Ed News, Tuesday, November 18, 2014 Edition


“We can best help children learn, not by deciding what we think they should learn 
and thinking of ingenious ways to teach it to them, but by making the world, as far as we can,
accessible to them, paying serious attention to what they do, answering their questions 
— if they have any — and helping them explore the things they are most interested in.”
                                                                                             ― John Holt
Why is one charter school chain in North Carolina refusing to divulge salaries of certain administrators despite a directive to do so from the state’s Board of Education?  PRO PUBLICA details the standoff and in an update explains that the chain finally complied.  The chain, Charter Day School, Inc., founded by entrepreneur Baker Mitchell, was highlighted  in a previous edition of the “Ed News.”  “On his blog and in earlier interviews with ProPublica,” the article indicates, “Baker Mitchell has maintained that private companies operating charter schools should not have to be transparent about their financials or publicly disclose what they pay their employees.”   Can public schools get away with that?
EduShyster interviews Sarah Lahm, the investigative reporter from IN THESE TIMES, who wrote a piece about billionaires who were pouring money, not into the schools of Minneapolis, but into two school board races there (a story highlighted by the “Ed News,” by the way).  The question arose as to why outside individuals were so interested in a mundane school board contest.  “I think people have a hard time grasping the concept that our public schools are being privatized,” Lahm responded in the Q & A.  “They don’t see it, they don’t want to see it, they call it a conspiracy. The notion that people who are investing money in our schools may not have completely altruistic motives, that they may actually have a business goal, that seems very offensive to some, especially people who’ve really hitched their wagons to charter schools as the solution to all of our problems.”
The author of this piece in Bloomberg Businessweek takes an in-depth look at K12, Inc., the largest operator of online public charter school, and what “went wrong.”  “K12 Inc. (LRN) was heralded as the next revolution in schooling,” it begins.  “Billionaire Michael Milken backed it, and former Florida governor Jeb Bush praised it. Now the online education pioneer is failing to live up to its promise.  Plagued by subpar test scores, the largest operator of online public schools in the U.S. has lost management contracts or been threatened with school shutdowns in five states this year. The National Collegiate Athletic Association ruled in April that students can no longer count credits from 24 K12 high schools toward athletic scholarships.”
The ALOED book club had an excellent discussion last Tuesday of Peter Tough’s book How Children Succeed–Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.  As you can tell from the title he tried to demonstrate the importance of character and “grit” for students’ academic success.  Not everyone was buying that theory.  Peter Greene, the CURMUDGUCATION guy, reviews a recent report from the Brookings Institute that attempted to support Tough.   Greene, to put it mildly was quite skeptical of the whole thing.  “There are so many things wrong with this report– sooooooo many things– and I’m about stumped for wrapping it all up in a neat conclusion,” he mentions dismissively.  “It is such a thin tissue of supposition, weak arguments, cultural biases, part-for-the-whole fallacies and poorly reasoned conclusions that I get rather lost in it myself. I can only hope that as of this post, I’m the only person who’s really paid this much attention to it.”  If you want to ignore his advice and take a look at the full study(35 pages)  for yourself, he includes a link.
Remember all those individuals and groups who were pushing value-added models (VAMs) for evaluating teachers.  The ardor seems to be cooling.  As Audrey Amrein-Beardsley explains, on her VAMboozled blog,  two big names in the VAM world resigned their positions recently.  The first was the Tennessee Education Commissioner and the second was the executive director of the Tulane University’s Cowen Institute for Education Initiatives.  I’ll let Amrein-Beardsley sort it all out for you.  
This is a very tragic story to have to pass on.  You may be aware that the 43 students in the Mexican state of Guerrero who were kidnapped by local police in late September, turned over to drug gangs and apparently murdered, their bodies burned and the ashes dumped in a river were all in a teacher training program.  An article in the latest edition (Nov. 24) of TIME magazine details the impact of this ghastly act on their families, the community, Mexico and, hopefully, the entire world.
Have you heard of the group the “Collaborative for Student Success?”  I didn’t think so.  They’re a new “grassroots” organization that strongly supports the Common Core and are pushing the idea that since Republicans did so well in the recent mid-term elections that is an indications of strong support nationwide for the standards.  Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 isn’t buying that line for a minute.  She did her usual investigative homework and found that CFSS is funded by none other than the Gates Foundation.
The LAUSD is apparently not the only big-city school system experiencing difficulties with its computerized student data system.  The New York Daily News reports the city schools are dropping its $95 million Achievement Reporting and Innovation System (ARIS) due to it being “clunky and slow” since it was implemented in 2007.  Questions were also raised when former NYC Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, who helped introduce ARIS, won a contract for his company to assist in maintaining the program.
EDUCATION WEEK has an intriguing item about the setting of cut scores for the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium’s exams.  SBAC is the group California has cast its lot with.  The article mentions that the percentage of students who will likely test “proficient” is predetermined and will most likely be less than 50%!  “In a move likely to cause political and academic stress in many states,” it predicts, “a consortium that is designing assessments for the Common Core State Standards released data Monday projecting that more than half of students will fall short of the marks that connote grade-level skills on its tests of English/language arts and mathematics.”  Interesting.  If one reads that right it appears that, upfront,  more than half of the students taking the tests will land in the “not proficient” category.  Does that sound fishy to you?  Looks like built-in, predetermined failure.  Then, according to the script, the so-called education “reformers” can blame the public schools and their teachers for doing such a “poor” job and that the only solution is to privatize or charterize the schools.  Sounds VERY FISHY!
This may prove to be a surprising statistic.  Since the economic recession began in 2008, college and university graduation rates have declined even as the number of students enrolled has increased.  The HECHINGER REPORT features a new report from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center with the figures.
A new report from UCLA demonstrates that students at high-poverty high schools get less instructional time than their more well-off peers.  Factors that contribute to that included more teacher absenteeism, poorly trained substitutes, test preparation and campus lockdowns among others.  The study appeared in an article in today’s L.A. Times which includes a link to the full report (27 pages) titled “It’s About Time–Learning Time and Educational Opportunity in California High Schools.
And finally, Valerie Strauss published a great cartoon under the heading “Teachers: Do You Ever Get Home From School and Just . . . .?”  Check it out,  It will only take you 13 seconds. 

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

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