Ed News, Tuesday, January 27, 2015 Edition


“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.”
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.



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