Ed News, Friday, April 17, 2015 Edition


 The task of the modern educator is not
     to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts.” 
― C.S. LewisThe Abolition of Man 
“iPadgate” Redux And Software Purchases
The ill conceived and poorly implemented $1.3 billion“iPad-for-all” program that was one of the key policy initiatives of former LAUSD Supt. John Deasy has been cancelled, mostly over problems with the Pearson supplied software.  The district will demand a refund from Apple and if it’s not provided has threatened to sue.  NPR station 89.3KPCC broke the story on their website on Wednesday.  “District officials purchased Pearson’s software even though it was unfinished,” the article explains, “and teachers complained the material seemed rushed: lessons were missing math problems and reading material and included errors. The software also lacked many interactive elements that were promised, teachers said.”               A more detailed article appeared in yesterday’s L.A. Times regarding the decision by the LAUSD to terminate it’s ill-fated iPad program.  “Under the contract, Pearson was to provide English and math curriculum,” it adds.  “The district selected Pearson based only on samples of curriculum — nothing more was available.  L.A. Unified made the deal anyway; it wanted to bundle the curriculum and the device into a single price. A three-year license to use the curriculum added about $200 to the $768 cost of each iPad. The entire purchase then was financed through school construction bonds, which can be used to purchase computers.”            More possible legal fall-out from the iPad program for the LAUSD?  The federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is looking into the question of whether the district properly used voter-approved bond money to purchase the computers and software.  That story is in today’s L.A. Times.  “California law allows school construction bonds to be spent on technology; districts also list the intended uses of bond funds in ballot materials available to voters,” the article explains.   “L.A. Unified clearly designated funds for technology, but did not mention tablets. At the time of the district’s most recent bond issue, in November 2008, iPads were still two years away from entering the marketplace.  But officials have maintained that tablets are a modern equivalent of the traditional computer lab and therefore a legal and appropriate use of bond funds.             When it comes to purchasing software, should the final decisions be made at the district or individual school level?  That question is tackled by a story from EDUCATION WEEK.  “As with most big-ticket items, school district central offices like to control the purse strings when it comes time to shop for new blended learning software,” it begins.  “But school procurement experts, education technology vendors, and school leaders alike are increasingly convinced that a more bottom-up approach offers a better chance for solid implementation—and, they hope, big learning gains.”  The piece provides two case studies.  One district in Colorado where schools make their own individual software purchases (bottom-up) and Washington, D.C., where the central office makes decisions for the entire district (top-down).
Kentucky has discovered a fool-proof way to keep students from opting-out of high stakes testing in the Bluegrass State: make the action illegal.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog describes this latest maneuver in the opt-out controversy.  [Ed. note: Whatever happened to the concept of parental “choice” that is such an important watchword of the so-called corporate “reform” movement?]               Diane Ravitch labels Long Island as the “epicenter of opt-out.”  The Long Island Press backs up that claim with a story titled “Record-Shattering Numbers of Long Island Students Opting Out of Common Core Testing.”  “Parents across Long Island have spoken in an unmistakable roar of defiance,” it reports, “determined to disrupt what they believe to be an unacceptable system delivered by government officials they do not trust—with Gov. Andrew Cuomo at the top of the list.”  The article goes on to provide the number of students who have made the decision to skip the tests this year.              Duchess County,  located in southeastern New York, is also reporting large numbers of students opting out.  The Poughkeepsie Journal’s article is titled “Duchess Test Refusals Soar; NY Says Data Will Still Be Used.”  “The ‘opt-out’ movement appears to have gained momentum,” it, too, points out, “despite warnings from the state Education Department that districts could face sanctions if their participation rate drops below the federal standard of 95 percent.  The goal of the movement’s leaders is to cripple the data-collection apparatus by reducing the pool of student results until it is statistically invalid.”                Juan Gonzalez, in the New York Daily News, put the extent of the opt-out movement in New York this week  into context in a piece titled “It’s Not Multiple Choice, It’s a Resounding No As Fed-Up Parents Revolt Against New York’s Standardized Exams In Historic Fashion.”  “The entire structure of high-stakes testing in New York crumbled Tuesday,” he begins, ” as tens of thousands of fed-up public school parents rebelled against Albany’s fixation with standardized tests and refused to allow their children to take the annual English Language Arts state exam.  This ‘opt-out’ revolt has been quietly building for years, but it reached historic levels this time.  More than half the pupils at several Long Island and upstate school districts joined in — at some schools in New York City boycott percentages neared 40%.”  Gonzalez proceeds to chronicle a number of schools and districts in the Empire state and reports the numbers of students who refused to take the exams.               Diane Ravitch debated Merryl Tisch, Chancellor of the New York State Board of Regents, on Tuesday on the issues of high-stakes testing and the opt-out movement for the “All in With Chris Hayes Show” on MSNBC.  The video  runs 9:29 minutes.                Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post critiques the debate, includes a transcript of it and has a slightly abbreviated video version (6:53 minutes–It eliminates Hayes’ brief introduction to the segment).  “The event was remarkable, and not because Tisch agreed to sit down with Ravitch, as fierce a critic of hers as there is (and there are many),” Strauss notes.  “What was so striking was the way Tisch repeatedly countered — or, rather, didn’t — Ravitch’s direct critiques of the New York testing and teacher evaluation regime as well as the growing opt-out movement in which parents are choosing to disallow their children from taking the state-mandated exams.”                Peter Greene, this time writing in the “View From the Cheap Seats” column for EDUCATION WEEK, also reviewed the Ravitch/Tisch debate.  “New York Chancellor of the Board of Regents Meryl Tisch stopped by All In with Chris Hayes to avoid answering some pointed questions about high stakes testing and the opt out movement in New York,” he dismissively begins.  “She had the additional disadvantage of sitting beside Diane Ravitch, who did answer questions and made Tisch look even slipperier by comparison, but I think Tisch’s appearance is a quick, capsuled look at what promoters of high stakes testing get wrong.”              
New Burbank Superintendent
The Burbank Unified School District is seeking a new superintendent.  The search is stirring up a hornet’s nest based on one of the proposed candidates.  He’s current LAUSD employee Matthew Hill who had key roles with the “iPad-for-all” and MiSIS computer information system fiascoes.  If that’s not enough to disqualify someone, the fact that Hill has never worked as a teacher or principal should raise some more red flags.  He comes from a business background and is a graduate of the Broad Academy that trains non-educators to assume school district leadership positions.  The Burbank Teachers Association is leading the opposition to Hill according to an item in the Burbank Leader.  The current BUSD superintendent is retiring at the end of the this school year.               The BUSD board voted late last night to appoint Hill as the new district superintendent.  The details are courtesy of NPR station 89.3KPCC.  “In 2011 former L.A. Unified Superintendent John Deasy hired Hill,” the story explains, “to push initiatives such as the massive iPads for students project and the district’s new student data system, know as MiSiS.  Both projects encountered serious setbacks.  But the Burbank school board liked what Hill said he’d done to fix the problems.”   The piece includes a brief audio segment (2:27 minutes) about the appointment that was broadcast prior to the board’s vote.
Cheating Scandals
In light of the cheating scandal in Atlanta (covered extensively in the “Ed News”) people might believe that these kinds of activities only take place at K-12 schools and only involve high-stakes testing.  No so!  An article in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes how new technologies are challenging long-standing honor codes and codes of ethics at even some of the most elite colleges and universities around the U.S.   Campuses like Stanford, Dartmouth, Harvard and the Air Force Academy have experienced widespread episodes of student cheating recently.  “Studies find that students feel under more pressure than ever to succeed and increasingly see cutting corners as nothing serious,” the piece points out.  “And they are being aided by cheating-friendly technology.”               The “Back Story” column in today’s L.A. Times takes an excellent, in-depth  look at the issue of using a state version of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act statutes to charge the Atlanta educators in that city’s standardized test cheating scandal.  The law’s original intent was to go after organized crime figures.  It was later used, surprisingly against the “Roman Catholic Church, Major League Baseball, antiabortion activists, the Los Angeles Police Department and Wall Street financier Michael Milken.”  The recently concluded Atlanta case was the first, and only time, that it’s been used in an academic setting to convict elementary school teachers and administrators.  “Veteran Atlanta criminal defense lawyers expressed concern this week that a law intended for gangsters,” the story points out, “had been used to prosecute educators.  The state RICO statute, modeled after the federal law, was used by prosecutors ‘as a large club designed to get people’s attention and to beat people over the head with it if they didn’t succumb to the prosecution’s plea offers,’ said defense attorney Steve Sadow.”               
A problem with a computer server caused students in Missoula and other districts around Montana to not be able to log-on to the state’s SBAC standardized assessments this week.  This is the first year tests in the state have been taken on computers.  NBC MONTANA has a short video (3:45 minutes) and a transcript about what’s happening.               Diane Ravitch’s blog has an interesting and significant post from a long-time lawyer, Miriam Kurtzig Freedman, who “represents public schools in education matters.”  Freedman addresses the issue of whether high-stakes assessments aligned to the Common Core are a valid tool for evaluating teachers.   She points out that the tests were never intended to serve as an evaluative tool for teachers and concludes “This test validity issue needs to be fully aired and resolved satisfactorily before we can begin to tackle the larger issues about the multiple uses of testing. Otherwise, in our litigious land of opportunity, the ensuing battles may be costly and not pretty. Let’s not go there.”  Freedman’s piece elicited a number of comments.  If you have the time, check them out.               
Letters to the Editor
One letter was published in yesterday’s L.A. Times from a mother whose son is “a middle school teacher in a South Bay district” regarding the paper’s story on Monday (highlighted in the “Ed News”) about a poll that showed California voters were in favor of school breakfast programs.
NCLB Reauthorization
The Senate Education Committee wrapped up day two of dealing with the Alexander-Murray bipartisan compromise to reauthorize NCLB on Wednesday.  A relatively quiet debate over most of the 87 amendments offered for the bill became a little more heated over two proposals to deal with bullying and harassment, particularly of LGBT students.  EDUCATION WEEK provides a good overview of the committee discussion so far with specific information about the disposition of a number of amendments.               In a rare show of Washington, D.C., bipartisanship, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee passed, by a 22-0 vote yesterday, the NCLB reauthorization bill.  EDUCATION WEEK again offers a description of what took place and what is in store for the future.  “Over the course of three days, committee members considered more than 50 amendments out of the 87 that were filed,” it sums up, “most of which were either adopted via voice vote with little controversy or withdrawn out of respect for maintaining the bipartisan nature of the legislation.”               The NSBA (National School Boards Association) was strongly in favor of the passage of the Alexander-Murray bill by the Senate Education Committee.  They promptly issued a press release lauding the action as “A Great Victory.”                Jeff Bryant at the Education Opportunity NETWORK, reviews the course of the rewrite of NCLB so far in both the House and the Senate.  He surveys some of the reactions to the compromise bill that passed the Senate Education Committee yesterday and suggests what both political parties need to do in order to achieve a “worthy revision” in the end.                Now that the Alexander-Murray compromise bill has been approved by the Education Committee, what’s in store for it as it moves to the full Senate for action?  EDUCATION WEEK takes a detailed look at the possibilities.  “But getting the bill to the floor may be a challenge in and of itself,” it concludes skeptically.  “The current legislative backlog includes an anti-human-trafficking bill, the nomination of Loretta Lynch to be the U.S. attorney general, a congressional response to the Iran nuclear-deal framework, and a looming vote on a fiscal 2016 budget.  And while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has mentioned education as something the chamber might address in this legislative work period, which ends May 22, the ESEA reauthorization has yet to be specifically scheduled for floor time.”
Vaccination Legislation
The measles outbreak at Disneyland last year ignited a renewed discussion over school vaccinations.  A bill introduced in the California Senate that would require more kids to be vaccinated ran into trouble earlier this week over a couple of issues.  A vote on the proposed law (SB 277) was delayed in the Education Committee amid predictions it would fail to pass.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times provides the latest details.  “. . . . when many parents don’t immunize their children,” the article notes, “it increases the risk to other children who have immune-compromised systems. . . . Some panel members . . . . said they want to preserve California’s exemption allowance for those with religious objections to vaccination.”
Carol Burris to Retire Early  
Award-winning South Side High School (New York) principal Carol Burris announced Tuesday she is retiring early because of the anti-education policies of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.  Burris has been a outstanding champion of public education and has published several books and numerous columns, letters and blogs extolling the virtues of the public school system and the dedicated educators who work there.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” column for The Washington Post, where many of Burris’ writings appeared, had the sad and shocking news.  In a speech to a group of music teachers Burris explained why she is taking this action: “We are now turning our backs on the very experiences that build on our children’s natural strengths in order to pursue higher test scores in this era of corporate reform.  We have become blind to indicators of quality that can’t be demonstrated on a scan sheet. . . . I will not participate,” she continues, “in an evaluation system such as the one designed by the governor  or legislature. It is morally and ethically wrong.”
Academic Decathlon Competition
And finally, today’s L.A. Times has a feature about Granada Hills Charter High School as it prepares for the national Academic Decathlon competition.  “After reclaiming the state and Los Angeles Unified city titles earlier this year,” it explains, “the Granada Hills team is aiming to win another national championship in the three-day competition that began Thursday in Garden Grove. This year’s theme is alternative energy.”

Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)  

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


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