Ed News, Tuesday, April 10, 2015 Edition


 “Learning is by nature curiosity… prying into everything, 
reluctant to leave anything, material or immaterial, unexplained.” 
― Philo of Alexandria
New Polls on Teacher Tenure, Testing, Breakfast Program
A prominent front-page story in Saturday’s L.A. Times features a new USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll about public attitudes towards teacher tenure and other related issues.  The survey questioned over 1,500 voters by phone between March 28 and April 7.  “In California, nearly half of voters surveyed. . . .  favored a longer period to earn tenure than the two years granted under state law,” the article notes.   “Among those who favored some form of tenure, the largest group wanted teachers to earn it after seven to 10 years. More than a third opposed any form of tenure.”  The use of seniority in determining who to lay off was not particularly popular among the public either.  “In the poll,” the story continues, “nearly three-quarters of voters said it was very or somewhat important to make it easier to fire underperforming teachers.”  Be sure to click on the sidebar titled “Voters’ Views of Teachers for several more questions from the poll including one about teacher pay.               Another front-page article about the poll in Sunday’s Times discussed public attitudes towards testing.  Latino voters were much more supportive of the standardized exams as compared to their white counterparts.  “A majority of Latino voters, 55%, said mandatory exams improve public education in the state,” this item relates, “by gauging student progress and providing teachers with vital information.  Nearly the same percentage of white voters said such exams are harmful because they force educators to narrow instruction and don’t account for different styles of learning.”  Several other issues in the piece were broken down along racial lines.               A new California Field Poll of 1,251 registered voters found overwhelming support for classroom breakfast programs.  Two-thirds of those surveyed were in favor and “three-fourths said breakfast would improve academic performance and favored using existing federal funds to pay for the meals,” according to a story in yesterday’s Times.  
Atlanta Test Cheating Convictions, Sentences
The Friday edition of the “Ed News” had extensive coverage of the convictions of 11 of 12 Atlanta educators for cheating on standardized tests in that city back in 2009.  John Merrow, on his Taking Note blog looks at some of the wider issues of the whole sordid episode in his piece titled “What Can We Agree On, After Atlanta?”  He’s not looking to place blame or point fingers, per se, but wants to see what reasonable people can agree on so that everyone can move forward and, hopefully, prevent a recurrence of the problem.  He cites a number of sources with some good ideas on how to achieve that.                A commentary in SALON charges that “Our educational system stacks the deck against Black children — now we’re throwing their teachers in jail” in light of the cheating scandal in Atlanta in which all the convicted educators were African-American.  The author teaches Women’s and Gender Studies and Africana Studies at Rutgers University.  “The pictures that emerged last week.” she laments, “of handcuffed Black schoolteachers being led out of Southern courtrooms in one of the country’s largest urban Black school systems were absolutely heartbreaking.”               Today two of the eleven convicted educators accepted very lenient sentencing deals  while the others were given terms of from one to seven years in jail.  An item posted on the L.A. Times website shortly after noon today has the latest details of this story (look for it in tomorrow’s print edition).  “For the two educators who accepted a deal,” the piece explains, “[Judge] Baxter followed the state’s recommendations and gave one former teacher one year of home confinement and a former testing coordinator six months of weekends spent in jail.  Some of the convicted teachers refused to accept responsibility for the cheating and some wanted to continue fighting their convictions on appeal, lawyers said afterward.”              CNN has a similar story but it briefly discusses what each educator was found guilty of and summarizes the sentence they were given.  “There was nothing routine about a sentencing hearing Tuesday in Atlanta,” it begins, “that wrote the final legal chapter of one of the most massive school cheating scandals in the country.”
Want another peak at an ad for test scorers that appeared on Craigslist from a small company called Measurement Incorporated?  This one, with accompanying acerbic commentary, is courtesy of Peter Greene and his CURMUDGUCATION  blog.  “I expect we’ll continue to see many of these smaller companies scarfing up sub-contracts for the Big Guys and handling the business of hiring part-timers to help make decisions about the fate of America’s children, teachers, and schools.  Only one of two things can be true here– either the system is so simplified and so user-proof that it doesn’t really matter who’s doing the scoring work (in which case it’s a dopey system that gives back very little information and is easy to game) or it does matter who’s doing the scoring (in which case, the use of part-time temps who are available only because they couldn’t find a real job is not exactly comforting).  Either way,” Greene concludes disdainfully, “this is one more big fat reminder that the Big Standardized Test is a dumb way to assess any part of America’s education system.”                Want a behind-the-scenes look at how Pearson hires professional test scorers for its PARCC exams?  A parent and former elementary school teacher in New Jersey decided to apply for a position and she writes about her experiences on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post.  “Pearson’s offer of employment came to me even though I never actually spoke to anybody at the company,” the applicant explains.  “The offer is conditional upon verification of my college degree, completed project training and signature on a confidentiality waiver. The company, valued at well over $10 billion, did not verify my information before its offer of employment, and seems interested only in verifying my college degree.
Tips for Teaching
Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, reprints a fun piece from Scholastic Magazine that includes “50 Great Apps for Teachers.”  It’s broken down by subject (Language Arts, Math, Social Studies, etc.) and also has general topics like “Special Needs,” “Communication and Organization” and “Classroom Management.”  Whether you are a current teacher, an aspiring teacher or retired you’ll probably find something you can use on Monday.  [Ed. note: As a retired secondary social studies teacher I was intrigued by an app titled “Futaba.”  It encourages “kids to use this multiplayer quiz game as a study aid.”  It contains “quizzes already created for geography, civics, economics, and history for most grade levels.”  Wow, can’t beat that!]            The GGSC (Greater Good Science Center) out of UC Berkeley offers a primer titled “Seven Ways Mindfulness Can Help Teachers.”  If you are unfamiliar with the concept of “mindfulness,” this item explains what it is in simple terms and mentions how it can be a useful tool for teachers to deal with the modern stresses of the classroom.  “How does mindfulness [help us feel better about our jobs]? By training our minds consciously to become more aware of our inner and outer experience, and learning how to manage our emotions.”  Feeling a little burnt-out, unable to cope or on edge?  Give this one a try.               “5 Philosophies for Inspiring a Love of Reading ” is the title of a column in EDUCATION WEEK with some tips and strategies for teachers.  It’s written by a middle school literacy coach in North Carolina who also co-teaches 6th grade English/language arts and social studies.  “No matter how my students perform on the impending standardized exams,” she insists, “I’ve seen evidence that many of them will at least walk away from my class with a renewed or newfound love of reading.  To teachers, what could matter more?”
The Seattle chapter of the NAACP has urged parents in the area to opt-out of standardized tests in the city this year.  It called for a merger of the anti-testing and Black Lives Matter movements into a larger social justice crusade according to Jesse Hagopian’s I AM AN EDUCATOR blog.  “Their simple, yet mighty, proposition,” he writes, “is that the movement to oppose high-stakes standardized testing and the Black Lives Matter movement (and other struggles against oppression) should and can unite in a great uprising in service of transforming our schools into an environment designed to nurture our children, in body and intellect, rather than to rank, sort, and reproduce institutional racism.”                Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence who send along this provocative item from Steve Nelson, head of the Calhoun School in New York City, who makes a strong case for the opt-out movement in a commentary for the HUFF POST EDUCATION blog.  “‘Opt-out’ may be the most important political movement of this generation.  It may seem, at first glance, a small ripple in the education reform debate — an understandable reaction to the frustration over increased testing and test-prep in America’s schools.  I suggest that it is much more important than meets the eye. . . . This growing struggle over the future of American education,” he argues, “may be proxy for the future of our democratic republic.”  Those are pretty powerful sentiments.  Read his piece and see if you agree with him.                A group of teachers from the BadAss Teachers Association in New York has come up with a novel idea for contacting parents in their state about the opt-out movement.  What if they put together a robocall to every parent in New York to invite them to opt their children out of the high-stakes exams in the Empire State?  They decided to crowd-source for funding and set out to work.  4 of the activists have written a piece on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog about how to organize a grassroots campaign like theirs.  “We have, in a little over a week, come very near to achieving what seemed like the impossible.  At the time of this writing,” they reported, “we are on the final push to our funding goal.   We did a tremendous amount of work, sometimes going without sleep or meals, and hope that our action inspires others.   We have raised enough funds to place robocalls to strategic areas throughout New York, and our ultimate goal is to call the entire state,  so donations are urgently needed at this time.  Our ripple in New York will add to the wave being felt throughout the nation.  To donate and help us complete our mission, go to www.crowdrise.org/refusethetestsrobocall.”
Union News
An attempt to unionize the largest charter chain in Los Angeles has elicited an unfair labor practice charge against the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools network.  UTLA, on behalf of teachers working for the charter, filed the complaint last week after nearly a month of unionization activities alleging that “charter school leaders have started an anti-union campaign, blocked emails to employees and denied organizers access to school buildings after work hours” according to the filing with the state Public Employees Relations Board.  The article appeared in Saturday’s L.A. Times.               While the “Ed News” was on hiatus for the holidays, the LAUSD and UTLA announced a tentative agreement on health benefits for district employees that would be part of the union contract through 2018.  Agreement on issues like salary, class size and others have still not been reached amid ongoing negotiations.  A story on the L.A. Times website early last week has the important details.               Teachers unions are making a comeback in New Orleans almost a decade after Hurricane Katrina devastated both the traditional public school system in that city and the labor organizations that had been a fixture there for years.  THE HECHINGER REPORT has the details in a story that focuses on how the now all-charter Recovery School District is seeing the resurgence of union activity one campus at a time.
Reauthorization of NCLB
Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, continues her line-by-line reading of the U.S. Senate’s bipartisan Alexander-Murray bill to rewrite NCLB.  In parts 1 and 2 of her analysis (which she includes links to) she was able to cover the first 162 pages of the 601 page omnibus bill.  In part 3 she begins by looking at provisions regarding funding for eligible private school students and adds a look at teacher training, Teach for America and the issuance of waivers.  She calls it quits for now at page 269 and you should check out the very apt photo she ends this installment with.  Part 4 runs from page 269 to page 373 (over half way through).  [Ed. note: I wonder if the members of the Senate Education committee have given the bill as careful consideration as Schneider has?]    Part 5 of her microscopic analysis can be found by clicking here.  It covers page 373-427 and covers topics like school choice and charters.               A story in The Washington Post reports that U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan is, overall, pleased with the bill the Senate Education Committee is scheduled to take up today despite the fact that it reduces his power and influence over federal education policy.  “Duncan was generally positive about the Alexander-Murray bill,” the author maintains, “but said the Obama administration wants a final law to expand early childhood education and to place stronger demands on states to improve their worst-performing schools, among other things.”               Valerie Strauss turns her education blog in The Washington Post over to the executive director and an assessment reform analyst, both from FairTest, who take a look at the Alexander-Murray proposal for rewriting NCLB.  They are deeply troubled by the retention of the annual testing mandate but are pleased that the punitive sanctions that went along with those exams have been jettisoned.  “Despite proposing important steps to reduce the harmful uses of standardized exam results driven by No Child Left Behind,” they begin, “this month’s Senate committee draft legislation – “Every Child Achieves” – fails to address the law’s deeply destructive annual testing mandate. To fix this, Congress must respond to the growing grassroots movement calling for less testing and more learning.”               Arne Duncan was interviewed on Friday on the “All In With Chris Hayes” show (6:52 minutes) on MSNBC.  The secretary addressed issues like Common Core, NCLB and student debt.                Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, couldn’t wait to dissect every word uttered by Duncan in his conversation with Hayes.  Greene wasn’t buying much of what Duncan said.  “Kudos to Chris Hayes for pressing Duncan a tad harder than anybody else at MSNBC is ever inclined to, thereby adding to our gallery of ever-changing Common Core narratives. But this was still largely a baloney-delivering conduit for Arne,” Greene complained in summation, “who should be limited to only so many stretchers per tv appearance, and he was once again over his limit.”               Steven Singer, aka the gadflyonthewallblog, is concerned that the NCLB rewrite does NOT “do a single thing to limit or reduce standardized testing.  It keeps annual testing in place, untouched.”  In fact, he titles his piece “No TEST Left Behind–Why the Senate ESEA Reauthorization  is Unacceptable.”
Election 2016
Unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton officially declared her candidacy for president in 2016 on Sunday.  The “Ed News” continues highlighting potential nominees’ record on education as they become announced candidates.  EDUCATION WEEK steps up this time to review her curriculum vitae on the subject.              An item on the BadAss Teachers Association website congratulates Clinton on the announcement of her candidacy and reviews some of her pronouncements regarding education policy.  “In short, we welcome you to the presidential race,” the note challenges, “and hope you will be the champion public education needs right now and not someone who will continue the same Neo-Liberal policies that have been destroying the future for our children and our nation.”
Remember those massive open online courses (MOOCs) that were the “wave of the future” just a couple of years ago?  So far, they’ve proven to be nothing but a “massive” flop, at least in California.  An item from THE HECHINGER REPORT reviews the whole theory behind them and how they were going to save the state massive amounts of money.  “We spent a lot of money and got extremely little in return,” complained a member of the California Academic Senate which represents faculty members in the UC system.
All-Girls School For LAUSD?
And finally, the LAUSD board will take up a proposal at their meeting today to create an all-girls academy specializing in the STEM subjects.  If approved it would become the second such campus in the state.  A very brief item in EDUCATION WEEK talks about the plan.  “A recent study of federal data,” it mentions, “found that fewer high school girls than boys reported liking science and math. Among 2009 high school graduates, male students had higher average math and science scores then female students who took specific math and science classes.”


Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)  

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


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