Ed News, Tuesday, April, 21, 2015 Edition


The education of all children, from the moment that they can get along 

without a mother’s care, shall be in state institutions.”
―  Karl Marx
Tentative Contract Agreement Reached in LAUSD
After going 8 years without a pay increase, things will be changing for teachers in the LAUSD.  A tentative contract settlement was announced late Friday night that includes a 10% increase over two years, class size issues and clarifications over teacher evaluations.  The agreement came after UTLA had declared an impasse in the negotiations and a state mediator had stepped in.  A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times has some of the details with more information to follow.  “The deal could end more than a year of strained relations and organized agitation by United Teachers Los Angeles, whose members have not received a raise for eight years,” it mentions.  “The pact must be ratified, however, by both the union membership and the Board of Education.  The apparent breakthrough, after a long mediation session on Friday, will halt, at least for now, talk of a possible strike.”               The UTLA website has some more details about the tentative agreement with links to the full text (26 pages)  and/or a Summary of it (5 pages).
New Burbank Superintendent 
The Burbank Unified School District board selected a new superintendent at a lengthy and contentious meeting Thursday night.  The vote was 4-0 and the new head, Matt Hill, is a former LAUSD administrator.  The Friday edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the story but Saturday’s L.A. Times provided some additional details and context.    “Hill has never been a teacher,” it points out, “nor headed a school system, but for six years he was a central figure in the nation’s second-largest district, which made academic gains over that time. As a senior aide to former Supt. John Deasy, Hill was closely associated with the district’s now-abandoned $1.3 billion iPads-for-all program and the flawed rollout of a new online student records system. Deasy resigned under pressure last fall.”               A group of parents and teachers, backed by the Burbank Teachers Association, vigorously protested the nomination of Hill for superintendent.  The LIVING in DIALOGUE blog contains a video (12:31 minutes) showing some of the comments they made to the board in opposition to Hill.
The Suffolk (NY) Times, which happens to be Diane Ravitch’s local weekly paper, has a guest commentary titled “State Testing Will Hurt Public Education.”  The author is a former local “educator of the year.”  “As a seasoned educator, I strongly believe that well-designed tests are a valuable educational tool,” he begins.  “When used properly, tests provide timely feedback about student progress.  Rather than adding to the diagnostic value of tests, however, the NYS Common Core assessments are used solely to rank students, evaluate teachers and label schools as ‘failing,’ slating them for takeover by privately run charters.”  He concludes by stating his own children will be opting-out.               For a slightly more nuanced discussion of the testing issue, the McClatchyDC website has an interesting article titled “How Much Student Testing is Too Much?”  “What’s new this year is that for the first time most states are using new computer-based tests that require more critical thinking,” the author writes.  “What’s not are the complaints.  Some parents worry that schools base their lesson plans on what the tests focus on.  Poor test-takers are at a disadvantage. Critics say too much money is spent on testing.  The consequences of failure can mean closed schools, lost jobs and an impact on student progress.”               Carol Burris, award-winning principal of South Side High School in New York, demonstrates why there’s so much criticism of the new standardized ELA tests.  Her comments appear on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post.  Burris offers specific examples of reading samples and questions from the grades 3-6th and 8th grade exams.  “With these exams, the testing industry is enriching itself at the expense of taxpayers, all supported by politicians who self-righteously claim that being subjected to these Common Core tests is a ‘civil right.’  Nonsense.  It is clear,”  she concludes, defiantly, “that none of this will stop unless the American public puts an end to this.  I have only two words left to say—opt out.”              How important is the testing business to those companies that have a stake in it?  When one is talking about millions of dollars, the answer is “VERY IMPORTANT!”  A major battle in California offers ample evidence.  The Golden state just awarded a tentative 3-three contract to provide testing materials and support to ETS (Educational Testing Service) over its rival, Pearson.  EDUCATION WEEK has all the juicy, blow-by-blow details about this fight between education titans.  “The California dispute,” it relates, “is just the latest example of the legal and procedural scrapes playing out as state testing goes through a period of enormous change, shaped by such factors as the shift from print-based to online testing and the adoption of new assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards.”        With the standardized testing season in full swing, THE HECHINGER REPORT asks a simple, but significant question: “Are The Common Core Tests Turning Out to Be a Big Success or a Resounding Failure?”  The answer, as usual, is not an easy “yes” or “no” and it’s still too early to provide a definitive response. 
Education Reform
If you have about 82 minutes to spare, you should view this video, from YouTube, of a discussion on education reform held at Fairfield University in Connecticut.  It’s titled “Add Tests and Stir: Education Reform in the 21st Century.”  Diane Ravitch called this one “A must watch. . . . [as] some of our heroes explain reform.”                EDUCATION WEEK pints an interesting commentary about improving the teaching profession.  It’s written by an assistant professor of education at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts who thinks a national approach is the best tactic.  “If we want a teacher-centered reform that might actually succeed,” he suggests, “we need to begin by ending the misguided attack on those in classrooms. And then we need to get down to work on a much more challenging and essential set of tasks—overhauling the profession so that all teachers can realize their full potential.”  The author offers a number of concrete proposals for improving the profession.
TIME magazine has an item on its website about the growing opt-out movement titled “Thousands of Kids Opt-Out of Standardized Common Core Tests Across U.S.” It focuses on what’s been taking place in New York but does include this quote about California: “In California, home to the nation’s largest public school system and Democratic political leaders who strongly endorse Common Core standards, there have been no reports of widespread protests to the exams — perhaps because state officials have decided not to hold schools accountable for the first year’s results.”  The piece includes a short video (1:53 minutes) about the movement.               Diane Ravitch’s blog prints a commentary from the Albany-Times Union [Ed. note: The original is, unfortunately, behind a paywall.] that urges politicians and so-called corporate “reformers” to wake up to the fact that the opt-out movement is growing in strength and can no longer be ignored.  “That’s not just an opt-out movement anymore,” the author maintains.  “It’s civil disobedience, and a step away from a growing stampede.  That should make elected officials squirm, and they deserve it.”  He, too, makes reference to the large numbers of students refusing to take the tests in New York but also cites similar actions across the country.               Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, highlights a report from a group called The New York State Allies for Public Education that found that over 175,000 students (and still climbing) or about 14% opted-out of the English/Language Arts tests in that state last week.  The previous year the figure was less than 5%.  Exams in math are scheduled for this week in the Empire State.  “The opt-out movement has been growing around the country.” Strauss writes, “as fatigue with high-stakes standardized tests and their impact on public education escalates.  Many parents, teachers, principals and even superintendents are expressing concern about the quality and validity of the assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards or similar standards, and the use of the scores to evaluate educators through assessment methods that experts have warned against using for such purposes.”               CNN joins the parade of media sources to report on the burgeoning opt-out movement.  The network’s correspondent also happens to be a parent and one of her daughters is taking the tests for the first time this year so it has a little more of a personal point-of-view.  The article cites the same report from the New York State Allies for Public Education (above) although it has a slightly earlier version and it discusses how the movement is spreading to other states.                The DEMOCRACYNOW! television program has a segment on the opt-out movement.  It includes a discussion with a New York superintendent and a parent who both comment on testing and opting-out.  You can watch the video (20:22 minutes) and/or read the transcript by clicking here.  This item is titled “Tens of Thousands of New York Parents Revolt Against Standardized Tests.”               An article from The New York Times left the distinct impression that the opt-out movement is being led by the teachers’ unions.  It’s titled “Teachers’ Unions Fight Standardized Testing, and Find Diverse Allies.”  “After several years in which teachers’ unions have been hammered on the issue of tenure, have lost collective bargaining rights in some states and have seen their evaluations increasingly tied to student scores,” it claims, “they have begun, with some success, to reassert themselves using a bread-and-butter issue: the annual tests given to elementary and middle school students in every state.”   Peggy Robertson, founder of United Opt-Out, quickly responded to the implications in the NYT article (above) in a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  Opt out is led by parents, teachers, students and citizens,” Robertson explains in opening. “When United Opt Out National began over four years ago we were simply a facebook page with a file for each state.  Within hours our FB group page was flooded with opt out requests and now we have opt out leaders all over the country and grassroots opt out groups popping up everywhere.”                Diane Ravitch, on her Diane Ravitch’s blog, was also incensed by the Times piece about the opt-out movement.  Ravitch explains how she provided names of parent leaders of various opt-out groups to the reporters of the Times’ article, apparently to little effect.  “The Times manages to ignore parents’ genuine concerns about the overuse and misuse of testing,” she maintains.  “Not a word about the seven to ten hours of testing for children in grades 3-8.  Not a word about the lack of transparency on the part of Pearson.  Not a word about data mining or monitoring of children’s social media accounts.  To the Times, it is all politics, and the views of parents don’t matter.  The great mystery, unexplored in this article, is why the parents of 150,000 to 200,000 children refused the tests.  Are the unions so powerful as to direct the actions of all those parents?  Ridiculous.  How could they get it so wrong?”
Letters to the Editor
An L.A. Times story last week (highlighted in the “Ed News”) featured a poll with voter attitudes towards teacher tenure.  Well over half of the respondents were against it or wanted the length of time extended for its achievement.  The piece drew four letters that appeared in Saturday’s paper.  In addition, the “Numbers and Letters” feature in the same paper noted that “649 letters to the editor were received between last Friday and this Friday.  103 were written abut the drought, the week’s most-discussed topic.  51 readers discussed The Times’ poll on teacher tenure, the runner-up topic of the week.               A letter published in today’s L.A. Times actually reacted to one of the letters referenced in the item above.   The author of this one believes that tenure protects lazy teachers.              A story last week in The New York Times had a rather negative take on the methods and policies of the Success Academy schools in that city.  The paper invited current and former parents to share their stories about their experiences with the charter chain and published a sampling of 7 of them.  This piece includes a link to the original article if you missed it in a previous “Ed News.”               3 letters appeared in today’s L.A. Times commenting on a story the paper ran last week about proposed legislation in California that would limit the number of reasons that parents could cite for exempting their children from being vaccinated. 
Reauthorization of NCLB
Mercedes Schneider wraps up her exhaustive review of the Alexander-Murray bipartisan compromise bill to rewrite NCLB.  This is part 6 and previous editions of the “Ed News” highlighted the first 5 parts.  This one covers pages 429-601 and appears, as always, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29.  The image she appends to this final effort is most apt.
Atlanta Cheating Scandal
The harsh prison sentences meted out to educators in the Atlanta standardized test cheating scandal continued to draw shocked reactions from many sources.  EDUCATION WEEK reviews the case again and lists the individuals and their sentences.   “The high-profile case,” it indicates, “has raised larger questions about the role of high-stakes testing in K-12 education and why prosecutors sought to convict the former teachers, principals, and administrators under state racketeering laws.”               Three administrators who received the harshest punishments in the Atlanta cheating case, 7 years in prison and 13 years of probation, have been granted a resentencing hearing on April 30, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.   
Granada Hills Wins National Academic Decathlon
Granada Hills Charter High School (LAUSD), located in the San Fernando Valley, won the national Academic Decathlon for the fourth time in the last five years.  The 2015 competition took place over a 3-day stretch last week in Garden Grove and included 46 other schools and over 450 students.  The story appeared in Sunday’s L.A. Times but the piece on the website posted late Saturday afternoon was much more detailed.  You can read the latter by clicking here.  “The team members, who are winnowed from a group of about 50 who try out over the summer,” the article explains, “spent more than 30 hours a week studying.  Most skipped school dances, sports, student government and other campus activities in their all-consuming fervor to master the material.  They sacrificed time with family and friends.  As the pace intensified, they deleted Instagram from their phones and blocked their own access to Facebook.”
Silencing Teachers
In all the discussion and debate over education reform the voices that are most often ignored belong to the classroom teachers.  In some instances it’s a case of benign neglect and others it’s a deliberate attempt to disregard what they have to say.  In extreme examples it amounts to fraud and deceit.  Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, on her VAMboozled blog, chronicles what’s taking place in New Mexico where teachers are being contractually and legally silenced.  She titles her piece “The Silencing of the Educators: A Shocking Idea, and Trending.”  “New Mexico now requires teachers to sign a contractual document that they are not to ‘diminish the significance or importance of the tests’. . . .  or they could lose their jobs,” she reveals.  “Teachers are not to speak negatively about the tests or say anything negatively about these tests in their classrooms or in public; if they do they could be found in violation of their contracts.”  She goes on to describe a similar situation in her home state of Arizona.               Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, describes some even more egregious cases in which teachers were invited to write a report on “a new vision of accountability” for K-12 education.  After the report was submitted several of the authors complained that some of their words and ideas had been altered or deleted WITHOUT their knowledge.  Cody dug deeper and discovered that the consultants behind the report were actually funded by the Gates and Walton Family Foundations  You probably don’t need to be told what their agendas are all about.  At the end of his posting  is a list of 6 stories by 6 separate teachers of what they experienced in the course of writing and submitting their reports and ultimately discovering things did not come out exactly as they intended.  Click on any one or all of them to get the full story.  As Audrey Amrein-Beardsley would say (see above): “This is SHOCKING!”               The BadAss Teachers Association published an account by Dr. Mitchell Robinson about how teachers are being silenced and threatened if they make any detrimental comments or take any negative actions regarding high-stakes tests in their states.  “While there is no doubt that these moves are indeed a ‘chilling’ development in the education ‘reform’ movement,” he suggests, “I believe that they also reveal a quickly growing sense of fear and confusion among those in the reform community regarding the viability of their agenda. . . . If there is a silver lining to these threats it may be the impending crumbling of the reform agenda under the increased scrutiny from the public, the media and teachers.”               Steven Singer, on the gadflyonthewallblog, discusses how students and teachers are prohibited from commenting on the tests.  His piece is titled “This Article May Be Illegal–Lifting the Veil of Silence On Standardized Testing.”  “Isn’t it time to throw back the Iron Curtain of standardization,” he asks, “and look at these tests in the cleansing light of day? Isn’t it time to evaluate this process as well as the product? Do we really want to support a system that encourages silence and snitching from our children and educators?”
Election 2016
And finally, Hillary Clinton was touring Iowa last week when she was asked about the Common Core at a roundtable discussion on education issues at a local community college.  Her comments are contained in Valerie Strauss’ column in The Washington Post.  It includes a review of what some of the other declared and undeclared GOP candidates have said about the issue.  The story also includes a link to the full transcript and a video from C-SPAN.

Dave Alpert

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



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