Ed News, Friday, May 8, 2015 Edition


“Learning is important. It is a way to make
a life better for yourself and your family.” 
  Rosie Thomas ,  Iris And Ruby
LAUSD Graduation Requirements
Back in 2005 the LAUSD approved new graduation requirements that would use the A-G subject guidelines needed for admission to the UC/CSU systems.  The first students it would impact would be the class of 2017, today’s sophomores.  A recent check by the district revealed the startling fact that as many as 3 out of 4 of those 10th graders were NOT on track to graduate with their class. Wednesday’s L.A. Times has the disturbing details.  “This [situation] has prompted some in the L.A. Unified School District, including Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, to suggest reconsidering the requirements,” it notes, “which were approved a decade ago to better prepare students for college. The plan came after years of complaints that the nation’s second-largest school system was failing to help underprivileged students become eligible for and succeed in college.  

In an interview, Cortines said the effort is laudable, but that it would be unfair to penalize students who otherwise could graduate.”
Common Core and Testing
The group Parents Across America (PAA) issued a statement this week in opposition to the Common Core and testing and they called for an “immediate moratorium” on the standards and the assessments.  You can read their release with the reasons why they’ve taken this position on their website.              THE HECHINGER REPORT has an interesting story titled “Stakes for ‘High-Stakes’ Tests Are Actually Pretty Low” that suggests that the importance of this year’s assessments is relatively low for students and only marginally higher for teachers.  The piece includes some maps that  demonstrate the impact of the exams this year on a state-by-state basis.  (Ed. Note: In an “update” to the story they do concede that the impact for students and teachers in the future could be much higher.]              The over emphasis on standardized testing has placed so much focus on math and English, classes like physical education are more and more being drastically reduced or eliminated.  A story from truthout examines the phenomenon and what it all means for student health and well being.  “Since the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001,” it notes, “44 percent of school administrators admit that they’ve cut physical education or recess to focus on test prep.”               The “Room for Debate” feature in The New York Times tackles the question “Is Testing Students the Answer to America’s Education Woes?”  Arguing in favor of the proposition is Patricia Levesque, former deputy chief of staff for education under Gov. Jeb Bush and the chief executive officer for the nonprofit Foundation for Excellence in Education.  In opposition is Kevin Welner, professor of education and director of the National Education Policy Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder.  You can read their extensive back-and-forth arguments by clicking here.               John Oliver’s feature on standardized testing on his HBO show (see Tuesday’s “Ed News”) must have hit a nerve as it drew some prompt rebukes from the pro-testing crowd.  He got a “Dear John” letter from the Deputy Director of Policy for a group called education post and another blast from the same source written by Peter Cunningham, Executive Director of the organization.               Mitchell Robinson, on his eponymous blog, excoriates Cunningham for his criticisms of Oliver.   “Let’s be clear: there is nothing ‘reasonable’ about Mr. Cunningham’s agenda of more tests, more accountability for teachers and schools, and more charter schools,” Robinson responds.  “Its the same old reformers’ mantra, repackaged with a nicer smile, and tepid requests for civility.  But the end game is the same: punish students and teachers, use data inappropriately, and turn the public schools into private profit centers.”               Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog quickly sided with Oliver and Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, reviewed the entire kerfuffle and also supported Oliver.               Diane Ravitch’s blog has a brief item from a teacher who was hired to score Pearson’s standardized test essays.  The person notes that the scoring rubrics are set up so that most students will not pass and no student has ever achieved a top score, at lease at the 5th grade level. 
Charter Schools
The New York Times recently published two articles (highlighted in the “Ed News”) about the Success Academy Charter Chain in New York.  True, they achieved high test scores but their philosophy and methods were highly criticized.  The items drew a prompt response from Eva Moscowitz and others (also highlighted in the “Ed News”).  Now Russ Walsh, on his Russ on Reading  blog, checks in with a piece titled “How Do You Spell Success (Academy)?”  in which he’s created an acrostic using the letters s-u-c-c-e-s-s to represent how he feels about the chain and its claims.   “[It’s] easier to view poor children as having deficits that must be remediated, rather than as vital, complex human beings with a variety of strengths and weaknesses,” he complains, “who, like all children, are seeking to find their place in the world.  

Success Academy achieves its very narrow successes through what can only be called the abuse of children.”  

Walsh includes links to the original NYT items.               This week happens to be National Charter Schools Week and even Pres. Obama is jumping on the bandwagon by issuing a presidential proclamation about the event.  However, Paul Thomas, an associate professor of education at Furman University, wonders what all the hoopla is about. His commentary appears on ALTERNET.  “What, Exactly, are We Celebrating About Charter Schools?” he asks in the title of his piece.  “When the President asks us to celebrate and increase support for charter schools—which are essentially little different from the public schools they seek to reform— he has missed the larger point,” Thomas concludes. “We don’t need feckless celebration; what we need are the social reform policies and support of public schools that would render school choice entirely unnecessary.”

School Law
If a student posted on his/her Facebook page that a teacher was “just a bitch” and “she needs to be shot” would that be considered a threat of violence or protected free speech?  The judge in an Oregon case ruled on just such a situation.  The decision?  Protected free speech.  If that leaves you speechless than you need to read the story in EDUCATION WEEK.  It involves a 14-year-old 8th grader, his Health teacher and an in-school suspension. 
The Profession 
A college counselor at an elite private school in the Upper East Side of Manhattan leaves his post to take a similar position at a low-income, inner-city public school campus in Brooklyn and he and his wife write a book about his experiences.  Why would he make such a drastic and dramatic change?  THE HECHINGER REPORT conducts a Q & A with the gentleman in question who provides an answer to that question and several others.  “I left because I grew increasingly uneasy with my role in a system that was so clearly structured to favor the privileged,” he answers simply.  “The longer I spent in the job, the more clear it became to me what a tremendous impact quality counseling and advocacy had on where students applied and where they got in.  The idea that our college admissions system functioned as a meritocracy—or even resembled one—seemed more and more empty.  The playing field was anything but level.  And I felt like I was playing for the wrong team.”               Newly re-elected Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel is celebrating Teacher Appreciation Week by offering educators in the Chicago Public School system a 7% pay cutMike Klonsky’s SmallTalk Blog offers some of the reasons why hizzoner is taking this vindictive action. “ He’s determined to show [CTU president] Karen Lewis  who’s boss,” Klonsky writes.  “How dare she/they endorse his opponent, Chuy Garcia in the mayor’s race?”
NPE Conference Wrap-Up
Anthony Cody, a co-founder and current treasurer of the Network for Public Education, attended the group’s second annual conference in Chicago last month (covered extensively in the “Ed News”).  In this post, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, he offers a summary and overview of the gathering.  He mentions the first ever “NPE movie night” in which several education-related films were screened including some clips from “Go Public” about the Pasadena USD which ALOED showed on the Oxy campus in October.  “Another way this conference made history.” Cody notes, “is by being the largest gathering of education activists in the nation.  This activism in support of real change in public education is emerging as a real social movement, and the Network for Public Education has created events that bring this movement together.”
New Standards for School Administrators
The Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Policy Board for Educational Administration have been working together to rewrite new standards for school principals, assistant principals and other school leaders.  They are planning to publicly release their latest draft next week but that version is drawing criticism from some education quarters.  An item in EDUCATION WEEK describes what’s in the newest document and what some groups and individuals are concerned about.  “The proposed new version of the principal standards—known as the Interstate School Leaders Licensure Consortium Standards—were released for public comment last fall,” it explains, “and have been subjected to major revisions ever since. Most states use the standards for their school leaders.”
Exemplary Public High Schools
Carol Burris, award-winning high school principal from New York and Kevin Welner, professor in the School of Education at the University of Colorado, Boulder, piloted a program called “Schools of Opportunity.”  This week on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, they announced the first Gold Award (5 schools) and Silver Award winners (12 schools).
“These high schools use research-based practices to ensure that all students have rich opportunities to succeed,” Burris and Welner write about the criteria for recognition. “Some are working against great odds.  All put students, not scores, first.”  All 17 campuses were from New York or Colorado where the program was first piloted.  Next year the idea is to expand the project nationwide.
Corporate Reform
The resident “poet” on Diane Ravitch’s blog has a new offering.  This one is a parody of the Lewis Carroll item called “The Walrus and the Carpenter” and is titled “The Billionaire and the Reformer.”  If you’re not familiar with the original, you can find it by clicking here.               Anthony Cody, writing on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, thinks it’s time for the Gates Foundation to abandon, what Cody refers to as, their “EdReform 2.0.”  Cody reminds readers about how the philanthropy touted small schools as “the answer” beginning around 2000 before backing away from that idea (EdReform 1.0?) in 2009.  “There is an entire sector of education think tanks,” he posits, “and advocacy groups that exist only because of funding from Gates and other corporate philanthropies. These organizations have driven US education into a rut, a death spiral circling around the vortex of meaningless test scores.”
Teacher Appreciation Week
And finally, we conclude this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week with a couple items of appreciation.  Steven Singer, on his gadflyonthewallblog says a heartfelt “thank you” to all the excellent teachers who shaped and guided him to where he is today.  “They say teaching is the one profession that creates all the others.  That teachers affect eternity; no one can tell where their influence stops.  And it’s certainly true in my life,” he relates.  “I wouldn’t be the person I am today without a string of excellent educators.  For better or worse, I am the product of decades of first-rate instruction and inspiration.”               Thanks to Susie Smith, ALOED board member, who forwarded this YouTube video (2:52 minutes) titled “So God Made A Teacher.”   It begins “And on the 8th day God looked down . . . . and made a teacher.”  It’s based on the Paul Harvey poem “So God Made A Farmer.”
Have a nice, dry weekend!

Dave Alpert

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

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