Ed News, Friday, February 6, 2015 Edition


“An educated man should know everything about something

 and something about everything”  
The charter vs public school battle, redux.  EduShyster highlights a new report that shows students who graduate from public high schools are more apt to finish college than their counterparts who attend charters.  The study was based on students at Boston area campuses.  “The report compared members of the respective classes of 2007 from the city’s high schools and five of our local academies of excellence,” the article states.  “Fifty percent of the BPS students had scored a college degree within six years vs. 42% of their charter peers.”  The piece provides some additional statistical comparisons and analysis along with a link to the full report (36 pages) titled “The Boston Opportunity Agenda–Fourth Annual Report Card.”               Kentucky is one of the few states remaining that does not allow charter schools.  A retired professor from the University of Kentucky pens an op-ed item in the Lexington Herald-Leader arguing why that position should remain as the status quo in the Bluegrass State.  “Charter schools are a cancer on public education,” he opines.  “Kentucky should continue to reject their creation. This is because they suck scarce funds away from our public schools, thereby making quality public education more difficult. At the same time, the vast majority of charters fail to deliver on their hollow promise to provide a superior education.”
You have certainly heard of the “achievement gap,” but what about “The Activity Gap?”  That’s the growing phenomenon that extracurricular activities like sports, clubs and other after-school activities are becoming increasingly rare on campuses with large numbers of disadvantaged students.  The Atlantic features a new national study on the topic.  “ What the researchers found is . . . . ‘alarming.’  Income-based differences in extracurricular participation are on the rise,” the story notes, “and these differences greatly affect later outcomes. This disparity exacerbates the already-growing income achievement gap that has kept poor children behind in school and later in life.”  The article includes a link to the full study (14 pages) titled “The Engagement Gap: Social Mobility and Extracurricular Participation Among American Youth.”
A lot of so-called education ‘reformers” point to international test results and bemoan the fact that U.S. students are doing so poorly compared to their counterparts in other countries.  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to James Harvey, executive director of the National Superintendents Roundtable, who offers “Ten Things You Need to Know About International Assessments.”  “What these assessments leave out is as important as what they include. They are abused, misused, misconstrued and mostly nonsense — but I get ahead of myself,” he mentions by way of introduction.  To help pique your interest, here are just two of the points he addresses: “1. These assessments were never intended to line up and rank nations against each other like baseball standings” and “5. The horse-race tables ignore differences in poverty, inequity, and social stress among nations.”  Check out the other 8.  They are just as informative as these 2 examples.  “None of this is intended to sugarcoat the very real problem the United States faces in its schools,” Harvey concludes in his very thought-provoking piece.  “Our schools have done a reasonably good job with the traditional students they were designed to educate. Now they face a new challenge: a population in which the majority of students are, for the first time in our history, both low-income and children of color.  We need to get on with that task. But the challenge is not addressed by hyper-ventilating about highly questionable international comparisons of student achievement.”  “All in all,” Diane Ravitch noted on her blog, this is “a brilliant analysis of the limitations of these tests that have promoted the deeply flawed agenda of test and punish.”
The separation of church and state is an important concept in our democratic system.  That line is being seriously blurred, if not outright removed, in areas of Florida where Evangelical churches are a growing presence on a number of public school campuses.  An extended investigative piece in THE Nation uses several schools in the Sunshine state to illustrate its point.  “Like it or not, the fusion of church and school that takes place in Apopka, Florida, is an increasingly common phenomenon in the United States,” it rather disturbingly reports.  “Indeed, a number of national and international franchise networks are dedicated to planting churches in public schools across the country, sometimes providing services that fill in the vacuum left by the government underfunding of public education.”
You are probably all aware of professional development for teachers.  Ever thought about PD for principals?  That’s the focus of an item in EDUCATION WEEK that bemoans both the lack of quantity and quality of continuous training for principals.  It discusses what qualities make up an excellent on-the-job program for school leaders.
School reform is not as simple as the so-called education “reformers” like to make it out to be.  It involves complex social relationships between many different entities.  That’s the focus of a short video (4:14 minutes) from the SHANKER BLOG that illustrates the point.  The video is titled “The Social Side of Education.”  A brief introduction to the segment explains: “If there is one take away about the social side approach, it is the idea that relationships matter in education. Teaching and learning are not solo but rather social endeavors and, as such, they are best achieved by working together. The social side perspective: (1) shifts the focus from the individual to the broader context in which individuals operate; (2) highlights the importance of interdependencies at all levels of the system – e.g., among teachers within a school, leaders across a district, schools and the community; and (3) recognizes that crucial resources (e.g., information, advice, support) are exchanged through interpersonal relationships.”               Diane Ravitch’s Blog called this a “brilliant” video and Ravitch had some other cogent reactions to it.    “I have never seen or read anything,” she remarks, “that so succinctly and accurately identifies what matters most in schools.” Be sure to check out both items.
“Saturday Night Live” had a segment this week titled “Teacher Snow Day” that raised the ire of Steven Singer, author of the GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG.  If you missed the original piece you can view it (3:24 minutes) on YouTube by clicking here.  (If you are under 18 please do not do this).  Singer did not find the piece at all humorous and, in fact, thought it was rather offensive and tasteless.  He offered a number of reasons why in the form of a rebuttal.  “Go ahead.  Make jokes about teachers.  Please.  But make them fair,” he complains.  “No sucker punches.  And – goddammit – make them funny!  However, all we got on Saturday Night Live this week during the ‘Teacher Snow Day’ segment were unconvincing lame low blows.”
EDUCATION WEEK offered a roundtable discussion, with comments from 5 different educators/researchers, on the U.S. Dept. of Education’s new proposed guidelines for teacher prep programs.  It asked them to respond to the following question: “There has been much concern about the use of student test scores, teacher-retention rates, and surveys for judging the quality of teacher-preparation programs. Assuming the federal government should play a role in ensuring program quality, what indicators do you think might provide a fair picture of a program’s strengths and weaknesses?”  Be sure to click on each individual response located just below the brief introduction to this article. 
Under our system of government both the U.S. House and Senate have to pass identical bills on a particular subject before they are sent to the president for his/her approval or rejection.  If they differ, the points of contention are usually worked out in what’s known as a “conference committee” made up of an equal number of members from both houses.  All that is by way of introduction to this next piece.  Most of the attention surrounding the reauthorization of NCLB (aka The Elementary and Secondary Education Act) has been focused on the hearings being held in the Senate.  As EDUCATION WEEK reports the House has also been working on its own version of the legislation and it contains some significant differences, as least so far, when compared to its counterpart in the Senate.  The item includes a “cheat sheet” discussing some of the main aspects of the  House proposals.               The Network for Public Education released a statement containing its position on the renewal of NCLB.  It was printed on Diane Ravitch’s Blog.               Jia Lee is a special ed teacher in New York City who testified on Jan. 21, before the Senate Education Committee that’s hearing testimony on the revisions to NCLB.  She talked about why standardized testing is harmful to students and why she was refusing to administer the assessments.  In this Q & A from LIVING in DIALOGUE she explains why she’s taken those positions.               The New York Times, in its “Room for Debate” feature, offers an online forum to discuss the question “What Would It Take to ‘Fix’ No Child Left Behind?”   Five  education experts, including Randi Weingarten and Diane Ravitch, present their opinions on the issue.  You’ll need to click on each one to read their full response.              An op-ed in Wednesday’s L.A. Times makes the argument for retaining the testing mandates in NCLB.  It claims that the law has been successful so why should it be changed.   “Loud voices on both sides of the aisle,” it maintains, “already have called for gutting its testing and accountability measures and for giving states federal education dollars with no strings attached.   These are bad ideas no matter where you fall on the political spectrum.”                 Carol Burris, award-winning  principal of South Side High School in New York, once again is reprinted by Valerie Strauss on her blog for The Washington Post.   This time Burris weighs in on the debate over the testing mandate surrounding the renewal of NCLB.  If you know Burris you can guess which side she comes down on.  The piece is titled “Principal: What I’ve Learned About Annual Standardized Testing.”   “I suspect that much of the stubborn adherence to yearly tests,” she writes, “comes from those who refuse to let go of the desire to put teachers on a bell curve and lob off the bottom 10 percent. It will not matter whether or not it is deserved; the hope is that it will strike enough fear in teachers that they will pump up test scores no matter what the cost to the individual child. And that allows politicians to take a bow—for higher scores and the notches on the belt for every teacher fired.”
A recent edition of the “Ed News” mentioned the latest measles outbreak and the renewed debate over vaccination.  A new bill has been introduced in the California legislature that would tighten the requirements in the Golden State according to a brief item in EDUCATION WEEK.  “ Amid a measles outbreak and a fierce national political debate over vaccine requirements,” it begins, “a pair of California lawmakers has proposed eliminating an exemption in state law that has allowed parents there to opt out of getting their children vaccinated for unspecified personal or philosophical reasons.  Such a change would make California’s vaccine law one of the country’s strongest.”               A related item in the same publication found that charter students in the state are less likely to be vaccinated according to a new analysis from the University of Maryland at College Park.  It found “that the average exemption rate was 8.42 percent in charters, 5.12 percent in private schools, and 1.77 percent in traditional public schools.”
“Is This the End of Education Austerity?” is the question asked by Jeff Bryant in this item from the Education Opportunity NETWORK.  He believes after almost 7 years of the Great Recession that education funding may finally be on the rise.  “Don’t get too excited yet,” he warns, “but there are signs we may have finally turned a corner for the better in the war for public school financing.  Recently, government officials and politicians – from the Beltway to the heartland – have declared allegiance to do what has been, up until now, the unmentionable: Spend more money on public education.”  One of the bright spots on education funding that Bryant points out was the recently proposed Obama administration budget (highlighted by the “Ed News”) that would boost U.S. Dept. of Education spending by 5%. 
One letter was published in yesterday’s L.A. Times in reaction to the paper’s previous article regarding the Beverly Hills Unified School District selling naming rights to donors.  The writer was against the practice. 
As the next standardized testing season approaches in the spring, EDUCATION WEEK provides a handy guide, in the form of an interactive map , showing what assessment consortia (if any) each state plans to utilize.  The general line-up looks like this: SBAC (18 states, including California), PARCC (10 states + D.C.), Other (21), Undecided (1 = Massachusetts).  Some states are even offering different tests at different grade levels which you can also ascertain from the map.               A follow-up item in the same publication calculates that 51% of students in the U.S. will NOT be taking one of the consortia based assessments.  It includes a simple spreadsheet with a state-by-state breakdown of the number of students taking which tests.  
More personnel woes for the LAUSD.  The district’s highly acclaimed director of food services, David Binkle, was abruptly removed from his post in early December and ordered to remain at home  pending an investigation by the Office of the Inspector General.  Binkle, who has transformed school menus into more healthy fare since joining the district in 2008, has been accused of conflicts of interest and mismanagement of the LAUSD’s meal system.  He has denied wrong-doing according to a front-page story in today’s L.A. Times.
More bad news for Teach for American.  The New York Times reports that applicants for the program have declined for the second year in a row as the economy has improved and possible candidates have sought higher paying jobs.  “Some say the decline in applicants could point to a loss of luster for the program,” it points out, “which rose to prominence through the idea that teaching the nation’s poorest, most needy students could be a crusade, like the Peace Corps.  Teach for America has sent hundreds of graduates to Capitol Hill, school superintendents’ offices and education reform groups, seeding a movement that has supported testing and standards, teacher evaluations tethered to student test scores, and a weakening of teacher tenure.”
An editorial in today’s L.A. Times chastises the LAUSD for a plan to allow some of its attorneys to provide pro bono legal services for the large number of students who arrived in district classrooms after coming to the U.S. unaccompanied by any parents or guardians.  It’s troubled by the fact that other agencies could provide those services and wonders why the district would only limit its lawyers to immigration issues.  “Indeed, if the idea is to encourage more pro bono legal work,” it maintains, “why pick immigration as the one area worthy of the district’s largesse? Plenty of L.A. Unified students have legal needs. Why not allow the lawyers to volunteer at agencies that represent families in danger of being unfairly thrown out of their homes, or that help children who need representation in family court? Better for L.A. Unified to let lawyers decide what kind of pro bono work they want to do instead of making value decisions about which ones it will allow.”
Want to see what some school board members have resorted to in order to silence teacher voices?  Check out what went down before a recent OPEN meeting of the Buffalo Public Schools board of education.  The secretary of the Buffalo’s Teachers Association got up to make a point and ask a single question when one member of the board promptly ordered his removal from the meeting.  The BTA’s representative was escorted out of the room by a security office.  You can read all about the incident and watch several short videos and view some pictures that chronicled the entire episode on THE PUBLIC website.                By the way, the same board member is caught on camera doggedly texting while a student delivers comments before the committee.  YouTube has the indisputable evidence.
And finally, THE HECHINGER REPORT features a Q & A with a high school senior at a public magnet school in Philadelphia who’s a member of the group Student Voice, a national non-profit that promotes the inclusion of student opinions on education issues.  She discusses why students need to be involved in the conversation, the role technology plays in their education and what types of things she’s learned in her high school. 

Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)



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