Ed News, Tuesday, February 17, 2015 Edition


 “We all take such pains to over-educate ourselves. In the wild struggle for existence, we want to have something that endures, and so we fill our minds with rubbish and facts, in the silly hope of keeping our place. The thoroughly well-informed man – that is the modern ideal. And the mind of the thoroughly well-informed man is a dreadful thing. It is like a bric-a-brac shop, all monsters and dust, with everything priced above its proper value.” 
I know we don’t live in Indiana but if you think the education battles in this state are bad, wait until you read about the bloodletting that’s taking place in the Hoosier State.  An epic conflict is playing out between the Republican governor and the GOP dominated legislature versus the lone statewide elected Democrat, Glenda Ritz, the Superintendent of Public Instruction.  Peter Greene, of CURMUDGUCATION fame, lays it all out for you.  “What Indiana provides,” Greene explains, “is an example of what happens when the political process completely overwhelms educational concerns. If there is anyone in the Indiana state capitol more worried about education students than in political maneuvering and political posturing, it’s not immediately evident who that person might be.”              An enraged parent wrote a “rant” aimed at Gov. Pence and his botched attempt to fix the standardized test in his state.  She goes on to rail against the move to strip Glenda Ritz of her powers over education.  The parent’s piece is on the Indiana Coalition for Public Education–Monroe County and South Central Indiana website and can be accessed by clicking here.
More bad news for Teach for American.  The group will be reducing its placements in Memphis by 40% in the fall.  A story from CHALKBEAT Tennessee explains some of the reasons for the reduction.  “The decline is consistent with national trends,” it points out.  “As the economy recovers, TFA officials are seeing a decline in applicants from college seniors who are being offered more attractive jobs upon graduation.”

A recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a 6-page document titled “How To Talk About Testing” that had been used at a corporate conference on privatization and choice.  Anthony Cody had obtained a copy and discussed it on his blog.  The EduShyster couldn’t help but carve it up on her blog.  She takes a particularly witty approach, as is often the case, to her analysis.   

The charter vs. public school battle, redux.  A recent study in Chicago found that most charters in Illinois are exempt from many health and safety laws that apply to public schools in that state.  Catalyst CHICAGO has the worrisome details.  “A recent study by the Chicago Medical-Legal Partnership for Children,” it reveals, “found that because of a legal loophole, only 10 percent of Illinois health and safety laws explicitly apply to charter schools.”               The group Advocates for Children,  a nonpartisan organization in New York City, took a look at how that city’s charter schools dealt with student discipline and found a number of areas where applicable state laws were not being followed.  They produced a report (31 pages) titled “Civil Rights Suspended: An Analysis of New York City Charter School Discipline Policies” that you can find by clicking here.  It offers a number of suggestions for how charters can change how they discipline children in order to be in compliance with state laws.  The New York Times had a story on the study “Most of New York City’s charter schools.” it begins, “have disciplinary codes that do not meet either state or federal requirements, according to a report by a children’s advocacy organization.”              An analysis by the Minneapolis Star-Tribune found that “students in most” charter schools in the state “are failing to hit learning targets and are not achieving adequate academic growth.”  In addition, the achievement gap between white and minority students at those schools widened last year.  This is a particularly bad news since Minnesota is where the charter school movement began some 20 years ago.  “A top official with the Minnesota Department of Education,” the piece mentions, “says she is troubled by the data, which runs counter to ‘the public narrative’ that charter schools are generally superior to public schools.”  You really have to read why a charter school association in the state is against the closure of low-performing charters.  Talk about a double standard when it comes to public schools!
Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, turns her column over once again to Finnish education scholar Pasi Sahlberg who writes about why Finland could never adopt a Teach for America-type system in that country.  There are those that “claim that there are many similarities between the Finnish and TFA conception of teaching,” he writes.  I” would argue that these two could not be further apart from one another.”  Sahlberg lists 3 reasons why this is the case.
There have been a number of studies documenting the disproportionate rate of incarceration for African-American males.  Similar studies have shown high numbers of school suspensions and expulsions for the same demographic.  Now comes a report that the same things may be happening to African-American female students.  Researchers at Columbia University studied disciplinary results at public schools in Boston and New York City.  Their findings are featured in a story from npr that includes an interview with one of the authors of the study“Girls of color, and especially black girls,” the story reports, “are subject to discipline that is harsher and more frequent than that of their white peers, and are six times more likely to be suspended than white girls. The racial disparities in punishment are greater for girls than for boys.”
A former Florida teacher and principal, on her ROSANNE WOOD, Perspectives of a Principal blog, wonders if her state (and by implication all the others) care more about testing than teaching.  She practically demands that the state legislature offer some relief before it’s too late.  She titles her piece “High-Stakes Testing Overload About to Sink Our Public Schools.”  Be sure to check out the two cartoons she adds at the end of her commentary.
Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, looks at a 3-step process that he sees the so-called education “reformers” have adopted to foist their ideas on a naive public.  He offers several examples to illustrate his point.  
How is this for a “BRIGHT” idea?  The State of Ohio has a new program (called the “BRIGHT” initiative) to attract recent college graduates into a degree program to train them to become future school administrators.  Only problem is, the degree is not related to education but is an MBA.  The Mitchell Robinson, Ph.D. blog finds this more than a little disconcerting.  “And now the circle is squared,” he concludes rather incredulously.  “The BRIGHT program neatly fills in the niche between ‘Teach for America’ (producing unqualified recruits for classrooms) and the Broad Superintendent’s Academy (producing unqualified superintendents) by producing unqualified principals for Ohio’s schools.”
Pres. Obama’s weekly address on Saturday dealt with important education issues like graduation rates, testing and the reauthorization of NCLB.  It’s available on the official WhiteHouse.gov website, runs 4:36 minutes and you can click on a full transcript if you so wish. It’s titled “Giving Every Child, Everywhere, a Fair Shot.”
Some positive news for the LAUSD.  Granada Hills Charter High won the district’s Academic Decathlon competition with the highest team score in the history of the event.  El Camino Real placed second and, along with Granada Hills, will join John Marshall, Franklin, Garfield, Bell, Hamilton, North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Grant and Harbor Teacher Preparation Academy in the state contest March 19-22, in Sacramento.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times describes the results.                 South Pasadena High won the L.A. county competition and will advance to the next round along with Mark Keppel High from Alhambra and Edgewood High from West Covina  according to an article in the Pasadena Star-News.
For quite some time, many so-called education “reformers” have wanted schools to be run like businesses by ranking employees and using negative evaluations to get fid of poor workers.  However, even business attitudes towards those kinds of actions beginning to wane as described in a piece in the Wall Street Journal.  (It, unfortunately, requires a paid subscription but you can read most of it, for free, on Diane Ravitch’s Blog along with some of her comments about the article.)  “The shift may annoy leaders who rose in a tough-love era in business,” the story states, “but executives say hard-edge tactics simply do more harm than good these days.”  “So this is what American business is doing!” Ravitch exclaims.  “Would someone please tell Arne Duncan, Andrew Cuomo, Rick Scott, Scott Walker, Mike Pence, and members of Congress?”
EDUCATION WEEK features a new study that looked at how 10 U.S. school districts have recently restructured their teacher compensation systems.  Traditional pay schedules were based on experience and units/degrees earned beyond the credential.  The report, from the Center for American Progress, did not include any districts from California.  The story includes a handy chart summarizing/comparing the new pay systems and a link to the full study (31 pages) titled “Do More, Add More, Earn More, Teacher Salary Redesign  Lessons from 10 First-Mover Districts.”
A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a story from Slate that indicated that the number of hours that American teachers work compared to other Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries was vastly overstated.  Now Diane Ravitch’s Blog offers a response to that piece from a university researcher that says, yes U.S. teachers do work longer hours and under much more difficult conditions than their counterparts around the world. 
The “Ed News” has reported extensively on charter and public schools but not so much on private schools.  One area that is often neglected by the media is homeschooling.   An item from THE HECHINGER REPORT discusses why black parents are more and more turning to that alternative and the reasons why are often different than white parents.  “[W]hile white homeschooling families traditionally cite religious or moral disagreements with public schools in their decision to homeschool,” it points out, “studies indicate black families are more likely to cite the culture of low expectations for black students or dissatisfaction with how their children—especially boys—are treated in schools.”
As we in southern California bask in unseasonably warm weather while most of the rest of the country battles wind, snow and cold the inevitable question arises in those cold-weather climes:  “When Is It Too Cold Outside to Go to School?”  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post, provides an interesting answer to a problem never faced in Los Angeles.  “School districts have a number of considerations,” she indicates, “including state student attendance requirement and commuting issues (such as how long students have to wait outdoors for a bus, whether roads are passable by car and whether public transportation is working), as well as health dangers posed by the cold and the condition of old and sometimes crumbling school buildings. Many districts are also concerned about students who only eat meals at school and who have working parents or guardians who can’t stay home with them.”  Be sure to check out the photo that she includes at the start of her piece and the wind chill chart from the National Weather Service towards the end as an inkling of what this is all about.

And finally, a lump-in-the-throat story.  5 seniors from the Business Academy at Costa Mesa High School are headed to New York City in April for a national competition.  So, where’s that lump?  Their teacher will be accompanying them for the first time in 3 years since she was diagnosed with cancer.  If that doesn’t do it, there’s something wrong with you.  A story in today’s L.A. Times has all the heartwarming details.

// // // //

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71) 


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