Ed News, Friday, March 27, 2015 Edition


“An educated mind is a questioning mind. Or is it?” 
―  T.S. Welti The Fifth Specter
Jonathan Pelto on his Wait? What? blog singles out a teacher in Connecticut for standing up for the right of parents to opt their children out of standardized testing in the state despite efforts by the governor, the current Commissioner of Education and local district superintendents who all took great pains to point out there is no law that allows it.  (Needless to say, there is no law that prohibits opting-out either.)               Jacky Boyd on the CRUNCHY MOMS [Ed. note: That’s not a misprint) website offers “Eleven Reasons to Refuse Standardized Testing for Your Children.”  She’s a parent in Maine which is using the same high-stakes exams developed by the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) that California signed up for.  “Adults remember standardized testing as an occasional interruption in the curriculum.  The low stakes culture kept the test in check.  Aside from the SAT,” she concludes, “we didn’t stress over these exams, and certainly about factors beyond ourselves.  I never once worried my scores would harm my teacher or school.  But today’s youth do have this concern.  Even if teachers aren’t explicit, students determine the test’s importance by how much time and preparation it demands.  You can remove your child from this toxic testing culture and inform others along the way.”              Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALL blog takes a similar, though much more personal approach, then Jacky Boyd (above) in his piece titled “Not My Daughter–One Dad’s Journey to Protect His Little Girl from Toxic Testing.”  Unlike Boyd, Singer is a national board certified teacher who has taught in the public schools for over 12 years.  “Standardized testing is destroying public education.  It’s stressing kids out by demanding they perform at levels they aren’t developmentally ready to reach,” he insists.  “And its using these false measures of proficiency to ‘prove’ how bad public schools are so they can be replaced by for-profit charters that will reduce the quality of kids’ educations to generate profits.”
The Teaching Profession
Despite all the attacks on teachers by the corporate “reformers” and the discouraging words from others about getting into the profession there are still idealistic young people who want to become educators.  A group of them have formed an organization called the Young Teachers Collective and you can read about their goals and objectives on their website.  With all the negative news about teachers and education there are some rays of hope out there.  It just may be that they are harder to find!  ” The current climate of the education system is not inviting,” the author maintains .  “We constantly see poor reforms implemented by people the most distant from the classroom. We constantly hear ‘don’t go into teaching.’  Regardless, we see the profession as something worth fighting for. In order to win this struggle, we understand the importance of coming together to support each other and lift each other up–even if it’s only through an online community.”   You may also want to read another entry (dated Jan., 2014) from the same site titled “To All The Teachers Telling Us Not to Go Into Teaching, Stop.”
Want some (disheartening?) idea of what “teaching” might entail in the future (5, 10, 20 years from now)?  Thanks to Stephen Mucher for sending along a piece from The Atlantic titled “The Deconstruction of the K-12 Teacher.”  It’s subtitled “When Kids Can Get Their Lessons from the Internet, What’s Left for Classroom Instructors To Do?”  The author, Michael Godsey,
an English teacher and writer from San Luis Obisbo, does not paint a very pretty picture but the so-called corporate “reformers” are probably going to be most pleased.  “I’ve started recognizing a common thread to the latest trends in teaching,” he notes.   “Flipped learning, blending learning, student-centered learning, project-based learning, and even self-organized learning—they all marginalize the teacher’s expertise. Or, to put it more euphemistically, they all transform the teacher into a more facilitative role .”  [Ed. note: I was all excited for the future of teaching after reading about the Young Teachers Collective.  Now I’m back to being depressed again.  We may all need to take a Prozac after reading this one.]
Pearson, PLC (Public Limited Company)
Want an inside look at Pearson, the education behemoth, that is publishing most of the Common Core materials and the assessments supposedly aligned with the standards?  ALJAZEERA AMERICA has a very interesting investigative piece about the company that has been likened to an octopus for the control it has over education in this country and others around the world.  “ Who stands to gain from education reforms such as the controversial Common Core standards,” it asks?   “One big winner is the British publishing company Pearson, which delivered 9 million high stakes tests to students across the United States in 2014, including the PARCC Common Core assessments. Pearson has an especially tight hold on New York’s education system, which one critic has compared to the grip of an octopus. Pearson runs the edTPA program, which certifies New York teachers, and the company has a $32 million contract to administer the state’s end-of-year tests. And it offers a wide variety of services to implement the Common Core, including curriculum models and tools to measure student understanding.”  Octopus?  Indeed!  What you might find most enlightening is the author’s analysis of a book by the company’s chief academic officer describing his philosophy of “Deliverology.”  Scary stuff!
Special Ed.
A new report, two years in the making, urges sweeping changes in K-12 education policies in California toward students with disabilities.  The study was presented to the state board of education on March 11.  EDUCATION WEEK provides the details.  ” Virtually every major element of education policy—including early-childhood education, special education finance, teacher training, and accountability—was wrapped into the final report,” the story notes , “from California’s statewide task force on special education.”  The piece includes a link to the full report (98 pages) titled “One System: Reforming Education to Serve ALL Students.”
Public Education and the Presidential Election, 2016
Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog wonders “When Will ‘Progressives’ Defend Public Education?”  He points out that most Republicans take great pleasure in attacking “the failing public schools” while Democratic Pres. Obama and his Sec. of Education Arne Duncan seem clearly on the sidelines when it comes to supporting the public school system.  
Remember, public school teachers are more than five million in number,” Cody reminds his readers.  “The membership in the NEA and AFT combined is more than four million. That is the largest organized bloc of voters in the nation. If we act together, and communicate effectively with parents and students about these issues, we could be a determining factor in many races.”            The NEA, the nation’s largest teachers union, is getting a head start on the presidential election next year.  It will soon be sending out a questionnaire regarding individual positions on education policies to a fairly extensive list of 19 potential candidates: Republican, Democratic and even one Independent.  The piece from EDUCATION WEEK includes all the names who received the questionnaire.  [Ed. note: Spoiler alert, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was not among them.  You’ll have to read the item to figure out why.]
School Reform
A lot of corporate experts would like to institute market-based reforms to the education system.  Do they have any real life case studies of how this might work other than in the corporate world?  The answer is “yes.”  Since the 1980s Chile has embarked on a privatization model for their school system that relies on choice, charters and vouchers.  Sound familiar?  How successful has it been?  Check out  an  analysis from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution written by a professor in Chile and one from the University of Georgia to see how it has fared.  They offer seven facts about the experiment that raise some serious questions about the whole concept.  “The ‘Chilean Miracle’ – like the ‘New Orleans Miracle’ – it seems, is not a miracle of student growth, achievement, equity, and high quality education for all,” the authors indicate.  “Rather, it is a miracle that a once protected public good was finally exploited as a competitive private market where profit-seeking corporations could receive a greater and greater share of public tax dollars.”               A reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog, upon seeing the above item, wrote in to her column and described some similar things taking place in Colombia.  “It’s not like our education policy leaders would have to go far to see what NOT to do: Colombia’s a mere four hour flight from Miami,” the person warns.  “There are none so blind as those who will not look, much less see.”               Want some idea of how market-based ideas would apply to education but don’t want to have to travel all the way to Chile or Colombia?  Check out how things are going in the almost-all charter Recovery School District (RSD) in New Orleans, post-Hurricane Katrina.  The competition to attract students has led to practices like erecting billboards, hiring local celebrities to push your campus, bus-stop ads and handing out leaflets at neighborhood grocery stores.  In some cases principals have even admitted carefully selecting only certain types of students for their campuses.  Can public schools do any of these things?  THE HECHINGER REPORT features a newly-released study that looks at how competition is impacting the RSD and it invited several principals to react to the findings in the report and offer their own take on what’s happening.  The article includes a link to the full study (41 pages) titled “How Do School Leaders Respond to Competition?  Evidence from New Orleans” written by an assistant professor of education at the University of Texas, Austin.
Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, reminds readers that 2 years ago 3 different organizations produced separate documents proposing a progressive agenda for education reform that stressed ” ‘equity of opportunity’ and adequate financial and instructional support for every child, among other principles.”  He revisits those manifestos and wonders what has happened since they were issued.  ” Now two years later,” he laments , “what we see instead of a unified education agenda based on equity of opportunity is an education policy landscape mired in controversy and fraught with politics.  What went wrong?  Bryant proceeds to provide a number of answers.  Be sure to check out his relatively detailed analysis of what’s been happening in California.
Interview with Education Sec. Arne Duncan
EDUCATION WEEK has a Q & A with U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan.  He takes on topics like the 50th anniversary of the ESEA (Elementary and Secondary Education Act), testing, NCLB and teacher evaluations among others.  With less than 22 months left in the Obama administration, Duncan’s tenure is also coming to a close.  The final query addressed that issue: ” Last question (asked off the cuff, after the official conclusion of the interview): You going to stick around for the end of the [Obama administration]?
(Laughs). Day at a time, baby, day at a time.”  [Ed. note: For those of us who are not big fans of Duncan we can only hope it’s not too many more days!]
Student Discipline Policies
More and more large urban school districts are abandoning “zero-tolerance” policies regarding student discipline as about all they’ve achieved is to boost the suspension and expulsion rates particularly among students of color and ones with disabilities.  An article in The Atlantic looks at why these harsh, no-questions-asked programs have not been very successful.  It discusses several more progressive, child-centered approaches that have worked in the past and features a couple of new books and research that bolsters the trend. 
Computers in Schools Worldwide  
Despite the “iPad-for-all” fiasco in the LAUSD and a few disasters in other districts the growth in what is referred to as “1-to-1 computing” is growing rapidly around the world.  Globally the number of devices provided to students is expected to grow by 12% in 2015 over the previous year according to a report from Futuresource Consulting, A U.K. based company, highlighted in a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  “In the United States, the push to provide digital devices for online assessments has fueled rapid growth in the market for mobile devices in the past year,” the article concludes.  “There was a 40.5 percent growth in 2014 compared to 2013, driven by the technology requirements associated with the common-core standards and tests, according to Futuresource. In the U.S., deployments are carried out from district to district, rather than on a national scale.”
Teacher Evaluations
An art teacher in New York clearly explains one of the biggest drawbacks to evaluating teachers by including student standardized test scores.  What happens when no assessment exists in the subject taught by a teacher?  You may not believe this but in some districts educators are being rated using students or even results from subjects they don’t teacher!  Keep in mind that decisions about salary and job retention are often pegged to those questionable evaluations.  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to a veteran teacher who illuminates this odd state of affairs for you.  “New York City takes Common Core math and English Language Arts test scores,” he rightly points out, “and attributes them to teachers who teach different subjects, even though they are not certified to teach those subjects, and even though they may never have met the tested students. Tens of thousands of teachers of science, social studies, all the arts, physical education, foreign language, technology and other subjects have at least 20 percent of their evaluation based on math or English Language Arts test results. (Because I am now required to have an “improvement plan,” I am curious to hear how teachers can improve the scores of kids we don’t teach.)  [Ed. note: In light of the above it’s even more difficult to fathom why Gov. Cuomo is proposing to make student scores 50% (!) of a teacher’s evaluation.]  Crazy!
And finally, Peter Greene, this time writing for EDUCATION WEEK, tackles the issue of seniority using his wife, who is at the bottom of the seniority ranks, and himself, at the top, as examples along with the budget situation in Pennsylvania where they both work.
Dave Alpert
(Occidental College, ’71)


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