Ed News, Tuesday, February 10, 2015 Edition


 “I was taught that I had to ‘master’ subjects.
But who can ‘master’ beauty, or peace, or joy?”
Kathleen Norris, The Psalms    
Peter Greene, on his always informative and highly entertaining CURMUDGUCATION blog, profiles one of the guys chiefly responsible for writing the math portion of the Common Core State Standards.  
The Jersey Jazzman takes a look at some of the so-called education “reformers” “best” arguments and asks “where’s the beef?”  Where’s the proof of what they are contending?  Just because they repeat a point over and over again doesn’t make it true.  “My reformy friends: the burden of proof is on you,” he demands, “Even if I and my fellow skeptics were for maintaining the ‘status quo”‘– which we’re not — it would still be up to you to make an affirmative case for the stuff you want to do.  So do that, and stop wasting our time demanding proof of things that can’t be proved.”
Here’s the charter school scandal of the day:  An editorial in the Fort Wayne (Indiana) Journal Gazette reports that one of the largest charter school chains in the country, Imagine Schools, Inc., was found to be engaging in serious financial irregularities in Missouri based on a U.S. District Court judge’s ruling.  A similar problem came to light in Fort Wayne.  “The national charter school chain,” comments the item, “used its own finance company, Schoolhouse Finance, to sell Imagine Renaissance’s two campuses to obtain lower lease rates, according to the suit. While it benefited from the lower rate, it continued to collect taxpayer dollars through the local charter board at the higher rate.”  That’s a no-no as ALMOST everyone knows!
As a teacher do you think you have a “normal” life?  If so, you may disagree with this post from a secondary teacher in Louisiana who titles her piece “Why Teachers Can’t Have ‘Normal’ Lives.”  Before you skip over this one, why not take a look at what she sees teachers going through that make their lives different from most other professions.  Her commentary appeared on THE EDUCATOR’S ROOM website.
Charter vs. public school smack down, redux.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, makes the case for why parents should choose public schools over charters.  He identifies 6 areas where he thinks the former are superior: Stability, Shared expertise, Commitment, Ownership, How We Spend Your Money and The Public School Difference.  Read each item and see if he is convincing.

A special education teacher in Baltimore very eloquently tells a Congressional forum on the reauthorization of NCLB why the members of the House and Senate must take into consideration income inequality and increasing rates of child poverty and other significant problems facing students today.  Valerie Strauss reprints the educators testimony on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post.

As more and more parents opt their children out of standardized tests there seems to be more and more principals and superintendents threatening them with all kinds of nasty consequences if they persist in that behavior.  Jonathan Pelto, on his Wait, What? blog tries to set the record straight on just what the law says (or doesn’t say) in regard to parents choosing to have their kids skip the tests.  Although Pelto is addressing the issue in Connecticut his points should apply to all 50 states.  “The notion that students must take the test or else has no basis in law or practice in the state of Connecticut,” he states matter-of-factly, “and the abuse of students and their parents by state and local school officials has got to stop.” At the bottom of his post, Pelto offers a number of other sources with valuable and useful information about the issue.
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” included a story from The New York Times about the drop in applicants at Teach for America over the past two years.  TFA issued a prompt response to the piece on their website.  “While our partners’ needs for corps members and alumni are at an all-time high,” it explained, “persuading young Americans to choose this work is tougher than ever.  In the shadow of the recession, college graduates are moving away from public and service-oriented work and gravitating towards professions they perceive as more stable and financially sustainable.  The polarized conversation around education isn’t helping, either.”
Brian Williams, anchor of the “NBC Nightly News,” stepped down temporarily over the weekend after information surfaced that he reported inaccurately about coming under fire while riding in a helicopter in Iraq.  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, has uncovered another journalistic “bungle” by Williams having to do with education this time.

“During the second edition of the NBC News production of Education Nation in 2011,” Cody discovers, “Brian Williams interviewed Melinda Gates. The Gates Foundation had underwritten the broadcast, but nonetheless, this was a journalistic endeavor. . . . However, he displayed none of the objectivity one might expect from a journalist.”

Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for sending along a piece from The New York Times that profiles the new course being charted by New York City School’s Chancellor Carmen Farina.  Since being appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio a little over a year ago, Farina has moved away from some of the more contentious policies regarding the use of data, the amount of experience required for new principals, the closing of under performing schools and the role of charters in the district among others developed by her predecessors Joel Klein and Dennis Walcott who had been chosen by former Mayor Michael Bloomberg.  
Sydney Lane, a high school student from Connecticut who opposes the Common Core, writes on the blog of the Badass Teachers Association, who have a well-deserved reputation for questioning authority, about why that’s an important quality for maintaining our democratic institutions.  Lane leads off the piece with a (slight) variation of the quote by Peter Marshall, Scottish clergyman, “If you don’t stand for something you will fall for anything.”  [Ed. note: Please ignore the two misspellings of “principal” in this item.]
Two letters in Saturday’s L.A. Times reacted to the earlier op-ed in the paper urging the retention of the testing mandate when the NCLB law is reauthorized.  The first one is by Walt Gardner, Ed. Week columnist.               Gardner expanded on his brief letter by penning a slightly more extensive piece for his “Reality Check” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  This one he titles “The Proper Use of Standardized Tests.”   “The basic question: Why is standardized testing necessary at all?” he asks.  “Why can’t teachers determine how well they’ve taught just by the tests they themselves design?  The answer is that they can.  But when $79 billion is spent annually on K-12, taxpayers demand more details.  That’s where the issue of standardized testing becomes highly contentious.”               The New York Times ran a similar opinion piece defending standardized testing.  It’s written by a member of a nonprofit education research and consulting firm, Bellwhether Education Partners, who was also an advisor in the Department of Education under Pres. Obama.  ” But annual testing has tremendous value,” he argues.  “It lets schools follow students’ progress closely, and it allows for measurement of how much students learn and grow over time, not just where they are in a single moment.”               The “grumpy old teacher” at CURMUDGUCATION was quick to offer a point-by-point rebuttal of the NYT item.  “Annual standardized testing measures one thing– how well a group of students does at taking an annual standardized test,” Greene thunders in conclusion.  “That’s it. . . . Annual standardized testing is good for one other thing– making testing companies a buttload of money.  Beyond that, they are simply a waste of time and effort.”                Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for forwarding two related articles about standardized testing.  The first is from John Merrow on his Taking Note blog who draws an interesting distinction between people who are “pro-test” and those who “protest” against the assessments.  He notes the BIG difference that dash makes.  Merrow reviews both sides of the debate but is a little unsure of the size and scope of the anti-testing contingent.  “It’s hard, maybe impossible, to measure the strength of the ‘protest”’ movement,” he argues, “if indeed there really is a ‘movement.’  It could be thousands and thousands of tiny, grass-roots organizations and loose gatherings, or it could be just a few hundred.  If it is a national movement, it’s one that lacks a ‘command central.’”               The second item Larry sent is actually a rebuttal to Merrow’s piece (see above) from Peggy Robertson on her Peg With Pen blog.  She contends the movement to opt-out from the tests is much bigger and more organized than Merrow realizes.  She cites a number of organizations and offers statistics to bolster her point.                The debate over standardized testing rages on.  How do the pro-test minions hope to frame their argument so as to win the battle?  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, came into possession of a six-page document introduced at a conference of a corporate reform group that lays out their plan to emerge victorious.  He reviews some of the key questions raised about testing and how to counter them.  Cody also includes a link to the full pamphlet titled “How to Talk About Testing.”               The latest edition of TIME magazine (Feb. 16, 2015) jumped into the discussion over standardized testing with a piece that explored alternate ways to measure student achievement other than fill-in-the bubble tests.  It used a third grade class in Virginia as an example.  The article also explored how the debate over the role of exams has split both the Republican and Democratic parties.    
Jason Stanford, a writer in Texas, makes an interesting point in a tweet reported on Diane Ravitch’s Blog regarding choice, vaccination and opting out of standardized testing.
An extended editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times contains the paper’s endorsements for the 3 LAUSD school board seats (George McKenna is unoposed in District 1) being contested in the March 3, municipal primary.  The Times tepidly recommends the incumbents in District 3 (Tamar Galatzan) and District 7 (board president Richard Vladovic) but opposes UTLA backed  board member Bennett Kayser in District 5, which includes the area around Occidental College.   
The use of value-added models (VAMs) to evaluate teachers has been controversial and problematic for quite some time now.  The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of articles on the topic in the past.  Two education experts from the Coalition to Protect Our Public Schools, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, offer their take on the subject as the State of Washington contemplates legislation to use student test scores to evaluate teachers and principals.  They make a very strong case to oppose the effort.  This story is headlined “Using Student Test Scores to Fire Teachers: No More Reliable Than A Coin Toss.”  
The Monday “Explainer” column in the L.A. Times discussed why Eli Broad decided to suspend his $1 million prize awarded to top urban school districts.  The piece noted that he did it “out of concern that they are failing to improve quickly enough. And, associates say, he’s no longer certain that he wants to reward traditional school districts at all.  The action underscores the changing education landscape as well the evolving thinking and impatience of the 81-year-old philanthropist.”  Previous California winners of the 13-year-old prize included Long Beach Unified in 2003 and Garden Grove Unified in 2004.               Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for sending along the same story from The New York Times which offered some slightly different interpretations of why Broad suspended his prize.  “But critics of the Broad Foundation,” it reports, “said suspending the prize was an acknowledgment that the foundation’s approach to reform, with its focus primarily on test scores and other metrics, might be waning.”
The ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) recently issued a statement that called for a two year moratorium on the use of student test scores for accountability purposes. You can read that notice and view a brief video (1:09 minutes) of the group’s senior director of policy speaking about the decision. “We need a pause to replace the current system with a new vision,” the announcement concludes.  Policymakers and the public must immediately engage in an open and transparent community decision-making process about the best ways to use test scores and to develop accountability systems that fully support a broader, more accurate definition of college, career, and citizenship readiness that ensures equity and access for all students.”
What do charter schools do when an unflattering report comes out about how they operate?  They “massage” the numbers and make sure the next report “corrects” any “wrong” impressions.  Don’t believe it?  Diane Ravitch’s Blog produces an investigative piece from one of her readers that looks at how charters in New York did just that.  The author provides ample links to supporting materials to buttress his point.  “ What we have here is a failure to tell the truth,” he sums up.  “The ‘Independent’ Budget Office, aided by a compliant press, has whitewashed the story of inequity that it itself had helped flesh out just a year earlier.  The data could not be any clearer.  Charter schools have no secret sauce. In fact, they are creating more segregation and greater inequity in our school system. T he time has come to end the charade.”
The next ALOED book club will discuss Elizabeth Green’s Build A Better Teacher and, as an added attraction, Doug Lemov’s Teach Like A ChampionEDUCATION WEEK reports that Lemov’s book has an updated edition out as of January and the article reports on some of the changes.  It also briefly references Green’s book.
Granada Hills Charter High and Franklin High tied for first place in the LAUSD’s Academic Decathlon Super Quiz competition held over the weekend at the Roybal Learning Center near downtown.  A software snafu delayed the final official results for several hours as students, coaches and family members nervously awaited the outcome.  The overall winner of the 10-events will be announced on Friday with several top schools from the LAUSD advancing to the state competition in Sacramento in March.  LA County schools also held their event this weekend with West Covina’s Edgewood High emerging as the winner of the Super Quiz.  All the details can be found in an article in yesterday’s L.A. Times. 
And finally, POLITICO has an multi-page investigative piece on how much Pearson is profiting from the Common Core State Standards and the assessments and materials aligned to them.  It’s titled “No Profit Left Behind.”  “The company has reaped the benefits: Half its $8 billion in annual global sales comes from its North American education division,” it reveals.  “But Pearson’s dominance does not always serve U.S. students or taxpayers well. . . .Across the country, Pearson sold the Los Angeles Unified School District an online curriculum that it described as revolutionary — but that had not yet been completed,” the story details, “much less tested across a large district, before the LAUSD agreed to spend an estimated $135 million on it.  Teachers dislike the Pearson lessons and rarely use them, an independent evaluation found.”  Diane Ravitch says this one is a “Must Read!”

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)



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