Ed News, Friday, April 24, 2015 Edition


 “There is, on the whole, nothing on earth intended for innocent people so horrible as a school. To begin with, it is a prison. But in some respects more cruel than a prison. In a prison, for instance, you are not forced to read books written by the warders and the governor. . . .In the prison you are not forced to sit listening to turnkeys discoursing without charm or interest on subjects that they don’t understand and don’t care about, and therefore incapable of making you understand or care about. In a prison they may torture your body; but they do not torture your brains.”
George Bernard Shaw, Misalliance
LAUSD Board Approves Union Agreement
  The LAUSD board on Tuesday voted unanimously to approve the tentative 3-year agreement negotiators reached late on Friday with UTLA.  The next step is for union members to ratify it.  A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times reviews some of the key provisions of the pact.  “The agreement would fund smaller classes and more counselors,” the paper reports, “and soothe several months of labor tensions — including talk of a strike in the nation’s second-largest school system.”
If you think there’s too much testing wait until you read this one.  Darcie Cimarusti, who writes the MOTHER CRUSADER blog, is a New Jersey parent who did some (very) simple digging on the Pearson website and discovered they are field testing a PARCC assessment for SECOND GRADERS in several districts in her state!  Why might they be doing that?  It doesn’t take a second grader to figure out the more tests and related materials you can develop the more MONEY you can make.  Can anyone think of a good, sound educational reason why second graders need to be formally assessed?  “ The state of NJ is potentially allowing Pearson,” she complains, “a multi national, multi billion dollar company, to have a monopoly, not only on testing our children in grades K-11 but also in preparing them for the tests and offering remediation products based on test results.”               Heidi Hayes Jacobs, on the ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) website, lists some of the more obscure vocabulary on the 6th grade ELA exam in New York and wonders how 11 and 12 year olds might fare when confronted with them.  How would we do?  “What were these test makers thinking?” she laments. 
Reauthorization of NCLB
Where would the public education world be without the tireless work of Mercedes Schneider?  She wrote 6 different columns (all highlighted in the “Ed News”) taking a line-by-line look at the Alexander-Murray bipartisan compromise of the NCLB rewrite.  Now, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, she delves into the 29 amendments offered to the bill.  Part 1 covered the first 10 amendments and can be found by clicking here.  She is reviewing them alphabetically by title name, in case you were wondering.  Part 2 examines the next 10 and she promises one more to complete the process.  All the “Ed News” can say in awe of her effort is “You go, girl!” 
LAUSD Budget Cuts
In her Tuesday column in the L.A. Times, Sandy Banks is upset that even with an improving economy and the prospects of more money coming to the district the LAUSD has proposed cutting 4,000 preschool positions at 138 elementary schools.  When the Great Recession was in full sway several years ago the board made some big reductions in the adult education program.  Now they are turning to the littlest students to help make up for a proposed shortfall.  “In a district with a $7.3-billion budget and high-schoolers who can’t read, that seems penny-wise and pound-foolish to me,” Banks argues.  “Educators, economists, social scientists and even politicians agree that a quality early learning program is the best way to prepare low-income children to succeed.  It’s particularly important in a district like Los Angeles, where one in three students begins school speaking little or no English.”  The school board will ultimately decided the fate of the program when it approves the budget for the 2015-16 school year.  That could come as late as June.               3 letters were published in today’s Times in response to Sandy Banks’ column Tuesday (see above) regarding the LAUSD possibly cutting preschool programs next year. 
Race and Student Misbehavior
Does a student’s race have any affect on how a teacher deals with his/her misbehavior?  That’s the interesting issue addressed by two new studies from Stanford University featured in EDUCATION WEEK.  244 K-12 teachers were presented with the disciplinary records of fictional students that were labelled with either stereotypically black or white names.  How they proposed to deal with the students was recorded in the studies.  “Taken together, the authors [of the reports] say, the studies’ results suggest that teachers tend to respond to patterns of misbehavior rather than students’ individual actions. According to the researchers,” the article points out, “that matches up with the real-world data. They found that racial disparities in school suspensions were even larger when looking specifically at students who had been suspended more than once.”
Arne Duncan and the Federal Dept. of Education must be getting worried,  In an interview in Chalkbeat NEW YORK, the secretary mentioned that if the opt-out movement continues to expand the federal government may be forced to intervene.  “Estimates suggesting that more than 15 percent of students refused to take the tests [in New York] have raised questions about the consequences for districts,” the item explains.  “Federal law requires all students in grades three to eight to take annual tests, and officials have said districts could face sanctions if fewer than 95 percent of students participate.  On Tuesday, when asked whether states with many test boycotters would face consequences, Duncan said he expected states to make sure districts get enough students to take the tests.”               A story in THE BUFFALO NEWS queries 3 parents who are leaders in their local opt-out movement to find out what the whole thing is about.  “I wanted a better idea of the motives behind the movement.  These parents didn’t strike me as irrational, uninformed or overprotective,” the reporter relates.  “Quite the contrary.  They have a huge – and, it seems to me, justifiable – problem with their kids being force-fed these now-annual exams of questionable content.  The results are being more heavily tied by the governor into grading teachers and schools.  At worst, it feeds a teach-to-the-test culture that undercuts learning, handcuffs teachers and disregards the strengths and interests of each kid.”               News of the spreading opt-out movement is making it into some interesting sources.  The Socialist Worker has a commentary that asks “Who Will Test the Testers?”  It’s written by a New York city school parent.  He questions the validity of the tests and their grade-level appropriateness and wonders how the results can be used to evaluate teachers or fairly rank schools and districts.  These kinds of problems and distrust of the corporate “reform” agenda are what is fueling the opt-out phenomenon.   “The growing opt-out movement has the potential to undermine the whole anti-public school agenda misleadingly known as education ‘reform’,” the author points out, “a project that aims to replace the public education system–which, for all its inequities, is still based on concepts of democracy and community–with a business model in which schools compete to produce the highest test scores. . . . .Meanwhile, the tests themselves–created by corporations like Pearson and held up as scientifically absolute measurements of student performance and teacher competence–have turned out to be riddled with shoddy questions,” he continues, “and grade-inappropriate material–from the infamous pineapple question of 2012 to this year’s ELA exam, which expects sixth-grade students to know the meaning of “paroxysm.”               The opt-out situation in New York took a new turn this week.  As the numbers of students refusing to take the tests rose, portions of the state’s ELA exam, administered last week, appeared on a Facebook group’s page Wednesday morning, but quickly disappeared 24 hours later.  The math portion of the test commenced Wednesday.  EDUCATION WEEK describes the latest details.  “Unless you’ve been hiking in Antarctica, or cut off from the news in some other way,” it begins, “you know that New York has become something of a hub for the testing opt-out movement. Until now, the central strategy has consisted of voting with one’s feet: simply refusing to take the test. But today [Thursday] we learn of a new strategy: undermining the test by breaching its security.”               Not one junior at Nathan Hale High School in Seattle showed up to take the SBAC standardized test this week according to a brief item from KING5 television, the ABC affiliate in Seattle.
An editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times urged the legislature to pass a pending bill (SB 277) that would require vaccinations for almost all California public school students.  The proposed law had been withdrawn under pressure from anti-vaccine parents.  “Anti-vaccine parents are well-meaning and their fears are heartfelt,” the piece concludes, “but their concerns aren’t rooted in valid science. That’s where the Legislature’s job comes in: It must pass laws for the common good, based on facts.”               Two letters published in Wednesday’s Times supported the paper’s editorial on vaccinations (see above).               A revised bill that would remove most exemptions for vaccinations of California students passed the State Senate Education Committee on a 7-2 vote on Wednesday.  The latest details appear in an article in the L.A. Times.  “More than 13,500 California kindergarten students have waivers due to their parents’ personal beliefs,” it notes, “including 2,764  based on religious beliefs, state health statistics show.”                George Skelton, in his Thursday column for the Times, strongly supports the vaccination bill making its way through the California legislature.   His basic argument: “ parents who won’t permit vaccinations because of a personal belief, well, you’re free to practice that belief any way you’d like — as long as it doesn’t threaten other people’s kids.”
The Teaching Profession
Fewer high school students are contemplating a career in teaching according to a report released Tuesday from ACT Inc., the folks that offer 57% of high school students their college entrance exam.  The information comes from an annual survey of students taking their test.  “In 2010, seven percent of test-takers expressed interest in education majors. In 2014, that number dropped to five percent.”  EDUCATION WEEK features the results of the report.  It lists 4 key findings and 3 recommendations for increasing student interest in the teaching field and includes a link to the full survey(18 pages) titled “The Condition of Future Educators 2014.”               Several times in the past the “Ed News” has highlighted articles about “teacher-led” or “teacher-powered” schools.  The author of this item from EDUCATION WEEK is a National Board-certified teacher with 25 years of teaching experience who helped found a teacher-powered school in Denver.  “These schools put decisionmaking in the hands of those who know students best: teachers.  And when teachers are able to make important management and learning decisions,” she explains, “while being held accountable for student results, they embrace the opportunity to take responsibility for student learning.  Teachers in teacher-led schools take on higher levels of accountability because they are collectively responsible for student outcomes.”  She goes on to provide 7 steps for creating a teacher-led school and points out there are already more than 70 of them in existence in the U.S.
Atlanta Cheating Scandal
The Atlanta standardized test cheating scandal is fading into history, but the ripples from that event are still having a strong impact.  The author of this op-ed from The Progressive suggests the educators who were caught up in the cheating were given overly harsh sentences as the judge was under the mistaken belief that teachers can and should be able to rectify the scourge of poverty among their students.  “What was clear to me as I listened to the judge, the defense attorneys, and one of the defendants who spoke eloquently,” he carefully explained, “is that the truth is more complicated than the facts that are supposedly exposed in a trial. . . . Our test-and-punish education philosophy says that it’s the teacher’s fault when scores in very poor schools are low,” he continues.  “Others have pointed out that there is something about concentrated poverty that undermines the situation for children and teachers alike.”  The author goes on to quote several experts who make the connection between poverty and low academic outcomes.                Jon Stewart, on his “Daily Show” from Comedy Central, has an eye opening segment (7:23 minutes) comparing the Atlanta test cheating scandal and the 2008 Wall St. meltdown.  He juxtaposes the crimes committed and the punishments meted out and comes to a shocking conclusion.  You can view the item on YouTube.  It is well worth your time.  Stewart, who is stepping down from his hosting position on the show in August, will be dearly missed.               Valerie Strauss recommended the Jon Stewart segment in her column in The Washington Post.  She includes the video in her piece and adds some commentary about it to prepare you for what you’re going to see.  [Ed. note: Just like a good teacher.]  “This is one of those videos that make you want to laugh and cry at the same time,” she begins.  “If you didn’t watch it, take a few minutes, and if you did see it, watch it again and see what you missed amid the layers of deep analysis for which ‘The Daily Show’ is known.”
Education Reform, California Style
Searching for a possible alternative to the highly questionable corporate “reform” agenda?  Jeff Bryant, at the Education Opportunity NETWORK, suggests looking no farther than what’s taking place in CALIFORNIA!  “It would seem that at a time, such as now, when the nation’s education policy is in such disarray, and incoherence rules the day, it would be good to pivot to alternatives that might provide a more positive path forward,” he proposes.  Indeed, such an alternative approach is at hand.  California – the state with by far the most K-12 students, one in eight – has started to take education policy in a different direction.”  Bryant goes on detail the Golden State’s “outlier” approach to testing, school funding, accountability and teacher evaluations and, he concludes, “as the rest of the nation plunges further into the conflict over NCLB-era accountability, California is showing us an alternative is available – if we want one.”
Common Core
One Florida high school principal, Jayne Ellspermann, recounts her very positive experiences with the Common Core and the recently concluded ELA assessments.  She reports that not one single student at her school opted-out and both students and parents seem pleased with the Common Core Standards so far.  Her comments are part of an ongoing exchange with New York principal Carol Burris, who is an outspoken critic of the Standards and the tests, in THE HECHINGER REPORT.  This latest response is titled “Parents Become Supporters of Common Core When They See It In Action.”  It includes a link to the 6 previous back-and-forth letters between Ellspermann and Burris.  “Our state has been deep in discussion regarding the new assessments,” Ellspermann explains.  “In response to concerns about test validity, state leaders have agreed to a full review of the assessments before the results are used for teacher evaluations or school grades. New limits to ensure that we do not spend more than 5% of our instructional time on state testing have been established and the use of test results in educator evaluations has been reduced from 50% to 33%.”
Freemon to Be Sworn In Monday, 
And finally, ALOED’s own Jennifer Freemon will embark on an new chapter in her life when she’s officially sworn in as the newest member of the Glendale Unified School District board on Monday.  In an exclusive email exchange with the editor of the “Ed News” she reported to feeling both “excited and a bit terrified” of what she’s gotten herself into but plans to “take off running” in her new job.  She is most gratified by her success this time around which she attributes to the hard work everyone put into her campaign.  She came in a very strong second place among 5 candidates for the two available seats on the GUSD board.  That nearly doubled the third-place finisher and was only a scant 200 votes (out of a total of 35,399 cast, based on final, official returns) behind an incumbent who finished in first place.  With her wide ranging experiences as an Oxy student, wife, teacher, coach, mother of three, PTA representative and, of course, an ALOED member, the Glendale community is fortunate to have Jennifer serving as a strong voice for education policy and she will certainly provide wise leadership.  ALOED and the “Ed News” are most proud of Jennifer’s achievement.  Congratulations to her and Io Triumphe!

Dave Alpert

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




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