Ed News, Tuesday, February 24, 2015 Edition


“We have sold ourselves into a fast food model of education, and it’s impoverishing our spirit and our energies as much as fast food is depleting our physical bodies.” 
―  Ken Robinson
A physical education teacher in Memphis is bitter about what “corporate reform” is doing to her predominantly minority and low-income students.  “There is a stench in the air,” she complains, “in Memphis and it’s a smell that is permeating throughout black school districts. One can get a whiff of it in Newark, N.J., Philadelphia, New Orleans and most urban areas that received Race To The Top federal dollars for education. This awful stench derived from education reform and it’s been perpetrated on minorities with lower incomes and those who live under a lower socio economic status.”  Her comments appeared in the TRI-STATE DEFENDER.
A strongly pro-charter group in New York called Families for Excellent Schools produced a report that “demonstrated” how the NYC school district was spending way more money, per pupil, on the 50 lowest performing schools than it was on the 50 highest.  Ergo, the funds are being totally wasted.  Solution?  Why not create more super nifty charters?  Bruce D. Baker, on his School Finance 101 blog, couldn’t contain himself when he read the study.  He called it an “impossibly stupid analysis” to start and later referred to it as ‘junk.”  He provides LOTS of well-documented support for his thesis so he doesn’t have to rely on just name-calling.
Rocky Killion, school superintendent in the West Lafayette Community School District in Indiana, has developed a major dislike for standardized tests and has taken the extreme position of recommending to parents that during the testing period they withdraw their children from the district, home-school them and then re-enroll them when the exams are over.  His frustrations about the assessments and the reasons why he’s advocating such a radical solution are described in a column in the Lafayette Journal & Courier.               Killion’s solution to some glitches in the computers that were being used for testing was so “out there” that even Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, picked up on the story.
The LAUSD’s “iPad-for-all” program is DEAD!  In a featured front-page story in Saturday’s L.A. Times  Supt. Ramon Cortines admitted the district could not afford the at least $1.3 billion price tag.  ” Cortines said Friday that the reality was that the district never fully prepared for how the devices would be used in the classroom,” according to the article, “or how to pay for them over time.   Cortines laid out a more measured approach, saying purchasing computers needed to be balanced against other priorities such as repairing dilapidated campuses.”               3 letters appeared in today’s Times in reaction to the article (above) about pulling the plug on the iPad proposal.               An editorial in the same paper applauds the demise of the “iPad-for-all” plan because of how poorly it was handled.  However, it goes on to explain why the district needs to explore other alternatives for supplying the technology the students need to be successful in today’s world.  “L.A. Unified must buy more technology; its students would be left woefully behind the college-and-employment curve without it,” it suggests.  “The current lack of funding for a massive iPad purchase creates a much-needed time-out, though, so that L.A. Unified can do it right next time.”  It outlines 4 concrete ideas for getting it “right” this time.
An editorial in The New York Times apparently supports the status quo when it comes to reauthorizing NCLB.  It supports the continuation of the regimen of standardized tests that commenced when the law began in 2002.               The Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog presented a quick response against the Times’ editorial.   Katz, director of Secondary Education at Seton Hall University, offers a detailed critique of the paper’s position in a piece titled “New York Times Fails Education Reform–Again.”          A number of issues have been raised around the rewrite of NCLB including testing and funding.  A major disagreement has arisen over the role of high-stakes testing.  Some voices call for their elimination, some want them cut back, some wish the results weren’t used for teacher evaluations, salaries, etc. while others would like to see the status quo continue.  One argument suggests that the law and the assessments are a “civil rights” issue.  A broad cross section of civil rights organizations, including the NAACP, have called for a continuation of the exams.  Jeff Bryant, writing on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, believes that last point is over stated.  He reviews much of the discussion over the issue and concludes that testing, as currently constituted, is not the civil rights issue that some maintain that it is.  He titles his piece “Memo To Civil Rights Activists: Testing Isn’t Helping.”              An extended editorial in yesterday’s L.A. Times makes the case for deemphasizing the use of test scores to evaluate teachers and schools and eliminate the punitive aspects of NCLB.  “The political winds are blowing against the Obama administration: Parents as well as teachers are frustrated,” it concludes, “states have been postponing or withdrawing from the Common Core curriculum initiative, and in Congress, the GOP appears bent on making No Child Left Behind completely toothless. But there’s a better reason for the administration to revamp its thinking on tests: creating a more robust and engaging educational system.”               An op-ed penned by the director of the Harvard University Program on Education Policy and Governance makes the case for continuing the testing program.  It reviews some of the opposition reasons for opposing the plan and claims most of them are politically motivated.  “Annual, statewide testing should be saved,” it concludes, “and it can be if moderates in both parties fight off special interests. . . .  There are many elements of law that deserve tweaking, but even if the NCLB bathwater needs changing, our kids are not likely to learn more if schools and teachers are not held accountable.”
An attempt to take over a low-performing Orange County elementary school using the parent-trigger law fell just 12 signatures short of the 367 needed.   “At a standing-room-only meeting Thursday,” reports an item in Saturday’s L.A. Times, “the Anaheim City Board of Education unanimously rejected a petition by parents to convert Palm Lane Elementary into an independent charter, which are publicly funded and usually non-union.”
Anya Kamenetz, an education reporter for NPR, has a new book titled The Test: Why Our Schools Are Obsessed With Standardized Testing–But You Don’t Have to Be that was out in early January.  The first chapter has 10 reasons why the assessments are a bad idea.  The volume also looks at the opt-out movement and some alternatives to high-stakes testing.  LIVING in DIALOGUE has a review.              The same publication has an account from a first grade teacher in New York City who describes the testing experiences of her students during 4 days earlier this month.  She titles her piece “Excessive Standardized Testing in First Grade is No Fairy Tale.”
Charter schools used to claim that their lack of oversight and accountability were what made them so successful.  Then the scandals over financial and academic irregularities began to roll in and people started to sing a different tune.  Now both Democrats and Republicans in Ohio, at least, are demanding much more transparency according to a piece in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.  “Charter school reform proposals are gaining broad support in Columbus,” it begins, “but there are voices on both the left and the right who say the $1 billion charter school movement in Ohio needs even stronger controls than what has been proposed.”               Speaking of Ohio, pro-charter and pro-corporate education reformer Gov. John Kasich has made some rather curious comments about education in his state.  Some of those remarks have been called out on the Plunderbund blog.  
Chalkbeat New York found that New York City charter schools had suspension rates that were almost 3 times those of city district schools.  “Overall, charter schools suspended at least 11 percent of their students [during 2011-12], while district schools suspended 4.2 percent of their students. The charter-school suspension rate is likely an underestimate because charter schools don’t have to report suspensions that students serve in school.”  The article provides some detailed statistics to back up its findings and includes links to a description of their methodology and the database they created for the analysis.               A national study of suspension rates has been compiled and made public by the Center for Civil Rights Remedies at UCLA.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK featured the report which broke the numbers out by elementary and secondary students.  “The report’s authors analyzed 2011-12 discipline data from every school and district in the country,” the article explains, “which was released by the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights last year. In that time period, 10.1 percent of U.S. secondary students and 2.6 percent of elementary students were suspended, they found.”  Florida had the highest suspension rates of all the states according to the study.  The article includes a link to the full report (50 pages) titled “Are We Closing the School Discipline Gap?” where you can find detailed numbers for each state.  California was right at the national average of 2.6% for elementary students and, at 9%, was well below the national average at the secondary level.
Another new study, this one from Duke University’s National Center for Analysis of Longitudinal Data in Education Research (CALDER), found that students who attend schools that don’t meet their AYP target tend to have better attendance but more behavior problems.  The first factor probably helps the campuses to improve while the second one makes things worse.  The findings from this report were highlighted in an item in EDUCATION WEEK.  “As pressure increases for schools who miss accountability benchmarks,” it begins, “students become less likely to be late or miss class—but more likely to get into fights and get reported or suspended for misbehavior.”
New York Times columnist Paul Krugman takes time out from his usually economic discussions to look at a supposed connection between education and the poor job recovery and other problems related to the Great Recession.  “What I keep seeing,” he reports, “is people insisting that educational failings are at the root of still-weak job creation, stagnating wages and rising inequality. This sounds serious and thoughtful. But it’s actually a view very much at odds with the evidence, not to mention a way to hide from the real, unavoidably partisan debate.  The education-centric story of our problems runs like this: We live in a period of unprecedented technological change,” Krugman continues, “and too many American workers lack the skills to cope with that change. This ‘skills gap’ is holding back growth, because businesses can’t find the workers they need. It also feeds inequality, as wages soar for workers with the right skills but stagnate or decline for the less educated. So what we need is more and better education.”
The Common Core-testing season will be in full swing soon (Ohio began last week) and that is putting extra pressure on teachers to cover the necessary content. This year test calendars have been moved up in some cases and many districts are trying to cope with snow days and other distractions.  EDUCATION WEEK takes a look at what educators are going through this time of year to meet assessment requirements.  Be sure to check out the sidebar to this story titled “Spring Testing Schedules” to see the different calendars of the two testing consortia and the timeline for non-consortium states.
Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, came across a post on FaceBook that was highly critical of the Finnish education system.  (She has a link to the full item on her blog).  It was so contrary to what just about everybody has reported about Finland that she couldn’t just let it go.  She passed it along to Pasi Sahlberg, Finnish education expert, author and current visiting professor at Harvard University, for his comments.  “I have read all sorts of things about Finnish education,” was his initial response, “but this one goes beyond all of them. It makes me wonder if that is written by a serious person?”  Schneider assured him that it was serious and he proceeded to offer an equally serious critique of the highly critical item.
The Great Lakes Center for Education Research & Practice offers a withering review of a report from the National Alliance of Public Charter Schools that purports to present 21 myths about charter schools and the “truth” behind them.  “An academic review of the report,” the press release states, “finds that it perpetuated its own myths and fictions about charter schools rather than adding to the discourse surrounding school choice.”  It includes links to the initial report (16 pages) from the NAPCS titled “Separating Fact & Fiction: What You Need to Know About Charter Schools” and the “Review of Separating Fact & Fiction” from the National Education Policy Center (28 pages).
The Rhode Island chapter of the NEA voted to approve a resolution in support of the right of parents to opt-out their children from high-stakes testing in that state according to a story in the PROVIDENCE Journal.  “”…There is an over-abundance of these tests in Rhode Island public schools,” read the statement from the organization.  “The Rhode Island Department of Education, through individual school districts, must provide all parents with yearly, written information fully explaining their right to opt out of these assessments. Students who opt out of high-stakes assessments, such as PARCC, will not be included in data used by state or federal entities in grading or ranking schools or districts, or for any other punitive measures.  No parent or student should be penalized based on a parental decision to remove a student from standardized assessments.”
The teaching technique known as “personalized learning” has gained a great deal of traction lately.  Alfie Kohn, a former ALOED book club author, writing on Valerie Strauss’s blog in The Washington Post, offers 4 warning signs about it.  He draws an important distinction between “personal learning” and “personalized learning.”  “When -ized is added to personal,” he carefully explains, “the original idea has been not merely changed but corrupted — and even worse is something we might call Personalized Learning, Inc. (PLI), in which companies sell us digital products to monitor students while purporting to respond to the differences among them.”
And finally, possible 2016 GOP presidential candidate, Jeb Bush has an organization called the  Foundation for Excellence in Education.  It is getting in on the MOOC (massive open online course) craze by offering 3 different classes one can take to learn about the latest trends in education reform.  Valerie Strauss describes the program, called EdPolicy Leaders Online, and offers some salient comments about the agenda behind them on her blog for The Washington Post.  In addition, she reprints the email from the foundation inviting recipients to take advantage of this “exciting” opportunity.  

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)

you can find it on the internet  at http://tigersteach.wordpress.com
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