Ed News, Friday, February 27, 2015 Edition


Tuesday is Municipal Primary Election Day in many cities in L.A. County.
Be sure to vote!
“Students never appreciate their teachers while they are learning. It is only later,
when they know more of the world, that they understand how indebted they are
to those who instructed them. Good teachers expect no praise or love from the young.
They wait for it, and in time, it comes.”
Darren Shan, Vampire Mountain    
A retired high school teacher from New Jersey, with 40 years of experience teaching English, Latin, German and social studies, offers some practical suggestions to high school students on how to read (and understand and enjoy) Shakespeare.  His tips are addressed to students, but teachers and readers in general should find them of value.  His recommendations are courtesy of the Huffington Post.

Charter vs. public schools, redux.  Could a public school close for a day to allow parents, students and staff to attend a political rally or to take part in a lobbying effort?  I didn’t think so.  That would be totally illegal.  So how do taxpayer funded charter schools get to do it?  Don’t believe it’s happening?  Read this item from Chalkbeat NEW YORK that describes a number of charter schools that will be closing on Tuesday in order to take part in a rally in Albany to raise the cap on charters in the state. And guess what?  This isn’t the first time something like this has occurred.
A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a new book by NPR education reporter Anya Kamenetz titled The Test: Why Our Schools are Obsessed with Standardized Tests–But You Don’t Have to Be.”  The New York Times Magazine was kind enough to reprint a portion of her book titled “We Are Testing Children on the Wrong Things.”  It is one of the 10 things that Kamenetz mentions in her first chapter that she says are wrong with high-stakes exams.
Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, didn’t mince any words in his analysis of the bill to rewrite NCLB.  It’s scheduled for a final vote in the House on Friday and he found it to be seriously lacking.  You can probably tell based on the title of his commentary: “Dumb and Dumber in the Republican House Education Bill.”  Bryant provides a litany of things he believes cause the legislation to come up woefully short.               A planned vote on HR.5, the bill to reauthorize NCLB in the GOP controlled House of Representatives, was abruptly postponed today when conservative opposition arose and expected passage was placed in doubt.  EDUCATION WEEK has the latest details.  “The measure, which was slated to pass the House Friday [today],” the item relates, “came under fire from conservative organizations, including the Club for Growth and Heritage Action, two powerful lobby organizations that worried the bill didn’t go far enough in scaling back the federal role in education.”
Two researchers from the University of Illinois have discovered some interesting things about those so-called “education experts.”  Many of them have connections to prominent media organizations or public relations skills but lack any experience in education or educational policy.  The interesting findings and methodology are in a piece from phys.org“The findings are cause for concern,” it mentions, “because some prominent interest groups are promoting reform agendas and striving to influence policymakers and public opinion using individuals who have substantial media relations skills but little or no expertise in education research, say the authors of the study.”
The Portland Association of Teachers voted last week to approve a resolution opposing the new SBAC standardized tests set to debut in Oregon next month.  “ The resolution references multiple concerns with the test,” according to a story in the Portland Oregonian, “such as predictions that approximately 65 percent of students will fail this year and that Smarter Balanced test scores have not yet been determined to be valid or reliable. The resolution also points out the millions of federal and state dollars that have been allocated for test design and implementation.”
Is it possible to integrate visual art into elementary core subjects?  The answer is a resounding “yes” according to a visual arts teacher at an elementary school in Mississippi.  She presents 3 well-known artists and explains how their works can be used across the curriculum in a story from EDUCATION WEEK.
Quick quiz: Who is responsible for oversight of charter schools?  Quick answer: It depends on the state.  That can make for some pretty strange organizations that do the job.  In many states charter accountability lies with state education agencies or city or county departments/boards of education.  It other states that’s not the case at all.  How about a wildlife rehabilitation center (Minnesota) or a Catholic mental health center (Ohio) or a small, private university (Indiana)?  Believe it or not, all of those are what are called charter school “authorizers” who have the critical job of ensuring kids get a good education and that taxpayer money is spent properly.  An investigative piece from PRO PUBLICA discovered that many of these groups lack the proper backround, tools and commitment to do what they are supposed to do.  “Charter schools are taxpayer-funded, privately run schools freed from many of the rules that apply to traditional public schools,” it explains.  “What’s less widely understood is that there are few hard-and-fast rules for how the regulators charged with overseeing charter schools are supposed to do the job.  Many are making it up as they go along.  Known as ‘authorizers,’ charter regulators have the power to decide which charter schools should be allowed to open and which are performing so badly they ought to close.  They’re supposed to vet charter schools, making sure the schools are giving kids a good education and spending public money responsibly.  But many of these gatekeepers,” the article reveals, “are woefully inexperienced, under-resourced, confused about their mission or even compromised by conflicts of interest.”  That doesn’t sound very encouraging.
The proposed revisions to the New York State teacher evaluation system have set off a firestorm of protest.  Gov. Andrew Cuomo was not happy with the number of educators who were considered “effective” so he set out to “tighten” the criteria.  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a letter from teachers at PS 321 in Brooklyn to parents describing the new changes and what they could mean for the instructors at that school.               David Knuffke, self-described “teacher of science and children,” responds to Cuomo’s proposals by pointing out how other countries evaluate their teachers and also how some states are using proven research and creative ideas to rate their educators.  His commentary appears on the M (medium.comwebsite as part of the New York Teachers’ Letters project.  “There are ways to propose teacher evaluation systems that are in agreement with research and based on evidence from what is working in other places. This is not what the Governor has chosen to do,” Knuffke sums up.  “Rather than seeking to have a conversation with educators, students, parents, and all of the other stake-holders who value education in New York State, the Governor has chosen to propose an unsupported evaluation system with no track record of success in doing what he claims to want to do. And rather than attempt to build consensus on his proposals, Governor Cuomo has taken the position that he is not interested in perspectives other than his own on this issue.”
The dean of the School of Education at Quinnipiac University, in conjunction with a number of other deans at campuses in Connecticut, has written an op-ed for the Hartford Courant lamenting the overuse of high-states tests and the constant blaming of teachers and teacher prep programs for the “failure” of public schools in the U.S.   “As a nation and a state, we have clearly failed to address the inequalities that disproportionally impact many urban school districts where kids are poor and segregated,” he begins.  “Sadly, for the first time in 50 years, a majority of U.S. public school students now come from low-income families.  But instead of addressing this crisis, we have demonized teachers for failing to solve problems our government cannot, or will not, solve.  Poverty, homelessness and the dangerously high levels of emotional and psychological stress experienced by low-income students — these are the problems many of our nation’s public school teachers face every day.”
Wow!  Here’s a novel way to attack Common Core-aligned assessments.  A county circuit judge ruled on Tuesday that the State of Missouri could not make payments to the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) because it is “an unlawful interstate compact to which the U.S. Congress has never consented.”  You’ll have to get all the details of this rather surprising opinion from the Jefferson City News Tribune.              4 school districts in California (including Santa Ana in southern California) may be throwing a similar wrench into the testing works here in the Golden State.  They are requesting at least $1 million in additional funds from the state in order to carry out mandated testing.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK sorts out the issue.  “A push by four California school districts to increase state funding for standardized assessments,” it begins, “could complicate the state’s rollout of the common core and aligned tests, as well as provide an early challenge for a revamped school finance system that is not yet two years old.”
Last week a group of students occupied the office of Cami Anderson, Superintendent of the Newark schools, in hopes of meeting with her to air their concerns and grievances.  She finally agreed to meet with them after they had literally camped out in her office for 3 days.  A first-hand account of the event is provided by Tanaisa Brown, secretary of the Newark Students’ Union, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.               Popular television personality Montel Williams was a vocal backer of the occupation as he tweeted and retweeted numerous messages of encouragement and support.  Anthony Cody was surprised when he was asked if he’d like to interview Williams and the Executive Director on Public Schools of the National School Boards Association about the situation in Newark and education in general.  You can read a transcript and/or view a video of the interview from the LIVING in DIALOGUE site by clicking here.               Steven Singer, author of the GADFLYONTHEWALL blog, also singled out Williams for his support of the students in Newark and for public education in general.  “That might not sound like much to some,” Singer writes, “but our public schools are under attack. You’d be hard pressed to find anyone in the public eye to say something nice about our school system. Our national debate about education is curiously absent teachers. Yet here comes Montel who not only praises our work but starts a campaign to advocate for us and our students! Heck! Another one of his hashtags is #LetTeachersTeach!”
“Rising Graduation Rates: Trend or Blip?” is the title of an article from EDUCATION WEEK that notes theories as to why the numbers are increasing offer various explanations.  A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the latest figures for the 2012-13 school year that were published by the National Center for Education Statistics based on data from the U.S. Dept. of Education.  To review those numbers check out the sidebar to the story titled “Class of 2013: Rates by State.”
UTLA held a major rally yesterday afternoon at Grand Park in downtown L.A. to protest the lack of progress in contract negotiations.  The union is asking for an 8.5% pay increase after almost 8 years of zero raises, furlough days and other reductions.  The latest district offer is 5%.  Other issues include class size and  increased staffing.  An item on the L.A. Times website yesterday evening had details of the protest.
Any idea how many hours standardized testing takes up?  At least in New Jersey, which is using the PARCC exam, depending on the grade level they can take between 10-11 hours.  That’s a lot of missed instruction time and parents in the Garden State are not pleased according to a piece by Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29.  New Jersey parents are opting out of PARCC testing,” she notes, “and the pro-testing set is taking New Jersey parents seriously.”               The Cincinnati Enquirer reports on growing anger and opposition to standardized testing in Ohio.  “The tests, which are new this school year, have triggered various objections,” it explains.  “Some parents worry about the new exams’ frequency, complexity and what they see as lack of educational value. Others fear schools will share data about their child’s performance. Still others worry about the shift away from pencil and paper to using computerized exams.  But the most common complaint is that local school districts are losing their autonomy to state, federal officials and private corporate backers of Common Core, a sweeping set of education reforms that have drawn both strong supporters and opponents in recent years.”
David Perrin, a high school English teacher in Illinois, compares the whole idea of standardized testing to the teaching methods of legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden who, by the way, started out his career as a small-town English teacher in 1930s Indiana.  Confused about what he’s trying to get at?  Perrin titles the piece in EDUCATION WEEK “‘Winning’ as a Process, Not a Product” and proceeds to delineate the differences between the two vis a vis basketball and learning.  Still not sure what this is all about?  Whether you’re a coach or an educator or both Perrin draws some intriguing comparisons.  “The processes of teaching and learning can be messy and nebulous—if not impossible—to quantify,” he maintains.  “They are also unglamorous; they will never grab headlines the way that national sports championships, or even educational test results, do. As long as politicians and society insist on reducing ‘success’ in education to the product of test scores, dedicated teachers, like Coach John Wooden, will have to block out the noise of ‘winning,’ so that they can focus on the quiet yet vital processes of teaching and learning, regardless of what the scoreboard reads.”
With the L.A. County municipal primary election on Tuesday, an article in yesterday’s L.A. Times focused on one key LAUSD school board race pitting a pro-charter candidate against one-term incumbent Bennett Kayser, who is backed by UTLA.  A statewide group, California Charter Schools Association Advocates, is hoping to become a force in education policy in the state.  It has thrown its support behind charter school founder Ref Rodriguez in the District 5 contest which represents the area around Occidental College as well as Silver Lake and other communities in southeast L.A. county. 
Vouchers were always sold as a way for low-income parents to pull their students from “failing” public schools and send them to private or (even in some states) parochial schools.  The taxpayer funds used in the public school would thus gain portability and follow that student to the private or parochial school.  Diane Ravitch’s blog provides evidence that in Indiana 50% of children now taking advantage of the state’s expanding voucher program NEVER attended public school.  The whole thing has turned into a way for nonpublic school families to get taxpayer money to school their kids.  Sounds like a great way to destroy public education!  Ravitch includes a link to a Chalkbeat INDIANA article that uncovers what’s going on in the Hoosier State“This year,” it reports, “roughly 50 percent of students using vouchers previously attended a public school; last year 61 percent of students did, stoking fears that the program is subsidizing private school tuition for families who already planned to do so.”

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)




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