education reform?’ But any legitimate notion of ‘reform’ will have to come up with one.”
Could school districts increase the quality of teacher candidates they hire by improving the screening processes they utilize?  That’s the topic of a story from EDUCATION WEEK which features research from a new study conducted by the University of Washington Bothell.  It looked at the two-tiered selection process of the 29,000 student Spokane School District to offer some guidelines for other districts to learn from.  The article includes a link to the full report (58 pages) titled “Screen Twice, Cut Once: Assessing the Predictive Validity of Teacher Selection Tools.”
Peter Greene is at it again on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  This time he’s shining a light on the CEO of the Green Dot charter chain, Marco Petruzzi.  It seems Petruzzi has just written his first entry on Green Dot’s blog and what he said set Greene off.  “If you’re unfamiliar with the Green Dot charter chain,” Greene relates, “I can tell you that it’s one more fine example of the modern charter movement, depending on student skimming, political connections, and the pushing aside of public schools, as well as demonstrating the ways in which a non-profit can be used to generate profits.”
A commentary in EDUCATION WEEK highlights a new study from the National Council on Teacher Quality that decries the perception that teacher prep programs are too easy and need to be made more rigorous.  The piece includes a link to the full report (52 pages) titled “Easy A’s And What’s Behind Them– Training Our Future Teachers.”  “The perception that becoming a teacher is easy,” the article begins, “is incalculably corrosive—to the profession and to teacher-preparation programs.  That impression undermines the esteem in which teachers are held. It’s also insulting to skilled and competent professionals, and it sends a signal to the least committed and the least able students that teaching could be the career for them.”
A story in The HECHINGER REPORT tackles the multiple concerns of  “How to Save Teachers From Burning Out, Dropping Out and Other Hazards of Experience.”  The two authors, one a Vice President of the Aspen Institute and the other the CEO of Leading Educators, a national non-profit, offer some concrete suggestions for improving teacher preparation programs and address retention issues so that 50% of teachers don’t leave their jobs within the first 5 years. “In public school systems constantly strapped for resources, great teachers remain an undervalued and underutilized asset,” they conclude.  “We have yet to truly tap into their talent to accelerate learning and this could be one of the reasons we have yet to fully realize the promise of our school improvement efforts.  Providing educators opportunities to simultaneously lead their peers and address school wide problems has enormous potential to change that, and make teaching a more dynamic, attractive career.”
Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, takes an up-to-date look at the emerging issue of student debt by providing 6 charts that compare states and particular institutions with the highest and lowest student debt.  You may be surprised where California ranks and which schools in the state make the highest and lowest tables.
The LAUSD is in the cross hairs once again and this time it has nothing to do with iPads or computerized student information systems.  Lawyers representing the district are being blasted for offering as a defense of a middle school teacher accused of lewd conduct that the 14-year-old victim was mature enough to offer consent to the sexual relationship that took place between her and her math teacher.  In addition, the attorneys attempted to introduce her sexual history as justification for avoiding civil penalties in the case.  Radio station KPCC provided the details as well as a related audio segment (5:41 minutes) about the story.               In a late-breaking  article posted on the L.A. Times’  website this afternoon, the district announced that it had fired the outside lawyer who had worked for LAUSD for 27 years for comments he made on the local radio station regarding the  legal strategy. 
The author of this piece in EDUCATION WEEK offers “2 Reasons Why Teachers Have it Tougher Than You Think.”  He’s an author and former elementary school principal so he “knows whereof he speaks.”  “At the same time they are trying to help guide students through some of the hardest times they have seen,” he sums up, “teachers are being asked to change practices and meet mandates, sometimes without the proper resources needed to make the changes. This is not a ‘once in a blue moon’ type scenario. Teachers are working through these issues on a weekly basis every year they teach. And yet they proudly walk into school every day hoping they can make a positive change in a student’s life. Teachers have it tougher than most people think, and all they want is the respect they deserve.”
Large groups of teachers, administrators and parents have protested the standardized testing regimen in the past.  Now students are getting in on the “opt-out” movement.  Colorado Public Radio describes how thousands of students in that state reacted to new exams.  “More than 5,000 Colorado 12th graders have refused to take the new state-mandated science and social studies tests as student anxiety about over-testing grows,” it begins.  “Hundreds of high schools students in Boulder staged a mass walk out Thursday and Friday, refusing to take their 12th grade social studies and science tests.  Fairview High School students say they want to send a clear message that when it comes to testing, enough is enough.”  The piece includes a video (3:33 minutes) with students explaining what all the fuss is about.               Could student test scores actually be used to determine who gets the best jobs in the future and who gets left behind?  That idea is not that far-fetched according to Anthony Cody.  Writing on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog he suggests that employers could demand to see how job applicants did on state standardized tests before making hiring decisions.  High scores = winners = good, well-paying jobs.  Low scores = losers = minimum wage positions.  That could/would never happen, you say.  ARE YOU SURE?  Cody maintains that teachers need to make sure America never gets to this position.  “Teachers have a role to play,” he declares.  “We can cooperate with the system, and validate the tests as accurate indicators of our students’ value as ‘productive members of society.’  That is what we are asked to do when Bill Gates and Arne Duncan implore us to help implement the Common Core.  Or we can offer our own vision of the role of education as a catalyst for democratic change. And that change that will increasingly require us to question the imperatives of an economy that no longer serves the majority of Americans, and reject the ranking and sorting of our students into those with and without economic value.”
A very interesting confrontation took place in the Manhattan offices of Teach for America between top leaders of that organization and members of the United Students Against Sweatshops who had accused TFA of undermining public education.  IN THESE TIMES has a good description of the back-and-forth between the 2 groups.  USAS’s “main gripes with TFA and its Peace Corps-like model for American education, bringing college students—most from elite universities—to teach for a short period of time in some of the country’s poorest school districts,” the article lays out, “are that it is inadequately training teachers and promoting a for-profit, anti-union education reform agenda.”
A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an attempt by the Massachusetts Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) to remove licenses from teachers who receive unsatisfactory evaluations.  Members of the Massachusetts Teachers Association (MTA) immediately fought back by contacting state education officials urging them to withdraw their proposal.  A brief note on the MTA website announced victory after the DESE informed educators in the state that they were “rescinding the draft options that link  licensure to educator evaluation.”  You can read the official announcement (it’s short) from DESE about this issue by clicking here.
The Christian Science MONITOR is starting a year-long series that will follow the trials and tribulations of a first-year principal as she attempts to turn around a struggling New Orleans charter elementary school.  The first installment looks at what she hopes to accomplish.
And finally, Valerie Strauss continues to follow New Hampshire high school senior Samantha Fogel as she navigates the rough waters of selecting a college to attend in the fall.  This fourth installment looks at the difficult issue of what schools to apply to first in order to get involved in their early admission process.  Strauss includes links and brief descriptions of the first 3 stories in the series.

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



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