Ed News, Tuesday, March 31, 2015 Edition


[Ed. note: This is the spring break season for students and teachers.  The “Ed News” will be going on hiatus in order to fully enjoy the holidays.  Look for the next issue on Friday, April 10.  Happy Easter or Passover to everyone.]
[Ed. note: The editor inadvertently sent this edition out yesterday morning.  Below you will find what you received at that time plus new material from yesterday and today.  He wishes to apologize, profusely, for any inconvenience this may have caused.] 
  “In sum, then, “thinking about thinking” has to be a principal ingredient
of any empowering practice of education.”
Jerome S. Bruner, The Culture of Education
New Book
Diane Ravitch’s blog is touting a new book from the United Opt-Out organization that describes how to protect the public school system and fight the overuse of high stakes tests.  It’s titled An Activist Handbook for the Education Revolution: United Opt Out’s Test of Courage.   “I have not read this book yet, but it looks like a must read,” Ravitch enthuses. “People are always asking, ‘What can I do to save our public schools? What can I do to stop the hideous explosion of testing?’  This book offers answers.”
Police on Campus
In light of a series of school shootings and the recent events in Ferguson, Missouri, more and more communities are confronting the issues of student discipline and how it should be dealt with.  In many districts budgets have been increased to provide for a more visible armed police presence on campuses nationwide.  However, some activists are questioning whether that’s the best solution especially in poor and minority communities.  An article from Reader Supported News looks at the issues involved and offers some solutions other than more armed police.  “Traditionally, police stepped on school grounds to respond to emergencies, such as those involving threats or major acts of violence, or to provide security, such as at arrival and dismissal times and at special events,” it explains.  “What’s new is the growing trend of having police stationed in schools full-time. In other words, schools have become some officers’ beat. And like traditional policing, many officers walk this beat armed.”
Common Core and Testing
A teacher, parent and activist draws some interesting comparisons between the popular movie franchise “The Hunger Games” and what she refers to as “The Testing Games” on her blog Welcome to the Testing Games.   “The obvious comparison is the idea that education is some form of competition,” she posits.  “We know this concept is a popular one, just based upon the fact that our own US President named his education reform, The Race to the Top.  In this race, states are encouraged to create education policies based on test scores.  Student promotion, teacher evaluations, and school grades are all based on test scores.  Funding is then tied to the student achievement.  In simple terms, how well the students race decides how much money the schools get in funding.”              Were some critical security procedures surreptitiously circumvented in New Orleans for the new PARCC standardized test in order to make it easier to cheat or for unethical teachers/administrators to get an advanced look at the questions in order to prepare students to answer them?  Might there be a political motive for this type of activity to take place?  Those are a couple of the unsettling questions raised in an investigative piece in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.  “Those concerns are only the latest to be aired in the most controversial and politicized public school testing period that Louisiana has seen in years,” the story reports.  “Gov. Bobby Jindal’s opposition to Common Core and the national tests, and a vocal but small test-boycott movement, put extra pressure on educators.  Low test scores may mean that charter schools close, voucher schools get cut off and conventional schools get taken over by the state.”               With the advent of Common Core and the assessments aligned to them more and more school materials are shifting from print to digital formats reports a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  The information is based on a survey of ed-tech companies and publishers nationwide by the firm Education Market Research.  “In 2014,” the article notes, “companies reported using either a digital or online medium for product delivery 83 percent of the time, a jump from 41 percent five years ago and marking the first time digital delivery of products has surpassed print.”               Toney Jackson has created a poem (rap?) against testing called “It’s No Walk in the PARCC. . . .”  You can watch a video of him reciting it (3:02 minutes) and you can follow along with the words [Ed. note: Kind of karaoke style] included on his own TONEY JACKSON website.  Enjoy!                There is such a concentration on Common Core English and math, test prep in those subjects and the assessments themselves that other important subjects, like Social Studies, are getting frozen out for lack of time.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, includes a statement from Gorman Lee, president of the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies, who believes that “social studies education is “acing a ‘serious civic crisis.'”  “Lee’s message discusses the reduction — and in some cases elimination — of Social Studies departments at many schools,” Strauss notes, “and he notes that in “
‘some elementary schools, social studies instruction has been reduced to no more than 20 minutes per week’ so that classes can spend more time on what are considered core subjects.”  Please read Lee’s full statement and, whether you teach social studies or any other subject, weep!  [Ed. note:  Many of you know the “Ed News” editor was a social studies teacher with the LAUSD for 37 years before he retired in 2009.  Please pass the tissue!]               Need more evidence that there are millions (billions?) of dollars to be made in the Common Core and high-stakes testing business?  A new report, highlighted in Valerie Strauss’ column in The Washington Post, looks at the large amounts of money being spent on LOBBYING and political contributions by the four biggest publishing companies to keep their cash cow alive and well.  “The analysis, done by the Center for Media and Democracy, a nonprofit liberal watchdog and advocacy agency based in Wisconsin that tracks corporate influence on public policy,” she points out, “says that four companies — Pearson Education, ETS (Educational Testing Service), Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill—  collectively spent more than $20 million lobbying in states and on Capitol Hill from 2009 to 2014.”                 Are the Common Core State Standards leading to the obsolescence of the traditional textbook?  That question is tackled by a story in THE HECHINGER REPORT and the short answer is “yes.”  “The new Common Core standards for kindergarten through 12th grade,” it points out, “were widely expected to be a boon to textbook publishers, making it easier to market the same books in the 40-plus states that have fully adopted them.  Instead, the standards may be rushing what many now see as the inevitable disappearance of the textbook.”
Defending Public Schools
The SOUTHERN EDUCATION FOUNDATION has produced an excellent video (2:58 minutes) explaining how vouchers and tax credits for private school scholarships are undermining the public school system by syphoning off taxpayer money.  Most of the states, it points out, that have these programs are in the southern U.S.   For a different take on the idea of school choice check out this Badass Teachers Association short video (1:36 minutes) on YouTube titled “School Choice!?”  Go ahead.  It’s only a minute-and-a-half!            Many corporate education “reformers” favor school choice and vouchers.  How popular are the latter with the voting public?  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a piece from the Ohio Coalition for Equity and Adequacy in School Funding that shows that since 1970 the public has not approved one single voucher initiative.  So why are the privatizers so quick to advocate for them?  Good question.               An editorial in the Houston Chronicle suggests that vouchers are really just a diversion from the more important issue of how to fully and fairly fund the public schools.  “The voucher issue,” it maintains, “distracts from the fact that public schools, whatever their problems, are the backbone of every Texas community. They require attention and investment.”   The Lt. Gov. of Texas is pushing a voucher plan that the piece opposes.  A state representative is trying to focus on the issue of providing enough funding to help the public schools.                Both Democrats and Republicans in the Pennsylvania legislature recently got behind a bill that would expand a school choice tax credit (read voucher) program in the Keystone State.  The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review has the details.               Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, debunks the contention of many school choice and voucher advocates that public money belongs to the individual student and should be portable enough for that child to take those dollars wherever he/she wants to attend school: charter, private, even, in some cases, parochial schools.  One of the foundational assertions of the charter movement.” he asserts, “is that public school tax dollars, once collected, should be attached to the child, maybe in a backpack, or perhaps surgically. . . .  The money belongs to the student.  I’ve resisted this notion for a long time. The money, I liked to say, belongs to the taxpayers, who have used it to create a school system that serves the entire community.”
The Teaching Profession
Steve Matthews, superintendent of the Novi Community School District, near Detroit, pens a piece titled “How To Kill A Profession” in which he lists the steps of how the corporate “reform” movement has managed to demonize teachers to such an extent that the much of the public believes they are to blame for the “failure of the public schools.”  His incisive remarks appear on The Superintendent’s Chair website.  “Some might argue that what I should focus on is the students,” he concludes.  “Student needs are the most important.  I agree.  But unless you create a meaningful, respected profession – who will teach the students?”  RIGHT ON, BROTHER!!!
A Disillusioned Reformer
What happens when a veteran of the education “reform” movement becomes disillusioned with what he sees is being accomplished?  He comes clean and describes just what it is that he finds objectionable in a commentary for the Connecticut Post titled “A Repentant Reformer’s Reflections.”  Jorge Cabrera was employed as a community organizer for 3 years by the “education reform” group Excel Bridgeport.  His tale is one of deviousness, deception and power!  It’s not pretty.  “My nearly three years in the ‘movement’ in Bridgeport revealed to me the incredible lengths that private, often unseen and unaccountable power will go to in order to create and capitalize on a crisis.” he reveals.  “In Bridgeport, that crisis in our public education system was created by powerful forces at the local and state level who systematically starved the school system by withholding necessary school funding (Shock #1) which then created a crisis that set the stage for a takeover (Shock #2) of the Bridgeport board of education on the eve of the fourth of July in 2011.  Essentially, these forces were engaged in a form of social engineering under the guise of ‘urgency’ and ‘reform.’”  Diane Ravitch’s blog calls this item a “remarkable and candid story . . . . It’s incredible [and]  confirms your darkest suspicions.”
The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of articles about the need for more accountability, oversight and transparency of charter schools in a number of other states.  Now the focus is swinging to the same kinds of things in California.  A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times features a new report from several groups that was quickly countered by the California Charter Schools Association.  “State and local leaders rely too heavily on self-reporting through whistleblowers or audits paid for by charter school operators,” the article notes.  “Local leaders also lack the staff and training to monitor charter schools and identify fraud, according to the report.”                According to the DAILY KOS, a group of teachers at the Alliance Group, the largest charter chain in Los Angeles, started a drive to unionize.  They thought they’d gotten the chain’s management to stay neutral in the effort.  NOT A CHANCE.  Alliance quickly set up an anti-union website “as part of a broader effort to keep teachers from joining together to get collective bargaining and other union rights.  Not exactly neutral,” the article continues, “though I guess Alliance management isn’t yet saying teachers don’t have the right to unionize, they’re just saying they really don’t think teachers should exercise that right.  Since Alliance is publicly funded, these anti-union messages are being paid for with public money; teachers are enlisting community support in the request for true neutrality.”  This item includes a brief video (1:19 minutes) from the teachers about why they want to organize.  
Teacher Evaluations
Many of the new teacher evaluations include value-added models (VAMs) that use student test scores to rate how teachers are doing.  If you’d like a concrete example of the limits of using VAMs check out an article and video (5:09 minutes) on the VAMboozled website.  It includes one Florida teacher, Luke Flint, telling his story in front on his local school board.  If you have a moment, read some of the comments added at the end of this piece.
Book Club
Steve Lopez, in his Sunday column for the L.A. Times, tells about a student book club on the campus of the Felicitas and Gonzalo Mendez High School for College and Career Preparation (LAUSD) in Boyle Heights.  The group was formed last year by an English teacher and the campus librarian and now has 20 members and is still growing.  The students have been involved in the citywide “Big Read” program and are planning to attend the Times’ Festival of Books in mid-April.  “They meet on Mondays at lunch,” Lopez begins.  “They remove their earbuds, hide their smartphones and communicate without the aid of electronic devices.  They are the coolest kids at Mendez High School in Boyle Heights.  They are the Reading Club.”
Education “Reform”
Diane Ravitch’s blog prints a teacher’s list of 10 ways that “reform” harms children.
New Immigrant Students
Last year the “Ed News” highlighted several articles about a large influx of unaccompanied young children fleeing unrest in Central America who crossed into the U.S. and often entered schools in Texas, Arizona New Mexico and California.  This migration created some unique challenges for the individual campuses, the new students, teachers and parents.  Sunday’s L.A. Times features an interview with the principal of the Las Americas Newcomer School in Houston who describes how her school has dealt with the myriad issues that have arisen.  “For Principal Marie Moreno, it means dealing with students who suffered violence, are sometimes unschooled even in their native tongues, and are still adjusting to life without parents who left them behind years ago to work in the United States. ”  This article includes a link to a previous piece the Times published in September about the same principal and her campus as the new school year was commencing.
Some First Amendment Court Cases
A situation where a group of high school students wore t-shirts with American flags during a Cinco de Mayo celebration may reach all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court on 1st amendment grounds.  The case began in 2011 at Live Oak High School (Morgan Hill Unified School District) near San Jose when an assistant principal ordered the students to turn their shirts inside or go home.  They chose the latter.  A suit was brought by several parents of the t-shirt wearing students and it may be selected for review by the nation’s highest court.  Sunday’s L.A. Times has all the legal issues and details of what could be a very interesting case.                Yesterday the high court announced that it had declined to hear the case thus upholding the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that supported the school’s decision to ban the t-shirts.  This latest action is described in an article from EDUCATION WEEK.
Can a public school teacher take Good Friday off in order to attend church?  Her employer in Rhode Island said ‘”no,” requiring “documentation that church attendance was mandatory during the workday.”  The local teachers union sued on behalf of several hundred educators claiming the district was violating their civil rights.  On Friday a judge issued a preliminary injunction that allowed union members to take the day off.  The details and issues in this case on covered in a story in Sunday’s L.A. Times.  The lawsuit comes as public schools across the country,” it indicates, “grapple with how to determine which religious holidays to recognize on their calendars. This month, New York closed its public schools in observance of two Muslim holy days: Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha.”               In the fall of 2012, the Little Oaks School in Thousand Oaks adopted a Christian curriculum and requested each faculty member provide a pastoral reference verifying how often they attended church, the degree of their faith and whether they could be endorsed to teach at a Christian school.  Two educators refused and  their contracts were not renewed.  They filed a lawsuit in 2013, based on religious discrimination and wrongful termination.  Last week the judged issued a ruling and you may be surprised by the decision.  I’ll let you read all about the case in a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.
The opt-out movement is growing in strength almost daily.  Yesterday, the president of the New York State United Teachers union, Karen Magee, called for a statewide boycott of the assessment partly as a protest against Gov. Cuomo’s plan to include student scores as 50% of a teacher’s evaluation and other education related issues.  The latest news on this developing story can be found at the Capitol Confidential website.                Jesse Hagopian, the U.S. History teacher from Seattle, published a book last year called More Than A Score that tells the story of the testing industry (the “testocracy”) and the opt-out movement.  Hagopian was one of the very first  to promote the latter.  truthout has an excerpt from his volume.            A group of 30 juniors at Lake Oswego High School in Oregon has refused to take the SBAC standardized test and they are trying to convince their fellow students to do the same.  “It’s not that we want to cause trouble for the school district or the parents or anything,” said Shaheen Safari, a junior and Student Union member. “It’s just what we personally believe in. We’re exercising our democratic right to speak our voice.”  She was quoted in the article from the Portland Tribune.
Parent-Trigger Law
And finally, the first parent-trigger law in the nation was passed in California 5 years ago.  On the anniversary of that event EDUCATION WEEK conducted an interview with the author of a series of stories on the topic in that publication.  She discusses how the law has been used over the last 5 years and how it has expanded into other states.  You can listen to the audio of the Q & A (4:35 minutes) and/or read a transcript of it by clicking here.

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)  

That’s me working diligently on the “Ed News.”

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