Ed News, Tuesday, March 3, 2015 Edition


  “The best book is not one that informs merely,
but one that stirs the reader up to inform himself.”
A.W. Tozer
[Ed. note: In the hope of making the “Ed News” even more user friendly I’ve experimented with adding brief “headlines” to groups of stories in this edition to make it even easier to identify what the links are about.  Brief, single story items will not have any headline.  Please let me know what you think.  Thanks, as always, for reading.]
The Common Core State Standards
The Common Core State Standards have taken a lot of criticism over the past couple of years.  Now even some supporters are expressing concerns about the high school math standards and believe they need to be revised.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK provides the details.  “There’s less agreement, though, on exactly where the high school standards fall short: Some say they’re too dense,” it explains, “while others argue they don’t adequately prepare students for college.  Still others point to specific skills the standards fail to address. One expert even claims that a standard is completely missing from the published document—one that was there in the drafts.”
Two people wrote letters to the L.A. Times that were published on Friday commenting on the paper’s Tuesday editorial about finally pulling the plug on the iPad-for-all program. 
UTLA Rally
EDUCATION WEEK had a much more extensive article about the large UTLA rally that was held in Grand Park on Thursday to protest the lack of progress in negotiations with the LAUSD.  “The union declared an impasse in February,” it explains, “and is set to meet with the district and mediators in March.  If a resolution is still not reached, a fact finding panel will convene.  Though still several steps away, union officials say they are prepared to strike if needed.”                One letter was published in today’s L.A. Times in response to the paper’s story on their website about the UTLA rally.  “Both the district and union are too big to serve the interests of students and their families,” claims the writer who is an LAUSD teacher.
LAUSD School Board Election
LAUSD board member Steve Zimmer wrote an impassioned defense of fellow board member Bennett Kayser who is facing a withering attack from the California Charter School Association in his contest for reelection to the board today.  Kayser has the support of UTLA and has been a consistent opponent of charter school expansion in the district which has drawn the ire of the CCSA.  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints Zimmer’s plea for voters to reject their attacks and return Kayser to his District 5 seat. 
The Opt-Out Movement
The LIVING in DIALOGUE blog presents a short video (4:40 minutes) of a group of parents in New Jersey who share their concerns about the PARCC tests in that state and the impact and reactions of their children to them.               The same website reports on a Local School Council at an elementary school in Chicago that voted to oppose the PARCC assessments and urged that parents be informed of their rights to opt their children out of them.  A veteran elementary school teacher in the Windy City offers some reasons why the council took the position that it did.              An 8th grade student in Santa Fe, New Mexico was suspended from school for informing her classmates of their right to opt-out of standardized testing.  The young lady found the forms on her district’s website and printed them out.  For that she was sent to the principal’s office and suspended at the end of the day.  A Fox News video (3:16 minutes) and brief article described what happened.
Charter Schools
Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for forwarding a commentary by Daniel Tanner, Professor Emeritus of the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University, who decries the emphasis on high-stakes tests and charter schools as the solutions to what ails the public schools.  His extended remarks appear on the “In My View” column of the Kappa Delta Pi Record.  He titles his piece “Sorry, Pres. Obama, But High-Stakes Tests Can’t Cure Cancer.”               Why do so many of the corporate education “reformers” believe charter schools are the answer?  A former member of the New York City Department of Education, writing on Diane Ravitch’s blog, urges everyone to look at the DATA.  He looks at the largest charter chain in New York City and compares it to some of the local public schools.  His analysis is quite enlightening.  “Are these public schools failing?” he asks.  “Are charter schools the answer? The facts say no.”                 “As Philadelphia’s Superintendent of Schools, I recommended the approval of more than 30 charter schools because I thought it would improve educational opportunity for our 215,000 students. The last 20 years make it clear I was wrong.”  That’s how David W. Hornbeck begins his provocative op-ed in the Baltimore Sun titled “Charter School Do Not Equal Education Reform.”  He offers 5 reasons why charters are not working and concludes with several well-known prescriptions that, he believes, will improve education.               Two groups, In The Public Interest and The Center for Popular Democracy have created “The Charter School Accountability Agenda–An 11-Point Program for Reform” that is featured on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  Ravitch includes a link to the full report (2 pages) and offers a couple of additional items she’d add to the list.  “The number of charter schools has grown rapidly over the last ten years,” the report begins, “and while some have succeeded, independent studies show that other charter school operators have failed to perform, wasted taxpayer dollars and in some cases stolen money. The performance and operational failures are largely the result of states failing to provide the kind of oversight that would improve student learning and reduce instances of fraud. . . . The Charter School Accountability Agenda,” it promises, “will ensure that charter schools are fulfilling their role in education as lawmakers intended.”               The organization In The Public Interest released a report last week that revealed some major problems with a California subsidiary, the California Virtual Academy, of the online giant K12 Inc.   An analysis of the paper appeared on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.   “The report cited a number of failures,” the author recounts: “low graduation rate, high student turnover, high demands on teaching staff for clerical work, questionable attendance policies, overworked counselors, frustrated students, technological challenges, etc. None of this was new.”  
4 letters in Saturday’s L.A. Times reacted to the paper’s op-ed on Tuesday from Harvard professor Paul E. Peterson who argued that the testing related to NCLB was actually working and doing what it was supposed to.
Valerie Strauss and the “Ed News” are BIG fans of Carol Burris, the award-winning principal of South Side High School in New York.  The former often turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to Burris and the “Ed News” loves to feature what she writes.  In this latest installment Burris goes after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his “misguided” proposals for education reform including up to 50% of teacher evaluations to be based on value-added scores.  “The idea that we can make our schools better with teacher score-based evaluations, more difficult tests, and harder standards is a strategy that is not working,” Burris maintains.
Standardized Testing
Florida began testing yesterday and the biggest obstacle wasn’t parents opting their children out but technical difficulties that kept students from even logging on to the computers to take the assessments.  A brief item from the Palm Beach Post describes some of the counties and districts that faced problems.  “Just two hours into the first day of testing on Florida’s new statewide assessment and the problems have begun,” it reports.  “The Palm Beach County School District has received notice from state officials that some students can’t log on to the testing portal.”               “Vendor Accepts Responsibility for Online-Testing Snafus in Florida”  is the headline of a follow-up story in EDUCATION WEEK to the one above.  “Last year,” it reports, “Florida hired a major testing organization, the Washington-based American Institutes for Research, to oversee its exams on a contract worth an estimated $220 million. On Monday, the testing vendor issued a statement accepting the blame for the woes.”             The Chicago Teachers Union was bitterly disappointed when the city’s school superintendent bowed to federal and state pressure and agreed to administer the new PARCC assessments district wide.  CTU issued a statement condemning the action which was posted on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  “By changing course on a previous decision to limit the PARCC to just 10 percent of CPS [Chicago Public School] students,” it complains, “the district will continue to burden elementary school students with the inhumane pressure of over-testing, valuable time away from classroom instruction. A number of CPS teachers who have taken the sample PARCC test have stated that the assessment is inappropriate for the target 3rd through 8th grades, and is coyly designed for students to fail.”               Want to know a BIG reason why the CPS caved on administering the assessments?  The federal Dept. of Education threatened the district with the loss of $1.4 billion in funds if they didn’t.  That seems pretty high-handed!  CRAIN’S CHICAGO BUSINESS has all the hardball details.           35 teachers from a top performing high school in New Jersey and the country drafted a letter complaining about the “30 days of destruction” the PARCC test will wreck on their valuable instructional time.  Their note is addressed “To Whomever Will Listen” and was reprinted on Bob Braun’s Ledger.  “We love teaching. We love our students. Our collective educational opinion is that PARCC’s thirty days of disruption is bad for our schools and bad for our children,” they so eloquently conclude.
Rewrite of NCLB
They say politics makes strange bedfellows and that seems to be playing out in California, a heavily blue state, as the education establishment is more aligned with the national Republican positions on the renewal of NCLB.  A front-page story in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes what issues the two, normally at odds with each other, find themselves in agreement over.  “As the House of Representatives moves to vote on reauthorizing a 50-year-old education reform law,” it explains, “Republicans are pushing to sharply curtail what they see as federal overreach in prescribing testing, setting achievement goals and imposing sanctions on schools that fail to improve.  Instead, the House bill would shift authority for such decisions to states and school districts.  And that suits many in California just fine.”               Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog deconstructs U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan’s position on the reauthorization of NCLB.  “With the whole world of education to talk about,” Greene starts out, “Arne Duncan somehow ended up centering his Big Speech around testing, and indeed, that was picked up as the main story.  So what, if anything, did the Secretary of Education get wrong about testing?  Short answer:  Pretty much everything.” Greene offers a number of reasons why he believes Duncan got “pretty much everything” about testing wrong.
The New York Times’ “Room for Debate” feature grapples with the issue “How to Insure and Improve Teacher Quality.”  5 debaters take on the topic including Amanda Ripley, a recent ALOED book club author, Eric Hanushek, who is mentioned in Building A Better Teacher, the focus of tomorrow’s ALOED book discussion and Mercedes Schneider, prolific blogger and author. 
2016 Presidential Race
And finally, an article in EDUCATION WEEK looks at previous education policy initiatives extolled by Hillary Clinton as first lady of Arkansas, first lady of the U.S. and as the Senator from New York.  It uses the historical record to try to determine what kinds of proposals she might champion as a possible presidential candidate in 2016.  The piece includes a sidebar titled “Education Policy Resume” that summarizes her positions.            Another presumptive candidate for president, this one on the GOP side, Jeb Brush was governor of Florida from 1999 to 2007.  His accomplishments on the education front are often touted as proven ways to achieve reform.  How do those claims stack up?  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, engaged in an email exchange with a professor from the University of South Florida who has researched and written extensively about education in the Sunshine State.  You can follow their conversation on the topic by clicking here.

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)


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