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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