Ed News, Tuesday, June 2, 2015 Edition


“Libraries allow children to ask questions about the world and find the answers.
And the wonderful thing is that once a child learns to use a library,
the doors to learning are always open.”
Laura Bush
Some Good News in Pittsburgh
Many large urban school districts are struggling.  Tales from Detroit, Philadelphia, Chicago and other cities have been bleak and many of them have been chronicled in the “Ed News.”  However, the situation in Pittsburgh seems to be much brighter as described by the blogger on YINZERCATION who titles her piece “Sunshine and Happiness.”  She outlines 6 areas where education is definitely on the upswing.
Charter Schools
How can you tell if you are a fan of charter schools?  Allow Peter Greene, in his unique style on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, to “count the ways.”  Here’s one example to let to see what Greene is up to: “If you think a great way to build grit in children is to entrust their care to an institution that might close at any time with no warning, you might be a charter school fan.”                 A recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted how up to $3.3 billion had seemingly disappeared into the charter school system due to a severe lack of accountability and transparency.  A follow-up to that informational piece probes how those schools were able to get away with itTHE CENTER FOR MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY’S “PR WATCH” has the fifth in a series of investigative pieces on the topic.  It features an attempt by the U.S. Dept. of Education to promulgate new rules regarding the disclosure of how charters are spending their money and the pushback the DoE and state boards of education are getting as a result.  “State oversight, charter school advocates argued in dozens of public comments to the new 2014 rules, is anathema to the idea of charter schools,” the article states.  “But they failed to mention that this ‘idea’. . . . lends itself to fraud and waste.”  Links to the first 4 parts of this series are included at the end of this one.
Common Core and Testing
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie seems to want to have it both ways when it comes to the Common Core.  He recently announced that he wants his state to jettison the standards and develop their own while at the same time he intends to keep the PARCC assessments which are aligned to the Common Core.  Could this be a cynical political ploy as Christie contemplates a run for the GOP nomination for president in 2016 or does the governor just not understand what he’s talking about?  The story, on the NJSPOTLIGHT website, tries to sort it all out for you.  “Gov. Chris Christie’s declaration that the Common Core State Standards are ‘not working,’ and that New Jersey can do better on its own, may prove to be good politics when it comes to appealing to the Republican base in other states,” it begins.  “But it certainly left his home state’s public schools, already in flux, even more uncertain about what it all means, especially considering that Christie went on to say immediately that New Jersey will stick with the PARCC testing aligned with the standards.”               The Jersey Jazzman was quick to lambaste Christie for his apparent contradictory position.  “There is a serious debate to be had about the Common Core — but Chris Christie really couldn’t care less about the issue,” he complains.  “So long as he harbors delusions of gaining of national office, this man will use New Jersey’s education system in any way he thinks will gain him political points.”  The column goes on to offer a point-by-point rebuttal to much of what the governor proposed.               Sarah Blaine is a New Jersey parent with two daughters in the local public elementary school.  She, too, quickly joined the bash Christie bandwagon on her parentingthecore blog.  “As long as the Common Core-aligned PARCC test continues to be the barometer to allegedly measure our schools, teachers, and children’s efficacy, Christie’s announcement is worth even less than the paper his speech was written on.  If you believe otherwise, then man, I’ve got a bridge to sell you . . . ,” she offers.               Peter Greene couldn’t avoid piling on to what Christie said on his CURMUDGUCATION blog.  Critics of the governor’s position can see through what it really is.  “Don’t get me wrong– it’s always nice to see the Common Core Standards take a hit.  But this is a useless, empty gesture,” Greene complains, “unlikely to improve things for either the citizens of New Jersey or the Presidential campaign of their hapless governor.”               Many prominent civil rights organizations have come out in support of annual testing as a “civil right” for minority students.  The author of this piece in EDUCATION WEEK deconstructs that argument and attempts to point out the error of those groups’ ways.   “It is not just that annual accountability testing with separate scores for poor and minority students does not help those students,” he argues.  “The reality is that it actually hurts them. . . .   It is, in my view, time for the civil rights community to rethink its position.”  Diane Ravitch called this a “brilliant article” on her website.               Several members of the New York State Board of Regents were highly critical of that state’s standardized tests.  They felt the reason why almost 70% of the Empire State’s students scored less than proficient had more to do with the poor design of the exams than a failure on the part of the teachers and pupils.  An item from the Long Island Business News (libn) website tells the tale.  “Members of the Board of Regents at their meeting last Monday said the tests, due to poor design and process, may be doing damage,” it points out.  “Rather than setting high standards, they may simply be failing to measure education, progress and skills.”               Dr. Doug Green is a now retired teacher of chemistry, physics and computer science and a former administrator.  He has a very provocative opinion piece in the “WORK in PROGRESS” column in EDUCATION WEEK titled “How to Cheat on State Standardized Tests and Not Get Caught.”  “I’m not encouraging anyone to follow the advice given here,” he warns, “but I’m sure that many have already done so.  The fact is that any time you create a game, people will game the system, and that is just what our current test and punish culture has led to.  The people in Atlanta got caught because they were sloppy and went too far with their erasing parties.”  [Ed. note: If anyone asks, you didn’t get these ideas from me.]              Be sure to wish the Common Core State Standards a “Happy 5th Birthday” today.  The final version of the standards was released in a carefully choreographed ceremony in Suwanee, Georgia, (of all places) on June 2, 2010, according to an item in ED WEEK.  Since that roll-out the Standards have followed a roller coaster path to where they are today: a major point of contention in the field of education.  The piece includes an excellent map presenting the status of the Common Core in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.  Here’s to the Common Core:
[Ed. note: Is that balloon about to burst?]
New “Activist” Union Leadership in San Francisco
Disgruntled teachers in San Francisco have elected a new “activist” leader that tossed out a long-time incumbent.  The 6,000 member United Educators of San Francisco chose Lita Blanc to take over the helm of the organization in voting held during the middle of May.  The BEYOND CHRON website provides the details and what this could mean for the public school system in the Bay Area.  “Taking the example of the reform movement of the Chicago teachers’ union as a guide — where the union was revitalized both from below and from increased outreach to parents and the broader community — Blanc ran as part of the Educators for a Democratic Union (EDU) slate,” the story reports.
“Turnaround” Schools
Lots of corporate “reformers” like to tout the solution of “reconstitution” or “turning around” low-performing schools.  What’s the reality?  Do these strategies truly improve campuses that are struggling?  Wendy Lecker is a columnist for the Hearst Media Group and senior attorney at the Education Law Center.  She takes a look at how effective “turnaround” attempts are.  She provides two examples in her commentary for the Stamford (Connecticut) Advocate.  “Turnarounds have been widely proven as ineffective in improving the longer-term educational quality of targeted schools,” she maintains.  “The evidence shows that turnarounds result in, at best, temporary boosts in test scores that often fade after a few years.  These policies also often do lasting damage to the school culture by getting rid of teachers and staff who know the students.”  Lecker references a previous column where she pointed out the failure of trying to turnaround Milner Elementary School in Hartford, Connecticut.  If you’d like to read it, click here.
Teacher Evaluations
Carol Burris, the award-winning principal of South Side High School in New York [Ed. note: and sadly soon to retire], reprints a note on her Round the Inkwell  blog that she received from a former student of hers who is now a high school teacher in Washington, D.C.  The young woman describes “the devastating effects” of using test scores on teacher evaluations since the advent of the Common Core.  “The teacher evaluation system in DC,” she writes, “is a direct product of the damage that education reform is doing to real education. . . . It’s a process that I think fosters a culture of ‘teaching to the test’ rather than really teaching young people to think and be curious, innovative forces in the world.”               The Utah State Board of Education approved a new teacher evaluation system that relies primarily on classroom observations by the principal.  You can read more about it in a brief story in EDUCATION WEEK (via the Associated Press).  “The board voted. . . . to base 70 percent of an evaluation on classroom observation, 20 percent on student performance and 10 percent on feedback from parents and other stakeholders,” it explains.  “While many details will be left up to school districts, education leaders hope the new system will bring consistency to the way teacher effectiveness is measured in Utah.”
The Teaching Profession
Bob Braun, former long-time education and news reporter for The Star-Ledger (Newark) has a scathing rebuttal to a recent editorial in his former paper that again blasts veteran teachers.  It blames them for all the ills facing education today.  Writing on his Bob Braun’s Ledger blog he includes a link to the offending piece in the paper.  He titles his item “Why Is It OK to Defame Teachers?”  “The editorial is built, without evidence,” he complains, “around the canard that all teachers with experience either are, or soon will become, ‘dead wood’ that ought to be cleared from the forest of public schools by—in the case of Newark—administrators with virtually no (and, in some cases, just plain no) teaching experience.  As if experience teaching was itself the cause of poor teaching–what naïve drivel.”  Diane Ravitch wrote about Braun’s piece: This is one of the most powerful articles I have ever read about the pernicious lies of those who call themselves ‘reformers.’”  She also described it as “fiery and brilliant.”               A North Carolina appeals court ruled this morning that the law that passed in that state in 2013 that repealed teacher tenure is unconstitutional.  Although the decision only applies to the Tarheel State it could have ramifications on other states where tenure rights have been or will be challenged.  A brief item from “the progressive pulse” blog at NC POLICY WATCH explains the court’s ruling.  “Under North Carolina’s ‘Career Status Law,’ teachers in their first four years were deemed ‘probationary’ and employed year-to-year under annual contracts.  At the end of the four-year period,” it explains, “they became eligible for career status, giving them rights to continuing contracts and due process protections from arbitrary or unjustified dismissals.  In summer 2013, lawmakers enacted a repeal of that law in an effort to rid the state of tenure by 2018, saying that it enabled bad teachers to stay in the system.”                What characteristics tend to encourage teachers to stay in their chosen profession, improve and succeed?  That question was addressed by research from two assistant professors at Brown University writing on the Shanker Blog.  They come to the not too surprising conclusion that working conditions are a key determinant.  They bolster their findings with some graphs and charts that accompany their commentary.  “What appear to matter most about the school context are not the traditional working conditions we often think of, such as modern facilities and well-equipped classrooms,” they maintain.  “Instead, aspects that are difficult to observe and measure seem to be most influential, including the quality of relationships and collaboration among staff, the responsiveness of school administrators, and the academic and behavioral expectations for students.”
LAUSD to Spend $79.6 Million to Repair Faulty Computer Records System
The trouble-plagued roll-out of the MiSiS (My Integrated Student Information System) at the start of this school year by the LAUSD is another one of the expensive fiascoes that have haunted the district and its leaders over the years.  The L.A. Daily News reports the district has budgeted an additional $79 million and will take two years to fix the program.  Initial cost estimates for MiSiS were $25 million but the total has now ballooned to at least $133 million and counting.  “Part of the trouble is district officials decided to model MiSiS after a system used by Fresno Unified,” the article points out.  “But LAUSD, the state’s largest school district with more than 600,000 students, needs to keep records for about eight times as many students as Fresno Unified.”  Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for sending the item along.  Randy further points out that the L.A. Times has yet to report on this latest development.  He wonders if the paper continues to protect its “Darling, John Deasy.”
2016 Election
Former New York Governor George Pataki joined the crowded GOP field of presidential candidates for 2016 on Thursday.  EDUCATION WEEK continues its series on the education policies of the people running for the office as they enter the fray.                    On Saturday former Baltimore mayor and Maryland governor Martin O’Malley joined the Democratic ranks of presidential contenders.  The same publication has a short story on his positions regarding education.              South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, yesterday, became the eighth officially announced Republican candidate for president in 2016.   [Ed. note: Can anyone name the other 7?]    ED WEEK reviews his positions on education.  As a member of the House, Graham was a major backer of Pres. George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and he served on the Senate Education Committee for a couple of years upon entering that body.  Graham was one of the first members of the GOP to attack the Common Core State Standards.
How to Fix TFA
A Current Teach for America member who has taught math for almost 3 years in the LAUSD and in a charter has some constructive suggestions for how to “fix” the organization.  His commentary appears on Diane Ravitch’s blog.  I feel I have had some successes, and some of our teachers have done very well,” he begins.  “But I can say without doubt that Teach for America did not prepare the vast majority of my ‘corps members,’ as our fellow teachers are called, and me to effectuate the long-term ‘transformational change’ that the program strives for.”
New, Free SAT Prep
The newest version of the SAT will not debut until March but students who want to begin preparing for it early will have an opportunity to do just that.  The College Board, which runs the SAT, and the Khan Academy, the online education company, have partnered to provide free, online test prep materials in English and math that are available now.  A story in today’s L.A. Times describes what’s out there.  “The Khan program presents a challenge to commercial test prep firms,” it explains, “which maintain that their more personalized classes will remain in high demand.  It also represents something of a concession from the College Board, which in the past minimized the need for rigorous preparation beyond what’s learned in school.”
How the Parent-Trigger Law is Being Wielded
In California the parent-trigger law has been on the books now for 5 years .  It has been used in only a handful of cases to actually take over a school from a district.  Some parents and organizations have discovered it can be used as a wedge to force recalcitrant districts to make changes short of an outright takeover.  A story from THE HECHINGER REPORT reviews how parents at 20th St. Elementary (LAUSD) have done just that.  “Passed in 2010, the California law permits 51 percent or more of parents at an underperforming public school to petition for an overhaul,” the item reports.  “Among the parents’ options: replace a principal, hire a charter operator to run the school, or shut down the campus entirely.  In Los Angeles, the parent-trigger law, once considered the fast track to turning struggling California schools over to independently operated charters, has instead become a bargaining chip in brokering deals with the district.”
The Goal of Corporate “Reform”
One reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog suggests that the reason why billionaires like Gates, Broad and Walton want to “reform” education is not to “improve the product” but to cut costs so that other wealthy people and corporations can collect the savings in the form of tax cuts or additional business subsidies.  But hey, “trickle down economics” has been the coin of the realm for Republicans since the 1980s. 
Another “School of Opportunity”
And finally, Carol Burris, the soon to be retired principal of South Side High School in New York, and Kevin Welner, Professor of Education at the University of Colorado Boulder, have created a pilot program called “Schools of Opportunity” that intends to single out for recognition public high school campuses that are successful by creating healthy environments for students, teachers and staff rather than by the results of high-stakes testing.  Valerie Strauss has been featuring the first set of 17 winners, as described by Burris and Welner, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post.  She’s already reviewed the first two, links to which can be found in her latest  column which you can access by clicking here“This third profile,” Strauss writes, “looks at a school that has refused to conform to standardization.”  It is Jefferson County Open School in Lakewood, Colorado.

Dave Alpert

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



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