Ed News, Friday, March 6, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

Daylight Saving Time officially begins at 2 am Sunday.  
Set your clocks ahead one (1) hour
 

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(And now to the news.)
 
“Mental acuity of any kind comes from solving problems yourself, 
not from being told how to solve them.” 

Standardized Testing

Guess what?  IT’S TESTING SEASON and that means all kinds of stressful situations for students, parents, teachers and administrators.  This item from EDUCATION WEEK offers “Seven Ways to Survive Testing Season” and has some very practical hints for teachers on how to deal with those pressures that come with the task.  It’s written by two long-time educators, an assistant principal and teacher from the same elementary school in Florida who, oddly, make no mention of aspirin, Prozac or strong drink!                Not quite sure why you’re against the PARCC and SBAC standardized assessments created by the two testing consortia?  The Save Our Schools NJ website has assembled 12 clear, concise reasons to oppose them.  New Jersey is using the PARCC test so this item is focused on that, but the points made apply to both exams.  California is using the SBAC test.               The author of this piece from the Badass Teachers Association likens the emotional and verbal abuse she suffered at the hands of her now ex-husband with the “abuse” inflicted on school children by standardized testing.                Steven Rasmussen, a long-time veteran of mathematics education,  has produced a very detailed (34 pages) report about the SBAC math assessments titled “The Smarter Balanced Common Core Mathematics Tests Are Fatally Flawed and Should Not Be Used.”   “Certainly, with stakes so high for students and their teachers,” he writes in the Summary of the report, “these Smarter Balanced tests should not be administered.   The boycotts of these tests by parents and some school districts are justified.  In fact, responsible government bodies should withdraw the tests from use before they do damage.”

Corporate Reform

On the Dad Gone Wild blog, the author, a parent in Tennessee, has a humorous comparison between bedtime for his your children and the end of corporate education reform.  You’re probably totally confused by what he’s getting at but give the piece a chance and you’ll quickly see his point.  “We have reached a point,” he notes, “[where] the reform movement was once engaged in battle against the status quo, has become the status quo.”                  Jeff Bryant can’t figure out why corporate “reformers” keep pushing charters and vouchers as the keys to fixing public education.  Not with all the scandals and problems that keep coming to light about them.  In a story in SALON Bryant provides a litany of criminality, financial chicanery and academic fraud perpetrated by various charter chains in a number of states.  “Rather than directly address what ails struggling public schools,” he charges, “policy leaders increasingly claim that giving parents more choice about where they send their children to school – and letting that parent choice determine the funding of schools – will create a market mechanism that leaves the most competent schools remaining ‘in business’ while incompetent schools eventually close.  Coupled with more ‘choice’ are demands to increase the numbers of unregulated charter schools, especially those operated by private management firms that now have come to dominate roughly half the charter sector.”

(Short) Film Festival
Steven Singer, aka the author of the GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, is pleased to announce  the launching, in conjunction with the Badass Teachers Association, of Badass Films.  “I’ve made 12 very short films about corporate school reform and the grassroots movement that fights against it,” he relates.  “They’re nothing fancy – just something I whipped up with imovie.  But I hope they’ll help spread the message and get people up to speed on the damage being done to our school system by standardization and privatization.  I also hope to shine a light on some of the amazing people out there – parents, teachers, students, and people of conscience – who are fighting against factory schools with all their might.”  You can view his first production (1:02 minutes) titled “Opt Out of Standardized Testing.”  It’s included in the article which also has a list of his upcoming titles and some mock posters created by the BAT team.                Here’s a follow-up piece to the one above in which Steven includes links to the other 11 short videos in his collection along with a discussion of what it’s all about.  If you have some time this weekend you might want to check them out.

Tuesday’s Election

Wednesday’s L.A. Times had two article with preliminary results of Tuesday’s municipal primary.  A front-page item reviewed Charter Amendment 2 which would change the dates of LAUSD school board elections to coincide with federal and state contests.  A second story looked at the growing power of charter supporters in their battle with the teachers’ union as it relates to the several LAUSD school board and L.A. Community College board races.  For final city council, school board and charter amendment results click here for a Times graphic.                 A follow-up piece in yesterday’s Times described the election results and forecast a major battle between UTLA and the California Charter Schools Association over the Bennett Kayser/Ref Rodriguez run-off race in May.  The former is the incumbent and is backed by the union while Rodriguez, who came in first on Tuesday, is a charter school founder and is heavily supported by the CCSA.  UTLA has also set its sights on defeating incumbent Tamar Galatzan.  Stay tuned for some fireworks!

Teacher Evaluations

Using test scores to rate teachers presents a number of problems besides the validity of value-added models.  How would one rate teachers in grades where no tests are offered.  For instance, NCLB mandated assessment in grades 3- 8 and 11.  What about those educators in grades K, 1, 2, 9, 10 and 12?  And what about subjects at the secondary level where no exams exist to date like physical education, music, art, social studies, science, etc.  How fair would it be to base firing or salary decisions on tests that teachers do not directly administer?  The author of this piece, a superintendent of two adjacent school districts on Long Island, on the School Leadership 2.0 blog dives into that sticky issue and employs an analogy to testing doctors to make his point.  “Testing and measurement will always be a part of life and our livelihoods,” he concludes.  “Effectively rendered, we can use this valuable information to guide and shape improvement, both personal and professional.  The present implementation of the system to test students and teachers is far from effective, and in fact is proving to be quite destructive.”               Stack ranking and merit pay are often used in the business world to rate and reward employees.  A number of corporate “reformers” would like to apply the concepts to teacher evaluations.  The author of this commentary from the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog has been teaching for 37 years in Ohio and is National Board Certified.  “Teaching is not a simple task that can be easily assessed,” he asserts.  “While on paper, stack ranking and merit pay sound fine and easy to devise, it will be a debacle.  American schools are not in crisis, and collaborating, student-focused teachers are already working hard and producing great results for children every day.”

Possible Presidential Contenders

The previous edition of the “Ed News” looked at the educational records of possible 2016 presidential contenders Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush.  The Washington Post reviews the proposals for reform of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie in an article titled “Chris Christie’s Bold Plan to Remake Public Schools is Running Into Trouble.”  “The plan, which fully took effect during this academic year,” it explains, “essentially blew up the old system. It eliminated neighborhood schools in favor of a citywide lottery designed to give parents more choices. It prompted mass firings of principals and teachers, and it led to numerous school closures and a sharp rise in the city’s reliance on charter schools, which are publicly funded but privately run.”

New Head of Boston Schools Comes From LAUSD
Dr. Tommy Chang, an instructional superintendent with the LAUSD, was selected on Tuesday as the new superintendent of the 57,000 student Boston City Schools.  He was one of 4 finalists and was chosen after a nearly 2-year search.  He’ll begin his new duties on July 1, according to an article in EDUCATION WEEK.

Shortage of Teacher Applicants

npr has a story trying to pinpoint the reasons why teacher training programs are experiencing a big drop in applicants and shortages of credentialed teachers are beginning to plague certain states and school districts.  “Several big states have seen alarming drops in enrollment at teacher training programs,” it points out.  The numbers are grim among some of the nation’s largest producers of new teachers: In California, enrollment is down 53 percent over the past five years.  It’s down sharply in New York and Texas as well.  In North Carolina, enrollment is down nearly 20 percent in three years.”  The item tries to provide some reasons why people are shying away from the teaching profession.

Common Core 

More bad news for the math Common Core State Standards.  An independent review of publishers materials that were claimed to be aligned with the standards were found to be seriously wanting.  A report from the nonprofit EdReports.org found 17 of the 20 items analyzed failed to “live up to claims they were aligned to the common core.”   That assessment is found in a story in EDUCATION WEEK that highlighted the survey.  An infographic that accompanies the article (you have to click on it) has a grade-by-grade breakdown of the curricular materials and how they stacked up.  “The reviews . . . . were conducted by small groups of teachers and instructional leaders from across the country,” the story relates.  “They looked at digital and print K-8 mathematics materials from widely used publishers—including Pearson, McGraw-Hill, and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt—as well as from some lesser-known providers whose texts passed state review processes.  The results echo previous alignment studies conducted by university-based researchers.”               The Common Core Standards have been targeted for repeal in a number of states recently but there have been no legislative successes to date.  THE HECHINGER REPORT surveys some of the actions against the standards and what types of strategies opponents may adopt in the future.  

Accountability

A new essay titled “The Big Idea of School Accountability” tries to defend the ideas of testing and punishment of schools that don’t make the grade that were the cornerstones of NCLB.  John Kuhn, a superintendent of a school district in Texas, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, provides a detailed rebuttal to the whole idea which he titles “The Big Error of School Accountability.”  He presents a heavily researched and factually supported response to buttress his points.  “Yes, there must be scrutiny of our schools,” he concludes, “a meaningful system of accreditation, but the measuring must not overwhelm the doing, and the measurers must not exasperate the doers.  Perhaps there is a fix for accountability.  But if defenders of the testing status quo who are begging us to ‘mend, don’t end’ accountability are to avoid being left behind, they must accept that the process starts by scrapping the whole thing and recreating it from the ground up, with leadership and legitimate input from the people inside the schools.”  Kuhn includes a link to the original essay for your perusal.

Vergara Case Revisited
The one-year anniversary of the start of the Vergara v California trial arrives next month and the repercussions of the decision are still being felt.  David Finley, who recently retired after a 43-year career in education as both teacher and principal, revisits the case and draws some interesting conclusions of his own regarding the attack on tenure.  His analysis is in EDUCATION WEEK.  Vergara served an important purpose by bringing public attention to the damage inflicted upon children by incompetent teachers,” Finley sums up.  “Unfortunately, incompetent administrators, who are equally culpable, escaped the scrutiny of the court.  Instead, teacher tenure became the innocent victim of this high-profile case.   Judge Treu hoped to solve the problem of incompetent teachers by striking down the state’s tenure codes.  In reality, the root cause is an intrinsic one, found within the structure of our K-12 school systems. Eliminating tenure laws to solve the problem is akin to putting a Band-Aid on a bad headache.”
 
David Brooks Gets It Wrong Again
Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, is once again nonplussed by some comments regarding education made by columnist David Brooks in a recent New York Times piece.  Brooks apparently believes the way to reduce the achievement gap is by making sure everyone goes to college.  He completely ignores the idea of reducing poverty through income redistribution (that solution is probably too painful for those members of the 1% to contemplate.)  “Throwing all this back at a magical belief in education is simply another way to blame poor people for being poor.  So sorry you need food stamps and health care, but if you’d had the guts and character to go to college and get a degree,” Greene caustically concludes, “you wouldn’t be in such a mess.  Your poverty is just the direct result of your lack of character and quality.  Well, that and your terrible teachers.  But it certainly has nothing to do with how the country is being run.  It’s all on you, lousy poor person. And also your teachers.”  Greene includes a link to the original Brooks item or you can find it by clicking here.
 
Problems For Public Schools
What is causing so many problems and placing such a microscopic  focus on the public schools?  Michelle Gunderson, a veteran elementary school teacher and union activist in Chicago, writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog identifies 3 key ingredients: Common Core, testing and teacher evaluations.  She refers to them as the “Triumvirate of Upheaval.”
 
Another Milestone for Ravitch
And finally, overnight Diane Ravitch’s blog hit 18 million page views since she started it on April 26, 2012 [Ed. note: That’s slightly more than the “Ed News.”  lol]  Ravitch writes about the milestone and what her philosophy is for her very popular column.  
 

 

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71) 

 
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