Ed News, Tuesday, March 24, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

“The goal of education is to enable individuals
to continue their education.”
John Dewey
Freemon Running for School Board
ALOED’s own Jennifer Freemon is making a third run for a seat on the Glendale school board.  The election is Tuesday, April 7, and this time Freemon has formed a slate with a current member of the board who is up for re-election.  According to their campaign literature, the pair are endorsed by the CTA, NEA and the Glendale Teachers Association.  You can find more information about Jennifer on her campaign website by clicking here.  If you live in Glendale and/or know people who live there, consider casting a vote for her and/or encouraging your friends to do so.
 
Dramatic School Funding Disparities
If you believe school funding formulas are providing equal monies for districts with students from wealthy families as those from poor ones, you need to think again.  An eye-opening item in The Washington Post reveals a wide disparity in at least 23 states.  In Pennsylvania, Vermont and Missouri more state and local dollars were a apportioned to wealthy districts than to poor ones.  “In some states the differences are stark,” it explains.  “In Pennsylvania, per-pupil spending in the poorest school districts is 33 percent lower than per-pupil spending in the wealthiest school districts. In Vermont, the differential is 18 percent; in Missouri, 17 percent.  Nationwide, states and localities are spending an average of 15 percent less per pupil in the poorest school districts (where average spending is $9,270 per child) than they are in the most affluent (where average spending is $10,721 per child).”  When federal dollars are included the differences in funding tended to shrink.  The story provides two charts that clearly show how dollars are spent by state and how the federal monies tend to even out the disparities which raises the question of why some politicians want to reduce the roll the federal government plays in education.  Check out both charts to see how California fares. 
 
The Teaching Profession
Here’s a first for the “Ed News.”  One of our readers had an op-ed published in Thursday’s L.A. Times.  He’s Stephen Mucher and he’s the director of the Bard College MAT program in Los Angeles and he’s also the newest addition to the ALOED Discussion Group.  ALOED members Nancy Kuechle AND Larry Lawrence both spotted this one and forwarded it to the editor.  His piece is titled (in the print edition) “Why Make it so Hard to Teach?” and recounts a number of factors that have made the profession such a difficult one in recent years and why many college graduates are reluctant to become teachers.  “Our most promising educators crave work that honors their creativity and intellect,” he so correctly points out. “They are suspicious of easy answers. They need to hear more than the cliche that a great teacher can make a difference in a student’s life. They want to know whether this profession will make a difference in their own life.”               The above commentary by Stephen Mucher drew an always insightful comment on the Diane Ravitch blog.    “Frankly, it is tiresome to hear critics say that teachers are not our ‘best and brightest.’  Neither are our critics,” she suggests.  I doubt that most critics would know how to teach a classroom of 30 children of any age, but they feel emboldened to complain about those who do it every day.  As we see the pipeline for new teachers growing smaller, and many veterans taking early retirement, where will we find new teachers?  Who will be held accountable for this crisis in the teaching profession?”               Sunday’s Times published two letters reacting to Mucher’sop-ed.               Need a very brief morale booster?  Check out what one reader sent into DianeRavitch’s blog about the unsung value of teachers based on a quote from George Eliot’s Middlemarch.               An award-winning teacher who recently won a prestigious $1 million education prize has some surprising advice for anyone contemplating entering the profession:  Don’t do it!   Areyou confused?  Read the story in EDUCATION WEEK of Nancie Atwell of Maine who has been teaching and writing for 42 years to discover why she’s so against newcomers becoming teachers.  Also be sure to view the short video (2:23 minutes) of her appearance on CNN talking about the award and her misgivings about becoming a public school teacher.  [Ed. note: Hint, it has to do with Common Core and testing.]  Both the article and video are a real reality check.  Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweekfor forwarding this one to the editor.               Does experience matter for teachers?  Good question.  Some groups like Teach for America purport that it doesn’t.  They and others might suggest that a person can be an excellent teacher from the beginning which is why TFA only requires a two-year commitment from their corps members.  However, more and more professional research is  demonstrating that years on the job in front of a classroom really matter.  An article in EDUCATION WEEK reviews two new studies that attempt to address the issue.   “Although the studies raise numerous questions for follow-up,” the author maintains, “the researchers say it may be time to retire the received—and somewhat counterintuitive—wisdom that teachers can’t or don’t improve much after their first few years on the job.”  The ED WEEK piece includes links to both of the new papers.         
 
Renewal of NCLBWith both the U.S. House and Senate working on the reauthorization of NCLB it might be a good time to take a look at what the law has accomplished and what it’s goals were.  ALOED member Randy Traweek sent along two historical articles that question the original premise of the legislation that mandated that ALL students would beproficient in math and English by 2014.  The first one comes from the DAILY KOS and applies the goals of NCLB to the banking industry.  “Based on my vast experience of standing in line at the bank,” thalli1 writes, “I’m hereby declaring myself an expert of all financial institutions and their operations. In a program I will call NDLB (No Depositor Left Behind) all banks will from this day on be ranked and given a grade based on their average customer bank balance.”  Using the same logic as the piece above, the second one dealt with NCLBproposals for police departments.  It appeared on the K-12NN News Network website.  “It occurs to me we can solve all kinds of seemingly intractable problems in this country with the same powerful pen,” Joseph K suggests.  “Isn’t crime a major issue in this country? Isn’t crime as important as illiteracy? Why don’t we solve it with NCLB, No Crime Left Behind? With a simple act of Congress, we will mandate a reduction in crime by one hundred percent by 2021. Think of it! In ten years, there will not be a single criminal act in the entire county. And we will do it the same way the original NCLB did it, by setting annual benchmarks and inflicting severe consequences for failure to meet those objectives. (Or else.)”               Should the fact that there appears to be bipartisan agreement on the renewal of NCLB be a source of optimism?  Not according to Arthur Camins, director of the Center for Innovation in Engineering and Science Education at the Stevens Institute of Technology in Hoboken, N.J.  He writes on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post of his worries over the proposition that both Democrats and Republicans are lining up in support of the pending legislation.  He reviews what’s on the table so far and finds it seriously wanting.  Not leaving it at just being critical he identifies a number of common sense proposals he’s like to see included in the bill.  “It is past time for all supporters of equitable education for life, work and citizenship to call out No Child Left Behind,” he concludes, “with its high-stakes testing centerpiece as a failed Faustian bargain. Choosing the right tools for the right purposes is a common sense starting point.”
 
Testing/Privacy
Last week it was revealed that Pearson has been monitoring (spying on?) social media sites of students while they are taking standardized tests.  One superintendent in New Jersey was concerned enough about the revelation that she emailed her colleagues.  This latest flap about high-stakes testing appeared on Bob Braun’s Ledger.                  Valerie Strauss, in The Washington Post, quickly reacted to the story and provided a comment by Pearson as to why they were doing the monitoring.  This is not the only instance in which social media has been monitored by testing companies or state authorities during student standardized testing,” Strauss notes.  “Such monitoring is seen by authorities as an extension of classroom monitoring for cheating, while seen by some parents and educators as a violation of a students’ privacy.”   Strauss also includes a copy of the New Jersey superintendent’s email and indicates that California has been doing similar types of monitoring.               The Badass Teachers Association checked in with a call for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate Pearson for its actions.  “As parents and teachers who have a duty to protect our children and safeguard their right to being private citizens,” their statement asserts, “we are outraged at the over reach that Pearson has been allowed.  It is an overbearing reach that has even been condoned by New Jersey’s department of education. As parents and teachers we demand that the United States Department of Justice investigate  the facts and practices that Pearson is employing to monitor and control the actions of our children, that is not only in clear violation of their rights, but also a transgression against their childhood.”                 Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, reviewed some of the sources that had commented on the issue of student “monitoring.”                 The growing controversy over the monitoring of/spying on student social media sites during testing drew an extended comment from Stephanie Simon over at POLITICO.  In a piece titled “Cyper Snoops Track Students’ Activity” she describes how the “monitoring” takes place and writes: “School districts and colleges across the nation are hiring private companies to monitor students’ online activity, down to individual keystrokes, to scan their emails for objectionable content and to scrutinize their public posts on Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Instagram and other popular sites.  The surveillance services will send principals text-message alerts if a student types a suspicious phrase or surfs to a website that raises red flags.”  The item adds that a few states, inlcuding California, are trying, in the name of personal privacy, to limit this type of activity.                Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 commented on an official statement from PARCC about test monitoring (snooping?) activities and why they are justified.  “Never forget: testing is a business,” she reminds everyone, “and the more ’embedded’ (Pearson’s word) testing becomes into the American public education experience, the bigger the business will become, and the more control the business will exercise not only in test prep prior to testing and actual administration, but also in monitoring the public ‘before, during and following’ testing.               Want some idea of what students are facing when they try to take the SBACstandardized test in math on a computer?  This video (9:42 minutes) from YouTube shows a group of supposedly computer-literate 5th graders struggling with just the mechanics of using the device to deal with some math issues.  Thanks to ALOEDmember Larry Lawrence for sending it along.               17 teachers at an elementary school in Framingham, Massachusetts, wrote a letter to the editor of the Framingham Patch titled “PARCC is Failing Teachers and Students.”  They proceed to offer 4 concrete reasons why and concluded: “Excellent teaching is aligned to the individual learning needs of students, and it is out of kilter to have to teach to the expectations of a standardized test. These sterile tests and the accompanying weeks of artificial test-prep stand in stark contrast to the rich and varied learning experiences we strive for in the classroom. By way of this testing, we see the curriculum narrowing, a false definition of educational success expanding, and the appreciation of school and life-long learning vanishing.”  Each one of the educators signed the letter.               Stamford Advocate columnist Wendy Lecker, who is also an attorney, wonders what Vermont is getting right that her state of Connecticut isn’t in regards to the SBAC standardized test.  She compares and contrasts how the two states have dealt with the testing mandates under NCLB in an op-ed in the paper.  “In its thoughtful articulation of its policy stance,” she concludes, “Vermont’s educational leaders demonstrated their dedication to the educational welfare of Vermont’s children. It is shameful that Connecticut’s so-called leaders cannot muster the same concern for ours.”                 Do high-stakes tests have any sort of religious connection?  Check out this short commentary on the Marie Corfield blog for an answer that has to do with the 14 Stations of the Cross.  The author, a New Jersey parent, teacher and self-described “education activist,” describes it as “the worst PARCCstory” she’s ever heard.  You don’t have to be of any particular religion to understand its impact.                 Diane Ravitch’s blog has, what the author describes as “a wonderful photo” that’s been making the rounds on Twitter about young children being “college and career ready.”              A measure recently introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives to ostensibly protect student privacy apparently is more aimed at protecting commercial interests’ right to collect personal data about students without their knowledge.  An item from Student Privacy Matters looks at what the legislation would really accomplish.  “The bill . . . . addresses few if any of the concerns,” the story notes, “that parents have concerning the way their children’s privacy and safety have been put at risk by the widespread disclosure of their personal data by schools, districts and vendors.” It goes on to identify several “critical weaknesses” in the bill.
Charters
Here we go again!  The two leaders of a Delaware charter school were recently fired after they were charged with running up $94,000 of personal expenses on the school’s credit cards.  The malfeasance was discovered after an audit of school accounts conducted in the spring of 2014.  The Wilmington News Journal provides the sordid details including a list of many of the charges.  “Credit card records in the audit,” the story points out, “show purchases for car payments, furniture, flowers, fine watches, expensive meals and concert tickets, among many other items.”  Ask yourself, were these school related as required by state law?               ALOED members Jill Asbjornsen and Larry Lawrence both alerted the “Ed News” editor of an HBO series called “Togetherness” that includes a description of the battle raging between charters and public schools and the issues of race, poverty and education that it encompasses.  What’s unique about this one is that it focuses on what’s going on in Eagle Rock, the northeast L.A. community that’s home to Occidental College.  The series is described and reviewed in an article in SALON.  
Parent-Trigger Bills Expand
The parent-trigger concept began in California in 2010.  After a string of over two dozen defeats of similar legislation in states around the country, proponents of the idea are focusing their attention this year on attempts in Tennessee and Texas.  A story from THE HECHINGER REPORT describes efforts in those two states and others to adopt the controversial legislation.  “Lawmakers around the country,” it begins, “are gearing up for showdowns against teachers unions and school administrators who are seeking to squash a new round of education bills that would create and strengthen so-called “parent trigger” laws.”  An article in EDUCATION WEEK explains how the law is being expanded in the state where it began.  “Former State Sen. Gloria Romero, the law’s author, founded a nonprofit last year to educate parents about the California Parent Empowerment Act,” it notes.  “Even as Ms. Romero launched her initiative, another group of parent-trigger-campaign veterans had already started working to develop a more collaborative approach to turning around troubled schools.”
 
Teacher/School Evaluations
A front-page story in yesterday’s New York Times was highly critical of Gov. Cuomo’s plan to include student test scores as 50% of a teacher’s evaluation.  The governor was upset that so few teachers were rated as “ineffective”  in his state so his solution was to up the role played by high-stakes assessment results.  The article focuses on one rural Long Island district and how parents, teachers and administrators are reacting to the new proposal.  Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for forwarding this piece.  “The movement to weigh scores heavily in teacher evaluations has lost some steam,” the article notes.  “The fact that ratings based on test scores can vary from year to year has led to concern about teachers being unfairly penalized.  Additionally, the transition to tougher, Common Core-aligned tests, and the associated drop in scores, has left many teachers, administrators and parents skeptical of the validity of the results.”  This item drew a number of reader comments.  If you get the chance, check out some of them.               16 or so states  utilize a system of A-F grades to evaluate schools.  The concept was developed byJeb Bush when he was governor of Florida.  Last week the governor of Virginia signed a bill into law that repeals that state’s system.  The details are provided in a piece from NC POLICY WATCH.  “Proponents of the accountability model,” it states, “say it’s a much-needed measure of transparency for the public. . . .  But in many cases, these school grades have raised concerns and questions about how effectively they improve public education, how fair it is to punish schools that serve disadvantaged communities, and the potential for politicians to game the system for their own benefit.”
2016 Presidential Election
Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), an opponent of Common Core, yesterday formally announced his run for president in 2016.  The “Ed News” continues its review of how candidates’ education policies compare in this still very early run-up to the primaries and general election.  EDUCATION WEEK takes a quick look at this latest entrant into the race.               Valerie Strauss in her column in The Washington Post parsed some of the statements Cruz made regarding Common Core in his announcement speech yesterday.  She noted he had some enthusiastic applause lines when he called for the repeal of the standards but that his understanding of them was not always crystal clear.                 Presumptive Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton will face a difficult political dilemma between wealthy campaign donors and powerful teachers’ unions should she choose to run for president in 2016 .  An item in The New York Times describes the possible predicament she could face.  “Already, she is being pulled in opposite directions on education,” it points out.  “The pressure is from not only the teachers who supported her once and are widely expected to back her again, but also from a group of wealthy and influential Democratic financiers who staunchly support many of the same policies — charter schools and changes to teacher tenure and testing — that the teachers’ unions have resisted throughout President Obama’s two terms in office.  And the financiers say they want Mrs. Clinton to declare herself.”
 
Academic Decathlon
More good news for the LAUSD.  Granada Hills Charter High School won the statewide Academic Decathlon competition over the weekend in Sacramento.  Defending national champion El Camino Real Charter High, also from the LAUSD, placed second.  All-in-all, it was a good outcome for the district as they placed 5 schools in the top 7 with Marshall fourth, Franklin fifth and Garfield seventh.  L.A. county schools South Pasadena slotted in third and Beverly Hills was sixth.  Yesterday’s L.A. Times had all the results.  The national competition will take place in mid-April in Garden Grove.
 
A Successful California School District
What is it that the Long Beach Unified School District is getting right?  Their API scores have made steady progress over the past decade.  Graduation rates have improved and teacher retention figures hover around 94% which is phenomenal for an urban district.  They also have had the same superintendent for the past 13 years which is a very strong reason why the district is often singled out for recognition.  A profile from THE HECHINGER REPORT features a Q & A with Supt. Christopher Steinhauser and is titled “How One California Superintendent Changed Troubled Schools.”  In it the district chief describes some of the policies he’s implemented and the team approach he’s adopted to deal with some typical urban district problems.  There are certainly some lessons to be learned from his example.
 
Racist Comments
And finally, a vice principal at Scandinavian Middle School in Fresno was placed on leave after an 18-second student video caught him telling other students “I just don’t like the black kids.”  The administrator has been with the Fresno Unified School District for 18 years.  The story appeared in The Fresno Bee and includes the offending video.               A popular English and history teacher at Revere Charter Middle School and Magnet Center (LAUSD) in Pacific Palisades was suspended for using the “n-word” in class.  The article appeared on the L.A. Times website last night.  The 30-year veteran of the district has been at the school since 1991.
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71) 
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