Ed News, Friday, May 1, 2015 Edition


“These days, many well-meaning school districts bring together teachers, coaches, curriculum supervisors, and a cast of thousands to determine what skills your child needs to be successful. Once these ‘standards’ have been established, pacing plans are then drawn up to make sure that each particular skill is taught at the same rate and in the same way to all children.  This is, of course, absurd.   It gets even worse when one considers the very real fact that nothing of value is learned permanently by a child in a day or two.”
Rafe Esquith, Lighting Their Fires: Raising Extraordinary Children in a Mixed-up, Muddled-up, Shook-up World     
Network for Public Education Conference
Not everyone was enamored of the NPE conference held over the past weekend in Chicago and highlighted extensively in the “Ed News.”  ALOED member Randy Traweek sends along a piece from Jim Horn at School Matters that’s critical of the players being invited to be part of the coalition supporting NPE.  In addition, he believes the NPE strategy of simply waiting out the corporate “reformers” may be shortsighted and, ultimately, unsuccessful as they have a vested (monetary?) interest in the long term takeover of the public schools.   Instead of at least demanding loyalty, if nothing else, to the defense of the public school homeland,” Horn argues, “Ravitch wants a coalition that is open to bad actors with long histories of deceit, treachery, and traitorous behavior.  In short, she wants to bring AFT and NEA into her headquarters, where knowledge of operations and strategy will be jointly developed with those that can be counted upon to provide active assistance to the enemy.  If there were, in fact, an enemy or enemies.”                If you missed the NPE conference and the extended reviews and videos in the last edition of the “Ed News,” you can catch up on two the the main sessions courtesy of the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  The first one (38:56 minutes) features a discussion between Diane Ravitch and Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis.  The second (65:37 minutes) includes a conversation with NEA president Lily Eskelsen Garcia and AFT president Randi Weingarten, again moderated by Diane Ravitch.               Former Oxy book club author Yong Zhao gave an interesting and well received presentation (55:31 minutes) at the conference.  You can view it, courtesy of vimeo, by clicking here.  Diane Ravitch raved about it on her website: “His speech was spectacular! He was witty, informative, actually hilarious. The audience loved him. . . . This is one of the best presentations I have ever seen about education today,” she enthused.  “Don’t take my word for it.  Judge for yourself.” 
Corporate Education Reforms Not Fit for Corporations
An article in the Wall St. Journal [Ed. note: Unfortunately, the original is behind a pay all] titled “The Trouble With Grading Employees” recently pointed out how a number of corporations are dropping the use of performance ratings because they tend to demoralize employees and promote a less efficient workplace.  So why do the corporate “reformers” promote just such a concept for the schools?  Good question.  Fortunately, Diane Ravitch’s blog was able to reprint the WSJ article so you can read why more and more companies are doing away with this type of rating and you’ll be free to contemplate an answer to the above question.  “Companies that have gotten rid of ratings say their employees feel better about their jobs,” the original story notes, “and actually listen to managers’ feedback instead of obsessing over a number.”  [Ed. note: The “Ed News” highlighted a similar reaction to the WSJ piece in Tuesday’s edition.]
Plot Thickens in LAUSD School Board Race 
The LAUSD school board race to be determined at the May 19 election between incumbent Bennett Kayser and challenger Ref Rodriguez took an odd turn recently.  District 5, which includes the area around Occidental College, features one candidate, Kayser, who has been a consistent and long-time critic of charter schools and Rodriguez, who co-founded and works for the Lakeview Charter Academy.   The district, apparently at the behest of board member Monica Garcia, a political ally of Rodriguez, decided to delay the public release of an audit of Lakeview Charter.  The board race has become a flashpoint for pro and anti-charter forces.  A piece posted on the L.A. Times website Tuesday evening has all the details of this latest twist in the campaign.  Diane Ravitch noted on her blog that  it should be a conflict of interest for a charter operator to be a member of the board that allegedly oversees his operation.  Los Angeles needs sunlight.  It needs to see the audit of Ref’s school.  It needs board members dedicated to serving the public interest, not the charter industry.”               NPR station 89.3KPCC obtained a copy of the audit and disclosed some of the findings               A follow-up story was posted on the L.A. Times website yesterday afternoon with the news that the LAUSD had agreed to release to the public the audit of Lakeview Charter.  The action came after a Public Records Act request by the paper and several other media outlets.  “The charter school was out of compliance with some terms and conditions of its agreement with L.A. Unified, auditors found. The review faults the school,” the article points out, “for not providing internal financial reports to the district on time and not supporting some transactions with adequate documentation. The school also repeatedly failed to maintain minimum financial reserves required by its charter agreement and by California law.”  [Ed. curious note: Neither one of the L.A. Times’ stories about the Lakeview audit (see above) made it into the print edition of the paper as of the publication of the “Ed News.”  I wonder why?  Could it be that Times endorsement of Rodriguez for the District 5 board seat?  I’ll leave an answer up to you.]
Closing Schools?
Peter Greene, over on the CURMUDGUCATION blog, has some issues with a recent article in the Wall St. Journal [Ed. note: Unfortunately, again behind a pay wall] by two researchers from the Fordham Institute that touts the closing of low-performing schools.  Fordham’s claim is simple– when schools are closed and the students are moved to a new school,” Greene summarizes, “those students gain forty-nine extra days of learning.  Closing the school and moving the students raises the student achievement.  That’s the claim. How is it baloney? Let me count the ways.”  Greene offer 4 specific responses to the authors’ claims and concludes “Closing schools and dispersing the students weakens the community, weakens the forces that are needed to help students rise and advance.  It is exactly the wrong thing to do, and therefore, proposing to do so ought to come with a pretty convincing list of large and transformative benefits.  Fordham is not making that case, not even remotely.”
8th Grade NAEP Results for U.S. History, Civics and Geography
The latest NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) results for 8th grade U.S. History, Civics and Geography were released on Wednesday.  The tests were given between January and March, 2014, to 29,000 students in 1,300 schools nationwide.  The last time the exams were administered was in 2010.  The results?  According to the report, “no significant change.”  EDUCATION WEEK has all the details about this latest report.  “The report also notes that students’ average test scores correlated with the education level attained by their parents,” the story mentions in regards to the achievement gap.  “Students whose parents finished high school and college did better on the tests than those whose parents ended their formal education earlier.”
The “Ed News” recently highlighted a number of reports about large numbers of students choosing to skip the ELA standardized tests, especially in New York.  Now that the math portion has concluded in New York the percentages of students opting-out is, in some cases, even higher.  The Long Island Press provides some of the latest figures.  “ Record-breaking numbers of students throughout Long Island and New York State refused to take the Common Core ELA (English Language Arts) exam two weeks ago,” it states, “and unprecedented scores opted out of the math portion of the standardized tests last week.”               The State of North Carolina does not allow students to opt-out of standardized tests for any reason.  The mother of a 9-year-old child who has severe learning disabilities and other serious disorders believes that making him take the tests is unfair and may even border on child abuse.  Her very poignant op-ed explaining why is in the Charlotte News & Observer.  It’s titled “Why NC Needs An Opt-Out Option for School Testing.”  “As his mother, I have spent all his life trying to protect him and doing what I believed to be best for him,” she movingly writes.  “So this did not sit well [that he was required “by law” to take the tests]. I envisioned him having to sit at a desk for three hours at a time, trying to answer questions he doesn’t know the answers to. To me, that is child abuse.”               THE HECHINGER REPORT conducts a Q & A with a third-grade teacher in Mississippi who describes “the changes and challenges” she’s faced as the state taught the Common Core and used Core-aligned, computer-based exams for the first time this year.  The piece is titled “Testing Gives Third-Graders Upset Stomachs, Tears and Even Fevers.”  The introduction of the Common Core went much better, BTW (by the way).
LAUSD/State Graduation Rates
According to a press release posted on the LAUSD website the graduation rates for district students exceeded expectations.  “The Los Angeles Unified School District achieved a graduation rate of 70 percent for 2013-14, according to figures released [Tuesday] by the California Department of Education,” it points out.  “That figure exceeds by three percent the District’s preliminary estimate last October.  For comprehensive high schools, the typical option for students in the ninth through 12th grade, final graduation rate of nearly 82 percent is higher than the 77 percent previously released.”               A similar press release was issued by the California Department of Education reporting statewide graduation rates for 2013-14 had increased to 80.8%, an increase of .4 percentage points from the previous year.  In 2010 the rate was 74.7%.
Poll on Sexual Assault at Oxy
Occidental College made the results of a poll on sexual assault on campus public this week.  Almost 8% of those surveyed revealed they’d been sexually assaulted.  630 students responded to the anonymous online questionnaire between Feb. 16 and March 13.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times reports on the poll.  One Oxy professor believes the survey is “flawed” and campus administrators caution against drawing conclusions from it since a random sample was not employed.  “Occidental is one of 57 colleges or universities that participated in the survey,” the article relates, “which was conducted by the Higher Education Data Sharing Consortium, a nonprofit based in Crawfordsville, Ind. . . . Occidental officials decided to release the survey now while classes were still in session because they wanted to be transparent, said campus spokesman James Tranquada. The school will make a presentation about the survey to students in the fall, he said.”
New Role for K-12 Librarians in Digital Age
The digital age and blended learning may be helping to recast the role of librarians on K-12 campuses.  EDUCATION WEEK describes how one librarian, at a school in Vancouver, Washington, is helping to alter the traditional role of librarians in light of new technologies and demands.  “Librarians have traditionally served an important role in school systems as teachers, particularly in teaching students how to access information,” the item explains.  “Now, in Vancouver and elsewhere, librarians’ roles are evolving, as districts count on them to help teachers use technology to improve instruction, and to troubleshoot problems with digital systems as they emerge.”
Atlanta Test Cheating Scandal
Yesterday, the presiding judge in the Atlanta test cheating case reduced the stiffest sentences he had meted out previously.  Three educators had been given 7 year prison terms with 13 years of probation and $25,000 fines.  Judge Baxter reduced those to 3 years in prison with 7 years probation and $10,000 in fines.  The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the latest developments in this story.                A piece in today’s L.A. Times provides some additional details to the reduced sentences.  It includes a short video (0:52 minutes) of a portion of the statement issued by the judge as to why he did what he did.
The Teaching Profession
Simply teaching is a difficult and time-consuming endeavor.  The author of this piece in EDUCATION WEEK argues that to be effective, teachers also need to become involved in political activities, as reluctant as they may be to do that.  “But: Curriculum is political,  he asserts.  “Standards are political.  Testing is political.  Funding is political.  Education is political.  Can teachers not be?”  He goes on to provide some examples of how teachers became “political” and urges you to do the same.
Many charter school chains are proud of the fact and tout that their teachers are non-union.  That’s not always the case.  A charter high school in Philadelphia recently voted overwhelmingly to  affiliate with the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints the press release issued by the AFT announcing the results.  It notes that the AFT now represents over 120 charters in 12 states.  Ravitch points out that leaves “only” 5,880 charters to go.               Dr. Mark Henry, superintendent of the Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in Texas, has an interesting proposal.  He notes that charter are often quick to take-over “failing” public schools.  He wants to know if public school districts should be allowed to take-over “failing” charters.  He lays out his idea on the district’s Superintendent’s Blog.  I have an even better prescription that Texas should try.  In my solution,” he suggests, “Cypress-Fairbanks ISD will create ‘The Cypress-Fairbanks ISD Opportunity School District’ to take over and manage failing charter schools.  Around 8.2 percent of public school campuses are classified as failing, but nearly 17 percent of charter schools are designated as failing.”
An Exemplary Teacher
And finally, with all the negative, depressing news out there these days about education, the “Ed News” would like you to read about an exemplary public school teacher.  University of Georgia professor Peter Smagorinsky has been penning an ongoing series in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on “Great Georgia Teachers.”  Here he describes a third-grade educator who really seems to understand what makes third-graders tick.  May we introduce you to Cameron Brooks from the Chase Street Elementary School in Athens, Georgia.  You’re welcome to smile and maybe feel a little better about the profession as you read about him.

Dave Alpert

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



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