Ed News, Friday, February 20, 2015 Edition


“I want to kidnap kids and force them to take useless tests all day long. 
Wait, that’s what our public education system already does.” 
― Jarod KintzSeriously delirious, but not at all serious
A bipartisan bill was introduced in the Washington State Senate to repeal Common Core and the SBAC Core-aligned assessments.  The first part of the text of the proposed legislation and a brief description of it are included in a piece from the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.
The husband and wife team of Edward B. Fiske and Helen F. Ladd take a critical and nuanced look at the link between poverty and achievement.  He’s a former education editor at The New York Times and she’s a Professor of Public Policy at Duke University.  Their excellent piece appears on the EdNC blog.  “Release of the first letter grades for North Carolina public schools on February 5.” they begin, “led to predictable debate over their fairness and usefulness. Whatever their limitations, though, the letter grades sent a clear message about what North Carolina needs to do to improve outcomes for kids.  In a nutshell, we need to figure out how to break the link between poverty and achievement in our schools. A crucial first step is to support policies and programs that directly address the particular challenges that poor students bring with them to school.”  Fiske and Ladd offer several ideas for closing the achievement gap they so eloquently address.
It is fast approaching college acceptance season and more and more applicants are opting for early admissions as detailed in a story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times.  It describes one student who “is among an increasing number of high school seniors taking advantage of early admission programs, which allow students to apply to their top choices in November and find out in December — removing a lot of stress and uncertainty in the process.”
HEAR! HEAR!  The superintendent of the Tri-Valley Local School District (Ohio) issued a sharply worded and to-the-point statement about parents’ rights to opt their children out of  the PARCC assessment.  Some districts have gone so far as to issue threats of dire consequences to any parents who opt-out their kids.  It’s nice to see Supt. Neal take a stand for democracy and parental choice, which just so happens to be their right in this matter.  You can read his inspiring words on the Tri-Valley Local Schools website.               Carol Burris, award-winning principal of South Side High School in New York who often writes on Valerie Strauss’ Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post,  is going one step farther in the opt-out debate.  She is overtly calling for parents to consciously choose to have their children skip the assessments.   “The only remedy left to parents.” she thunders, “is to refuse to have their children take the tests. Testing is the rock on which the policies that are destroying our local public schools are built. If our politicians do not have the courage to reverse high-stakes testing, then those who care must step in.”  Burris doesn’t see either the national Republican or Democratic parties taking a stand against the overuse of high-stakes testing and offers 4 reasons why the opt-out movement will continue to spread.
The House Education Committee last week passed a rewrite of NCLB and the full House will take up the measure during the week of Feb. 24.  Meanwhile, action continues on the legislation in the Senate as that chamber’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee reviews the bill.  An article in EDUCATION WEEK catches you up on the latest details.  “Republican lawmakers are in the driver’s seat in both chambers,” it explains, “where Title I portability, testing, and accountability continue to be the most hotly debated policy issues.”               The same publication has an updated piece on the House legislation.  Debate is scheduled on the bill Wednesday and Thursday with a final vote slated for Friday, Feb. 27.  The article previews what the floor debate might look like.
A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a piece from Russ Walsh on his Russ on Reading blog that analyzed the reading levels of the text selections on the PARCC sample test.  In Part 2 of his study he looks at the readability index of the questions on the same assessment.  “Whenever a new test is rolled out, we know through past experience that test scores will go down. Over time schools, teachers, and students adjust and the trend then is for scores to go up.  It will be no different with the PARCC tests. As the scores rise, some questions will arise like, ‘Have we been focused on the right things in these tests?’ and ‘Have the tests led to better, more thoughtful readers?’  Based on my analysis of these test questions, I am not confident.”  [Emphasis added.]  Walsh includes a link to Part 1 of his review.               The “grumpy old teacher” at CURMUDGUCATION, Peter Greene, is at it again.  This time he “live streams” on his blog while he tackles the sample questions of the PARCC test.  He provides a running commentary and description, page-by-page, of the English Language Arts exam at the high school level.  “Man,” he sighs after reaching the end.  “I have put this off for a long time because I knew it would give me a rage headache, and I was not wrong.  How anybody can claim that the results from a test like this would give us a clear, nuanced picture of student reading skills is beyond my comprehension.  Unnecessarily complicated, heavily favoring students who have prior background knowledge, and absolutely demanding that test prep be done with students, this is everything one could want in an inauthentic assessment that provides those of us in the classroom with little or no actual useful data about our students.”

Anthony Cody delivered a speech last week at the University of Georgia in which he spoke of the drawbacks of high stakes testing for both students and teachers.  The content of the talk was described on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  Cody “spoke to a crowd of concerned students, teachers, administrators and parents,” the author reports, “and voiced his opposition to educational reform programs such as No Child Left Behind, Common Core, Race to the Top and Value Added Models.  These programs, which have garnered billions of dollars in government funds over the past 12 years, perpetuate inaccurate representation of student achievement and teacher effectiveness, Cody said.”
The editor-in-chief of her high school newspaper in Pennsylvania pens an op-ed about why she believes her school’s “Redskin” mascot and nickname are offensive.  Her comments are courtesy of EDUCATION WEEK and deal with more than just the dispute over the name.  “When I raised my hand to vote in a classroom at Neshaminy High School nearly 18 months ago, I was unaware of the battle I was about to ignite as editor-in-chief of The Playwickian, my school’s newspaper,” she relates.  “In the fall of 2013, one of my fellow editors began a conversation about our school mascot, which is also the name of every sports team at our school and our school’s nickname.  This would soon become a national controversy over our use of a racist mascot and a legal battle over the amount of control students have over their publications in public schools.”               The same publication has a commentary by the executive director of the Student Press Law Center titled “Don’t Silence Young Journalists.”  It cites 4 cases (including the one above) where student editors were censored or punished for things they wrote in their school papers.  Interestingly, all four are women.  “In recent years, K-12 school administrators have become unapologetically heavy-handed in retaliating for speech that may provoke controversy or reflect unfavorably on the school’s image,” notes the author of the article.  “Disproportionately, because student journalism is increasingly a female-dominated activity, those bearing the impact are young women.”
Mercedes Schneider, writing on the Huffington Post, warns Georgia legislators not to buy all the hype about the so-called successes of the all-charter Recovery School District in New Orleans.  It seems the Peach State hopes to duplicate what they’ve heard is going on in the post-Katrina Crescent City.  They may be in for a big surprise, especially if they read what Schneider has to offer.               The number of charter schools has proliferated over the years for many reasons.  One you don’t hear about too often is the big political donations made by management companies to state legislators and other education policy makers.  In addition, they are able to mobilize large numbers of parents, students and staff, even during school hours to attend school board meetings, rallies or legislative committee hearings to lobby for their cause.  “They would never do that,” you might be thinking.  The author of this investigative piece from PennLive offers a number of examples from his state of Pennsylvania to demonstrate that “Yes, they would!”  “In recent years,” the article maintains, “as charter schools have proliferated – particularly those run by for-profit management companies – so too has their influence on legislators. In few other places has that been more true than Pennsylvania, which is one of only 11 states that has no limits on campaign contributions from PACs or individuals.”
The field of education engages in all sorts of discussions and debates over various terms, policies and ideas.  John Thompson, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog wonders if it is offensive to reformers to use the label “corporate reformers.”
Two letters, the first one from Stephen Krashen professor emeritus of education at USC, in Wednesday’s L.A. Times reacted to the paper’s op-ed from last Friday about Eli Broad’s decision to suspend his foundation’s $1 million prize to outstanding urban school districts.  Both were critical of the author’s suggestions on how to proceed.  “The best teaching and strongest exhortations,” Krashen concluded, “to work hard have little effect when students are hungry and ill and have nothing to read. Let’s not worry about ‘turning around’ school districts; instead, let’s work on protecting children from the effects of poverty.”
A 30-something, new principal at an elementary school in New Orleans is trying out a more involved, pro-active approach to her job.  She spends much more time out from behind her desk visiting classrooms and serving as an instructional leader and role-model for her teachersTHE HECHINGER REPORT offers an in-depth profile of Krystal Hardy in a feature titled “Principal In The Classroom: Can New Orleans School Make It Work?”
The LAUSD is taking on the measles outbreak by hiring more nurses and reviewing vaccination records particularly at early education centers.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times has the facts and figures.  “Part of the challenge for L.A. Unified,” it notes, “has been a shortage of nursing staff, officials said. Before the recent recession, the district employed 678 nurses, which was less than one per school. That number dropped by 200 because of budget and enrollment reductions as well as retirements, said Tonya Ross, the district’s director of nursing.  The school system has hired about 40 nurses this year and is still interviewing applicants, she said.”
The whole idea of standardized testing is bound to raise some controversy.  Have you ever wondered about the people who are hired to grade the students’ written responses and what is required of them?  A reader of the Diane Ravitch Blog found an ad on CraigsList for test readers in Indianapolis.  You can discover lots of information from it along with a few choice comments from Ravitch.  You may want to check out some of the comments that follow this post.
After months of off and on talks between the LAUSD and UTLA over contract negotiations the union on Wednesday declared an impasse.  The district is offering a 5% raise while the teachers are asking for 8.5%.  Other issues include class size, teacher evaluations, increased hiring and parental involvement.  The details were posted on the L.A. Times’ website yesterday morning and had not appeared in print as of the time the “Ed News” was completed.  “Teachers have not had a pay raise or cost of living increase in eight years,it points out, “and agreed to pay cuts through furlough days during the depths of the recent economic recession.  Thousands of teachers also were laid off because of budget cuts and shrinking enrollment.  Teachers have continued to receive pay boosts based on education credits and experience.”  [Emphasis added.]
THE HECHINGER REPORT describes two new tools for helping teachers implement the Common Core Standards.  Both the Literacy Design Collaborative and the Mathematics Design Collaborative have been found to increase student achievement.  “The LDC and MDC are not scripted curricula,” the story explains.  “Rather, they are templates that allow teachers to use whatever materials they think are appropriate but guide them through student activities and products that meet challenging standards.”
With the spring standardized testing season fast approaching more and more parents, teachers and students are choosing to opt-out of the new, more rigorous testing regimen.  A piece from EDUCATION WEEK is titled “Testy Over Testing: More Students Snub Standardized Tests.”  “Test results measure student achievement,” it reminds readers, “but also can be used in teacher evaluations, overall school report cards and as high school graduation requirements. Opponents say the exams distract from real learning, put added stress on students and staff, waste resources and . . . .  contribute to the privatization of public education. Schools that score badly are sometimes turned over to management companies or become charter schools.”
A small group of students from the Newark (NJ) Student Union have taken a page from the protests of the 1960s and have been sitting-in at the office of Cami Anderson, superintendent of the Newark schools.  They are demanding that she step down and that the district, which was taken over by the state 20 years ago, be returned to local control.  Steven Singer on his GADFLYONTHEWALL blog titles his commentary “When Kids Teach Adults–Lessons From the Newark Student Union Sit-in.”
With just 11 days to go before the L.A. municipal primary election on March 3, Howard Blume of the L.A. Times reviews the 3 contested LAUSD school board races.  Even though he is no longer superintendent, John Deasy is a key issue in all of the races.  “In campaign mail and at debates,” Blume writes, “the challengers are laying the blame for many school district woes on Deasy’s actions and policies as well as on the board that employed him through mid-October.”
And finally, on a lighter note, the satirical news source The Onion “reports” that the U.S. Dept. of Education, which is so enamored of standardized tests, will replace the entire K-12 curriculum with one, single test to be taken by all students.  “According to government officials,” it states with tongue firmly in cheek, “the four-hour-long Universal Education Assessment will be used in every public school across the country, will contain identical questions for every student based on material appropriate for kindergarten through 12th grade, and will permanently take the place of more traditional methods such as classroom instruction and homework assignments.”  Maybe this is not so funny.  Could the DoE really be contemplating something like this?  Stranger things have emerged from that bureaucracy!
Enjoy the warm weather this weekend while most of the rest
of the country endures an epic blast of arctic cold!

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)


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