Ed News, Friday, January 16, 2015 Edition


 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.



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