Monthly Archives: January 2015

Ed News, Friday, January 30, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“The chief wonder of education is that it does not ruin
everybody concerned in it, teachers and taught.”
Henry Adams, The Education of Henry Adams    
Peter Greene, aka the “grumpy old teacher” at the CURMUDGUCATION blog, takes on a recent article in Forbes titled “Kicking Off School Choice Week With 9 Things You Need to Know.”  The author, Maureen Sullivan, proceeds to offer 9 points about education issues today.  Greene offers a point-by-point rebuttal to each of her items.  “Sullivan’s article is one more example of the long game that charter and choice advocates are playing,” he concludes.  Just keep insisting something is true long enough (public schools are failing, vaccines are dangerous, fluoride makes you communist, The Bachelor is a show about finding true love, charter schools are popular and successful) and eventually it enters Conventional Wisdom as, at a minimum, a ‘valid alternative view.’  It’s not necessary for the things to be true, or even supported by facts– just keep repeating them uncritically and without argument, and eventually, they stick.”  Greene, by the way, includes a link to Sullivan’s piece so you can see what he’s so agitated about.
 
The State School Superintendent of Georgia has joined the growing chorus of concerned people who are writing to U.S. Senate Education Committee Chair Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and others about their misgivings over mandated testing and how it is being misused.  His comments were reprinted in a column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “Our broken model of assessment is too focused on labeling our schools and teachers,” he writes, “and not focused enough on supporting our students. Our current status quo model is forcing our teachers to teach to the test. We need an innovative approach that uses tests to guide instruction, just as scans and tests guide medical professionals.”                U.S. Senate hearings are continuing to collect testimony regarding the renewal of NCLB.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, reviews what was said by witnesses and Senators on the Health, Education Labor and Pensions Committee.  He zeroes in on comments made by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) who wonders when federal educational policy will get back to its original intent which was to direct funds to where they were needed most rather than spending them on things like Common Core and standardized assessments.  “While the debate over NCLB revision entails lots of issues – including standardized testing, school services for a broad range of students, and supports for principals and teachers – make no mistake, that a big part of the debate is about the money,” Bryant notes.  “The federal government spends nearly $79 billion annually on primary and secondary education programs, and state governments eagerly want to get their hands on that money.”
 
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to increase student test scores from 20% to 50% on teacher evaluations has stirred a lot of controversy.  The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of items about it.  Diane Ravitch, in a commentary in the New York Daily News, offers her critique of the idea.  If you know Ravitch you can probably guess on which side of the debate she comes down on.  “Gov. Cuomo’s reform agenda for the schools is dangerously wrong,” she blasts.  “It will harm students, teachers and public education.  It will waste taxpayer dollars on failed policies.”  She goes on to detail a number of reasons why she can’t support his plan.
 
Put this one in the “That’s Easy For Him To Say” file:  How do people with LOTS and LOTS of money feel about sharing even a TINY, TINY little bit of it with the public schools?  If you’re Stephen Schwarzman the answer is “no, thanks!”   The billionaire head of the private investment firm Blackstone Group told a gathering at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, last week that looking at funding was misguided, according to a story in the INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES.  “Schwarzman’s views run counter to those of other analysts,” it maintains.  “A study released by the National Bureau of Economic Research this month suggested otherwise, showing a strong link between education funding and education and economic outcomes. Based on almost five decades of data, the researchers found a 10 percent increase in per-student spending leads to more completed years of education, higher wages and a reduction in the incidence of adult poverty.  Those results, concluded the study, are even ‘more pronounced for children from low-income families.’”  It seems the more money one has the less one has to rely on the facts.
 
An earlier item in the “Ed News” highlighted the increasingly shorter tenures for school district superintendents, particularly those in urban areas.  Walt Gardner, veteran LAUSD teacher and former lecturer at the UCLA Graduate School of Education comments on the phenomenon and why the job is so difficult.  He also addresses the issue of whether those positions should be filled by people with education experience in a short commentary for his “Reality Check” column in EDUCATION WEEK.               Gardner penned another interesting piece in the same publication titled “Are Teachers’ Unions the Enemy?”  in reaction to New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s bashing of the teachers unions in his state.
 
Originally 45 states and the District of Columbia adopted the new Common Core State Standards.  Since then, support has begun to fragment according to a story in The Washington Post.  “Indiana and Oklahoma have dropped the Core,” it mentions, “and four other states are moving to review and potentially replace the standards.  Lawmakers in other statehouses are taking up anti-Common Core bills as the legislative season gets underway.  There has been even broader resistance to the common standardized tests.”               Massachusetts, on the other hand, is abandoning its MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) test after 20 years and moving to the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers), one of the federally funded Common Core aligned testing consortia.  Why would they do that?  Could it have anything o do with the fact that the commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education is also the chair of the PARCC governing board?  A story in the Boston Globe helps you sort out all the issues.
 
In the past, the “Ed News” has featured several article about teacher-led schools.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette takes a detailed look at several schools in this category and how they differ from their more traditional counterparts.  “Teachers are in charge of at least 70 public schools in 15 states;” the story reports, “most, but not all, are charter schools. Ten more teacher-run schools, including one in Maryland’s Prince George’s County, are in the planning stages. These schools are not only redesigning the learning process to better engage students, they’re improving student performance. On top of that, they’re stemming the high dropout rate among teachers.”
 
Diane Ravitch’s Blog hit 17 million page views on Wednesday.  Ravitch comments on the milestone and her love for writing the very popular (and time-consuming, as she notes) column in a short post you can read by clicking here.  “The blog has turned into something far more time-demanding than what I originally intended,” she indicates.  It is my chief preoccupation.  But I love doing it because I learn so much every day from readers’ comments, and I love to share what I know.  More than that, I have heard from many readers that the blog is their most important source of information about education.”  [Ed. note:  The “Ed News” will certainly agree with her last point.]
 
The State Board of Education in Arkansas, on a divided 5-4 vote, decided to take over the Little Rock School District because of low test scores at 6 of the schools.  The action disbands the locally elected  school board and replaces it with a citizens advisory council and places the district’s superintendent under the authority of the State Education commissioner.  Details of the decision are contained in a story in the Arkansas News.               For an analysis of what all this means and who are the winners and losers check out an article in the Arkansas Times.
“The Billionaires Boys Club,” it points out, “and its allies at the chamber of commerce won a hard-won and well-orchestrated battle.”  Check out the 5 people who supported the state takeover and their connections to the Walton Foundation and charter companies and you can probably guess what’s in store for the district.
 
What impact could schools have on climate change and air and water pollution if they all switched to renewable energy sources?  Interesting question.  A coalition of parents, teachers and students has formed a brand new organization called Repower Our Schools that is encouraging several districts in North Carolina to pursue energy sources other than fossil fuels.  A story from EcoWatch explains what the group hopes to accomplish regarding the utilization of renewables.
 
The over-emphasis on English, math and test prep in the run up to standardized assessments has meant the cutting back or out right elimination of things like science, history, music, art and RECESS.  The reduction in minutes for the last one is the topic of a piece in Forbes by two members of the NYU Sports & Society Program.  “With physical education classes now almost non-existent in our schools,” they suggest, “recess needs to be a part of the school day.  Students—and teachers—need occasional, repeated breaks from their work.  It’s how the human body and mind get repaired and recharged.”
 
Thanks to Kim Hall for sending along a fascinating YouTube video (2:29 minutes) about an innovative use of technology to provide student teachers with a virtual classroom to hone their techniques.  You’ll definitely need to view the segment to see how technology is being used to prepare new teachers.  The program is at Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville, and, as an added bonus Kim’s sister, Dr. Wendy Fuchs, offers a brief comment about it on the clip. 
 
Do politics or sexism ever get entangled in education policy?  In Indiana, the answer, apparently, is a resounding “yes!”  First, a little background:  every statewide office in the Hoosier State is occupied by a Republican except for State Superintendent of Education, held since Nov., 2012, by Democrat Glenda Ritz.  Since her surprise upset election two years ago the governor and GOP controlled legislature have been trying to strip her of as many responsibilities over education policy as they can get away with.  A scathing op-ed in the Lafayette Journal & Courier lays out how nasty the attacks have become on Ritz.  The president of the Indiana State Senate, David Long, in a radio interview in which he attempted to defend his party’s removal of Ritz’s duties, stated “In all fairness, Supt. Ritz was a librarian, OK?”  Might that comment seem to imply that she’s not qualified for her position?  That got Diane Ravitch’s dander up as she wondered if Long has no respect for librarians, women, the voters who elected her or, possibly, all three!  Anyway, please read the article and see for yourself what Ritz has been subjected to.
 
The headline of this item from EDUCATION WEEK pretty much tells the story: “School Districts’ Per-Pupil Spending Declines for Second Straight Year.”  Fiscal year 2012 information was included in the report from the National Center for Education Statistics.  The drop from 2011 was measured at 2.5% and was still at the height of the Great Recession.  New York City recorded the highest per-pupil spending amount at $20,226 while a district in Utah checked in with a paltry $5, 412.  You can find the full report (46 pages) titled “Revenues and Expenditures for Public Elementary and Secondary School Districts: School Year 2011-2012 (Fiscal Year 2012)” by clicking here.
 
There’s been some criticism that the Common Core has pushed the reading of fiction into the background.  A veteran computer and STEM teacher in New York City thinks he has the answer.  “[Lev] Fruchter says it has been easy to bring his love of fiction into his computer science classroom, and his efforts could be a model for other educators feeling conflicted about the new nonfiction-heavy Common Core standards, a set of grade-level expectations in math and English in place in more than 40 states.”  THE HECHINGER REPORT describes what Fruchter has been doing in his classroom to integrate fiction and computer science for his students.   It includes a great example from Frank R. Stockton’s short story “The Lady, or the Tiger?”

 
The U.S. Dept. of Education recently published some new guidelines for teacher preparation programs and opened them up for public comment until Feb. 2.  The American Federation of Teachers has been at the forefront of opposition to the proposals.  “”The department is opting to follow the same old measure-and-punish accountability model that has been imposed on K-12 education,” the AFT argues in its letter to the DOE about the new guidelines.  “The results are predictable: Students who need the most support, and the teacher-preparation programs that send teachers to serve those students, are most likely to be harmed by these regulations.”  The National Education Association seems to also be against the rules but has been much more muted in its disapproval.   EDUCATION WEEK provides the details. 
 
And finally, a recent study highlighted in the “Ed News” reported on the fact that a majority of U.S. public school students are now characterized as minority and low-income.  The implications of those demographics are significant as much more emphasis and resources will need to be directed to this new reality.  “Research shows that poor children often enter school behind other students academically,” notes an item in EDUCATION WEEK, “they often struggle to catch up, and they tend to lag behind their higher-income peers in areas like attendance.”
 
Enjoy Super Bowl XLIX on Sunday.  The game, between the Seattle Seahawks and the New England Patriots, kicks-off from the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona at 3:30 pm on NBC.
 
 
 
 
 
 
     
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)
 
 

 

 
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Ed News, Tuesday, January 27, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“Knowledge which is acquired under compulsion has no hold on the mind.
Therefore do not use compulsion, but let early education be a sort of amusement;
you will then be better able to discover the child’s natural bent.”
Plato
Who “profits” from standardized testing and would want it to continue?  Not the students or teachers.  The obvious answer is the large educational companies like Pearson who produce the assessments and the ancillary materials.  They have a VERY strong reason for wanting the entire system to continue.  It’s spelled M-O-N-E-Y!  A reader of Diane Ravitch’s Blog commented on that very point.  “Children are not the ‘products’ in reformers efforts to change education,” the author suggests.  Children are the consumers.  Reformers aren’t working to ‘improve’ children, their brains, or their prospects.  They’re working to SELL them stuff.  If reformers cared about the quality of learning American children receive, standardized testing would be the last thing they’d subject them to.”
 
The Gates Foundation has a new CEO.  Could this mean possible changes in philosophy and approach?  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, thinks that might be the case but he isn’t holding his breath just yet.  “In recent weeks,” he begins, “we have heard something new from Bill Gates and the new CEO of the Gates Foundation. A bit of humility regarding their overseas work. It remains to be seen if this sort of reflection will be applied to their domestic work in the field of education.” 
 
How do parents, particularly lower-income ones, go about choosing schools for their children when they are given options?  Do they base their decisions on academics, location, safety or extracurriculars?  A new study from the Education Research Alliance (ERA) for New Orleans provides some intriguing results.  It’s featured in an item from NPR. “Parents, especially low-income parents,” it reports, “actually show strong preferences for other qualities like location and extracurriculars — preferences that can outweigh academics.”  You can view the full report (67 pages) titled “What Schools Do Families Want (And Why)?” by clicking here.               Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, had several concerns about the ERA study referenced above.  She had some issues with test score comparisons pre- and post-Katrina and how the A-F grade evaluation system was applied to schools.  Check out the original report and see what questions Schneider raised regarding it.
 
One of the recent books discussed by the ALOED book club was Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity and the Hidden Power of Character.  Jeffrey Aaron Snyder, the author of this piece from the NEW REPUBLIC, is an assistant professor of educational studies at Carleton College.  “I was one of thousands of educators from all over the world,” he relates, “who signed up for an online class taught by one of the leading figures in this movement: Dave Levin, the charismatic co-founder of the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) network of charter schools and the inventor of the character growth card. When the class went live, I had a few outstanding concerns, but I still expected the KIPP method would have a lot to offer. By the end of the month-long course, my enthusiasm had waned, while my misgivings had multiplied.”  Snyder proceeded to detail 3 problems that he had with the concept of character education.              “Grit” and character education have been popular for some time but the idea is increasingly ending up in the cross hairs of educational researchers.  This piece, from EDUCATION WEEK, asks the rather provocative question: “Is ‘Grit’ Racist?”  Two presenters at the recent EduCon 2.7 conference in Philadelphia grappled with the issue.  “Increasingly, though, critics are offering a different take,” the article suggests, “arguing that grit is a racist construct and has harmed low-income students by crowding out a focus on providing children with the supports they deserve and the more-flexible educational
approach enjoyed by many of their more affluent counterparts.”
 
A major effort by so-called education “reformers” and privatizers to take over the Dallas Independent School District and turn it into an all-charter system died last week when the commission looking into the changes voted to kill the proposals.  A group called Support Our Public Schools with major backing from billionaire John Arnold and other undisclosed supporters had started almost a year ago to turn control of the DISD over to the mayor, eliminate elected trustees and abrogate teacher contracts.  The battle in Dallas and the latest decision regarding it is detailed in a story from the Texas Observer.  “That willingness to blow up the current system,” it points out, “even at the expense of, say, democracy, is a hallmark of the philanthropy-driven school reform movement that is urging parents away from a system driven by elected school boards and influential teachers’ groups.”
 
Does increasing the amount of money spent on schools have any impact on students?  To many education critics and some current  politicians the answer is a resounding “no!” However, some as yet unpublished findings demonstrate the opposite to be the case.  2 researchers from Northwestern University and one from UC Berkeley show how increased funding can produce some important long-term benefits especially for poor, low-income students.  The report is featured in a story from The Washington Post. “The [authors] found that the increased funding had the greatest effect if it was used to raise teachers’ salaries, reduce class sizes or lengthen the school year,” the story asserts. “That conclusion accords with other research finding that better teachers can have profound effects on how much students learn, since the schools with the smallest classes and the highest salaries can attract the most talented instructors.”  The Post article includes a link to the  full  draft report (83 pages) from the National Bureau of Economic Research titled “The Effects of School Spending on Educational and Economic Outcomes: Evidence From School Finance Reforms.”  
 
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other so-called education “reformers” in the Empire State believe schools there are “in crisis.”  A lot of other misinformed critics of public education feel the same about their local schools.  A piece in The New York Times reports that “Data Suggests Otherwise.”  [Ed. note: Darn those facts!  They just get in the way!]  “But how bad is New York, really?  Relative to other states,” the author points out, “experts say, not that bad. But not that good, either.” The truth, as is often the case, lies somewhere in the middle.                Is Gov. Cuomo’s plan to increase student test scores from 20% to 50% as part of teacher evaluations more about politics than good pedagogy?  That’s the point of a commentary in a story from EDUCATION WEEK. “It’s sad,” the author concludes, “that we have an example where a governor of a state works so hard against the public school system instead of with them. Unfortunately as we move into yet another year where we find ourselves in the same vicious cycle that shows education is not on a pedagogical cycle, but a political one.”               Gov. Cuomo’s proposed remedy is drawing more and more criticism as its implications and impact are subjected to expert scrutiny.  Aaron Pallas is a professor of Sociology and Education at Teachers College, Columbia University.  He titles his commentary in THE HECHINGER REPORT Gov. Cuomo’s Wrong Diagnosis, Wrong Treatment for New York Schools” as he compares the governor’s action to what goes on in a hospital ER.   
 
Steven Singer writes some very creative, informative and entertaining material on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG.  His latest effort is a satiric look, in the form of a play, about administering standardized tests.  He titles it “Confession of a Standardized Test Proctor.”  Try not to laugh too hard.  You’ll wake up the neighbors.
 
The Washington State Democratic Party voted to oppose the Common Core.  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in Dialogue blog, described what they did and why.  “The Central Committee of the Washington State Democratic Party has passed a resolution that roundly condemns the Common Core standards,” Cody began. ” This is the first time a statewide Democratic Party committee has taken a public position against the Common Core, and it happened in the back yard of the Gates Foundation, which has provided the funding that made the national standards project possible. This could signal a sea-change for the beleaguered standards, because up until now, political opposition has been strongest in the Republican party.”               A follow-up piece on the same blog explains “How to Get Your State Democratic Party to Oppose Common Core.”  The co-authors provide a detailed 11-step process, including a copy of their successful resolution,  for accomplishing just such a feat and they draw on what happened in Washington State (see above) as their case study.  “In our opinion,” they relate, “the most crucial element of our success was the presence of real parents and real teachers speaking from their hearts about how Common Core harms their kids.  Without these parents and teachers we do not believe we could have been so successful.  The other important factor was the year we spent building our team and building support one person at a time and one legislative district at a time within the Democratic Party.”
 
A group of 18 education school deans has formed a new organization called Deans for Impact out of Austin, Texas.  Their goal is to design new teacher prep programs that make use of these core principles: “• Using common measures for gauging graduates’ classroom performance; • Collecting, sharing, and using data as a basis for making changes to programs; • Using research to identify the features of effective teacher-preparation programs; and • Being transparent about and accountable for results.”  Two of the founding members are from USC and LMU.
 
Things are starting to get nasty regarding the “opt-out” movement.  Diane Ravitch’s Blog reports that the Philadelphia Public Schools are threatening “disciplinary action” against teachers who inform parents of their rights to opt-out of standardized tests.  Ravitch reprints a news release from two teachers who are members of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers.              Speaking of “nasty,” LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines blasted UTLA for its demand of a 8.5% salary increase among other proposals in addition to calls for a strike.  The district recently upped its offer to 4% from a previous 2% pay hike.  The two sides have been negotiating for months with no agreement in sight.  The details were provided in a story posted on the L.A. Times website yesterday evening.
 
THE HECHINGER REPORT has a feature called “Education by the Numbers.”  The latest column is titled “Debunking One Myth About U.S. Teachers?”  What’s that myth?  That many new teacher candidates come from the lowest rungs of their entering classes based on SAT and ACT scores.  Based on some new research published last month, the author points out that “. . . . in 1999 almost 30 percent of new teachers came from the bottom third, as measured by SAT scores. Another thirty percent came from the top third. Ten years later, in 2010, the number of new teachers coming from the top third had risen dramatically, to more than 40 percent. And fewer than 20 percent of new teachers scored in the bottom third.”
 
Need some tips/advice on how to mentor a new teacher?  The author of this item from EDUCATION WEEK is a National Board-certified teacher from Illinois who has taught high school and community college math and is currently a full-time teacher mentor specialist.  He offers 12 ideas on how to work with that new teacher.  “Over the years,” he reveals, “I have formally mentored more than 30 teachers new to our district. I learned the happy truth that mentors get as much—if not more—out of the relationship than the mentee does. It is a role I encourage all willing teachers to embrace.”               Speaking of novice educators.  The same publication offers a story on how new district superintendents are being trained for their positions under a new program created by the American Association of School Administrators.  “Guided by mentors and guest instructors who are all current or former schools chiefs,” the article explains, “the 28 novice superintendents in AASA’s program have been steeped in finance and business-management practices and have reviewed case studies on effective communication and school board relations.”
 
The Oklahoma PTA is suggesting parents opt their children out of field testing of standardized assessments in that state.  Diane Ravitch’s Blog printed a statement from the president of that organization.  “Oklahoma PTA believes,” he maintains, “that parents have the right to make informed decisions regarding whether or not their child provides unpaid research to the billion-dollar testing industry. They deserve the opportunity to opt their child out of the field test.”
 
And finally, a previous article in the “Ed News” highlighted the growing turnover among school superintendents, particularly in large urban districts.  EDUCATION WEEK points out that the trend is beginning to be seen among state school chiefs too.  “A recent spate of departures,” it begins, “by prominent state schools chiefs—including John B. King in New York and Kevin S. Huffman in Tennessee—is focusing attention on a turnover rate that now rivals the chronically high churn among urban superintendents.”
 
 
                                                                                                          
 Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)
 That’s me working diligently on the blog.
 
 

 

 

Ed News, Friday, January 23, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“Any formal attack on ignorance is bound to fail because the masses
are always ready to defend their most precious possession – their ignorance.”
Hendrik Willem van Loon
EDUCATION WEEK has a piece on “10 Tips for Setting Successful Goals With Students.”  It’s written by a National Board-certified teacher who has taught English Language Arts in Massachusetts for 20 years.  “Now my students use these concrete steps,” she writes, “to reach their goals, giving them hope, teaching them perseverance, and helping them practice skills they can use in college and in their careers.”
 
A state law in California requires school districts to include measurements of student performance as part of teacher evaluations.  A recent report by EdVoice Institute for Research and Education out of Sacramento found that, of the 26 districts studied, only two were in full compliance and two others were “blatantly in violation.” LAUSD was not included in the survey since it was, at the time, in the process of revamping its evaluation process under a court order.  A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times has the details.  You can find the full report (15 pages) titled “Student Progress Ignored: An Examination of California School Districts’ Compliance With the Stull Act” by clicking here.                 A blog from the Badass Teachers Association claims the Times story (above) is erroneous in its claims:  “Yesterday, The LA Times reported that, ‘Major California school districts are failing to comply with a state law that requires them to evaluate teachers in part by how much their students have learned.’  This claim is completely incorrect. In fact, California is one of the few states where most districts do NOT tie test scores to Teacher Evaluation.”  The article proceeds to provide additional documentation to support its position.               New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed in his State of the State address on Wednesday that student test scores count for 50% of teacher evaluations and the other half to be made up of classroom observations.  Diane Ravitch’s Blog was quick to react to that idea.              Are Gov. Cuomo and others in New York out to destroy the teachers’ unions and “dismantle” public education in the Empire State?  That’s the gist of a blog from a New York teacher writing on the Clemsy’s Corner blog.  It includes some key talking points contained in a letter from Cuomo to the head of the New York Board of Regents regarding the future of education in the state.  “There is no subterfuge here,” the author writes.  “Governor Cuomo and Chancellor Tisch seek to end public education as we know it. They want to break the back of NYSUT (New York State United Teachers). They want to make our local irrelevant. If we do not act now, all will be lost.  Simply put, we are at war!  I say to you now,” he beseeches, “we must become part of the solution. We must take up this cause as we never have before. We cannot be blind to what is about to occur in this state budget cycle.”  “This is a startling blog post,” Diane Ravitch noted in her column,” that has been going viral.”
 
Pres. Obama delivered his State of the Union Speech in the House of Representatives chamber on Tuesday evening.  He spoke on a number of topics.  EDUCATION WEEK analyzed his comments regarding early childhood, K-12 and post-secondary education policy proposals.
 
Hearings have commenced on the reauthorization of NCLB and Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, believes that  Senator Sheldon Whitehouse’s  (D-RI) comments made the most sense.  “Whitehouse urged his colleagues,” Bryant wrote, “to consider more closely the purpose of testing – not just how many tests and how often but how assessments are used.”  Be sure to read what else the Senator said on the topic.  Finally, a voice of reason in the often jumbled debate over sound education policy.                  The UNITED OPT OUT organization has joined the growing list of groups and individuals who felt motivated to send open letters to Sen. Alexander (R-Tenn.), chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee.  His panel is taking testimony about renewing NCLB.  Their piece explains their position and why they believe the way they do.  “We demand greater safety,” it proposes, “equity and quality for ALL schools and that includes the elimination of ALL standardized -paper based or computer adaptive testing – that redirects tax-based funding for public education to corporations and is punitive or damaging to children, teachers, schools, and communities.”
 
What are your feelings/reactions to a new Gallup poll that found that only 30% of teachers questioned were “actively engaged” in their jobs?  57% were “not engaged” and 13% were “actively disengaged.”  You’ll have to read the piece from EDUCATION WEEK about the survey to get the definition of “engaged” as it’s being used.  Washington State had the highest rate of “engaged teachers” at 35%.  California had the 7th best score at 31%.  Florida led the pack of “actively disengaged teachers” at 17% according to data provided by Gallup which you you review by clicking here.
 
In an important victory for teachers a Pennsylvania appeals court ruled that Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission could not throw out the contract negotiated between the teachers union and the financially troubled city school district.  The decision was explained on the Philadelphia Inquirer website.  “After nearly two years of negotiations,” the article reported,  “the district had moved on Oct. 6 to cancel the teachers’ contract and impose health-benefits changes that would save the cash-strapped system $54 million annually, officials said.  In the decision, judges said that neither the state Public School Code nor the Legislature have expressly given the SRC the power to cancel its teachers’ contract.”
How many of you could identify a single teacher or two who had a significant impact on your life and/or career in education?  [Ed. note: I can.  For me it was my high school U.S. History teacher, Mr. Beach.]  Have you ever taken the opportunity to acknowledge that person or persons for what they did for you?  [Ed. follow-up: I did. It was at my 40th high school reunion and the next time we see each other ask me about it.  It warms my heart every time I relate the story.]  Marty Kaplan, writing in the current (Jan. 23) edition of the JEWISH JOURNAL, talks about how his high school Advanced Biology teacher in New Jersey, Mr. Jaeger, changed his life.  Kaplan suggests that you not wait until it’s too late to thank that special person.  He titles the piece “Before Your Favorite Teacher Dies.”  “Maybe not everyone had a Mr. Jaeger,” Kaplan concludes, “to open their minds to wonders they never knew existed, and to find gifts in their head, stamina in their gut and hopes in their heart they didn’t know they had.  But if you were lucky enough to have at least one teacher like that, I hope you were able to tell him or her how grateful you are before it turned out to be too late.”  Please pass the tissue!
Here’s a novel idea about teacher evaluations.  Why not let the educators set their own standards?  Sound far-fetched?  Never happen, you say.  The HECHINGER REPORT describes how just such a system is working in Wisconsin.  “At a time when the debate over how to assess America’s schoolteachers is often framed as too easy vs. too harsh, Wisconsin is striving for something in between,” it explains.  “The state is trying to create a teacher evaluation system that’s more rigorous than the observations of yesteryear—which in some communities might have encompassed a cursory classroom visit by an administrator—but less punitive than popular tactics used more recently, like publicly rating teachers on the websites of national newspapers like the New York Times or Los Angeles Times—or threatening them with dismissal for subpar student test scores.  So Wisconsin is handing over some of the reins to teachers, asking them to decide how much students should be expected to learn, and how that growth should be measured.”  The story goes on to feature a kindergarten teacher and how this innovative evaluation system works with her.
Jeb Bush has recently been mentioned as a possible Republican candidate for president in 2016.  The New Yorker has an extended article on his past education policies and his current commitment to the privatization of the public school system and other “reforms.”  “Since he left office,” it explains, “Bush has maintained a national profile through his work on the issue with which, as governor, he had sought to make his biggest mark: education reform. But, after leading the way in pushing a conservative vision for America’s schools, Bush is now caught in the midst of an unexpected upheaval on the issue within his own party.”  Diane Ravitch called this one a “must-read.”
And finally, Bill Gates insists his foundation is focused on research and development and avoids getting involved in the “political process.”  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, finds this hard to believe and thinks Gates is either naive or uninformed about what’s going on in his name.  Cody reviews a recent interview with Gates that was conducted by the Wall Street Journal and annotates it with previous statements made by software entrepreneur.
                                                                                                          
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the blog.
 
 

 

 

Ed News, Tuesday, January 20, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“Scoring well on tests is the sort of happy thing that gets the school district

the greenbacks they crave.

Understanding and appreciating the material are secondary.”
Libba Bray
Want another example of the misuse of standardized tests?  Diane Ravitch’s Blog describes legislation introduced in Pennsylvania that would end the use of a state standardized test as a high school graduation requirement.  In addition, Ravitch explains why this is a terrible idea.
 
When a Texas state political leader needs advice on education policy who does he turn to?  Why of course, private business and industry leaders (no educators need apply).  If you believe no one would ever do that–think again.  When the new lieutenant governor of the Lone Star State wanted some guidance regarding K-12 schools and other issues in his state he created a blue ribbon 55-member committee made up of the aforementioned business and industry leaders.  Nary an educator in sight.  Details about this can be found in a short item from THE TEXAS TRIBUNE.
 
The Friday edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a new report that showed 51% of American public school students were classified as in poverty.  This story from The Washington Post features the same study but goes into much more depth describing what it means for the U.S. school system.  “The shift to a majority-poor student population means that in public schools,” it states starkly, “a growing number of children start kindergarten already trailing their more privileged peers and rarely, if ever, catch up.  They are less likely to have support at home, are less frequently exposed to enriching activities outside of school, and are more likely to drop out and never attend college.”
 
Yesterday the U.S. celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr., day.  King would have been 86 years old on his Jan. 15th, birth date this year.  How would he feel about the corporate assault on public education if he were alive today?  Yohuru Williams is a Professor of History at Fairfield University in Connecticut and, in a piece for The Progressive, he speculates on what King would have believed and what he might have said about the state of education in the U.S. today.  “King saw the goal of education as more than performance on high-stakes tests or the acquisition of job skills or career competencies,” Williams suggests.  “He saw it as the cornerstone of free thought and the use of knowledge in the public interest. For King, the lofty goal of education was not just to make a living but also to make the world a better place by using that production of knowledge for good.”
 
Did the American Federation of Teachers just sell out on the issue of standardized testing?  That’s the point made by a high school history teacher in Massachusetts writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  She was perplexed by the joint statement issued by the AFT and Center for American Progress regarding how testing should be handled.  She concludes that “the AFT is negotiating the terms of our final surrender.”  Pretty strong words.                 Is the debate over the renewal of NCLB more about politics than sound educational research?  That’s the position of Jeff Bryant on the Education Opportunity NETWORK site who argues that the different legislative proposal are ignoring some key ideas.  He carefully reviews the various positions and surveys the findings regarding the efficacy and usage of standardized tests.  “While the arguments on both sides,” he maintains, “continue to vie back and forth over issues of how many tests should be given and how frequently, what’s completely lost in the debate is the more important issue of how tests are used.”               Veteran award-winning New York high school principal and prolific blogger Carol Burris writes an open letter to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the new chair of the Senate education committee regarding the testing mandate of NCLB.  Burris, who previously supported NCLB offers her suggestions for how to rewrite the law.  “The time has come,” she concludes, “to devise an accountability system with multiple measures, flexible and varied student assessment, and modest grade span testing. ”  Her letter is reprinted on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post                           The GADGLYONTHEWALLBLOG has a thoroughly tongue-in-cheek look at testing and the whole idea of “accountability” which it titles “Trust Tests, Not Teachers–Accountability for Dummies.”  If you need a little breather from all the serious stuff in this edition this one will likely tickle your funny bone.             More bad news for the PARCC testing consortium.  Mississippi recently cancelled its planned participation in the  assessments and on Friday the Chicago Public Schools decided that only 10% of its school would take part in the testing regimen.  Catalyst CHICAGO has the latest developments. “It is unclear what if anything the state or federal government will do to CPS,” it concludes, “considering it is so large. Last year, the state of California took a ‘snow’ year on standardized testing and it was not sanctioned.”              The entire standardized testing regimen is under assault as the Congress takes up reauthorization of NCLB.  Diane Ravitch’s Blog reprints a letter from a middle school teacher in New York who laments how all the effort on testing is ruining American education “Please consider how damaging NCLB is to public education,” the person concludes.  “It hurts rather than helps.  It punishes children in poverty, stress, or those who struggle in a subject as well as their teachers.”               In the same vein comes this commentary from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  It’s penned by a professor of educational theory and practice at the University of Georgia who wonders how other professions, for instance medicine, would fare if they faced the same kind of evaluation and accountability demanded of educators.  She, too, believes testing is ruining education.  “Stop the madness,” she demands.  “Everyone knows the testing regime is a farce. The era of testing has failed miserably, but we can only begin undoing the damage and rebuilding our K-12 students’ and families’ trust in and value from public education when we call it quits on high-stakes testing.”               Two teachers, with 41 years of experience between them working in middle and high schools and special ed classes, provide their unique point-of-view regarding standardized assessments.  Their piece is titled “Teachers Need Tests . . . . Just Not THOSE Ones!”   It comes courtesy of the Badass Teachers Association website.               It seems like everyone is writing open letters to Sen. Alexander about his committee’s upcoming work on renewing NCLB.  Not to be left out, Diane Ravitch pens a missive with her suggestions and ideas about what should emerge from those hearings.
 
Any idea how charter schools save money by cutting the costs of educating their students?  Kathy Mone, a business executive from a charter school in Hoboken, New Jersey, gave a presentation to the National Charter Schools Conference in 2012 outlining specific policies her school follows to keep costs down.  Many of the slides she used are reprinted on the Jersey Jazzman’s blog.  He even updated his piece with a response from Mone to what he’d written plus he includes links to Parts I and II of his series on how charter operate in Hoboken.
 
Is the Education Writers Association burying its head in the sand with it’s recent decision to exclude independent bloggers from its organization?  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, who previously won an award from the EWA for his writings on the Common Core, explains why he and Mercedes Schneider were no longer permitted to submit their work for consideration of future awards based on the EWA’s requalification of their status as writers.  Cody goes on to describe a new organization, the Education Bloggers Network, that is rapidly gaining membership among independent writers.  “It is unfortunate that the Education Writers Association is walling itself off from truly independent bloggers,” Cody concludes.  One of the most crucial functions of a democracy is the operation of a free and critical press, and robust debate and discussion among journalists themselves is essential.  I hope the EWA Board revisits this policy in the future.  Meanwhile, I hope truly independent education writers will join the Education Bloggers Network.”
 
Most public school construction in the state of California is achieved through the passage of bonds by voters.  That creates debt (principal + interest) that is then paid off over the life of the bonds.  Gov. Brown has spent most of his previous 4 years in office attempting to pay down the debt accrued by the state as a result of the Great Recession.  He is, understandably, a little  gun shy about adding to the deficit and would rather the state get out of the school construction business .  Columnist George Skelton wrote in yesterday’s L.A. Times that the governor “should bend” on his position on school bonds.  “Critics of Brown’s policy say that some districts would be rich enough to finance construction themselves,” Skelton notes, “but poor districts could never go it alone. Brown says the state could continue to help the impoverished districts.”
 
Privacy experts have expressed concern over the amount of individual student data generated by all the new computerized curricula and assessments.  Data is still important for analyzing student achievement but the fear is that the information will be misused.  A story from The HECHINGER REPORT offers “3 lessons” on how it can be used to safely and positively provide feedback to students.
 
Should test scores be the sole factor in comparing students from different countries?  Many measures rely exclusively on assessment results.  A new study from The Horace Mann League and the NATIONAL SUPERINTENDENTS ROUNDTABLE looks at nine  nations (U.S., China, Canada, Finland, Germany, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan) and compares student outcomes on a number of factors.  Surprise!  Using this methodology the U.S. comes out quite well.  Diane Ravitch features the report on her blog and you can read the full study (58 pages), titled “School Performance in Context: Indicators of School Inputs and Outputs in Nine Similar Nations” by clicking here.
 
Both the State of California and the LAUSD have made a concerted effort over the past couple of years to reduce the number of student suspensions and expulsions.  According to data from the state Department of Education the project has been extremely successful as rates in both categories have plunged.  The district has, in fact, outperformed the state in reducing the numbers in both areas.  The “Explainer” column in today’s L.A. Times has the figures and the analysis.  “In L.A. Unified,” it explains, “which enrolls about 11% of students in the state, the number of expulsions has remained fairly consistent over several years — and lower when compared with many districts. The dramatic change has been in suspensions. In the 2011-12 school year, L.A. Unified suspended 18,888 students, according to state figures. Over the next two years, the number declined to 11,898 and 8,864, a 53% decline over that span.”
 
And finally, “Public School: Our Best Weapon Against Terror Attacks on Freedom of Speech?” is the question addressed in a very timely piece from The HECHINGER REPORT.  The author, founding dean of urban education at Davenport University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, believes effective, well integrated public schools may be the best defense against terror attacks like what took place in Paris earlier this month.  
 
 
                                                                                                          
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the blog. 
 

 

 

Ed News, Friday, January 16, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

 Monday is Martin Luther King, Jr., day.
                                Happy holiday.
“…even though I was getting better education at home than any of the kids in Toyah,
 I’d need to go to finishing school when I was thirteen, both to acquire social graces and to earn a diploma.
Because in this world, Dad said, it’s not enough to have a fine education. You need a piece of paper to prove you got it.”
Jeannette Walls, Half Broke Horses
And now to the news.
From our “charter-school-scandal-of-the-day” file comes this tale of woe from Michigan.  Seems a Traverse City optometrist and businessman had an idea for a charter school company which he began in 1999 and later turned into a 4-campus chain.  Things seemed to be going fairly well for founder Steven Ingersoll who now faces serious charges of bank fraud and tax evasion “in the most significant federal criminal case in the history of Michigan’s 20-year-old charter school industry.”  Details of the story come from the MICHIGAN LIVE website.
 
Proponents of vouchers should check out this piece from Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29.  She looks at how the voucher plan that began in New Orleans and then spread to the entire state of Louisiana rapidly went south when the anticipated demand for the funds from the public failed to meet expectations.
 
A recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an article about the importance of the social sciences to a well rounded education in light of the major stress placed on the STEM courses and the English Language Arts in testing and curriculum.  This commentary, from EDUCATION WEEK, continues that concept as it headlines: “The Humanities Make Us Human.”  It makes a strong case for including subjects like foreign language, history, philosophy, religion and the visual and performing arts.  “As the world gets smaller, and as we are forced to share more of its decreasing resources, it is the humanities,” it suggests, “along with the social sciences, that will help us cooperate, coexist, continue, and even flourish.”
 
A high school freshman from New Jersey recently addressed his local school board about the PARCC standardized test.  He called it “the most stressful thing I’ve done in school” and challenged board members to take it for themselves.  Valerie Strauss talks about the young man’s speech and reprints his comments in full on her blog in The Washington Post.
 
There’s been lots of conversation lately regarding the long overdue reauthorization of the NCLB law.  Suggestions have come in from many corners of the educational spectrum.  The author of this example from ASCD (The Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) offers 9 very specific ideas for how the legislation should be updated.  “The current NCLB testing emphasis and the relentless need to demonstrate adequate yearly progress,” he maintains, “make it difficult for schools and districts to implement an educational approach consistent with student educational needs in a 21st century world.  Schools continue to use large amounts of time and energy to help students prepare for test taking.  The curriculum has narrowed.  The unintended consequence is to leave many students behind, without the core understandings, processes and habits of mind they will need in order to successfully compete in a technologically driven, information rich, highly skill-based world.”               Bruce D. Baker, a professor at the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, on his School Finance 101 blog, looks at the debate over testing and the reauthorization of the NCLB law and attempts to separate the wheat from the chaff.  He takes a detailed, scholarly approach to the purpose of testing and what exams hope to achieve.  “I’ve hesitated thus far to enter into the big debate over the usefulness or not of annual testing,” Baker begins.  It continues to blow my mind that many engaged on the pro-annual testing side of the debate see the annual testing of all children in all grades as the one and only method of achieving all of the things testing, in their view, is intended to achieve.”              After an important week on the testing front, EDUCATION WEEK lays out the competing visions for the renewal of the NCLB legislation.  It looks at both the Obama administration’s goals and the plan as presented by the new GOP Senate majority and whether or not there is any common ground.  If you need some clarity on the issue, check out this piece.
 
Teach for America garners a lot of criticism.  I wonder how many people are aware it charges school districts a finders fee of anywhere between $2,000 and $5,000 per candidate per year for placing its corps members.  This detailed piece, from THE AMERICAN PROSPECT, looks at the full costs to school districts and states of utilizing TFA and the impact the program has on recruiting, training and retaining teachers.  It’s quite an eye opener.  “It will be up to the public to decide whether TFA teachers are the right investment for school districts in the future,” the author predicts.  “Though accounting for less than 1 percent of the country’s teaching force, the organization holds a disproportionate amount of political power when it comes to shaping education policy.  The national organization receives millions of dollars from the government each year, and is increasingly funneling its recruits into charter schools.”
 
Thanks to Randy Traweek for sending along a heads-up about a story in EDUCATION WEEK by Walt Gardner, a former 28-year teaching veteran in the LAUSD and lecturer at the UCLA Graduate School of Education, titled “Are Cram Schools on the Horizon in the U.S.?”  Gardner reacts to a prior story from The New York Times Magazine about how students in China attend “test-prep factories” in order to prepare for admission to top tiered universities in that country.  He describes some of the things Chinese students have to go through to get ready for the VERY high stakes test they must take in order to apply to the best universities and the toll that it extracts.  Is that where we are headed with our over emphasis on and misuse of standardized tests in this country, Gardner wonders?  “I hope that cram schools don’t take hold in the U.S. because I think they make a mockery of the educational process.” he concludes.  “Yes, they will improve test scores, but the price paid is no way justified.”  If you are interested, Gardner includes a link to the original NYT Magazine story.
 
Diane Ravitch received an interesting comment on her blog.  It raised the issue of why NCLB requires that ALL students in grades 3-8 be tested every year.  The author of the note points out that businesses certainly don’t test every item they produce.  They can get a very good idea of the quality of their products by conducting a sampling of them. “In business,” he points out, w”e rely heavily on statistical sampling because it’s flat out too expensive to measure every item.  Sampling in manufacturing, sampling in store satisfaction, sampling in purchasing, sampling in advertising impact, sampling, sampling sampling.”
 
EDUCATION WEEK features an Anaheim elementary school that is going the parent-trigger route to try to reform the campus.  
 
During the first week of this month, Diane Ravitch posted a commentary by Alan Singer, professor at Hofstra University, that was critical of the National Council of the Social Studies for its attempt to align its materials with the new Common Core Curriculum and some other issues.  The NCSS issued a point-by-point response and Ravitch carried it, in full, on her blog.
 
Some people have complained about the proliferation of tests required for K-12 students.  One solution?  Require more tests!  Arizona is the first state to include a 100-question civics test as a requirement for high school graduation.  The questions, according to a story from EDUCATION WEEK, comprise the civics portion of the federal government exam given to immigrants who wish to become U.S. citizens.                 Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, offers several of the questions and some of the possible correct answers and includes a link to a site with all 100 questions.  This test in Arizona appears to be just another needless obstacle to keep (undocumented?) kids from graduating, which boosts the drop-out rate and makes the public schools appear to be even more of a “failure”  TRUE or FALSE.
 
Boston teachers, by a 4-to-1 margin, voted to approve a plan to extend the school day by up to 40 minutes for elementary and middle school students in hopes of boosting achievement.  Each educator at the 60 participating campuses will receive an extra $4,464 in pay for the additional hours which will also include 75 minutes a week for “planning, development and collaboration” according to a brief item in EDUCATION WEEK.               In other state news from the same publication, a bill was introduced in the Missouri legislature to ban corporal punishment in all public schools in the Show Me State.  Missouri is one of only 19 states that still allow spanking.  (Check out the map that accompanies the short article to see the others.)  [Ed. note: California banned the practice in 1986.  Pennsylvania was the most recent in 2005.  New Jersey was the first state to prohibit the procedure in 1867!  That’s not a misprint, according to data provided by the Center for Effective Discipline out of Columbus Ohio.]
 
How early do some children need mental health intervention?  That’s the issue tackled by a story from The HECHINGER REPORT.  The answer surprisingly (or not) is as young as pre-school.  The piece uses several truly eye-opening case studies of children as young as 3-years-old who were victims of trauma from violence and poverty that led to some severe classroom problems.  It profiles a special school in Chicago that deals with early-childhood psychological issues.
 
And finally, a new statistical milestone was reached with the release of a report from the Southern Education Foundation that’s based on an analysis of federal data.  It reported that currently a majority of public school students are now classified as low-income.  The story appears in EDUCATION WEEK and it includes a state-by-state map with the percent of low-income students indicated.  Mississippi was the highest at 71%; New Hampshire had the lowest rate at 27%; California? 55%.  “In 2013, 51 percent of public school students qualified for free and reduced-price meals,” the article points out, “a common indicator of poverty in education, according to the most recent data from The National Center for Education Statistics.  It’s a continuation of a trend that’s been building for years and a ‘defining moment’ for the U.S. education system, which must find ways to confront the barriers poverty creates for academic achievement in order to thrive, the analysis says.” 
 
Enjoy the long holiday weekend!
 
                                                                                                          
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)
 That’s me working diligently on the blog.
 

 

 

Ed News, Tuesday, Janaury 13, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

LAST CHANCE: The next ALOED book club discussion will take place on Thursday at 6:30 pm at the South Pasadena home of Jill Asbjornsen.  The main topic of discussion will be Alfie Kohn’s The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting.  Also under examination is Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test.  Dinner will be provided and you don’t even have to read the books to take part.  Join the group for good food and stimulating conversation .  For more information and to RSVP please click here.
“I’m not trying to tell you,” he said “that only educated men
are able to contribute something valuable to the world.
It’s not so.  But I do say that educated and scholarly men,
if they’re brilliant and creative to begin with–which,
unfortunately, is rarely the case–tend to leave
infinitely more valuable records behind them than men do
who are MERELY brilliant and creative.”
J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye    
Another best (worst) of 2014 list.  MEDIA MATTERS FOR AMERICA has a piece titled “Teachers on Trial: 5 Times the Media Failed Educators in 2014.”  Topics include a noxious TIME magazine, cover, FOX News and Glenn Beck to name just 3 of them.  “Teachers faced an unprecedented level of scrutiny in 2014,” the story begins, “thanks to a landmark legal case dismantling teacher tenure in California, which is likely to spark copycats lawsuits across the country. In part due to this increased scrutiny, educators also encountered various attacks from mainstream and conservative media over the year, five of which were particularly egregious.”
 
“The Racist History of the Charter School Movement” is the intriguing title of a piece from ALTERNET.  The author traces the concept of taxpayer funded non-public schools to the years after the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954 when some people wanted to avoid the school desegregation orders contained in the ruling.  “There is no magic elixir that will fix our educational system,” he maintains.  “Of course, we should continue to be open to fresh ideas about improving school organization, teaching and learning. But if we continue to ignore important historical lessons about the dangerous consequences of educational privatization and fail to harness our desire to plunge headlong into unproven reform initiatives, we may discover that the cure we so lovingly embraced has made the patient sicker.”
 
Are teachers of poor students, by definition, “bad teachers?”  That’s the question addressed by Peter Greene on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  He reviews some recent research from Education Next that reaches that rather damaging conclusion and proceeds to reveal how its methodology is seriously flawed.  “In the absence of any data,” Greene indicates, “to support a theory of qualitative difference between teachers in poor schools compared to teachers in not-poor schools, Steinberg and Sartain [coauthors of the study] conclude that the level of success in the program has nothing to do with poverty, but is all the fault of teachers and administrators.”
 
Diane Ravitch prints a commentary from Lloyd Lofthouse on her blog about how the growth of charters will affect the public school system.  He provides some numbers and statistics about charters and includes links to pertinent articles about their expansion. 
 
With the Republicans now in control of both houses of Congress, one of their top agenda items is to decrease the federal role in education.  How could that be achieved?  Through revisions in the No Child Left Behind legislation that would reduce the amount of testing mandated by NCLB.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK looks at the issue.  “There’s been a reshuffling of the political landscape,” it reports, “that’s aligned GOP interests in scaling back the federal role in K-12 education with support from some education organizations in reducing the number of tests.”
 
As Pres. Obama embarks on the final quarter of his presidency what is his educational legacy apt to be?  Stephanie Simon on POLITICO titles her piece on answering that question with a question: “Pomp & Fizzle?”  She believes he had some good initiatives but many of them ran into political reality and never came to fruition. 
 
Teacher preparation programs are often a hot topic for scrutiny these days.  Diane Ravitch offers a piece from James D. Kirylo, an education professor at Southeastern Louisiana University and author, titled “Teacher Education:  The Path Toward Educational Transformation in Louisiana.”  He provides 16 concrete proposals and even though it’s addressed to Louisiana it contains some valuable insights for any teacher prep program.               Is it possible to evaluate teacher prep programs?  That issue is raised by an article from EDUCATION WEEK that suggests the criteria used is critical to any assessment of them.  The author briefly reviews two recent papers that attempted to dip into this “very muddy pond.”
 
Sunday’s L.A. Times describes some new guidelines issued by the federal departments of Justice and Education focusing on ELLs.  “The 40-page guidance reminds states and school districts that federal laws require them to identify students who need English support, ” it explains, “offer them high-quality assistance by qualified staff, provide equal access to school programs and activities, avoid unnecessary segregation from mainstream students, move them out of support programs when they are fluent in English, evaluate the effectiveness of the programs and move students out of them when they become fluent in English and provide parents information in languages they can understand.”
 
Private schools are constantly being compared to public ones in a number of areas.  The author of this op-ed piece from Nation of Change believes the latter come out ahead in several ways.  “The result of private educational reform,” he maintains, “is seen in unproven charter schools that eat up budgets, overcharge on a per-student basis, pay CEOs many times more than their public school counterparts, and, in one case, double the pay of executives in just one year.  These are unsustainable costs for long-term educational success.”
 
The Jan. 9, edition of the “Ed News” highlighted EDUCATION WEEK’S 19th annual “Quality Counts” state-by-state school ratings.  Massachusetts was ranked #1, Mississippi was last and California checked in with a “D+” grade which placed it in the lower fifth percentile.  Diane Ravitch turns her column over to Laura Chapman who is critical of the ratings based on the organizations that funded it.               Stephen Dyer, also writing on Ravitch’s blog, looks at Ohio’s precipitous drop from #5 to #18 and questions the validity of the rankings and thinks they need to be more clearly delineated. 
 
Jason Stanford pens a commentary on the purpose of standardized testing based on this cartoon drawn by Adam Zyglis from the Buffalo News:
 
135794 600 Point of Schools isnt more Testing cartoons
 
Former LAUSD board president Caprice Young has agreed to take over the troubled Magnolia Public Schools charter chain.  Magnolia operates 8 campuses in the district and 3 others in Costa Mesa, San Diego and Santa Clara.  3 of the locations in LAUSD have been threatened with closure over financial and other irregularities.  Yesterday’s L.A. Times has the details.
 
U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan delivered a major speech yesterday at a Washington, D.C., elementary school laying out the Obama administration’s education priorities for the final two years of the president’s term including proposals for the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, commented on his remarks and then printed the speech in full.               Diane Ravitch, on her blog, reprinted statements from the president’s of the two big national unions, Lily Eskelsen Garcia of NEA and Randi Weingarten of AFT, reacting to Duncan’s speech.               The new Chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) offered a first draft of his proposal for the oft-delayed reauthorization of the No Child Left Behind law.  It contains two options for dealing with the controversial issue of standardized testing.               The top Democrat on the committee, Sen. Patty Murray from Washington, put forward her suggestions for NCLB in a speech on the Senate floor.  EDUCATION WEEK had the details of the two party’s proposals which, you may notice, are not the same.
 
Veteran educator Marion Brady writes about “One Thing Schools Should Do to Boost Students’ Intellectual Growth.”  Any ideas what he’s going to propose?  Give up?  It’s INFORMATION OVERLOAD.  He explains it all in Valerie Strauss’ column.  “That the information being dumped on millions of kids by the core curriculum is ‘learned’ is a myth, a fiction, a very expensive joke,” he insists.
 
What goes around comes around.  Former LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, a product of the unaccredited Eli Broad Academy that trains people for school leadership positions, has taken a consultancy job with the Academy.  Today’s L.A. Times describes these latest developments.  “Broad had lauded Deasy [at the time he left the LAUSD] as the best L.A. superintendent in his memory,” it points out.  “Deasy will coach graduates of the academy as they manage school systems, and he will also help with the training of future leaders currently going through the program.”
 
Teaching can be a pretty lonely profession so building solid relationships with colleagues can be an important factor in positive morale and job satisfaction.  The author of this piece, a teacher for 11 years in Kentucky, offers 7 “tips for building positive relationships in schools.”  One of his ideas is to stop sending emails.  You can read all of his suggestions in a story in EDUCATION WEEK.
 
And finally, an “iPadgate” update.  An independent review by the U.S. Department of Education of the LAUSD’s “iPad-for-all” program and a new computerized student information system found problems with implementation, training and lack of resources in both. “The review was provided by the Education Department at the request of current Supt. Ramon C. Cortines,” according to a piece in today’s L.A. Times.  “It offered a rare independent interpretation of events that have provoked controversy for more than a year.”
 
Dave Alpert
(Occidental Collge, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the blog.
 

 

 

Ed News, Friday, January 9, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

DON’T MISS OUT: The next ALOED book club discussion will take place on Thursday, Jan. 15, at 6:30 pm at the South Pasadena home of Jill Asbjornsen.  The main topic of discussion will be Alfie Kohn’s The Myth of the Spoiled Child: Challenging the Conventional Wisdom About Children and Parenting.  Also under examination is Walter Mischel’s The Marshmallow Test.  Dinner will be provided and you don’t even have to read the books to take part.  Join the group for good food and stimulating conversation .  For more information and to RSVP please click here.
 
“I am not simply teaching the reading; I am teaching the reader.” 
― Kelly GallagherReadicide: How Schools Are Killing Reading and What You Can Do About It 
Is it the goal of charter companies to completely take over entire school districts?  If so, one can only warn BEWARE!  Some people believe that New Orleans became the first all-charter district in September of 2014.  However, Muskegon Heights, Michigan actually earned that distinction two years before and the results are not encouraging.  Peter Greene on his CURMUDGUCATION blog tells the tale.  “Muskegon Heights was an historic first,” he concludes, “but not one that the charter biz talks about much because it’s not a success story.  Instead, it highlights all the reasons that handing over public schools to private business interests is a lousy idea.”                 York, Pennsylvania may be the next district to take the all-charter plunge.  Greene reported on that possibility in another post which you can find by clicking here.  BEWARE!  BEWARE!
 
The Concord Review has been publishing outstanding history research papers and commentaries by high school students since 1987.  In this piece, titled “Blended Delusions,” an anonymous student from the class of 2015, looks at the role of technology in the classroom and does not come away very impressed.  “In my opinion,” the author states, “technology’s place is not in the classroom, at least not for the most part.  Sometimes it is necessary, but most of the time, it only serves as a distraction and offers activities that inhibit productive, successful learning. ”
 
Russ Walsh, on his Russ on Reading blog, selects “The Best Education Books of 2014.”  Several of the titles were highlighted in the past 12 months by the “Ed News.”  “Here is one person’s year end list,” he writes, “of the books that every informed educator and champion of public education should read very soon, if not now.”                Diane Ravitch touts the column on her blog and adds a couple of titles of her own.  We might consider these two lists when compiling possible future volumes for the ALOED book club.
 
A veteran high school English teacher in Connecticut has an alternative to the corporate education reform movement.  Her prescription–“innovation and investment.” Her comments appear on the Wait What? blog.  “Any lack of progress in school improvement is due to the lack of teacher empowerment and to equity in funding,” she maintains.  “We need to invert the power dynamic and create schools that work from the classroom out, not the federal, state, central office, and/or principal ‘down.’  We need to focus on schools where there is intense poverty. These are not ‘failing schools’: they are schools that are being failed by society.”  She offers “12 resolutions” for achieving her goals.
 
The Progressive magazine published an expose about the Rocketship Charter School chain.  “Not all charter schools are bad,” it reports.  “Some offer high-quality, alternative model classrooms that are enriching for kids. But over the last decade, the charter school movement has morphed from a small, community-based effort to foster alternative education into a vehicle for privatizing public education, pushed by free-market foundations, big education-management companies, and profit-seekers looking for a way to cash in on public-education funds.”  If nothing else, check out the animated video (1:51 minutes) that takes a look at school privatization through the eyes of a little kindergartner “who likes his public school.”
 
Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, one of the top researchers on value-added models, thinks New York is going from “bad to worse” by suggesting that students test scores be doubled from 20% to 40% as part of state teacher evaluations.  She calls the idea simply “idiotic” on her VAMboozled blog.
 
Now that the new year is underway the education experts are offering their predictions for what’s in store for 2015. “Not surprisingly,” the piece in EDUCATION WEEK suggests, “a large number of them touch on some of the most common topics of last year: the Common Core State Standards, testing, and changes in technology.”               This is the time of year when lots of people are making new year’s resolutions.  Jeff Bryant over at the Education Opportunity NETWORK has a key one for the field of education.  He believes we need to move away from Common Core, testing and blaming teachers and focus on the growing inequality and resegregation of our nation’s schools.  “Despite the grim predictions coming from the Beltway,” he concludes, “maybe 2015 can be the year that education equity gets the emphasis it deserves.”  Bryant suggests that two states seem to be getting this problem–Pennsylvania and Minnesota–but that California, under the leadership of Gov. Brown, is doing the best job of addressing the issue.
 
Wednesday’s L.A. Times has a story discussing the selection of the next superintendent of the LAUSD.  It wonders if a district insider or someone from outside the district will win board approval.  The article reviews some of the politics involved in the selection process and offers some reactions from a couple of the previous office holders.  “For decades,” it explains, “leading L.A. Unified has involved managing factions vying for leverage, including the teachers union, administrators and civic leaders.  The job has become further complicated by competing visions of the best way to improve schools — a debate that has raged nationwide.”
 
Rick Hess from the American Enterprise Institute has come out with his “Rick Hess Straight-Up” (RHSU) awards for 2014.  “The metrics,” he explains in the piece, “recognize university-based scholars in the U.S. who are contributing most substantially to public debates about education.  The rankings offer a useful, if imperfect, gauge of the public influence edu-scholars had in 2014.  The rubric reflects both a scholar’s body of academic work—encompassing the breadth and influence of their scholarship—and their footprint on the public discourse last year.”  Hess ranked 200 scholars and, interestingly, 4 of the top 25 were authors of books read by ALOED.  He comments on his methodology and includes a full list of the winners and the schools they represent.                Diane Ravitch (ranked #1 by Hess) had a brief comment on the ratings on her blog.  She notes: “It is interesting that only one of the top 10 (Paul Peterson) is a prominent advocate for test-based accountability and choice.”
 
It seems like all the subject matter emphasis in schools these days is on the STEM classes and Language Arts.  Everything else like social studies, art, music and others get short shrift.  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to Gerald Greenberg of Syracuse University who explains what the liberal arts are and why they’re important to a true education.  Greenberg makes some important points particularly in light of the fact that Occidental has always prided itself on being a liberal arts college.
 
California Gov. Jerry Brown was sworn into office for an unprecedented 4th term on Monday in Sacramento.  Diane Ravitch, on her blog, excerpted from his inaugural address remarks regarding education.  She appended some brief reactions to them.
 
A newly released report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education, featured in an EDUCATION WEEK article, notes that the procurement process for obtaining new technology in big-city school districts is fraught with obstacles, regulations and hide bound traditions that often frustrate all involved.  LAUSD was one of several cities that took part in the survey.  [Ed. note: They are probably a prime example given the fiasco over “iPadgate.”]  The full report (15 pages) from the CRPE, titled “A Blueprint for Effective and Adaptable School District Procurement” can be downloaded by clicking here.
 
A recent edition of the “Ed News” reported on the practice where up to a third of charter schools in  California require parents to volunteer their time in classrooms, supervision or at campus activities.  An editorial in yesterday’s L.A. Times opposed it as unfair to children whose parents, for a variety of reasons, would not be able to fulfill their commitment.  “Once children are enrolled, it’s fine for schools to encourage voluntarism as a way of engaging parents in their children’s education,” it concludes.  “But setting discouraging rules should be prohibited. The state Board of Education should impose firm rules to stop schools from requiring unpaid parental labor; California students are guaranteed the right to a free and public education.”
 
Diane Ravitch prints on her blog a commentary from an anonymous “veteran education advocate” who suggests the parent-trigger fad has largely become a failed policy.  The piece presents an interesting history of the concept and focuses on the group Parent Revolution that was one of the first to take advantage of the legislation.
 
It’s not too often that you find education-related stories in the “Calendar” section of the L.A. Times.  However, yesterday’s paper had a front-page feature in the section that described a unique mentoring program between some high powered Beverly Hills agents from the William Morris Endeavor agency and some low-income, minority students at two schools in Compton.  “The centerpiece of the mentoring initiative, which is part of a wider partnership between WME and the Compton Unified School District,” the item points out, “are regular visits that students make to the agency’s sleek, marble-clad headquarters on Wilshire Boulevard.”
 
EDUCATION WEEK has come out with its 19th annual “Quality Counts” state report cards.  The article discusses the methodology and criteria for the rankings and scores.  Only two states earned the top “B” grade: Massachusetts was first and New Jersey second.  Mississippi was last with a grade of “D” along with Nevada and New Mexico.  How did California fare?  Not well, earning a grade of “D+” which placed it in the bottom fifth percentile of the states.  You can read all about the rankings and how they were determined and be sure to click on the two interactive sidebar features: “State Report Cards” and “State Grading Calculator.”  This item also has links to different sections of the report or the full thing.
 
And finally, when the Quest to Learn Middle School opened its doors in New York City in 2009 it promised its students a different learning model.  Its emphasis was on digital learning and the use of games to teach the curricula in a fun and engaging way.  This profile, from The HECHINGER REPORT, looks at where the school is now as it gets ready to graduate its first class of seniors in 2016 and how the concept of using games as a teaching tool is faring.
 
 
 
 
   

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