Ed News, Tuesday, January 6, 2015 Edition


UPCOMING EVENT: The next ALOED book club discussion with 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 interaction.  For more information and to RSVP (by Jan. 7) please click here.
“Most children, even very bright ones, need constant review and practice to truly own a concept
in grammar, math or science. In schools today, on paper it may appear that kids are learning skills,
but in reality they are only renting them, soon to forget what they’ve learned over the weekend or summer vacation.”
Rafe Esquith, Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World  
And now to the news.
Another massive payout by the LAUSD (one can probably knock 1% or 2% off a possible teachers’ pay increase because of these).  According to a story in the Saturday, Dec. 27, L.A. Times, a superior court jury ruled that a Junior ROTC instructor at John H. Francis Polytechnic High School in Sun Valley was improperly dismissed after a clash with his then principal over the running of the program.  Cost to the district of the damage award: $3.35 MILLION!  
Most of you would agree that teachers are under paid compared to other college-educated professions.  How does teacher pay stack up when compared to union/non-union members, male/female and public/private school?  The Economic Policy Institute takes a look at the “Teacher Pay Penalty” when different professions are compared.  “There is an increased emphasis in building a quality teacher workforce,” it begins, “but little attention paid to the pay penalty teachers face for working in their profession.”  The full story is short but at least check out the chart that accompanies it.
The author of this piece for the DAILY KOS looks at Teach for America and the “phony” teacher shortage that it contributes to.  He uses the example of Idaho to support his arguments and highlights a number of other sources to buttress his point-of-view.
Thanks to Randy Traweek for sending along Jim Horn’s Schools Matter “2014 Awards.”  Horn has a long list of categories and identifies what can be construed as both winners and losers in the field of education.  Here are just two examples: “Fewest Redeeming Qualities,” Arne Duncan, “Most Prolific Education Writer,” Carol Burris.  Check out all his other selections and see if you agree with his picks by clicking here.
The Big Picture Charter High School in downtown L.A. uses the entire city as its campus.  Most of the students are drawn from South L.A. and, as an article in the Monday, Dec. 29, L.A. Times pointed out, most of them select projects and learning opportunities related to the surrounding areas of the campus located at Wilshire and Hope.  “Educators at Big Picture campuses,” the story explains, “aim to provide a more individualized curriculum that incorporates the students’ world outside the classroom. . . .  The L.A. school opened in 2010 and has 86 students in grades nine through 12. Most are Latino and are eligible for free or reduced-priced lunch, a poverty indicator.”
As 2014 drew to a close the editors of EDUCATION WEEK listed their 10 most viewed stories of the year.  A number of them were highlighted in the “Ed News” over the course of the year but it’s fun to take a look at what other readers were taking a look at.  The piece conveniently includes links to each of the 10 in case you wish to reread them or if you missed them the first time around.                Along similar lines the same publication selected its 10 most viewed education commentaries of the year.  Number 1 is by Alfie Kohn and is related to his book which is the topic of the next ALOED book club discussion (see top of this edition).               Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, sorted out the top education stories of the year and even selected “The Biggest Public Education Win of 2014.”  His choice may surprise but will certainly gratify you.    ED WEEK also  reviewed “The Teaching Profession in 2014” with an varied series of 9 charts “Over the last year, countless institutes and organizations have put out reports diving into all manner of areas related to education and teaching,” it begins.  “While such reports naturally give prominence to their recommendations and conclusions, some of the most interesting snippets and findings can get buried in the course of the arguments.  Many of the statistics aren’t necessarily new or earthshattering, [Ed. note: Some of them have been featured in previous editions of the “Ed News] but they serve as a reminder of some of the big problems facing the teaching profession, and why they remain unsolved.”                Valerie Strauss selected 14 important posts from her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post that she believes help explain the story of education reform in 2014.  She points out that this is not a “best of” list.  Each includes a link to the full piece.  [Ed. note: It should be humbly pointed out that a number of them were featured in the “Ed News,” not that we are tooting our own horn or anything.]                Larry Ferlazzo had two lists from his well-liked “Classroom Q & A” blog on EDUCATION WEEK.   The first was his “10 best” columns and the second was his “10 most popular.”            
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was upset when only 1% of teachers in his state were rated “ineffective” based on the latest evaluations that took into account controversial value-added models (VAMs) as one basis for the rankings.  How does the head of the state Board of Regents propose to improve the evaluations to placate the governor?  By doubling the importance of student test scores!  Valerie Strauss turns over her  blog to prolific columnist and award-winning New York principal Carol Burris to explain all of this to you.
Walt Gardner, a former 28-year veteran teacher with the LAUSD and a lecturer at the UCLA Graduate School of Education, makes the case for providing more civic education for students in the U.S. in a short commentary for EDUCATION WEEK.                On Dec. 30, the L.A. Times, as part of an ongoing editorial series on the meaning of citizenship in the 21st century, opined about why civic education is important to American students and how it should be presented.  “Like the teaching of American history, education about government can be delicate, raising questions about the distinction between instruction and indoctrination,” it concludes.  “Some supporters of expanded civics education believe it should not only inform students about the American system of government but also celebrate it as superior to all others — an unwise approach that would make civics class an extension of the Pledge of Allegiance.  We believe that schools can inform students and engage them as citizens without imposing an official orthodoxy.  After all, debate and dissent are also civic virtues.”                Two letters in Sunday’s paper commented on the above editorial.  One was from the president of the Constitutional Rights Foundation.
Do you ever get the feeling that public charter schools are funded much better than the public schools in the same city?  The Jersey Jazzman uses the example of Camden, New Jersey to demonstrate that point.  “If you know anything about Camden and its schools,” he writes, “you’ll know that this is quite a story — a story that shows, once again, that charter schools play by a completely different set of rules, often to the detriment of public schools.”  He goes on to provide the details of that “story.”
The author of this item from The HECHINGER REPORT asks a key question: “Want to Close the Achievement Gap?”  And she provides an answer: “Start Quality Education Well Before Children are 5 Years Old.”  She’s a strong advocate for early childhood education and provides support to birth to pre-K teachers.  “A child’s brain doubles in size in the first year,” she explains, “and by age three has reached 80 percent of its adult volume in size. This development makes the time from conception to age 5 one of the most critical phases in a child’s life.”
The movement to opt-out from standardized testing grew bigger in 2014.  Jesse Hagopian, who teaches history at Garfield High School in Seattle, was one of the earliest classroom educators to speak out about the overuse and misuse of the exams.  On his I AM AN EDUCATOR blog he selects his “Top 10 Acts of Test Resistance” and calls 2014 “The Greatest Year of Revolt Against High-Stakes Testing in U.S. History.”  Many of the events he singles out were highlighted in previous editions of the “Ed News.”  By the way, Hagopian has a new book out titled More Than A Score: The New Uprising Against High Stakes Testing.  Could be a possible title for an upcoming ALOED book club discussion.
Do you know what a “PLN” is?  The author of this item from EDUCATION WEEK explains what a professional learning network is and offers 3 steps for building your own.  She teaches high school English and serves as an Instructional Technology Coach in Pennsylvania.
How come when there’s bad news or a scandal about some charter school chain the information is often released in the “dead of night” or a report is buried during a slow news period to protect some political figure?  Jonathan Pelto on his Wait What? blog uses the case of a Hartford, Connecticut, charter to illustrate his point.  “There will be much more about this report in the coming days,” he concludes, “but the facts reveal the complete lack of oversight of Charter Schools in Connecticut and the way the report was released provides a first-hand look at the Malloy administration’s dedication to keeping citizens from knowing just how bad the situation is and how much of the peoeple’s tax dollars are being wasted by these privately-run, publicly funded charter school companies.”               Diane Ravitch commented on the scandal involving the FUSE/Jumoke Academy in Hartford on her blog.  She included a link to Hartfort Courant story about it and another link to the full investigative report (99 pages) prepared for the Connecticut State Department of Education.
What role does the media play in the battle over education reform?  Paul Horton, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, believes they have a big role to play and so far they just might be at the forefront in helping to destroy public education.  STRONG words but he provides a compelling argument.   “Although things have improved slightly in the print media in 2014,” he points out, “almost all major print editorial pages are controlled by publishers who are whole hog on privatization and charters: NYT and Chicago Tribune and the Tribune network are leading the bandwagon and heavily influenced by Bloomberg, Broad, and Murdoch.”  Horton goes on to single out some of the pro-public school voices like Diane Ravitch, Valerie Strauss, Anthony Cody and Peter Greene among others.
Diane Ravitch reprinted an “excellent letter” on her blog from a New York Group called “Change the Stakes” to the U.S. Dept. of Education which “patiently explains the harm caused by value-added modelling (VAM).”  The note was written by a psychologist and member of the organization in response to the DoE’s proposed guidelines for evaluating teacher preparation programs.
“18 Women All K-12 Educators Should Know” is the intriguing title of a commentary in EDUCATION WEEK.  The author, a male by the way, offers a list of contemporary female education “thought leaders” that he believes everyone should be familiar with.  “Some of them are well-known,” he points out, “while others may have names you are hearing for the first time.  I do not expect you to agree with all of them, but I do hope that if you have not heard of some of them you will give them a deeper look.”  What are your thoughts on his list?
THE NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION will be holding their second annual conference in Chicago from April 24-26.  Early bird registration runs through the end of this month.  For more information and pre-registration forms click here.
Yesterday’s L.A. Times profiled a special program that teaches debate skills based on the Common Core State Standards to 7th and 8th graders at Drew Middle School (LAUSD) in south L.A.   The students learn debate techniques and then participate in competitions, before a packed auditorium of fellow students and parents, with other teams from the school.  Topics mentioned in the article include homelessness and the controversial police shooting in Ferguson, Missouri.
There are lots of reasons offered for why school budgets have been slashed over the last 5 or 6 years.  One that is often overlooked is the increasing tax avoidance by corporations.  Failure to pay federal taxes has been chronicled fairly frequently but most K-12 funds come from state tax revenue.  How prevalent is corporate failure to pay state taxes?  You may be surprised at the extent of the issue and the impact it has on K-12 public school budgets.  An investigative piece in Nation of Change looks at the little understood problem.  “Most of the attention to corporate tax avoidance is directed at the nonpayment of federal taxes,” the author explains.  “But state taxes, which to a much greater extent fund K-12 education, are avoided at a stunning rate by America’s biggest companies.  As a result, public school funding continues to be cut, and the worsening performance of neglected schools adds fuel to the reckless demands for privatization.  Inner-city schools are being devastated by this insidious process.”  He proceeds to name some specific companies and the amount of taxes they are avoiding.  Shame!  Shame!
Mike Rose, research professor at the Graduate School of Education and Information Studies at UCLA, has an extended article in The AMERICAN SCHOLAR titled “School Reform Fails the Test, How Can Our Schools Get Better When We’ve Made Our Teachers the Problem And Not the Solution?”  He decries the recent trend among “so-called” education reformers that “learning is defined as a rise in a standardized test score and teaching as the set of activities that lead to that score, with the curriculum tightly linked to the tests. . . . .  A teacher can prep students for a standardized test,” he continues, “get a bump in scores, and yet not be providing a very good education.”
Diane Ravitch is publicizing a new book titled How to Build a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone).  On her blog Ravitch prints a review of the volume in the form of a letter to the author, a former education reporter for the new-defunct New York Sun.
An finally, today the 114th Congress was sworn in at the Capitol in Washington, D.C.  It’s the first time the Republicans have been in control of both the House and Senate since 2006.  Since they now control the legislative agenda what can be expected in regards to K-12 education policy for the next 2 years?  The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK lays out some ideas for you.

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

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