Ed News, Friday, April 10, 2015 Edition


“Schools assume that children are not interested in learning and are not much good at it, that they will not learn unless made to, 
that they cannot learn unless shown how, and that the way to make them learn is to divide up the prescribed material
 into a sequence of tiny tasks to be mastered one at a time, each with it’s appropriate ‘morsel’ and ‘shock.’ 
And when this method doesn’t work, the schools assume there is something wrong with the children — 
something they must try to diagnose and treat.” 
― John Holt  
While We Were Off–Atlanta Cheating Scandal, Interview With Diane Ravitch, Silencing Protests and Other Topics Not to be Missed
One can’t seem to take any time off these days without missing some key events in the field of education.  In a story the “Ed News” has been following since it began, 11 of 12 Atlanta Public School elementary teachers and administrators were found guilty of cheating  involving standardized tests in that city.  A story in last Thursday’s L.A. Times chronicles “one of the largest school cheating trials in U.S. History.”  The situation goes all the way back to 2009 when questions were raised about suspicious test results that sparked an extensive investigation by the governor at that time. 4 years later 35 educators were indicted on a variety of charges.  Since then 21 of the defendants had reached plea agreements in order to avoid prison time and 2 had died including the former superintendent, Beverly Hall, who passed away last month.  “After eight days of deliberation, jurors in the landmark case found 11 of 12 defendants guilty of violating Georgia’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act[RICO]” the article notes, “a charge that carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.  Some of the defendants were also found guilty of other felonies — influencing a witness, theft by taking, false swearing, or making a false statement or writing — that carry lesser sentences.”               EDUCATION WEEK also had an extensive piece on this story which you can read by clicking here.  “. . . . the jury found,” it points out, “that the educators, including former teachers, administrators, and testing coordinators, had conspired to artificially inflate test scores by changing answers or guiding students to fill in the correct responses on a 2009 Georgia Criterion-Referenced Competency Test, the state’s annual assessment. It includes a list of other articles from ED WEEK related to the issue.               Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for sending this detailed item about the case from The New York Times.  The case unfolded at a time of pushback against what some see as the excesses of standardized testing.  While the Atlanta scandal fueled some criticism,” it states, “those who oppose testing also argue that the exams force teachers to narrow their lessons and may not represent what students learn. Coming amid a political groundswell against academic standards known as the Common Core, the scandal was just one factor in an increasing debate over testing and its role in education.”              Steven Singer, on his gadflyonthewall blog, thinks the conviction of the 11 educators was correct but takes exception to the fact they were found guilty on federal RACKETEERING  charges that are normally  used against organized crime figures.   Due to those counts they could fact up to 20 years in prison which he finds “absurd” for what they did.   He titles his piece rather provocatively “Atlanta Teacher RICO Conviction is Blood Sacrifice to the Testocracy.”             A follow-up story from EDUCATION WEEK to the convictions titled “Convicted Atlanta Educators Draw Empathy, Condemnation” reviews some of the reactions from various sources to the case.   “The conviction of 11 former Atlanta educators,” it begins, “on state racketeering charges that could land them behind bars has ignited debate about whether the punishment fits the crime in the case and fueled already heated discussions about the role of high-stakes standardized tests in K-12 public schools.”           On a different note, many of you know who Diane Ravitch is.  The editor of the “Ed News” uses information from her blog quite extensively.  The ALOED book club read one of her books.  The Teacher Educator website, forwarded to the “Ed News” by ALOED member Larry Lawrence, has an extensive interview with her titled “Leader of the Resistance: An Interview with Diane Ravitch” that goes into detail about her training and background.  You may be surprised to learn that she was an Assistant Secretary of Education in the Pres. George H. W. Bush administration and initially was a strong supporter of No Child Left Behind.  In the late 1990s she actually testified in favor of charter legislation in New York.  You can read all about her 180 degree turn away from these earlier positions and other topics in the interview.  “Diane Ravitch has emerged as one of the most powerful forces for real education reform.  She is a tireless crusader against the baseless claims that drive current educational policy and a clear-eyed visionary of what needs to be done.” The interviewers mention by way of their introduction.  “Although some may question the attention she garners as prodigal daughter of educational research, there is no denying the scholarship of her work and the contribution she continues to make.  However, at 75 with the occasional health issue, she wonders how long she can fight the fight, and who will step up as the new leaders for the education of our children.”               Educators are forever protesting against budget and salary cuts, increases in class sizes, lay-offs and  a myriad of other issues.  The state of Arizona apparently doesn’t approve of that (and apparently doesn’t believe in the 1st Amendment) so the state House  of Representatives passed a bill that outlaws such actions.  Don’t believe they would do such a thing?  Check out the details from the Daily Kos.  “SB 1172, which passed the House this week,” it explains, “doesn’t do a damn thing to help schools, but it does make it illegal for education officials, including superintendents, principals and teachers, to speak for or against bills, plans or citizen referenda that affect their funding, that affect their ability to do their job.”   Fortunately, the legislation failed to advance but just the thought of it sends shivers down the spine.               Pasi Salhbert, writing about teacher training in a commentary for theguardian (UK), titles his piece “Q: What Makes Finnish Teachers So Special? A: It’s Not Brains.”  The Finnish education expert and visiting professor at the graduate school of education at Harvard notes that only 10% of applicants are accepted into teacher preparation schools and he goes on to outline what types of people get into the highly selective programs.  “The academically best students are not necessarily the best teachers,” he maintains.  “Successful education systems are more concerned about finding the right people to become career-long teachers.”               David Greene, on his DCGEducator: Doing the Right Thing blog, reacted to Sahlberg’s piece (above) and to another item about how best to evaluate those people who become teachers.
Charter Schools
Some charter schools have shown dramatic standardized test results.  Sometimes those have been due to some rather questionable practices and policies.  The Success Academy (SA) Charter Chain in New York City has consistently improved test scores but, as this item from The New York Times demonstrates, their techniques can be “polarizing” and unconventional.  The reporter was given an opportunity to peek behind the scenes at what is taking place.  “In a rare look inside the network, including visits to several schools and interviews with dozens of current and former employees,” she writes, “The New York Times chronicled a system driven by the relentless pursuit of better results, one that can be exhilarating for teachers and students who keep up with its demands and agonizing for those who do not.”  If you’d like to get an inkling of how some charters are run, both from the point-of-view of teachers and students, check this one out.  Thanks again to Randy Traweek who has access to the Times, whose website lies behind a pay wall.               Eva Moscowitz, founder and CEO of the Success Academy chain, responded to the New York Times article (above) in an email to her employees calling it “slanted” and “unfair” about her schools.  The CAPITAL website provides the details.                 Can’t we just agree and report on the facts?  The New York Times story reported that teacher turnover at Success Academy schools was a whopping 50% while the charter network claims it’s only 17%  Who to believe?  Matthew Di Carlo at the Shanker Blog comes to the rescue.   He provides statistics that demonstrate the true rate is close to 33%.  “All this back and forth about SA teacher turnover is a little strange,” Di Carlo concludes.  “High profile charter chains such as the Success Academies are constantly trumpeting how central to their approach are selective retention and demanding working conditions when it comes to their teachers.  They also rely heavily on programs such as Teach for America, with its short term teaching commitments.  Not all teacher turnover is ‘bad,’ and higher churn is in many respects baked into key elements of SA’s approach. It seems inconsistent to quibble over levels or imply otherwise.            Diane Ravitch on her Diane Ravitch’s blog had an opportunity to talk with a former Success Academy teacher (who wishes to remain anonymous) and they had a very candid conversation about what it was like to teach for that charter chain.  Ravitch makes note of the above New York Times story at the very end of her piece.               Yesterday a Calfiornia Supreme Court ruling found that the LAUSD must revise its policies regarding how it allocates classroom space to charters that share regular district campuses according to an item in today’s L.A. Times.  “The court said L.A. Unified violated a state regulation,” the piece indicates, “by allocating space to charters based on the number of classrooms staffed by teachers across the district. The law requires other space — including rooms used for study halls or libraries — to be part of the equation, the court said.”               Peter Greene is certainly not a big fan of charter schools.  He takes a rather jaundiced view of them and believes they have failed at their perceived goal of becoming centers of educational improvement.  He recently wrote that the “Charter Laboratory is Failing” on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  “Here’s my challenge for charter fans– name one educational technique,” he writes, “one pedagogical breakthrough, that started at a charter school and has since spread throughout the country to all sorts of public schools.  After all these years of getting everything they wanted, modern charter schools have nothing to teach the public schools of the US.”
Freemon Gains School Board Seat
ALOED member Jennifer Freemon won a seat on the Glendale Unified School District board in Tuesday’s election on her second try.  In a field of 5 candidates, with two seats up for grabs, Freemon slotted into second place with 29% of the votes, just behind the incumbent (30%) and almost doubling the votes of the third place finisher (15%).  The “Ed News” would like to extend a hearty “congratulations” to her and note that her experiences in ALOED should serve her in good stead!  The final tally can be found on the City of Glendale website by clicking here (scroll down after the city council results).  The Glendale News-Press had two articles about the election.  The first one has a great picture of Jennifer and the second one discusses the race and what she sees as her goals.
Rewrite of NCLB
The Republican chair of the Senate Education Committee, Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and the ranking minority member, Patty Murray (D-WA) made public this week a bipartisan bill to reauthorize No Child Left Behind.  The 600+ page compromise addresses issues like accountability, standards, teachers, charters and early-childhood education among others.  EDUCATION WEEK has an extensive look at some of the key provisions and some early analysis and reaction.  It also includes links to a summary of the bill (5 pages) and a copy of the full text (601 pages) titled “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.”  The committee is scheduled to take up the bill on Tuesday.               Diane Ravitch’s blog had a brief critique of the proposal and included a press release that accompanied the unveiling of the bill.  “What do I think? I would have been thrilled to see annual testing banished,” she noted, “but President Obama made clear he would veto any bill that did not include annual testing. The cascading sanctions of NCLB and Race to the Top are gone.”                Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog saw some positive aspects of the bill.  He was particularly happy with the diminution in power of the U.S. Secretary of Education.  He titled his piece “Senate Proposal Cuts Duncan Off at Knees.”  “But most of all, a new ESEA completely chops the back-door lawmaking of USED  [U.S. Education Department] waivers off at the knees,” Greene concludes.  “If Congress can actually pull this off, it will be a gamechanger.  There’s much to hate about the new game, but there are some pieces of hope as well.  Let’s just see what happens next.”               The ever meticulous Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” for deutsch29, is taking on the daunting task of reading every single line of the (601 page) bill!  Her initial analysis is of the first 136 pages and she, interestingly, makes reference to both the Diane Ravitch and Peter Greene articles (see above).  Stay tuned for more of her insightful commentary.  Here is part 2 of her continuing analysis of the draft proposal.  This one covers pages 1-152.  There’s more to come.                An editorial in today’s L.A. Times reviews some of the provisions of the NCLB reauthorization proposal unveiled in the Senate this week (see above).  It finds both positive and negative aspects.  “This rewrite of No Child Left Behind should help ease the fretful anxiety and teach-to-the-test mentality that have overtaken too many schools.  That’s good,” it relates.  “But the bill would allow so much flexibility that it’s unclear what would happen in states that don’t try hard to reduce achievement gaps.  If no one intervenes when schools founder year after year, what recourse is there for families?”               Alan Singer brings up a very interesting point.  Pres. Obama, who is a strong advocate for high-stakes testing and including student test scores on teacher evaluations, sends his two daughters to a private school that eschews both.  In a sense, he points out, the Obamas have joined the opt-out movement in a big way.  You can read Singer’s comments and more about “opt-out” in Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post by clicking here.             A major aspect of NCLB was a strong emphasis on standardized testing as a way to improve student achievement.  Has that goal been reached?  Not according to a story on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog titled “Hocus Pocus and the History of High Stakes Tests”  which suggests “that NCLB and subsequent NCLB-type testing caused more harm than good for students.”                A list of 17 superintendents who make up the Large Countywide and Suburban District Consortium expressed their views to members of Congress about updating NCLB in a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  “We welcome Congress’ aggressive new approach to reauthorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (currently known as the No Child Left Behind Act),” they write, “and urge lawmakers to take advantage of this opportunity to establish a more-balanced relationship among the federal, state, and local education systems—a relationship that places considerably more trust in the informed judgment of those working with students every day.”  A list of the districts included in this organization is included at the end of the article.  The only representative from California is Poway Unified.               If you are having trouble making sense of the renewal of NCLB, EDUCATION WEEK has a primer with some FAQsabout the law, its history, and its policy implications.”  Included is a list of important “NCLB Terms to Know” and some critical research and resources about the topic.  The entire item is excellent if you want to be “in the know.”
Role of Education
The spring, 2015, issue of DEMOCRACY, A JOURNAL OF IDEAS, has an extended article by Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, about the role of public education in today’s world. It’s based on a speech he gave at the school in the fall of last year.  “The purpose, challenge, and substance of education in a democracy.” he suggests, “are defined by two questions: How ought we to live, side by side, not as lone individuals but as citizens? And how can we, through education, help individuals answer that question?”  Diane Ravitch called it “a brilliant essay . . . . about the democratic and civic purposes of education.”
Education Reform
A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the story of Jorge Cabrera who was heavily involved in the corporate “reform” movement until he became “disillusioned” and decided to go public with his concerns.  Jennifer Berkshire, who writes the EduShyster blog, was able to locate Cabrera and conducted an interview with him about “what’s wrong with the education reform movement.”                 What does all the corporate school “reform” mean to the students who it, ultimately, impacts the most?  The author of this commentary from the Huffington Post, is a prolific writer of non-fiction science books for children, tackles that question.  Her piece is titled “What Will Be the Legacy of Today’s School ‘Reforms’?”  She finds that, in fact, all we are doing with so much testing is to teach kids to “dislike school.”  Pretty sobering stuff.
New Lawsuit Challenges Teachers Unions
A new lawsuit was filed in federal court last week by StudentsFirst, the same group that brought you the Vergara case.  This one deals with the ability of teachers unions to charge an agency fee for instructors who do not wish to be full members of the union.   “In the suit,” the item in the L.A. Times explains, “four teachers, including two from the Los Angeles Unified School District, assert that union rules and state laws violate their 1st Amendment rights to free speech because they cannot belong to the union unless they allow a portion of their dues to be spent on political activity.  The teachers claim they should be able to join without subsidizing viewpoints they may oppose.”             An editorial in yesterday’s L.A. Times discusses the new lawsuit (see above).  “The implication is that the Constitution not only protects workers’ speech but also guarantees them the right to every benefit the union offers to its members, even if those benefits were not negotiated with the company,” it concludes.  “It’s a creative argument but not, in the end, convincing. The 1st Amendment prevents employees from having to join a union, and even guarantees them the fruits of collective bargaining, but it’s hard to see how it allows them to join but not follow the rules.”
Gifted Students Left Out
And finally, “No other country in the industrialized world pays so little attention to its gifted children as the U.S.” is how Walt Gardner begins his brief commentary in EDUCATION WEEK titled “Gifted Students are Still Stepchildren.”


Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the “Ed News.”


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