Ed News, Saturday, December 6, 2014 Edition


“Education leads to enlightenment. 
Enlightenment opens the way to empathy. 
Empathy foreshadows reform.” 
“How the Koch Brothers are Sneaking Their Way Into Public Schools” is the title of an expose in AlterNet’s “Zinn Education Project.”  It explains how the billionaire brothers are the chief funders behind the Bill of Rights Institute which aims to try and control social studies curricula around the country.  The author cites as an example the recent National Council for the Social Studies national convention held in Massachusetts prior to Thanksgiving and the type of presence the BRI had there.  “Well, the Kochs won’t be there in person, but they will be represented by a Koch-funded and controlled organization: the Arlington, Virginia-based Bill of Rights Institute,” he notes.  “For years, the Bill of Rights Institute has shown up at NCSS conferences to offer curriculum workshops, distribute teaching materials, and collect the names of interested educators. What the Bill of Rights Institute representatives fail to mention when they speak with teachers is that they have been the conduit for millions of dollars from Charles and David Koch, as the brothers seek to influence the country’s social studies curriculum. (When I attended a Bill of Rights Institute workshop at an NCSS conference,” he continues, “I asked the presenter who funds their organization. ‘Donations,’ she replied.)”
With all the controversy surrounding the Common Core it’s nice to see a story with a positive spin regarding a new social studies curriculum.  Since 2009 Stanford University has made available a free  series of online lessons and assessments for U.S. and World History.  The reception from teachers who have taken advantage of the materials has been strong and students who have been working with the lessons have been enthusiastic.  A number of LAUSD educators have participated in the training and utilized the curriculum  that goes with it according to a story in the L.A. Times from Nov. 26.  It includes a link to the Stanford University History Group that created the materials that are titled “Reading Like A Historian.”
Robert Reich, on his personal Robert Reich blog surveys the class divide in this country and how it impacts the public schools.  He views this as part of the growing debate in the U.S. over immigration policies. “The nation’s attention is focused on the border separating the United States from Mexico,” he concludes, “and on people who have crossed that border and taken up residence here illegally.  But the boundary separating white Anglo upscale school districts from the burgeoning non-white and non-Anglo populations in downscale communities is fast becoming a flashpoint inside America.”
EDUSHYSTER conducts an interesting interview with Gordon Lafer a political economist and Associate Professor at the University of Oregon’s Labor Education and Research Center.  He looks at the idea of corporate education reform in the context of politics and economics.  “This is one of the most enlightening interviews,” Diane Ravitch noted on her blog.  
“I urge you to read it.”
truthout has a very provocative piece titled “Racism and the Charter School Movement: Unveiling the Myths” that looks at some of the reasons why charter schools are hailed as saviors of public education and why they are “myths” that, in reality, promote racial segregation.  “Despite what was once a central commitment to public schooling in the United States,” it begins, “radical education advocates cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the struggles against racism that exist and persist within charter school environments, despite the rhetoric of equality and justice.  This is particularly necessary because many of the most vulnerable students, with the greatest needs, have generally remained within now even more poorly funded and resourced public schools, while more and more public dollars, under private control, are redirected to serve the privileged few.”
The “Ed News” previously highlighted a powerful new documentary titled “Crenshaw” which describes the highly disruptive forced reconstitution of the school by the LAUSD a couple of years ago.  [Ed. note: I worked at Huntington Park High School (LAUSD) for 26 years before retiring in 2009.  Two years later HPHS went through a similar reconstitution.  From tales I heard from former colleagues it was best described as a “massacre.”]  Anthony Cody turns his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog over to the filmmaker, Lena Jackson, who talks about her project.  It contains a brief trailer (1:19 minutes) for the film.
Proposed new federal guidelines for teacher preparation programs were announced last week by U.S. Dept. of Education Secretary Arne Duncan.  The article in last Saturday’s L.A. Times provides some interesting figures about training in California.  The Commission for Teacher Credentialing has approved 261 programs and there are 1,395 others alternate paths to earning a credential.  The California State University system is the largest producer of educators in the nation.  “The proposed regulations,” the story notes, “would allow states broad flexibility to develop measures of performance but demands that emphasis be placed on teacher outcomes, such as employment, retention and success in the classroom.  That could include evaluating training programs based on the test scores of K-12 students taught by their graduates, a model that provokes heated contention in the education community.”                 THE CHRONICLE OF HIGHER EDUCATION weighed in on the new rules and predicted that “Teacher colleges aren’t feeling very thankful for” them.  It suggested that rankings of teacher preparation programs will now be based on how many of their graduates are hired and how well their pupils do on standardized tests.  “But teacher unions and college lobbyists,” it argues, “worry that the rules will punish programs whose graduates are concentrated in high-need schools, where test scores tend to be lower and teacher turnover higher.  They warn that the plan could discourage colleges from placing their students in such schools.”             Larry Mantle on his “Air Talk” program for NPR station 89.3KPCC earlier this week hosted 3 guests who are experts on teacher training to discuss the new federal guidelines.  He also took calls from listeners.  You can hear the segment (20:13 minutes) and read a brief introduction by clicking here.                David Berliner, Emeritus Regents’ Professor at Arizona State University, has some advice for Arne Duncan about “How to Do Teacher Education Right.”  His comments appear in the Education in Two Worlds blog.   
Forbes magazine has developed a 5-point plan for improving education with the help of some handy billionaires.  3 of the recommendations include “Teacher Efficacy,” “Universal Pre-K” and “School Leadership.”  You’ll find the other 2 in the article along with explanations of each plus a cost/benefit analysis (remember, Forbes IS a business publication).              Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog actually required 2 posts to dissect the plan.  The first looked at the 5 specific proposals that it contained.  In the second he engages in a “mythical” discussion of the ideas with Andrew Cuomo, Arne Duncan, Randi Weingarten and others.  
“iPadgate” update.  Instead of an exclusive contract with Apple to supply tablet computers to all students and staff the LAUSD will now broaden the field and also offer less expensive Chromebooks that use the Google operating system.  The details were in an item in Monday’s L.A. Times.  “Los Angeles school officials want to give schools more choices in equipping students with new computers,” it begins, “part of an ongoing evolution of the district’s approach to buying and using technology.  Under a new plan, 27 schools that were originally set to receive iPads, made by Apple, now will also have the choice of choosing a less-expensive Chromebook, which uses a Google operating system.”               The FBI made a surprise visit to the LAUSD headquarters Monday afternoon and carted off 20 boxes of documents related to the iPad contract the district had with Apple according to a story in Wednesday’s Times.             NPR station 89.3KPCC host Larry Mantle, on his “Air Talk” program, invited the station’s education reporter and a professor from the Loyola Law School to discuss the situation and what it means legally.   The segment runs 14:09 minutes.                 KPCC ran several updates to its original story including the fact that LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines quickly cancelled the iPad contract the district had with Apple and the FBI turned over the seized documents from the LAUSD to a federal grand jury.                 With the “iPad-for-all” program back in the headlines (see above), Thursday’s L.A. Times ran a primer about the issue in its “Explainer” column.  It focuses on the details of how contracts with Apple and Pearson were concluded.               Yesterday’s paper published a single letter reacting to the Times’s original story on Wednesday about the FBI visit to LAUSD headquarters.
Julian Vasquez Heilig, on his Cloaking Inequity blog, crowns Arne Duncan as the winner of his 2014 Education Policy Turkey of the Year Award based on a poll Heilig conducted.  1,000 readers of his blog participated in the contest.  Duncan won with 51%, the “Billionaires” came in second at 30% and Time Magazine was third garnering 8%.  You can read about the award and view some additional results by clicking here.  NB: The “picture” of Duncan that leads off the article is worth a peak.           
The much maligned Common Core Standards are getting a prominent academic boost.  Stanford University is partnering with the California Teachers Association (CTA) to provide initial training to 160 teachers and 24 administrators who will, in turn, help prepare an additional 50,000 educators throughout California to work with the new curriculum.  The collaborative effort between the scho0l and the state’s largest teachers union will commence this week, according to a story in Monday’s L.A. Times.
Randy Traweek was rather disgusted [Ed. note: That’s putting it mildly.  He spoke of “throwing up] over a report from NPR that seemed to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Teach for America.  It did raise some of the issues that TFA has been criticized for and some of the changes the group is in the process of making.  You can listen to the segment (6:55 minutes) or read a separate online report (it’s not a transcript) by clicking here.
During Pres. Obama’s second term his U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan has been focusing on the important role principals play in the success of their schools.   EDUCATION WEEK features some of the latest research and federal programs on the subject and what Duncan would like to do with them in the last 2 years of the Obama presidency.
The controversial charter school approved for opening next year in  Rochester by the New York State Education Department, that was to be run by a 22-year-old with a questionable resume, will not open  as originally planned.  The NYSED rescinded its decision last month as numerous questions were raised about the proposed founder’s veracity and experience.  The story was highlighted previously in the “Ed News.”  The latest details are courtesy of the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle.  “Ted Morris Jr. represented himself to the New York State Education Department as a precocious businessman and educational advisor with bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees earned mostly online,” it summarizes.  “In fact, he has no college degrees and scant professional experience.  He resigned Nov. 25, the day most of the misrepresentations came to light and just a week after the school gained approval from the state Board of Regents.”
Is it possible for school districts and teachers unions to work TOGETHER to help students?  That’s the question tackled by a piece in Tuesday’s L.A. Times.  The answer is a qualified “yes” based on examples of cooperation from the ABC Unified and Culver City Unified school districts.  Chicago and L.A. were cited as cities where collaboration has not been forthcoming.               Yesterday’s Times included two letters reacting to the story about district/union collaboration.  One was from a retired LAUSD teacher and instructional coach.
A new Field Poll, in conjunction with EdSource, finds a large majority of California’s registered voters support the idea of providing high-quality preschool for children in the state.  When asked if “high-quality preschool is important to a student’s later success in school and in life,” 61% responded “Very important” and 22% “Somewhat important.”  You can view additional material from the poll and analysis of the findings in the article.  It includes a link to the full survey (11 pages) titled “Highlighting Strategies for Student Success.”
Were you aware that federal law requires school districts to notify the U.S. Dept. of Education how many times they are forced to physically restrain a child?  Were you further aware that most large urban districts including New York, L.A. and Chicago do not comply with the law?   PRO PUBLICA has an enlightening expose on the subject.  “Like all school districts across the country,” it recounts, “New York is required to record every time a public school kid is held or tied down and report totals each year to the U.S. Department of Education. The number New York gave the government? Zero. . . . New York, the nation’s largest school district, wasn’t the only one to incorrectly report zero restraints to the federal government.  So did Los Angeles and Chicago – the nation’s second and third largest school districts.”
The National Association of Secondary School Principals joined a growing chorus against the use of valued-added models (VAMs) to evaluate teachers.  The group gave “preliminary approval to a statement that says test-score-based algorithms for measuring teacher quality aren’t appropriate,” according to a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  You can read the full statement from the NASSP website, titled “Value-Added Measures in Teacher Evaluation,” by clicking here.  A vote on final approval of the statement is planned for Feb., 2015.
The HECHINGER REPORT profiles an elementary school in Massachusetts that has narrowed the achievement gap through the use of an expanded day and an extended year.  The Lawrence school district’s 24 campuses had been placed in receivership almost 3 years ago.  “The receiver, Jeff Riley, had put forth a turnaround plan that included inviting proven charter school operators into the district to take over a small number of the lowest-performing schools,” the article explains,  “but required that they allow their teachers to be a part of the union and that they operate the same neighborhood schools without a district-wide lottery.”  Interestingly, the district and its teachers union worked in close partnership to reach their goals.
Here’s a rather bold and intriguing prediction: “Test Scores are Going to Go Down Next Year.”  How do they know that?   Answer: “Blame it on Common Core.”  Vox takes a look at the only two states to fully implement standards aligned assessments, New York and Kentucky, and extrapolates from their results.  “The test results on Common Core exams, at least at first, are likely to make students’ reading and math abilities look worse than they did on older state tests,” it states.  “The standards are more demanding than what many states had in place previously, and the tests are more difficult.  New York and Kentucky — the only two states that have fully switched over to Common Core tests — have already learned that lesson. Proficiency rates dropped by about half in both states, from around two-thirds of students to about one-third.”  How are parents, educators and the general public going to react to those very poor and discouraging results? 
And finally, California’s new Local Control Funding Formula which revolutionized the way money is allocated to districts in the state rolled out at the start of this school year.  How are things going so far?  The answer seems to be “It’s working, but slowly.”  EDUCATION WEEK has a brief description of how the program works and the status of its implementation.  “The new funding formula, which began in the 2013-14 school year,” it indicates, “increases the state’s per-student allocation over an eight-year period, until 2020-21.  It directs additional funds to schools with high concentrations of traditionally challenged and low-performing populations, such as low-income students, English-language learners, and those in foster care.”
Dave Alpert (Occidental College, ’71) 
That’s me working diligently on the blog.

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