Ed News, Friday, January 23, 2015 Edition


“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.



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