Ed News, Friday, May 29, 2015 Edition


“Actually, all education is self-education. A teacher is only a guide, to point out the way, and no school, no matter how excellent, can give you education.

What you receive is like the outlines in a child’s coloring book.
You must fill in the colors yourself.”
Louis L’Amour
LAUSD School Board Election Results
It may be old news by now but in case you missed the outcome of the 3 board races, last Thursday’s L.A. Times discussed the results and the ramifications for the LAUSD.  The big race in District 5, which encompasses the area around Occidental College, was won by challenger and charter-school supporter Ref Rodriguez over one-term incumbent Bennett Kayser.  “Supporters of charter schools” the story notes, “won a groundbreaking election victory in Los Angeles this week, putting one of their leaders, for the first time, on the governing board of the nation’s second-largest school system.”  A second incumbent, Tamara Galatzan, a strong supporter of former Supt. John Deasy, was also ousted.  You can get full election results from the L.A. City Clerk’s website by clicking here.  The voter turn-out for the school board elections was a paltry 7.64% Ugh!
The Teaching Profession
Thousands of teachers in a number of districts across Washington State staged strikes and one-day walkouts to protest the lack of progress by the state legislature on previously voter approved measures dealing with school funding and salaries.  Al Jazeera America has the details.  “Teachers across the state,” it explains, “are calling for the legislature to fund smaller class sizes at every level, as required by a voter initiative that has become law.  Lawmakers have so far failed to implement the initiative because of lack of agreement on a budget to fully fund public education.  Striking teachers are also demanding competitive pay and benefits.”               Former Sec. of Labor in the Clinton administration and current UC Berkeley Professor of Public Policy Robert Reich has been offering “10 Ideas to Save the Economy” in advance of the 2016 election.  In this one (#5) he proposes 6 ways to “Reinvent Education.”   You’ll certainly like his final suggestion: increase teacher pay.  His entertaining video (2:55 minutes) comes courtesy of his Robert Reich blog.               Jeff  Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, believes that education issues have gotten short shrift in the last two national political campaigns in 2012 and 2014.  However, he believes that may be changing as the 2016 election approaches.  He sees K-12 policies taking a more prominent role on progressive agendas and he cites the Robert Reich video (see above) as a prominent example, among several others.  “There are now signs education – in its entirety, from pre-K through college – may be taking its place as a mainstay on progressive platforms. . . .  A progressive stance on education,” he further suggests, “can win elections. This has been most evident in the recent victories achieved by progressive mayoral candidates in New York City, Newark, and now Philadelphia.”                An award-winning veteran teacher in Connecticut was fired from his job when a student asked him to read and discuss a poem by Allen Ginsberg in his AP English class.  THE DAILY BEAST has the sad story of David Olio who was let down by his district and even his union and how teachers are rapidly losing their independence and rights.   “To many, Olio’s case points to a changing culture around education,” it points out, “one in which teachers are on a hair trigger vulnerable to losing their livelihoods because of declining union protections and the rise of high-stakes testing.”   Read this one and weep for us all!              How hard is it to teach in a high-poverty school as compared to working in one with mostly middle-income families?  The answer to that question is highlighted in the yearly “Teaching, Empowering, Leading and Learning” survey featured in a story in the Tampa Bay Times.  It focuses on schools in the Tampa, Florida, area but the findings can certainly be applied nationwide.  “The challenge of staffing high-needs schools stymies many districts,” the article states, “as seasoned teachers often opt for less stressful jobs in middle-class neighborhoods.  Despite their best efforts, districts end up filling vacancies in their highest-poverty schools with teachers who are new to the district or right out of college.”                 Along that same line, what do top teachers think are the major obstacles to student learning?  An item in The Washington Post mentions “family stress” and “poverty” as the main culprits.  Those findings are from a survey released last Wednesday of the 2015 State Teachers of the Year from around the country.  Wouldn’t they seem to have a better window on the problem than those corporate “reformers” and politicians who haven’t been in a classroom on a regular basis since they ended their formal education many decades ago?  Good question.  “The survey, released . . . . by the Council of Chief State School Officers and Scholastic Inc., polled the 56 Teachers of the Year,” The Post item explains, “a small but elite group of educators considered among the country’s best, on a range of issues affecting public education.”  The story includes a link to the full survey with lots of other interesting ideas from some of the top teachers from around the nation
Opt-Out Movement
EDUCATION WEEK has begun “a four-part conversation on the opt-out movement.”  The first is an opposing view written by a middle school science teacher in Kentucky titled “Why the Opt-Out Movement Won’t Fix Testing.”  He believes that having students refuse to take the assessments is the wrong approach.  “While I can sympathize with opt-out parents,” he states, “I can’t condone their response.  Pulling students out of testing sends the wrong message.  It states, ‘I don’t agree, so my child doesn’t have to participate.’  If parents truly feel there is a problem with state testing, shouldn’t they advocate not just for their child but for all children?  This means actively trying to change the system and create better tests.  Opting out is a passive response that hopes to incite change through inconvenience.”                 Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for sending along an intriguing article from The New York Times that graphically illustrates how the opt-out movement has grown in the Empire State over the past 3 years.  A series of colored maps demonstrate the rapid increase in the number of students refusing to take high-stakes tests.  “Across New York State, a small if vocal movement urging a rejection of standardized exams took off this year,” it reports, “maturing from scattered displays of disobedience into a widespread rebuke of state testing policies.”               On Tuesday, the PBS NEWSHOUR program ran an audio (7:15 minutes) segment on what brought about the opt-out movement.  You can listen to the piece and/or read a transcript by clicking here.                Peggy Robertson, a co-founder of the United Opt-Out group, writes a piece on her Peg with Pen website in the form of a letter to the correspondent of the PBS item (above).  She offers some points of clarification to it.  “I do wish that someone would point out the following regarding Opt Out,” she concludes, “because this is by far the most important point: Opt Out is not an anti-testing movement. It is a movement to reclaim public schools and to demand that our schools receive equitable funding and a whole and developmentally appropriate education for all children.”                “The Bald Piano Guy” (who the “Ed News” introduced you to in two earlier editions) is at it again.  His latest tune comes courtesy of the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog and is titled “Seen Them Opting-Out on Broadway (America 2017).”  The video (3:25 minutes) talks about the movement in New York but his theme is certainly universal.  [Ed. note: “H/T” means hat tip, BTW.  I had to look it up.]
2016 Election
About a week ahead of Bernie Sanders’ official entry into the Democratic race for president in 2016 on Tuesday, Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, briefly compared Sanders’ policies on K-12 education with Hillary Clinton’s.  He went on to provide a list of key public education issues that he thinks any candidate needs to address.               With the promise of a new president in 2016 comes the guarantee of a new secretary for the U.S. Dept. of Education.  Arne Duncan’s tenure in that post will come to an official end on Jan. 20, 2017, if he doesn’t decide to step down sooner.  The author of this piece on the Badass Teachers Association website has an interesting suggestion for the next head of the DoE if a Democrat should continue in the White House: Diane Ravitch.  “We cannot afford another four years of an Education Secretary such as Arne Duncan,” he maintains.  “Secretary Duncan who, as a corporate education reformer with his obsession with standardized testing, has done more to privatize and weaken public education than any other Secretary of Education in the past.”                On Wednesday, former Congressman and U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania and 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum added his name to the growing list of GOP candidates running for president next year.  EDUCATION WEEK continues its look at the educational policies of candidates as they enter the race.  In his announcement speech he mentioned how he wants “to drive a stake in the heart of common core.” 
Testing and Common Core
Mike Miles became the superintendent of the Dallas Independent School District almost 3 years ago amid promises of increased test scores and greater accountability in 3 years time.  Miles came from a military background and was trained at the Broad School Leadership Academy.  The latest results of the STAAR were released this month showing insignificant increases in a few areas and small declines in a number of others according to a story in The Dallas Morning News.  “Miles and his supporters had promised broad academic gains,”  it states, “and said that this year’s results — the third State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams under his leadership — would prove his reform efforts had taken hold.  But if STAAR is a good measure of achievement, those gains haven’t materialized despite numerous changes in the district.”                 Steven Singer, on his gadflyonethewallblog, recently wrote about the issue of transient students and how they can impact a school’s/individual teacher’s test scores/evaluation (highlighted in a previous edition of the “Ed News.”)  He builds on that piece with a new one titled “Common Core Does Not Cure Student Mobility” in which he sets out the supposition that the Standards were formulated to deal with student transiency but they are falling short of achieving that aim.  He points out why and offers some solutions.       As the standardized testing season winds down for students it’s time for test scoring to ramp up.  A piece in EDUCATION WEEK takes a rare and enlightening peek inside how the scoring is being accomplished in one Ohio center.  “42,000 people will be scoring 109 million student responses to questions on the” PARCC and SBAC exams, it notes.  Starting pay? $12 an hour.  In California scorers are required to have at least a bachelor’s degree and certified teachers are paid $20 per hour. Non-teachers earn $13 an hour.              The PARCC tests which are not used in California, will be reducing the testing time by 90 minutes for 2015-16 and waiting a little later in the year to begin administering them.  Exam times for 2014-15 ranged from 9 hours and 45 minutes to 11 hours depending upon the grade and subject matter.  A story also from ED WEEK explains that the changes are being implemented in the face of mounting criticism of the assessment process.  The other consortium that built common-core tests with federal funding, Smarter Balanced [used in California], also had to respond to criticism about its test’s length.  It shortened the test by several hours by cutting back on performance tasks.  Now it takes students seven to 8½ hours, depending on grade level.”                The author of this piece from US NEWS, Andrew Rotherman, is a co-founder and partner at Bellwether Education Partners.  He has an interesting take on who is causing all the controversy surrounding high-stakes testing.  He thinks the schools are turning the assessments into a bigger deal than they really are with all the hoopla presented to the kids prior to them taking the exams.  He offers 3 specific factors contributing to this.  “The schools are to blame as much as any test, test company or public official,” he argues.  “When did it become OK for educators to make the tests into such a circus? The idea that this kind of environment is inevitable is belied by all the public schools that don’t treat testing this way.”  Peter Greene was practically apoplectic upon reading Rotherman’s rationale (see above).  On his CURMUDGUCATION blog he presents a point-by-point rebuttal to his charges.  “Reformsters,” Greene reminds, “have been doing this a lot–trying to shift the blame for testing frenzy from the policy makers and the reformsters pushing testing policies onto the local teachers and districts.”               Standardized testing is not going away so is it possible to make it better and fairer?  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to Bobson Wong, who has taught high school math in New York City public schools for 9 years, who has some recommendations.  “To ensure that our children take tests that correctly convey what they know, we need to improve both the quality of test questions and the way in which results are interpreted.  Test item writers should be experienced educators with advanced degrees in the subject area.  Test questions should be made freely available to the public after being administered so that students and teachers can learn from them,” are among a few of his suggestions.  What do you think?  Is he at least in the ball park?
Charter Schools
Charter school advocates have been using the killing of unarmed African-Americans by police in cities like Ferguson, Baltimore, New York and Oakland and the following racial protests as a way to tout their systems as the way to “save” the inner cities.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, isn’t buying that argument in a piece he titles “Charter Schools Won’t Solve Racial Injustice in Baltimore, Or Anywhere Else.” 
Three L.A. Times Editorials
It was a big week for education-related editorials in the L.A. Times.  The first one, in Tuesday’s paper, decries the practice of placing California students in classes like “teacher assistant” and others “in which nothing was actually taught.”  The piece uses the scheduling fiasco at Jefferson High (LAUSD) at the start of this school year as a prime example. It supports the prompt passage of AB 1012 by the legislature to remedy the situation.                 The second one appeared in yesterday’s paper and chastised the LAUSD board for another hasty, not thoroughly thought out decision to require a one-semester ethnic-studies course of all graduates by the year 2019.  “It’s all too typical at the Los Angeles Unified School District: Leaders want to make a change to help the district’s students, but instead of investigating costs, options and whether the change is even achievable or desirable, the board forges ahead,” it scolds.  “Only after it has committed itself do the very foreseeable problems emerge.”               The third editorial is in today’s Times and urges the quick approval of SB 277 by the California Assembly.  The bill would eliminate the “personal belief exemption” for parents who want to skip vaccinating their children.  The bill has raised a major ruckus as it proceeds through the legislative process.   “Californians shouldn’t let the rhetoric cloud the long-term goal: a population with strong protection from diseases that were once scourges,” the piece concludes.  “Society’s right to safeguard its health, especially that of its vulnerable children, trumps individual belief.”
How One California District is Using new “Local Control” Funds
California’s new “Local Control Funding Formula” has pumped new sources of money into certain school districts in the state.  The Vallejo City Unified School District is utilizing some of the new dollars to send students on educational field trips that couldn’t be budgeted in years past.  An item in EDUCATION WEEK describes how this is working out and the positive impact it is having on students.  “Field trips, as measured by student visits to museums,” it notes, “fell sharply during the recession. One-third of districts nationally cut field trips entirely during the 2010-11 school year, according to an American Association of School Administrators survey.  Schools in California were particularly hard hit by the recession. An informal poll of a half-dozen California museums found that field-trip attendance dropped universally in the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years.”
“The Joy of Data(?)”
And finally, the chief education adviser at Pearson [Ed. note: Boooo], Sir Michael Barber, recently delivered a lecture last week in Australia titled “The Joy of Data.”  [Ed. note: What other company could possibly conflate those two terms?]  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, reviews some of the tidbits from the talk and offers a few criticisms of it from various sources.  She provides a video of his remarks (100:31 minutes, it begins at the 22:10 mark).  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog was a bit more scathing in his remarks.  He pondered whether “joy” and “data” might just be an “oxymoron.”  “What I see every time I read Barber,” he worries, “is a man who is not following a business plan or a power grabbing plan or even just a money-making scam– this is a guy who seems to feel he is following a moral imperative to Make the World a Better Place.  That’s what’s scary– you cannot reason with a religious fanatic who is intent on remaking the world according to his own vision.” Greene concludes.  “Yeah, the worst thing about a Barber speech centered on Joy and Data is not that he might be making some cynical marketing ploy or a cheap PR bid, but that for him, those two things really do go together.”  

Dave Alpert

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



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