Ed News, Tuesday, May 19, 2015 Edition


[Ed. note: The “Ed News” will be taking a short break for the Memorial Day holiday.  Look for the next issue on Friday, May 29.]
Monday, May 25, is the Memorial Day holiday.
Happy holiday.
Image result for memorial day 2015
“The working class had imposed upon them a sterile and authoritarian
educational system which mirrored the ethos of the corporate workplace.”
Anthony M. Platt
Boycott Walmart?
A reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog has suggested a national boycott of school supplies at Walmart stores.  Why?  Because the Walton Family Foundation is one of the prime funders of charters, vouchers, Teach for America and think tanks that support the corporate takeover of the public school system.  If that’s what they believe than why should people who support public education spend money in their stores?  
Charter Schools
The Pennsylvania School Boards Association has filed a “right to know” action against charters in that state in order to gain some transparency and, hopefully, some accountability as to how charters are spending taxpayer money.  The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette provides the details.  The requested items,” it notes, “include advertising costs, contracts with private management companies, advanced academic courses offered, salary and compensation information for all 180 brick and mortar and cyber charter schools in the state.  The Right-to-Know requests also ask for documents related to leases and real estate and donation information from foundations or educational improvement organizations.”
Should Calif. Districts Be Allowed to Increase the Money They Can Save for a Rainy Day?
Proposition 2, passed by state voters in November, allowed school districts to put aside money into a rainy day fund.  It capped how much they could stash in that account.  A bill introduced in the state Assembly (AB 1048) would repeal that cap.  An editorial in Friday’s L.A. Times urges the legislature to pass the bill.  The LAUSD has not taken a position on the proposal which irks the paper’s editorial board.
Impact of Corporate “Reform”
Daniel Katz, on his Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog, reviews the almost 15 years of corporate “reform” and asks “What have we gained?”  His answer: “Not much” and, in fact, we may have gotten it all wrong.  “A dominant narrative of the past decade and a half of education reform,” he suggests, “has been to highlight alleged persistent failures of our education system.  While this tale began long ago with the Reagan Administration report A Nation at Risk, it has been put into overdrive in the era of test based accountability that began with the No Child Left Behind Act.”               A member of the Milwaukee school board, on his Larry Miller’s Blog: Educate All Students, reports on an attempt by two Republican state legislators to finally kill off the Milwaukee Public Schools.  “ It’s out there now, the Republican plan to start peeling off Milwaukee Public Schools and handing them over to private operators.  And it’s awful,” Miller wails.  “Sponsored by suburban Republicans Rep. Dale Kooyega and Sen. Alberta Darling, it is full of bad ideas and presents a possible future for MPS that is bleaker than you can possibly imagine.”               Steve Nelson, head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan, begins his commentary in the HUFF POST EDUCATION blog with a simple statement: “Measure the wrong things and you’ll get the wrong behaviors.”  He goes on to lament the fact that most standardized tests measure the wrong things and thus yield ” wrong behaviors.”  Why do we continue to administer more and more high-stakes assessments?  It makes LOTS of money for certain groups of people.  Nelson is particularly concerned with a focus on standards and tests and the collection of data in the primary grades.  “These behaviors (pressing academic work on young children) are a direct result of measuring the wrong thing (test scores),” he continues.  “If we measured the right things (social development, curiosity, empathy, imagination and confidence), we would engage in a whole different set of education behaviors (play, socialization, arts programs, open-ended discovery).”
The Teaching Profession
There’s a new documentary film out called “Hear Our Teachers” which asks the question why do people listen to corporate “reformers” or politicians when it comes to issues of education rather than the people who are in classrooms every day, our teachers.  You can find the official website for the movie by clicking here and/or view the trailer (2 minutes) on vimeo.               Should teaching licenses earned in one state be valid in other states?  An interesting court case in Minnesota is grappling with that issue.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK handles the details.   “Ten teachers. . . . sued the Minnesota Board of Teaching last month, alleging the board has given cryptic, even contradictory guidance to would-be teachers from out of state, and that it has ignored legislative mandates to smooth the process for earning a teaching license in the state,” it explains.  “In all, the lawsuit claims, those barriers are preventing well-qualified candidates of color and those with experience teaching special populations from working in Minnesota, despite an apparent need for such educators.”              What should a teacher do when they’ve covered all the material in their subject area by the time standardized tests are administered and there is still 4 to 6 weeks left in the school year?  Do not panic or despair.  A third-year high school U.S. History teacher in Kentucky has come up with a project-based assessment idea to fill the time and guess what?  He found it to be a most valuable learning experience for both students and teacher.  He explains in detail how to pull the whole thing off in an item in EDUCATION WEEK.  “In the end, I learned more than my students,” he concludes.  “When you give students room to learn and build, they create great things.  I realized that planning for an entire year of project-based learning can be very challenging, especially with an end-of-course exam that focuses on content as the ultimate goal.  But implementing elements of self-driven topic selection and product creation in different lessons was very rewarding for my students—and their teacher.”
Boost in Education Funds in California Hailed
Gov. Brown’s proposed budget, released Thursday and highlighted in the Friday edition of the “Ed News,” included a substantial boost in education spending.  Education leaders up and down the Golden State were well pleased with the increases.  A story posted on the L.A. Times website on Friday morning surveyed some of the responses from various superintendents and board members.  “The budget largesse will boost per-pupil spending by $3,000 next year over 2011-12, a 45% increase,” the piece notes.  “It will also provide more money for training in new state academic standards, adult and career technical education and support for students who are low income, in foster care, challenged by limited English or special needs.”
Impact of Transient Students
Collecting data and administering standardized tests are big aims of the corporate “reformers.”  One fly in the ointment is the situation faced by some school districts that deal with a high number of transient students who check in and out of schools on a regular basis and don’t get the benefit of steady, consistent instruction. Steven Singer, on his gadflyonthewallblog, is a veteran English teacher in Pennsylvania who deals with a large number of just such students in his class on a day-to-day basis.  He describes the situation in his piece he titles “Data Abuse–When Transient Kids Fall Through the Cracks of Crunched Numbers.”  “Many of my students are transients,” Singer explains.  “An alarming number of my kids haven’t been in my class the entire year.  They either transferred in from another school, transferred out, or moved into my class from another one.  A few had moved from my academic level course to the honors level Language Arts class.  Many more had transferred in from special education courses.  In total, these students make up 44% of my roster.”
Student Data and Privacy Concerns
Concerns regarding the protection of student privacy have come to the fore as more and more personal information is being collected about students and adults.  The author of this piece for EDUCATION WEEK is the U.S. chief technology officer of Microsoft Education and he offers “Five Principles for Securing Student-Data Privacy.”   “From student-identity theft to the sale of student information for corporate gain,” he begins, “there is no shortage of news about challenges associated with the growing presence of technology in our nation’s schools and classrooms.  And while these challenges affect organizations across all industries and social sectors, constrained financial resources make school systems particularly vulnerable.” [Ed. note: I wonder if the fact he now works for Microsoft makes his commentary somewhat suspect?  I’ll leave that answer up to my readers.]
LAUSD School Board Elections
How important have school board elections become to certain political interest groups?  If one looks at the huge amounts of money being spend on the races, the only answer to the question is “VERY important.”  NPR station 89.3KPCC has an analysis of the dollars being committed to 3 LAUSD board campaigns being contested in a city election today and why the groups have become interested in them.  The stakes in this year’s election are especially high because the new board will select the district’s next superintendent,” it mentions.  “His or her leadership of the country’s second largest school district will be closely watched both statewide and nationally.  Donors looking to influence education policy may be migrating from national to local elections where their dollars can have a greater impact, said Raphael Sonenshein, director of the Pat Brown Institute of Public Affairs at Cal State L.A. ”  Be sure to view the brief video (59 seconds) that explains the impact of PAC money on local school board races.
As more and more states and districts are transitioning from taking standardized tests with paper and pencil to taking them on computers more and more teachers are discovering that some of their students lack the tech skills to properly demonstrate the knowledge they’ve gained.  A story in EDUCATION WEEK explores this relatively new phenomenon.  To close that skills gap,” it explains, “schools are increasingly making time in their days for old-fashioned typing instruction—translated to a computer keyboard—and other skills such as scrolling, mouse-clicking, and dragging-and-dropping.  But spending time on those computer skills has ignited a debate: Is it just another form of ‘test prep’ that siphons away precious classroom time, or is it a wise investment in the digital fluency students need to thrive in all aspects of their lives?”               THE TEXAS TRIBUNE is reporting that Pearson has lost most of its contract to provide testing materials in the Lone Star state.  The company has been providing assessments and support materials to Texas since the 1980s but education officials are in negotiations with ETS, Educational Testing Service, for the $340 million contract.  “As the Legislature moved to reduce the state’s standardized testing program in response to widespread outcry from parents and school leaders in 2013,” the piece mentions, “the state’s contract with Pearson became the focus of much criticism.”               EDUCATION WEEK reported on a similar situation in California where that state announced a $240 million deal earlier this month with ETS to provide testing materials.  The company was selected over rival bids from McGraw-Hill Education CTB and Pearson.  The latter promptly complained that the bidding process was flawed.  “ ETS has the current contract to oversee testing in California,” the article notes.  “But winning the new deal for statewide testing linked to the common-core standards marks a significant victory for the Lawrenceville, N.J.-based vendor, which is a well-established player in the assessment world.  The overall market for summative assessments has been valued at about $1.2 billion a year, and the California deal, worth about $80 million per year, would represent a major chunk of that.”
Superintendent Needed
With the departure of Supt. John Deasy last year the LAUSD is in need of a new chief.  One of the reasons the 3 school board races being decided today are so crucial is that the next board will make the selection.  With that in mind, Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, has a piece titled “How Not to Choose a Schools Superintendent.”  It doesn’t focus on the LAUSD but describes how the Montgomery County, Maryland, Schools went about selecting a leader.  Members of the LAUSD school board may want to pay attention since the situations in the two districts are eerily similar including a divided board and an interim superintendent.  
An Interesting (Strange?) Court Case
“Can You Steal an Education?” is the title of an intriguing story from THE HECHINGER REPORT about a mother and father who are being charged with theft of services for providing an education to their 8-year old daughter that she was not entitled to.  If you are a bit confused, join the club.  The article does an excellent job of laying out the facts and clearing up the issues.  “The case is one of a handful in recent years,” it notes, “in which families living in districts with failing schools have been accused of ‘stealing an education’ [by enrolling their children in wealthy districts].  Some have been heavily fined for lying about where they live on official district documents.  Others have been criminally charged and, in some cases, jailed. ”  Should this type of action be a crime?  You be the judge.
Students Sue Compton Unified
5 students and 3 teachers filed a class-action lawsuit yesterday charging the Compton Unified School District with failing to provide them with the proper health services to deal with the trauma and violence they deal with on a ongoing basis.  Because of this the district has not fulfilled its obligation to provide the pupils with an appropriate education.  A story in today’s L.A. Times has the complicated details of the case.  “The lawsuit will test whether ‘complex trauma’ qualifies as a disability under federal law,” it explains, “which would require school districts to offer special academic and mental health services.  If successful, it could vastly expand support for scores of struggling students, especially in low-income, high-crime minority neighborhoods.”
It’s Graduation Season
And finally, as May winds down and June approaches, it’s that time of year again–graduation season.  Valerie Strauss turns her column in The Washington Post over to a seasoned educator in Phoenix who asked her high school seniors to reflect on what they’ve learned over the past 13 years of formal schooling and what are their fears for the future.  The responses she shares are both funny and insightful.  The nation’s future seems to be in good hands.               And then there’s this: Stephen Colbert, the much-missed host of the “Colbert Report” on Comedy Central delivered the commencement address at Wake Forest University yesterday.  If you are a fan of Colbert, who will be taking over for David Letterman later this year, you know he’s VERY funny and his humor can be quite topical and cutting.  Valerie Strauss does everybody a favor by reprinting his speech on her blog.  Enjoy it along with the item above. 

Dave Alpert

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

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