Ed News, Tuesday, December 23, 2014 Edition


The “Ed News” is going to take a short break for the holidays.  
Look for the next issue on Tuesday, January 6, 2015
Until then:
“For truth to tell, dancing in all its forms cannot be excluded from the curriculum
of all noble education:  dancing with the feet, with ideas, with words,
and, need I add that one must also be able to dance with pen– 
that one must learn how to write” 
― Friedrich Nietzsche
The First Deputy Comptroller for the State of New York published some warnings about the lack of fiscal accountability among charter schools in his state and reports his comments were ignored.  He urged that more transparency be required and he got no response.  He finally told his story to PRO PUBLICA. “Add another voice to those warning about the lack of financial oversight for charter schools,” it begins.  “One of New York state’s top fiscal monitors told ProPublica that audits by his office have found ‘practices that are questionable at best, illegal at worst’ at some charter schools.”
Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to world-renowned developmental psychologist  and prolific author Howard Gardner and Jim Reese, a former teacher in the D.C. Public Schools.  The two authors have a “modest proposal” for the Obamas when the president concludes his term in office in January, 2017.   They should seriously consider teaching in an urban public school as their next career.  Gardner and Reese proceed to offer several reasons why this would be a great idea.
The financial magazine FORBES might be an unlikely place to find a story about teachers but recently it published an interesting item about the problem not being the difficulty in getting rid of bad teachers but trying to retain the good ones.  “It is easy to lay the blame for a struggling education system onto teachers,” the author concludes, “but by making teachers the scapegoats we not only miss the target, but we risk driving more people out of the profession and making the problem worse.”
This can’t be true!  (But it apparently is).  Can state tax revenue earmarked for schools be spent on the construction of a new hockey arena for a local professional team?  “Absolutely not” you say?  Think again.  According to an item in the Detroit Metro Times, the Michigan Attorney General issued a ruling that confirmed that very point.  The legal justification for all this is a little complicated but the article sorts it all out for you.
This op-ed in the Mississippi Gulf Coast Sun-Herald has a very simple request of politicians: “let teachers teach and please stop telling them how to do it.”  “Do members of the Legislature,” he asks, “go over to Highway Patrol headquarters to instruct troopers on how to make a traffic stop? How about the medical center? Do you reckon our state’s elected elite scrub up, waltz into surgery and give doctors pointers on a liver transplant?  But what began as a trickle of officious intermeddling with education has become a torrent.”
Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” for deutsch29, reviews the states, one-by-one, as they abandoned the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) which is one of the two major groups designing tests aligned to the Common Core.  By 2011, 24 states and the District of Colombia serving 31 million students had joined the consortium.  How do things look now?  By December of this year the group had dwindled down to a mere 10 states and the DC with a total of only 10 million students.  What happened?  Schneider is happy to offer some explanations about how education behemoth, Pearson, is getting nervous about its cash cow.               Alan Singer of Hofstra Universtiy zeroes in on the troubles facing Pearson.  He titles his commentary on the Huffington Post “Pearson Education Can Run, But it Cannot Hide.” He highlights some of the difficulties the company is having developing curriculum for the LAUSD and its troubled iPad-for-all program.  In addition, he references the piece by Mercedes Schneider (see above).
Should taxpayer money be used to support religious schools?  The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that it is allowed in this country.  Walt Gardner, on his “Reality Check” blog for EDUCATION WEEK suggests that examples from Great Britain and Turkey may cause people to question that decision.  Citing those countries he concludes his piece thusly: “Parents have the right to send their children to religious schools, but I do not believe they have the right to do so at public expense.”
Edward Berger, Ed.D., on his personal blog, describes how he was part of a team of parents and educators who set up one of the first charter schools in Arizona 20-years-ago.  He was very enthusiastic about the prospects for charters back than but soon soured on the idea as he witnessed them move from partners of public schools to competitors.  He now views charters as vehicles for privatization and the undermining of the teaching profession.  “It is time to close the floodgates of public tax dollars that are being drained from our district schools,” he concludes.  “We must stop replicating the resources the public is already paying for, including all operation and capital dollars, into programs that better serve children. It is time to democratically elect all school governing boards. It is time to confront those whose clear mission is to destroy public education and the teaching profession. We educators and taxpayers must unite to save America’s great public education system.”
Sunday’s L.A. Times profiled another LAUSD teacher who returned to his classroom at South Gate Middle School last week after an 8-month stint in “teacher jail.”  Stuart Lutz is a  popular art instructor at the school who had been yanked from his campus for alleged financial irregularities involving the funding of field trips for his students.  “Lutz’s experience,” the story contends, “underscores the question of whether administrators unfairly took advantage of district policy to remove teachers who were troublesome, but not necessarily guilty of substantial misconduct. Lutz was the union representative for his school and had some disagreements with the principal.”
A group of Wilson High School students in Portland, Oregon, are enrolled in a for-credit, yearlong class on “mindfulness.”  The “Ed News” has featured the technique in the past and an item from EDUCATION WEEK catches you up if you’re not sure what it is.  “The idea behind mindfulness,” it explains, “is that focusing on the present moment helps a person deal better with stress, difficult emotions and negative thoughts.”
Here are some very sobering figures regarding families and children in the U.S. who speak a language other than English in their homes.  According to census figures the number is 21% nationwide.  That jumps to 44% in California and 57% (!) in L.A. County.  The implication of those statistics on schools in Los Angeles is profound.  An op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times by a professor at UCLA argues that schools must work with these students and their many different languages in order to help them “become truly bilingual.”  “We need to embrace and advance homegrown bilingualism,” the author suggest, “but that can happen only if we offer these languages in our educational system. And, of course, it should not be done at the expense of learning English, which remains the sine qua non to function in the world.”
What programs and organizations got the biggest funding grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2014?  Would you be at all surprised that the biggest winners were the Common Core, charter schools and online technology-based initiatives.  Valerie Strauss, writing on her blog for The Washington Post, reviews some of the largest Gates grants from the past year. 
Today’s L.A. Times has a letter from a retired LAUSD adult education ESL teacher decrying the district’s drastic cuts to its adult ed program.  The writer argues that one of the best ways to assist students with learning English is to teach their parents the language.  The letter was in response to the paper’s article about the district ramping up its programs for teaching  “long-term English  learners.”
And finally, while the winter holidays are upon us you should have time to read this article from THE EDUCATOR’S ROOM website which asks  “Want to Fix Schools?  Give Teachers More TIME!”  The author lists a number of school-related things he’d like to do if he just had the time to do them.
Happy holidays everyone.  See you next year. 
Thanks for reading!

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

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