Ed News, Tuesday, June 9, 2015 Edition

The ED NEWS

 “Education is the preparation of a child intellectually, emotionally,
spiritually, and physically for life and for eternity.”
Kevin Swanson, Upgrade: 10 Secrets to the Best Education for Your Child    
EduShyster Opens Up About Why She Blogs
Jennifer Berkshire is the author behind the EduShyster blog and is an excellent source of material for the “Ed News.”  On the third anniversary of her column, she decided to write about the origins of her blog so she shared a chapter on that topic from a previous book she’d written.  She titles her contribution “The Education of EduShyster (A Comedy).”  “If humor was my weapon of choice,” she writes, “it was also my way of staying sane.  Poking fun at the ridiculous claims that were made by reform advocates on an hourly basis made me feel better, and it seemed to make my readers feel better too—we were laughing through our tears.”
 
Choice, Testing & Opt-Out
Standardized tests were touted as a way to close the achievement gap between rich and poor schools.  What if they were actually contributing to the expansion of that gap?  That’s the premise of an article from ALTERNET.  “Using the data provided by standardized tests to argue that wealthier neighborhoods have ‘better’ schools,” the author maintains, “further entrenches that inequality.  Wealthier neighborhoods simply have wealthier schools.”               Walt Gardner, on his “Reality Check” blog from EDUCATION WEEK, comments on the recent law in Nevada that will provide a state voucher for almost every student and the threat that presents to public education in that state.  That story was extensively covered in Tuesday’s edition of the  “Ed News.”  “What’s important to note is that parental choice – at least in the form of vouchers or their variants – has been rejected by voters by sizable margins in 28 referendums between 1966 and 2014. It’s only in state legislatures that parental choice has become law,” he points out.  “. . . . I support parental choice.  But I’ve repeatedly warned that there will always be students whose parents are not involved enough in their education to take advantage of the opportunities open to them.  As a result, they are left to languish.  Ideally, all traditional public schools would offer a quality education, obviating the need for choice.  However, that is not the reality.”  Gardner questions the idea that taxpayer generated money should be used by parents to send their children to private or parochial schools.               By now we’ve heard from all sides of the opt-out movement but one voice that hasn’t been featured that much is that of the students.  Opt Out Orlando tells the story of one third grader whose parents decided to opt him out of Florida’s high-stakes assessments and guess what?  He survived!  He tells his local Brevard County School Board that he’s going to fourth grade because he was successful in learning what he needed to and not because of any standardized tests.  If you don’t read anything else in this edition of the “Ed News” check this one out for a fresh perspective on the issue.  The video of Sammy Addo’s remarks only runs 1:45 minutes.  [Ed. note: Sammy says John Lewis is one of his heroes.  Sammy Addo is one of mine!]
Education Technology
More and better technology has been offered as a panacea for all that ails public education today.  However, the “Ed News” has highlighted a number of expensive school district fiascoes that involved misguided or poorly planned technology projects.  [Ed. note: Looking at you, LAUSD (and others)].  The author of this piece in The Atlantic is an Associate Professor at the University of Michigan School of Information.  His commentary is excerpted from a soon to be released book he wrote.  The article is titled “Why Technology Alone Won’t Fix Education.”  “What the U.S. education system needs above all isn’t more technology,” he relates, “but a deliberate allocation of high-quality adult supervision focused on those who need it most.  The specifics are daunting and complex, but inequity in educational opportunity isn’t a problem that technology can fix.  Without addressing the underlying socio-economic chasm, technology by itself doesn’t bridge the gap, it only jacks it further apart.”
 
The Goal of Education
Is “global competitiveness” what we truly want for the children of this country?  Many corporate “reformers” are quick to cite statistics showing how “poorly” American students are doing compared to ones from other nations.  But, as Mitchell Robinson asks on his eponymous blog, is that really the goal of an education?  He answers an emphatic “no” and offers a number of things we should be aiming for.   As a parent,” he concludes, “I have a message for the reformers: Stay out of public education and stop obfuscating parents and community members with distracting propaganda like ‘global competition’ and ‘college and career readiness’, which is only designed to further the false rhetoric of ‘failing schools.’  The vast majority of public schools are wonderful, and our children’s teachers are doing what can only be described as heroic work under very difficult conditions.  And let’s stop using ‘competition’ as a solution for the problems that have been caused by…’competition.'”
High School Graduation Rates
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the increasing high school graduation rate.  It went up nationwide by 2% for the class of 2013 to 81%.  California increased by 4% over the 2011 rate to 80%.  NPR dug into the statistics and offers a detailed analysis of what the numbers mean and how the states achieved them in an item titled “High School Graduation Rates: The Good, the Bad and the Ambiguous.”
The 2016 Election and Beyond
Want a peek at the state of education 13 years from now?  Diane Ravitch’s blog features a fictional item about what might happen after the 2028 presidential election.  (Spoiler alert: It reports on the newly inaugurated Pres. Duncan and his Sec. of Education Michelle Rhee.)  Before you contemplate committing suicide, remember, it’s FICTION!!!  In the tale, Rhee has just unveiled the new Pearson Corporation’s third grade standardized test.  (Just remember, its FICTION, FICTION, or is it?)  Want to throw your teaching colleagues into a major panic?  Present this at the next faculty meeting.  It is guaranteed to cause group apoplexy.                 A future as described above could be closer than you think.  Vicki Cobb, a prolific author of children’s science books, describes the impact the era of high-stakes testing is having on new teachers who have entered the profession since that period began.  Cobb’s remarks are courtesy of the Huffington Post.  “The business and government suits, who have hijacked educational policy in a top down approach,” she complains, “are not professional educators.  Their knowledge of education comes primarily from what they themselves survived (endured?).  Most do not know what good education looks like.  Their idea of a well-ordered classroom is rows of desks with students quietly bent over a test.”  Cobb suggests we get back to the idea of the “artist-teacher” and we need to do it fast! 
 
Senior Year in High School Sticker Shock
Remember your senior year of high school?  Coming to the end of your K-12 education, planning for the future, prom, graduation.  Big milestone in your life.  Do you have any recollection of how much it all cost?  An interesting item in yesterday’s L.A. Times describes all the events and activities for seniors in high school today and provides a run down on the money spent on things like college applications and visits, prom, college admission test prep and fees, graduation, senior portraits, grad night, class ring, yearbook and more.  Online the article is headlined “Ending Senior Year With a Bang Isn’t Cheap at Many L.A.-Area High Schools.” 
Unequal School Funding
Many people like to identify the civil rights issue of our time in education.  Whether it’s Common Core or testing or well trained teachers they claim it’s the one problem that needs to be addressed above all others.  The reporter of this story in The Washington Post features two new studies that indicate that the unequal funding of our public schools is the real issue that needs to be dealt with.  The first report (55 pages) is from the Education Law Center and is titled “Is School Funding Fair? A National Report Card” and the second (36 pages) is from the same group but is co-written with the Leadership Conference Education Fund.”  It’s titled “Cheating Our Future: How Decades of Disinvestment by States Jeopardizes Equal Educational Opportunity.” The article provides links to both studies as well as including them at the end of the story.
The School-to-Prison Pipeline
If you are not aware of the term “school-to-prison pipeline,” Steven Singer turns his gadflyonthewallblog over to a discussion of the topic.  The “Ed News” has publicized the attempt by many corporate “reformers” to privatize public education because there are huge PROFITS to be made.  Prisons are in much the same boat.  Private prison management companies would love to take over the public prison system because there are huge PROFITS to be made.  What is the connection between schools and prisons?  Singer lays it all out for you.  “Look at the so-called education reforms of the last decade: increasing standardization, efforts to close schools serving poor and minority children, cutting school budgets and narrowing the curriculum,” he points out.  “All of these serve to push kids out of school and into the streets where they are more likely to engage in criminal activity and enter the criminal justice system.”  Singer even notes a common denominator between schools and prisons: the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Don’t believe it?  Read the story.
California Drought and the Schools
California is in the throes of a severe drought.  Even the climate change deniers can’t argue with that fact.  Most Golden Staters are aware of the need to cut back on the use of water in their homes, businesses and farms.  How is the drought impacting  schools and districts up and down the state?  EDUCATION WEEK takes a look.  The Central Valley is particularly hard hit as wells run dry, “dust days” are declared and enrollments decline as farmworker parents are unable to find work. 
The Teaching Profession
Is the traditional role of the teacher going by the wayside in this digital age?  A high school English teacher in California profiles a new series of private K-8 schools called “AltSchool” that is tailoring teaching and learning to the new technological reality.  Campuses are currently located in San Francisco and will soon be expanding to Brooklyn, N.Y. and Palo Alto.  Each student has a tablet or laptop and they spend up to 30% of class time on them completing assignments called “playlists.”  An op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times provides the details.  It should be noted that the author of the piece is quite skeptical about these changes to his profession.  “As a high school teacher, I’ve followed these developments with trepidation.” he worries.  “Whether or not AltSchool meets lofty expectations, it epitomizes the increasingly popular belief that human instructors must cede to computers as the font of knowledge.  That’s a profound shift that educators have barely begun to contemplate.”               Are today’s schools of education preparing their students to be 21st century educators or 20th century ones?  Peter DeWitt is a former public elementary school principal and current writer and presenter.  His commentary appears in EDUCATION WEEK.  “The field has changed faster than the university system,” he suggests.  “Many universities, like schools, prepare students for a time that has already passed, and not for a time that is present or in the future.”                The superintendent of the Clark County School District (Georgia) who is the 2015 National Superintendent of the Year offered his teachers a free day off if they had perfect attendance.  At the end of last month he paid off his promise and writes about how hard it was teaching a 7th grade middle school life science class.  The experience gave him a new appreciation of the difficult task of his and all teachers as he details in an opinion piece in the ATHENS BANNER-HERALD.  “I made it through the day, exhausted, and having developed an even deeper understanding and appreciation for our teachers,” he writes.  “I tried to make my teaching interesting, interactive and relevant, but I could see that there was something that only the regular classroom teacher could offer: the foundation of strong relationships.”  [Ed. note: He’s the kind of superintendent I wish I could have worked for.]            Want to try out a new online game called “180 Days: The Challenge” that attempts to portray what it’s like to be teacher or principal?  You might also want to pass it along to a skeptical friend or neighbor and let them walk in your shoes for a change.  It’s part of a PBS series that aired a second season in which a camera crew followed life in a school district for an entire year.  The game is described in a brief piece in EDUCATION WEEK.  You’ll find a link, the “Try it Out” phrase, at the end of the piece if you are “game.”               A new national poll of 700 teachers nationwide found that a majority of them found that poverty was a major deterrent to student learning.  The survey, conducted by Communities in Schools and Public Opinion Strategies, is highlighted in a story in ED WEEK that includes a link to the full pollIt recorded online responses May 8-12.
Charter Schools
And finally, Sandy Banks, in her column in today’s L.A. Times, revisits an LAUSD elementary charter in downtown that she first wrote about 3 years ago when it was only in the planning stages.  Metro Charter will be winding up its second year in operation at the end of this school year.  It is currently a K-3 campus with plans to add fourth grade.  Enrollment is projected to go from 75 students when the school opened to over 200 in the fall.  “The halls are lined with essays and art projects.  First-graders conduct debates and poetry readings to practice logic and public speaking,” Banks marvels.  “Kindergartners study the abstract art of Kandinsky to prepare for geometry.  Third-graders ride public buses to Chinatown and Olvera Street, then write essays comparing and contrasting the two cultures.”  Banks’ piece includes a link to the original column she penned about Metro.               What happens when a for-profit charter company doesn’t earn a profit?  Why, it just up and closes the only high school in the district and leaves the students high and dry to scramble for spots in neighboring districts.  Couldn’t happen!  It isn’t true, you say.  Read the case of the Highland Park School District in Michigan and see for yourself.  The details are provided by a rather shocking story from the World Socialist Web Site.  The for-profit Education Management Organization (EMO), Leona Group LLC, which holds the Highland Park Schools contract,” the piece notes, “said it was no longer ‘feasible’ to operate a high school.  The abrupt closure follows a pattern among for-profit charter operators who experience higher expenses with the upper grades.”  [Ed. note: Would a public school district do this and force students to attend a nearby district?]

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Dave Alpert

(Occidental College, ’71)
That’s me working diligently on the blog.

 

 

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