Ed News, Tuesday, April 28, 2015 Edition


“Much education today is monumentally ineffective. 
 All too often we are giving young people cut flowers
when we should be teaching them to grow their own plants.”
John W. Gardner
Atlanta Cheating Scandal
The Nation magazine headlines its story “Why Were Atlanta Teachers Prosecuted Under a Law Meant for Organized Crime?”  The author suggests that blame rests with NCLB under the George W. Bush administration and Race to the Top under Pres. Obama and the heavy pressures that developed under the “test and punish” concepts contained in those laws.  “ The Fulton County [Atlanta] district attorney accused the educators of having ‘altered, fabricated, and falsely certified’ answer sheets as part of a cheating conspiracy that touched a majority of the city’s public elementary and middle schools,” he relates.  “Remarkably, the educators were charged under the state’s Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act—an unprecedented application of a law intended to attack organized crime.”
Letters to the LAT
The Saturday “Numbers and Letters” feature in the L.A. Times reports that “678 usable letters to the editor were received between last Friday and this Friday.  64 letters were written about the drought, the week’s most-discussed topic.  58 readers discussed eliminating vaccine exemptions in California, the week’s runner-up.”
Testing and Common Core
Need a little humorous respite from all the seriousness and controversy surrounding standardized testing?  Check out this item from the Kids’ Wings website titled “Severe Weather Protocols During State Testing.”  Even though southern California is not plagued by tornadoes you could probably substitute the term “earthquakes” for them in this list of 10 items.  Just to pique your interest here’s number 9: “When rescue workers arrive to dig you out of the rubble, please make sure that they do not, at any time, look at or handle the testing materials. Once you have been treated for your injuries, you will still be responsible for checking your materials back in. Search dogs will not be allowed to sift through the rubble for lost tests, unless of course they have been through standardized test training. ”               The Long Island Business News has an interesting article about the money to be made behind the Common Core and testing.  “While debate rages over whether to opt out of the rigorous testing,” the extended piece notes, “little attention is being paid to the British company that helped craft the Common Core curriculum and created those tests administered in New York and much of the nation.  Headquartered in London and with U.S. operations based in Iowa, Pearson PLC has quietly grown into possibly the most powerful education firm in the United States.  It has $16.7 billion in market capitalization, $7.2 billion in sales and $357 million in 2014 profits globally.  At a time when teachers are being fired due to budget shortfalls, hundreds of millions of dollars are being pumped into testing companies, with Pearson emerging as the biggest winner in this race to the top of the testing world.”               A public charter system in a poor and crime-ridden neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, is demonstrating how art and music can be put to very good use to teach the Common Core.  THE HECHINGER REPORT tells about what is going on at 7 campuses of the Ascend Learning network.  “Such conviction is rare in an age where public education has become synonymous with the annual tests whose results can singlehandedly determine the fates of teachers, administrators and students,” it suggests.  “Amid budget cuts and long hours of drills in reading and math, the arts have been decimated in the many of the classrooms serving the nation’s neediest students.”
School Governance Experiment
The Clark County (Las Vegas) and Denver school systems are trying out an experimental program that allows successful principals to lead more than one school at a time.  An item in EDUCATION WEEK describes this very interesting and innovative idea.  “The hope is that the selected principals will produce the same high achievement in the additional school they are responsible for managing,” it mentions.  “The pilot programs . . . . –which borrow tenets from franchising in the business world—are an attempt to solve a persistent conundrum in K-12: how to scale the successes of exceptional school leaders and maximize their exposure to more teachers and students.”  Specific examples of how this concept works in both districts are provided.  The story also addresses the key issue of overextending principals who already have barely enough time to manage one campus.

NPE Conference

The Network for Public Education (NPE) held their national conference in Chicago over the past weekend.  Steven Singer who writes the gadflyonthewallblog provides three separate posts about some of the public education “heroes” he met and some of the things going on at the gathering.  His first column is titled “The Resistance is Real–They’re All Here at the Network for Public Education Conference.”  “I feel energized and part of a growing community of people,” he explains excitedly, “dedicated to righting the course of public education. The profiteers and privatizers have a war chest loaded with cash on their side.  But we’ve got people.  Real people.  I’ll side with people any day.”  Entry number 2 is titled “Here Come  
Everyone–A Day of Inspiration and Advocacy at the Network for Public Education.”  Singer points out some of the well-known personalities he got to hob-nob with [Ed. note: Be sure to check out the photos he took with most of them] and summarizes a couple of the sessions. “Let me ask you a hypothetical question:  If you could have dinner with any five people in the world, who would they be?  You don’t have to ask me that question,” he gushes like a school kid.  “I not only had dinner with them, I spent the whole freaking day with them at the Network for Public Education Conference!  And there were more like 500 of those folks!  Imagine everyone you’ve ever read about in the resistance to corporate education reform.  Imagine them all in one place, standing in line all around you waiting to select a Danish.  Yeah. That was breakfast.”   Part 3 Singer titles “Clash of the Titans–Unionism at the Network for Public Education” and he features a discussion between the NEA’s Lily Eskelsen Garcia and the AFT’s Randi Weingarten which was moderated by Diane Ravitch (see below).  It covered topics like accepting money from corporate “reform” foundations, Common Core, testing and the role of teachers in today’s society.  Again check out the photos Singer took with the two principles.  He also describes a couple of union-related events from the conference.               Diane Ravitch, who attended the conference and moderated two sessions, offers a report about it on her Diane Ravitch’s blog.  Everyone I spoke to told me how much they enjoyed the conference,” she concludes, “how energized they felt, and that they would return home to pick up the struggle with renewed vigor.  It was a wonderful and inspiring event!!”              Peter Goodman, who writes the Ed in The Apple blog, offers his take on the NPE conference.                  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, reviewed the conference and summarized what some of the other observers had commented about it.  “Hardly a week goes by where some education-related group gathers somewhere to talk about something,” she begins, “but a gathering of education activists this past weekend in Chicago was different from the usual. . . .  It reflects the growth and seriousness of the movement that is fighting corporate school reform.  Sometimes incorrectly labeled in the media as being union-launched and led, the movement against the privatization of public education and standardized test-based accountability systems,” Strauss continues, “has grown in large part because the people in schools who have traditionally kept quiet about reforms they found ineffective or harmful to students — teachers, principals and superintendents —  began to speak out publicly.  Parents began to organize and students did as well.”             If you’d prefer to skip what other people thought of the gathering, you can view almost every minute of it on the school house LIVE website which has 3 separate livestream video segments (221:32 minutes on Saturday, 267:37 minutes also on Saturday and 288:36 minutes on Sunday for a total of almost 13 hours of coverage) of the events that took place over the weekend. 
New Alternative Math Class
Yesterday’s L.A. Times describes an alternative math class called Data Science that’s being piloted in 10 high scho0ls based on a National Science Foundation grant awarded to the LAUSD in 2010 to create additional options to standard math courses.  “The class,” the story explains, “gives students an alternative to traditional math; its curriculum is grounded in hands-on data collection, plus lessons in computer programming so students can get answers from data, a trade highly valued in many industries.”  This piece goes on to profile how the class works and some of the things students are learning.
Charter Schools
A recent article in The New York Times (highlighted in the “Ed News”) described the controversial philosophies and methods of the Success Academy Charter chain in New York City.  Reactions to the piece (also highlighted in the “Ed News”) were both diverse and plentiful.  Diane Ravitch’s blog prints an item from a former SA teacher who paints a rather bleak picture of the school where she worked for two years for faculty, staff and the students.  “To this day I feel sick to my stomach over the way I was made to speak to my students, and the things I was forced to demand from them,” the anonymous teacher laments.  “Backs straight, hands still, eyes tracking the speaker every second.  Walking in the hallways silently and with their hands crossed over their chests so they wouldn’t touch things they weren’t supposed to.  Working in complete silence almost all day long and hardly ever given an opportunity for collaborative work.  For most of one of my years there the first and second graders ate lunch in silence too, because our principal had decided they couldn’t handle talking at an appropriate volume.”  [Ed. note: This sounds like the “prison” described by George Bernard Shaw in the quote that led off last Friday’s “Ed News.”]               A new report, released yesterday, found over $200 million of waste and fraud has been uncovered in the charter school sector and that’s only the “tip of the iceberg” according to the authors.  Valerie Strauss features the document in her column for The Washington Post.  She selects 4 areas, including California, where waste and fraud were uncovered and highlighted in the report that was put together by two nonprofit groups, The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools and the Center for Popular Democracy.  “[The report] notes that these figures only represent fraud and waste in the charter sector uncovered so far,” she writes, “and that the total that federal, state and local governments ‘stand to lose’ in 2015 is probably more than $1.4 billion. It says, ‘The vast majority of the fraud perpetrated by charter officials will go undetected because the federal government, the states, and local charter authorizers lack the oversight necessary to detect the fraud’.”
Diane Ravitch’s blog Celebrates Third Birthday and Another Milestone
Diane Ravitch’s blog celebrated its third birthday on Sunday.  Yesterday it registered 20 million page views which is just 19.999999 million more than the “Ed News.”  Congratulations to Diane and may she continue to be such a strong and powerful advocate for public education for many, many years to come!  You can read about her thoughts on the anniversary by clicking here.
When New York Board of Regents Chancellor Meryl Tisch offered to postpone, for one year, the implementation of new teacher evaluations that relied heavily on student test scores, state legislators and union members were pleased.  However, several parent groups said the move was not “enough” and they are still “dissatisfied.”  The CAPITAL (New York) website has the latest details.  “The parent activists,” it points out, “who claim nearly 200,000 students participated in this month’s unprecedented statewide boycott of standardized testing in public schools, see Tisch’s announcement last week as an attempt to placate them without removing the testing regimen they’re protesting.”               A California parent wrote a thank you note to Leonie Haimson, founder of the Class Size Matters group and tireless advocate for student privacy, about those privacy issues, data mining, high stakes testing and opting-out.  The public letter was reprinted on Diane Ravitch’s blog and is titled “Leonie Haimson’s Opt-Out Message Rang Out Loud and Clear on the West Coast.”               The opt-out movement is apparently very contagious.  Large numbers of students have decided not to take standardized tests in New York and Florida (as previously reported by the “Ed News”).  Now the “contagion” has spread to California.  The Paly Voice, the school paper at Palo Alto High, reports that less than half of the juniors reported to take the SBAC test yesterday.  “Many students did not show up to take the test because they felt it had no meaningful purpose,” the article suggested.              A veteran high school level English teacher in Colorado offers an opposite view to the opt-out movement.  His piece, which appears on the Chalkbeat COLORADO website, is titled “A Few Common Sense Reasons Not to Opt out of Tests.”  “Opting out from participating in an assessment that needs all the feedback it can get is not the best way to solve some of the real problems surrounding testing,” he argues.  “Opting out from an assessment that helps to show if a school is meeting expectations and providing a quality education is not the best decision.  Parents, I challenge you to educate yourself by researching both sides of the issue. I challenge you to read material from the media through a skeptical lens.  I challenge you to truly understand what ‘opting out’ entails when it comes to the school your child attends.”
The Teaching Profession
An Amarillo, Texas, English teacher was named 2015 National Teacher of the Year yesterday.  She’s the 13th English instructor to win the honor in the 64-year history of the award.  EDUCATION WEEK has the story.  You can watch the announcement (5:11 minutes) which was made public on the “CBS This Morning” show yesterday and read more about it by clicking here.              A former Colorado elementary school principal and the former Director of Teacher Effectiveness at the Colorado League of Charter Schools offer some concrete suggestions for improving those often formulative parent-teacher conferences.  They have co-authored a book titled Partnering With Students to Build Ownership of Learning which will be out later this spring.  Their ideas on contained in a story from ED WEEK.  By empowering students to own their learning and providing a meaningful conference experience for everyone involved,” the two authors maintain, “conferences can be changed forever and so can students! “
“Corporate Reform”
And finally, why does much of “corporate reform” demand changes to the public schools that most companies aren’t or wouldn’t do themselves?  That’s the question tackled by William Doyle, guest columnist on Valerie Strauss’ blog for The Washington Post.  It is a mistake to refer to failing education reforms as ‘corporate reform.’  No leading company,” he contends, “would place the entire foundation of its business on inaccurate, unreliable, system-distorting and often ‘bad’ data like multiple-choice standardized tests.  No leading company would roll out a multi-billion-dollar national venture (like Common Core) nationally without extensive field-and-market testing first.”

Dave Alpert

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




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