Ed News, Friday, March 13, 2015 Edition


The “Ed News” will be taking a short break. 
Look for the next edition on Tuesday, March, 24.
“Most people are mirrors, reflecting the moods and emotions of the times; 
few are windows, bringing light to bear on the dark corners where troubles fester. 
The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.” 
―  Sydney Harris 
Teacher Quality
A recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a New York Times “Room for Debate” feature on the question “What Makes A Good Teacher?”  Among the 5 contributors were Amanda Ripley, Eric Hanushek and Mercedes Schneider.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, had some major criticisms of the comments made by Hanushek.  First he wonders why some economists think they are qualified to pontificate on education issues.  “Hanushek has become one of those go-to ‘experts’ whose continued credibility is a mystery to me,” Greene asserts.  “He may be an intelligent man, a man who treats his mother well, and is fun to hang out with. But his arguments about education are baseless and unsupportable. If you’re going to read any portion of the NYT debate, I recommend you skip over Hanushek and check out the indispensable Mercedes Schneider, whose piece is much more closely tied to reality.”
A.P. U.S. History Framework

Legislators and certain state board of education members in four states have raised concerns about the revised A.P. U.S. History framework, claiming it offers too many “negative” aspects of American History.  An article in EDUCATION WEEK outlines some of their concerns.  “Policymakers in Colorado, Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas have pushed back on the new framework, which outlines the concepts and skills students need for a college-level history course,” it points out.  “The Republican National Committee also condemned the guidelines last summer, calling them ‘radically revisionist.’ . . . .The critics of the framework have tended to be right-leaning legislators and state board of education members who also oppose the Common Core State Standards.”

New Book
Robert Putnam, professor of public policy at Harvard University, has a new book titled OUR KIDS–The American Dream in Crisis that looks at the declining amount of support offered to children in poverty to help assure they are successful academically.  EDUCATION WEEK offers a review.  “Mr. Putnam,” it informs readers, “finds large and widening gaps—often beginning in the mid-1980s to early 1990s—across a slew of measures: from frequency of family dinners and how much families spend on children, to test scores and participation in school-based extracurricular activities, to access to informal mentors and even children’s levels of basic trust in their neighbors and society. These ‘scissors’ trends highlight every place a lifeline is being cut in the lives of children whose parents earned a high school diploma or less.”
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LAUSD Lay-off Notices & New School Calendar
The state of California requires school districts to notify personnel of possible lay-offs for the next school year by March 15th (that happens to fall on Sunday this year).  Receipt of the notices does not mean the person will definitely lose their job since budget decisions and enrollment projections are often not made until later in the year.  The LAUSD board voted to issue 600 RIFS (reductions in force) at their meeting on Tuesday.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times had a very brief item about the decision while the website posted a longer piece Tuesday evening.               At the same meeting the board approved the school calendar for the 2015-16 school year.  It includes a slightly later starting date (Aug. 18) than in the past.  A story about that action appeared on the Times’ website Tuesday evening.  You can read the official LAUSD press release about the calendar by clicking here  and/or you can view the calendars in graphic form by clicking here.
“Another One Bites the Dust”
Another charter school operator has been found guilty of criminal misconduct.  [Ed. note:  When is this going to end?]  Stephen J. Ingersoll, founder of the Bay City (Michigan) Academy, was convicted by a federal jury on three of six felony counts related to tax fraud as he attempted to personally benefit from loans meant for school construction.  The Michigan Live website has the details.  “Federal prosecutors,” it reports, “alleged Ingersoll in January 2011 obtained a $1.8 million construction line of credit loan from Chemical Bank in Bay City for his endeavors with the church-academy, then used the money for his own purposes.”                 For a similar take on this issue check out this short (1:05 minutes) video from Badass Films titled the “Charter School Treasure Hunt” that appears on YouTube.
Income Inequality and Education
French economist Thomas Piketty, whose Capital in the Twenty-First Century was a bestseller last year, traced the history of income inequality and how it has developed in the U.S. and Europe.  He blasted the Republican party and Jeb Bush in particular for making it a conservative talking point despite their policies that have tended to exacerbate the problem.  Piketty was interviewed about how the issue relates to education by Krystal Ball on her “Krystal Clear” program on MSNBC.  SALON has a story about their discussion that includes the full video (16:15 minutes) of the interview.  “Conservatives’ proposals, Piketty concludes, are fundamentally at odds with the goal of creating a more egalitarian society,” the article summarizes.  “‘So I think there’s a lot of hypocrisy in this conservative rhetoric about the skill gap and education gap.  If they are really serious about the skill gap and the education gap, then they cannot at the same time cut taxes on the rich,’ he says.”
Testing and Civil Rights
Here are two stories challenging the idea put forward by some corporate “reformers” that testing is advantageous for children of color and will help reduce the achievement gap.  The first one is by Brian Jones, former teacher and current doctoral candidate at CUNY.  He has a piece on ALTERNET titled “For People Who Have Experienced Racism in Schools, Standardized Testing Can Seem Like A Solution.  But It’s Not.”   “Our society is currently spending untold sums to create more tests, more data systems, more test preparation materials, ad nauseam,” he argues.  “And then they have the audacity to tell us that these are antiracist measures!  Of course, all this focus on testing is a huge market opportunity for the private companies that provide all these services and materials. What is never under serious consideration is the idea that we could take all those same millions of dollars and create for all children the kind of cozy, relaxed, child-centered teaching and learning conditions that wealthy kids already enjoy.”              The second item is from Denisha Jones, who titles her piece “Empathy V. Criticism, How to Respond to Those Who Think More Testing Is Needed to Improve Public Education.”  It appears on the emPower website.  “Despite the growing anti-testing movement,” she suggests, “civil rights groups like the NAACP and Children’s Defense Fund, believe that testing is needed to ensure equity and fairness for all children.  This belief is perplexing to those who see the damage excessive testing has done to all children.”
The PBS “NEWSHOUR” program has a feature on the opt-out movement by John Merrow, their special correspondent for education.  It includes an audio segment (8:17 minutes) and a printed transcript of the story.  “Testing for the Common Core learning standards in U.S. public schools began earlier this month,” Judy Woodruff points out in her introduction to the piece.  
“And just as a rebellion is brewing against the Common Core, there are now protests building against the national tests associated with them.  Reports of students refusing to take the tests are coming in daily, and if those numbers keep building, it could endanger the goals of the standards themselves.”               One of the “Ed News” favorites, Peter Greene (of CURMUDGUCATION fame) occasionally blogs for EDUCATION WEEK under the banner “View From the Cheap Seats.”  This one is from the latter.  He’s been following a Twitter thread and other vehicles that have been poking fun at followers of the opt-out movement.  Their main argument is that sometimes you just have to do things that you find unpleasant.  Greene sets out to try to debunk that notion in regards to high-stakes testing.  “As we enter testing opt-out season with its ever-increasing rising tide of test opposition,” he commences, “the  fans of test-driven accountability have had to use every weapon in their arsenal to try to beat back the non-testing hordes who threaten modern educational progress (and corporate revenue streams ).”
API Delayed A Year
The California State Board of Education voted to delay by a year the use of the Academic Performance Index (API) to evaluate schools as the state transitions to new Common Core-aligned assessments.  The board also decided to expand the way schools are rated beyond just relying on student test scores according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  “Amid a national backlash against the overuse of test scores, board members also voted to shift from a school quality measure based solely on exam results to one that would include other factors,” it reports.  “Possible additions include student attendance, dropout rates, suspensions, English proficiency, access to educational materials and performance in college-level classes.”
Why are so many hedge fund managers investing in charter schools?  There’s LOTS OF MONEY to be made.  The New York Daily News outlines some of the names and amounts being ventured and who is benefiting.  “Hedge fund executives have unleashed a tsunami of money the past few years,” it maintains, “aimed at getting New York’s politicians to close more public schools and expand charter schools.  They’ve done it through direct political contributions, through huge donations to a web of pro-charter lobbying groups, and through massive TV and radio commercials.”                Any Goodman on her DEMOCRACY NOW! program interviews her co-host, Juan Gonzalez, who wrote the above article about hedge funds and charter schools.  You can read a transcript and/or view a video (3:49 minutes) of the discussion by clicking here.  “Gov. Andrew Cuomo is the single biggest recipient [of hedge fund donations], hauling in $4.8 million, Goodman points out in her introduction.  “After winning approval for up to $2,600 more per pupil for charter school facilities, Cuomo is calling on the state Legislature to increase the state limit on charter schools.”               Dave Yost, State Auditor of Ohio, has a very thoughtful commentary in The Columbus Dispatch about the difficulty in drawing up meaningful guidelines regarding accountability and transparency for entities like charter management companies which accept taxpayer funds but are often private businesses.  Governments definitely have jurisdiction over public units but rules are much more hazy when it comes to their dealings with the private sector.  “The ongoing debate over charter-school reform is going to happen smack in the middle of this disorganized space in our public life. How do we protect the public interest,” he ponders, “while harnessing the best qualities of a mostly private-sector actor?”            How well are charter schools doing at meeting the promises they have made?  A professor of Public Policy at Duke University and a senior majoring in the field have made a study of the first 100 charters in North Carolina and found their record to be “spotty.”  Their findings appear in a op-ed in the Charlotte News & Observer.  “North Carolina’s charter schools are accountable to the State Board of Education,” the two explain, “for ensuring compliance with the provisions of their charters and applicable laws. But how well are they delivering on the promises that earned them the right to spend more than $380 million taxpayer dollars each year?  Our analysis shows many charters are not making the grade.”  They go on to demonstrate several areas where charters are coming up short.
Julian Vasquez Heilig on his Cloaking Inequity blog reviews a recent Mathematica Policy Research study on Teach for America (highlighted in Tuesday’s “Ed News”) and raises some concerns regarding TFA’s interpretation of the results.               Matthew Di Carlo on the Albert Shanker Blog also has an analysis of the Mathematica report about TFA.  He finds both positive and negative elements in the findings for the organization.  “The public reaction to the report was one of those half disturbing, half amusing instances,” Di Carlo suggests, “in which the results seemed to confirm the pre-existing beliefs of the beholder. TFA critics pointed out that TFA teachers did no better overall, while TFA supporters noted that the comparison teachers had, on average, about 14 years of experience (i.e., TFA teachers did as well as comparison teachers with far more training and experience).”              BloombergBusiness focused on a different aspect of the Mathematica report: retention of teachers.  It found a startling high number (87%) of TFA teachers planned to leave the profession after only a few years on the job.  The story has some other statistics on the topic.                     A group of Phoenix-area TFA corps members and alumni have requested the parent organization return $500,000 allocated to TFA to the public schools amid steep budget cuts enacted by the Arizona legislature.  The PHOENIX New Times has the surprising developments.  “‘There is a massive contradiction that exists when an organization that claims to work for the education of all children is part of a process that robs Peter to pay Paul,” the group [of TFAers] wrote. “We cannot support Teach for America’s growth in the context of everything that is shrinking: budgets, funding sources, support for public education, and, ultimately, opportunities for children.'”               The Texas legislature has a bill (HB 1060) pending public hearings that would not count any TFA educator who leaves after his/her two year commitment as being included in “teacher turnover.”  Diane Ravitch’s blog has a very brief item about the development under the heading “Texas Loves TFA.”
California School Funding
California has been using its new Local Control Funding Formula for the past 2 school years.  The idea was to target dollars to those students most in need, i.e., mentally and physically handicapped, ELLs and low income.  However, a new study from the Public Policy Institute of California “raises concerns that many such students, including children in foster homes and English-language learners, may not be receiving the additional resources that the formula generally promises for them. Why? PPIC says the formula may be missing particular schools within districts that need the most attention and resources.”  Some good news for LAUSD, however:  They were actually found to be doing a better job of distributing funds to high needs students than other districts around the state.  Yay!!!  An item from EDUCATION WEEK has the details.
Laura Slover, the CEO of the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the consortia that developed Common Core-aligned assessments, has written that “there is no ‘test prep’ for these tests; these are the kinds of test items that require understanding of concepts and application that only come through a year of effective teaching, not through ‘drill and kill.’”  If the testers believe test prep will not help why are so many classrooms spending so much time on just that task?  The author of this article from THE HECHINGER REPORT takes you to a school in New Orleans to sort all this out for you.  “Despite the test prep and more rigorous curricula,” the story notes, “teachers and administrators said they expect student test scores will drop just as they did in other states. Scores plummeted in Illinois, Kentucky and New York when the Common Core tests were introduced.”  The sixth-grade reading teacher at the school concluded: ““This is not an easy year to be a teacher in America.”  [Ed. note: Is it ever “an easy year to be a teacher?”]                Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, has an essay on ending “the war over standardized testing.”  He reviews a number of the arguments against high-stakes assessments, discusses the growing opt-out revolt and offers some alternative ideas that, he believes, will end the increasingly bitter fight over the exams.  “If we want assessments that give us information that is actionable within a reasonable time frame,” he suggests, “then what we need are the types of tests educators use in their everyday work.  Demanding schools have those types of assessments in place is fine, but making those assessments  standardized, centrally controlled, and implemented en masse across the nation is never going to work.” 
Vergara in New York
A judge in the Empire State ruled that a lawsuit challenging the state’s teacher employment rules could continue.  The case, Davids v. New York, is a combination of two other suits that follow in the footsteps of the Vergara decision in California last year.  A statewide teachers’ union announced they would immediately appeal the ruling.  A brief piece in EDUCATION WEEK explains the situation.
Education Reform
“What’s Love Got to do With Education Reform?” is the intriguing title of a story on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  It’s written by a former teacher who now works with student teachers at Brooklyn College.  She defines the term “love” and wonders why it can’t be applied more often to the teaching profession.  “Call me radical, or just call me plain crazy, or even an idealist, but I believe the missing ingredient in public education reform is love,” she begins.  “And compassion.  And gratitude.  Please, let me explain.  Love has many definitions. As a noun, it can mean ‘deep affection, warmth, adoration’ or ‘enjoyment, appreciation, passion’, or ‘compassion, caring, kindness’. As a verb, love can be defined with words like ‘adore, delight in, and hold very dear.’  Look over that list above again. Is there one word up there—just one—that if applied to the everyday world of public education, wouldn’t make our schools a better place for our students and teachers?”  She makes a good point and draws on several experiences to emphasize it.
Teacher = CEO?
And finally, as a teacher or administrator have you ever felt like a company CEO?  That’s the gist of in interesting item from a teacher who left high school teaching 6 years ago to become a startup CEO.  He thought the jobs would be VERY different but, to his surprise, he found a number of similarities along the way.  He outlines them in this story from EDUCATION WEEK.  “On the surface,” the author notes, “the two vocations could not be more divergent: nonprofit vs. for-profit; public institution vs. free market; chalkboard and textbook vs. Google Analytics and business-expansion playbook; curriculum-building vs. consumer-product design.  And yet, I’ve come to see that teaching is a lot more like being a CEO than our teacher-degrading, CEO-fetishizing society wishes to know.”  [Ed. note: Now if they’d just pay us like those CEOs who make millions and millions!]


Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)


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