Ed News, Friday, May 15, 2015 Edition


 Voting reminder: The L.A. City General Election will take place on Tuesday, May 19.  Polls will be open for those of you with races to decide from 7 am to 8 pm.  Be sure to vote if you are registered.
I find television very educational.  Every time someone switches it on,
I go into another room and read a good book.
–Groucho Marx
An editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Times took the school board to task for creating unrealistic graduation guidelines that would require all students to meet the A-G admission requirements for UC/CSU.  A story in the paper last week indicated that up to 75% of this year’s sophomores were unlikely to graduate because of the stringent requirements.  “The board obviously must heed Supt. Ramon C. Cortines and back away from the policy,” it suggests.  “In fact, it should drop the A-G requirement altogether and find more effective ways to prepare larger numbers of students for college.”            The L.A. municipal election is this Tuesday and there are 3 LAUSD school board seats on the ballot.  Interestingly, the “iPad-for-all” fiasco is a major issue being used against the 3 incumbents in the race.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times reviews all 3 campaigns including the one for District 5 which encompasses the area around Occidental College.  It pits incumbent Bennett Kayser, who is backed by UTLA, against challenger Ref Rodriguez, a charter school co-founder and strong advocate for charters.  Seats are also being contested in District 3 which includes the west San Fernando Valley and District 7 in south L.A. and the Harbor area.  George McKenna who represents District 1 faced no opposition in the primary and was automatically re-elected.               In other district news, the same paper reports that Supt. Ramon Cortines had his contracted extended by the board through June, 2016.  “The superintendent, who is 82, was brought in last October when then-Supt. John Deasy resigned under pressure,” it notes. “At the time, Cortines, who came out of retirement, was widely viewed as an interim choice to keep the L.A. Unified School District from being leaderless during a crisis.  He accepted a contract that would have expired at the end of June;  he also specified that the word ‘interim’ would not be part of his title.  He did not want anyone in doubt about who was in charge while he was there.”                If you don’t think who is elected to school board seats is important than you need to fathom the amounts of money being spent on 3 races in the LAUSD.  An item in today’s L.A. Times will try to put it in perspective for you.  “Total spending in the battle for three spots on the Los Angeles Board of Education has increased sharply since the March primary,” it begins, “reaching nearly $4.6 million, as interest groups vie to influence the nation’s second-largest school system.  The top spender is a group supporting charter schools, which has poured in more than $2 million. Next are committees controlled by the teachers union and its allies, which have spent more than $1 million. These groups are backing opposing candidates in two races, but have settled on the same candidate in a third.”
Peggy Robertson, aka Peg With Pen and a co-founder of group United Opt Out, has joined the growing chorus who point out the opt-out movement is NOT the work of the teachers unions but is truly a grassroots phenomenon.  She forcefully makes that point in her commentary.  “The public schools are not to blame for society’s ills nor can the public schools fix society’s ills on their own. We must demand social policies to end childhood poverty,” she thunders, “and to create equitable funding for our public schools.  We know what needs to be done.  Let’s do it.”
Common Core & Testing
Wendy Lecker, columnist for the Hearst Connecticut Media Group and senior attorney at the Education Law Center, has a commentary in the Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate opposing the Common Core State Standards claiming “many of the standards are bad for education and demand developmentally inappropriate educational practices in schools.”  She proceeds to review some of the latest research that supports her position.               What if you could accurately predict how many students would score proficient or above on state standardized tests WITHOUT GIVING THE TESTS?  Christopher Tienken, an associate professor of Education Administration at Seton Hall University, and colleagues have done just that using socio-economic data from the U.S. census like percentage of single-family households and parents with high school diplomas.  Tienken reviews his research on his Chris Tienken blog.  It’s quite intriguing.  “Colleagues and I predicted the percentages of students scoring proficient or above for grades 6,7,8 during the 2009-2012 school years as well,” he writes.  “For example, we predicted accurately for approximately 70% of the districts on the 2009 NJ mathematics and language arts tests.  Recently, another colleague and I predicted the grade 8 NJ mathematics and language percentages proficient or above for over 85% of the almost 400 districts in our 2012 sample. . . . The findings from these and other studies,” Tienken concludes, “raise some serious questions about using results from state standardized tests to rank schools or compare them to other schools in terms of standardized test performance.”  If you have some extra time, Tienken includes two videos with some excellent information for you or your friends and family.  The first one (3:28) is titled “Standardized Testing is Not Teaching” and the second one (13:30) is titled “The Assessment Landscape.”                Peter Greene was so enthralled by Tienken’s article that he wrote one titled “Good News! We Can Cancel the Tests Now!” on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  “Using data that has nothing to do with grades, teaching techniques, pedagogical approaches, teacher training, textbook series, administrative style, curriculum evaluation— in short, data that has nothing to do with what goes on inside the school building– Tienken,” Greene rhapsodizes, “has been able to predict the proficiency rate for a school.”
Student Privacy & Learning
Student privacy has become a big point of concern recently as education-related businesses attempt to data mine information from pupils they come in contact with for a number of possibly nefarious purposes.  Why are companies so interested in collecting this material?  Take a wild guess!  THERE’S BIG MONEY TO BE MADE!  Rachel Strickland and Leonie Haimson are co-chairs of the Parent Coalition for Student Privacy and they’ve written a column on this topic for The (Fort Wayne) Journal Gazette.  In this age of ubiquitous digital technology reams of material are collected on individual students every day.  The authors recount a number of them.  “Ostensibly, schools want real-time access to this data,” they write, “to offer students ‘personalized’ learning, government agencies want the data to evaluate programs or teachers, and companies want it for product development and to market their wares directly to students.  In most cases, there are few, if any, legal restrictions on how this highly sensitive data are used and disclosed to other third parties.”               Great strides have been made in the use of digital learning.  EDUCATION WEEK has a piece on the latest state-of-the-art products and techniques for promoting hands-on student learning.  It reviews 4 different new uses of ed tech as presented at the April 16-20 conference of the American Educational Research Association.                Here’s an important topic that often gets short shrift: gifted education.  The author of this item in EDUCATION WEEK has a recently published book and is an advocate for gifted students and a former public school teacher.  The title of her commentary is “Gifted Education is About the Whole Child.”  “Giftedness is so much more than an educational designation administered by a school system,” she points out.  “It is brain-wiring from birth, an inborn trait that has strong emotional and social facets, not just educational behaviors.  Giftedness is a degree of brain functioning one is born with, and a gifted person’s above-average intellectual ability is only a part of his or her life.”
Bill Gates
Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, whose latest book The Educator and the Oligarch is about Bill Gates, takes time out from his busy schedule to dissect a recent interview about education with Gates, Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger on CNBC.  Cody believes that, after all these years, Gates still appears clueless when it comes to many of his pronouncements.  “The latest interview with Bill Gates on CNBC,” he bemoans, “has the world’s richest man discussing education with little evidence that he has learned much over the past six years.  Is he paying attention?  In a bubble?  What the heck is going on?”  Cody includes a link to a segment (7:34 minutes) of the CNBC interview.
Mike Klonsky, on his Small Talk Blog, says straight away that he’s not anti-charter.  But I am against what they’ve become and the way charter schools have been taken over by networks of politically-connected corporate privateers. They have co-opted the language of the small-schools movement, i.e., ‘choice’ and ‘autonomy’,” he continues, “in order to further debase teachers, erode public space and public decision making, to bust teacher unions, and to reap profits from urban gentrification.”  Klonsky offers the example of a Florida chain called Mavericks to demonstrate what he doesn’t like about charters in general.               Ask yourself if this scenario is fair: Several charter schools in Arizona are actually making a profit while the local public schools struggle with ongoing budget cuts.  CBS5, the local network affiliate in Phoenix, has a report on just such a situation.  It includes a story and a short video segment (4:59 minutes) about the station’s investigation. 
The Teaching Profession
Michael Hiltzik’s column in the “Business” section of Sunday’s L.A. Times raises the issue of a recent lawsuit, Bain vs. California Teachers Association, filed by several California instructors against six teachers’ unions. The plaintiffs in the case are being supported monetarily by StudentsFirst, founded by Michelle Rhee, and the Walton Foundation.  “The lawsuit purports to defend the ‘free speech’ rights of its plaintiffs, four California schoolteachers,” Hiltzik complains.  “But its real goal is to silence the collective voice of union members on political and educational issues.  Its lesson is simple: If you don’t like the decisions your organization or community reaches through the democratic process, just refuse to pay for them.”  He goes on to explain the issues involved in the case quite clearly.               Walt Gardner, writing for EDUCATION WEEK, offers some brief comments in opposition to the lawsuit“I see the lawsuit as yet another attempt to undermine teachers’ unions,” he writes in obvious agreement with Hiltzik.  “The irony is that these four teachers, like others who agree with their view, want it both ways.  They have absolutely no problem accepting higher salaries and better teaching conditions that the union negotiated, but they don’t want to pay the full price for accepting them. If they genuinely believe in their stated opposition, they should refuse to accept the higher salaries they get.  Of course, they won’t because the real issue is not what they claim.”              A new poll from the American Federation of Teachers and the Badass Teachers Association surveyed perceptions about working conditions among 30,000 educators.  It’s highlighted in an article from EDUCATION WEEK.  Among the most major on-the-job stressors the surveyed teachers cited are improper professional development around new initiatives, negative media portrayals, and uncertain job expectations.”  The story includes a link to the full report (7 pages) titled “Quality of Worklife Survey.”  Another surprising finding: when asked how “enthusiastic” they were about their profession, only 53% of respondents said they “agreed strongly” or “somewhat strongly.”               A National Board-certified ESL teacher who has worked with grades K-12 offers “3 Ways to Use Testing as a Learning Tool.”  If you read her piece you’ll note she’s not referring to standardized tests.  Her suggestions can be found in a story in EDUCATION WEEK.                Two veteran teachers, Marla Kilfoyle (29 years) and Melissa Tomlinson (13 years) offer a conversation on the LA Progressive about “Why Teachers Teach.”  “Education should be an opportunity for all.  It should be about best practices that are based on research and evidence,” they conclude.  “Corporate education reform is NOT working to close the opportunity gap.  Instead we are experiencing more cuts to programs and staff that actually widen the gap.  Why are policy makers and politicians so willing to ignore the truth?”
Does Poverty Make a Difference in Student Learning? 
A prominent researcher in the Department of Economics at Harvard University, who has previously argued that poverty doesn’t play a role in student learning and the incomes they earn down the road, has possibly changed his tune.  John Thompson argues in the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog that Raj Chetty and two other colleagues are now writing that where a child lives is a major predictor of that child’s future economic prospects.  [Ed. note: That sounds like a turnaround to me!]  “Test-driven school reformers,” Thompson complains, “pushed the bizarre claim that it was poor ‘teacher quality,’ as opposed to the lack of jobs, segregation, and other complex, interrelated factors, that was the key to fighting extreme poverty.”
Great Budget News in California
Gov. Brown unveiled his 2015-16 budget plan yesterday and it contained some excellent news for UC students, K-12 districts and the community college system.  With revenues coming in at higher than expected levels the governor decided to funnel most of those dollars to those groups.  A prominent front-page story in today’s L.A. Times has the good news.  “The governor’s budget is seeking $6 billion more for K-12 schools and community colleges over his January budget,” it reports, “with a third of that targeted for students who are low-income, learning English or in foster care.  Brown also proposed an additional $2.4 billion to help train teachers and provide instructional materials on new state standards in English and math known as Common Core, and $60 million for students with special needs.”  The LAUSD stands to gain between $300 million and $400 million in  increased revenue based on the governor’s proposal.
Vaccination Bill Passes Calif. Senate
And finally, the California state Senate passed a controversial bill on Thursday that would end the personal-belief exemption from the vaccine mandate.  The vote was 25 to 10 with most Republicans voting no.  An article in today’s L.A. Times describes the legislation.  “The measure, which must still go through the Assembly, would eliminate parents’ ability to opt out of state immunization requirements on the basis of their personal beliefs,” it explains.  “It would excuse children from vaccinations only because of medical problems, such as a weakened immune system, if verified by a physician. . . .  More than 13,500 kindergarten students in California have waivers based on their parents’ beliefs.  The bill was amended recently to give parents flexibility to put their children in home schooling or independent study programs.”

Dave Alpert

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



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