Ed News, Friday, June 12, 2015 Edition


“Some people drink deeply from the fountain of knowledge.
Others just gargle.”
Grant M. Bright
LAUSD Rolls Back Graduation Requirement
The LAUSD board backed off of its previous high school graduation requirement that students pass classes with a “C” grade or better.  With projections showing that over 50% of this year’s sophomores were in danger of not earning a diploma because of the requirement, the panel voted to reduce the grade needed to “pass” to a “D.”  A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times reports on the board’s action.  “The board previously had required students, starting in 2017,” it notes, “to receive a C or better in a set of college preparatory courses required for admission to four-year state universities.  The goal was to ensure that all L.A. Unified students were eligible to apply for the University of California and Cal State systems.”
Charter Schools
Here’s some bad news for cyber-charters, those online, usually for-profit outfits that provide an “education” via computer.  They are facing a cut in funding from the new governor of Pennsylvania.  The always entertaining and informative Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, titles his item “PA: Cyber Whine Party.”  Gov. Wolf wonders why online programs should get the same per-pupil funding as brick and mortar campuses.  He’s proposing a reduced flat fee for students enrolled in cyber-charters.  The operators of those schools are crying “wolf.”  [Ed. note: Pun intended].               An Arizona Supreme Court ruling upheld a lower court decision in that state that charter schools are not entitled to the same funding as district schools.  A brief item in EDUCATION WEEK (via the AP) explains the ruling.               The charter school movement has morphed a long way from its original intent as explained in this opinion piece from ALJAZEERA AMERICA titled “Saving the Charter School Movement From Itself.”  “Advocates of charter schools argue that they are innovative laboratories of experimentation,” the author begins.  “But the reality is that over the past decade, the policies that led to the creation of these schools have been used to advance a political agenda: putting public resources into private hands, reducing accountability over how those resources are used and scapegoating teachers for the many problems that plague public education.  In doing so, many charter advocates have threatened to transform public education into a resource-scarce system that relies on philanthropy to function.  That’s a shame,” she continues.  “If charters were reimagined to respect their original objectives — to allow educators to experiment with new ideas, advance teachers’ voice in education and strengthen the public school system as a whole — they could yet live up to their potential.”  The author proceeds to offer some specific proposals for how charters can return to their original purpose and singles out some particular campuses that are achieving that goal.
The SAT and Test Prep
Earlier this month the College Board, which administers the SAT, announced a partnership, amid much hoopla, with the Khan Academy, which produces online materials for students.  The two organizations would create interactive SAT training resources that would be accessible  to all students for free. The “Ed News” highlighted this new program earlier this month.  The author of this piece in The Atlantic is more than a little skeptical of the motivation behind the College Board’s latest initiative.  The unveiling occasioned the expected cheers and doubts, but to evaluate the Khan Academy’s ‘Official SAT Practice’ resources one must understand that they are part of a much bigger plan.  It’s a plan that may help get thousands of poor students on track to success.  But it will also give the College Board an even larger role in America’s high schools and the lives of students. . . .There’s no reason to doubt the sincerity of [College Board President David] Coleman’s commitment to helping poor students.  It’s important, however, to recognize that the one party that is certain to benefit quite handsomely by these efforts is the College Board.”
Testing, Parental Choice & Opt-Out
Several civil rights organization and some corporate ‘reformers” have made the case that standardized tests can be a valuable tool for achieving social justice.  Paul Thomas of Furman University, on his the becoming radical blog, takes that premise to task.  “The accountability era over the past thirty years—based significantly on standards and high-stakes testing—has not confronted and eroded race and class inequity,” he suggests, “but in fact, and notably because of the central roles of standardized testing, race and class inequity has become even more entrenched in our schools and society.”  Diane Ravitch describes Thomas’ essay as “eloquent” and urges “Read it all.  It is thoughtful and important.”               Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, responds to some of the those civil rights groups that support high-stakes testing.  His commentary appears in EDUCATION WEEK and continues an online debate with some of those leaders and others who agree with their position.  Tucker includes links to all the pertinent sources that he references if you need/want to catch up with the discussion.               The federal government is apparently ready to play hard ball with any state that makes it easier for parents to opt their children out of standardized tests if a situation in Oregon is any indication.  Television station KOIN 6 in Portland has a segment reporting the U.S. Dept. of Education is threatening to withhold millions of dollars in federal funds if the state legislature passes a bill easing parents’ rights to opt their kids out of the tests.  You can read a brief article on the issue and/or view the video segment (2:40 minutes) by clicking here.               Jeff Bryant, on the Educational Opportunity NETWORK looks at the battle lines being drawn over testing and the opt-out movement.  He reminds readers of what’s happening in Oregon (see above) where the legislature passed a bill to make sure parents are informed of their rights to remove their children from standardized testing and the federal government’s response of a threat to cut off funding.  “Unfortunately, the standoff over standardized testing in Oregon is not an isolated event,” he sums up.  “As members of Congress on Capital Hill struggle with revising federal education policy, testing mandates continue to be regarded as some sort of valiant stand for our most underserved students, while deep inequities in how states support those students continue to get ignored.  So what really matters in education policy continues to take a back seat to a sad and ineffectual proxy battle over testing – and our more disadvantaged students are worse off for it.”                 The opt-out movement is increasing by leaps and bounds and is becoming a national trend.  Proponents can no longer be ignored urges two professors from Miami University in Ohio.  Their commentary appears in EDUCATION WEEK.  “The opt-out movement is evidence that education policymakers need to find new ways to engage with families and communities.  Perhaps instead of jumping to conclusions about who these parent activists are, or what they believe,” they conclude, “we should begin by slowing down and listening to what they have to say.  Working with the public is the only true way to create sustainable educational change.”  Be sure to click on the sidebar titled “INSIDE OPT-OUT” for a variety of opinions on the movement from parents, teachers and researchers.       The “Ed News” has chronicled how teachers, parents, administrators, politicians and occasionally students have reacted to high-stakes tests.  Here’s something completely different.  Christina Chang is a high school art teacher in Massachusetts.  She tasked her students to create some pieces of art that answer the question “How do you feel about standardized tests?”  She posted nine of the works on her MS CHANG’S ART CLASSES web page.  The collection is a poignant insight into the impact the exams are having on the victims, oops, I mean students.  Here’s one example:
By Alyssa Healey
Diane Ravitch expounds on her beliefs about parental choice and schools on her Diane Ravitch blog.  “The public has a civic obligation to support public education.  Even if you don’t have children, you pay taxes to educate the children of the community,” she spells out simply.  “Even if your children are grown, you pay school taxes.  Even if you send your children to private school, you pay school taxes.  Public schools are a public responsibility.  If you don’t like the public schools, you are free to choose a private school, a charter school, a religious school, or home school.  That’s your choice.  But you must pay for it yourself.”              
High School Exit Exam
The California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE) was put into place in 2006.  As now written it is not aligned with the Common Core.  The state legislature is considering dropping the test entirely.  An editorial in Wednesday’s L.A. Times calls for revising the assessment rather than doing away with it completely.  “ SB 172, which passed the Senate last week,” the item explains, “would eliminate the test for at least three years while an advisory panel examines whether the state should have any kind of exit exam at all, and if so, what minimum standards it should set for high school graduation and how a new test would be designed.”
Some Myths Surrounding Government Education Policies
Dr. Pasi Salhberg, prominent Finnish educator and currently a visiting professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, addresses a few myths related to government policies and the field of education.  One has to do with the fallacy that one can get more out of schools and especially teachers when you provide them with less funding.  Salhberg’s comments are on The Alberta Teachers’ Association website.  “When the going gets tough in our wealthy societies, the powers-that-be often choose quick fixes,” he maintains.  “In search of a silver bullet instead of sustained systemic improvement, politicians turn their eyes on teachers, believing that asking them to do more with less can compensate for inconvenient reductions in school resources.  With super teachers, some of them say, the quality of education will improve even with lesser budgets.”
The Teaching Profession
The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an op-ed in Thursday’s L.A. Times that decried the AltSchool’s model that place an over reliance on technology at the expense of traditional teacher roles.  Two letters appeared in Wednesday’s paper reacting to the piece.  One was from an LAUSD principal and the other from a teacher in that district.                Teacher tenure has been around for over 100 years.  It has come under attack recently in California, Vergara v. California, New York and other states.  Richard D. Kahlenberg, senior fellow at the Century Foundation, has an extended, heavily footnoted article on the aft website.  It also appears in the current Summer, 2015, edition of the union’s publication, the “American Educator.”  Kahlenberg reviews the history of tenure, explains exactly what it is and makes the case for why it’s good for both teachers and students.  [Ed. note: He quotes quite extensively from Dana Goldstein’s book Teacher Wars, which is the next selection of the ALOED book club to be formally discussed later this month.  See the following quote.]  “Amidst this sea of negative publicity for educators,” Kahlenberg notes early in his piece, “journalist Dana Goldstein wrote that ‘the ineffective tenured teacher has emerged as a feared character,’ like ‘crack babies or welfare queens’ from earlier eras.”   Diane Ravitch made this comment about the article on her blog: “Arm yourself with a thoughtful discussion of the history and politics of tenure for teachers.  This is a good place to start.”               The technique of “blended learning” has been touted as the ideal way to marry technology and the classroom.  Not every one is convinced.  Canadian Phil McRae, an executive staff officer with the Alberta Teachers’ Association and adjunct professor in the School of Education at the University of Alberta, on his Philip McRae, Ph.D. blog, tackles the myth and hype surrounding the idea and reviews some of the research regarding it.  “To what extent,” he questions early on in his piece, “is this a new model of learning in a digital age?  How are private corporations employing old rhetoric to advance new avenues into public education?  Most importantly, is blended learning becoming yet another overhyped myth on the crowded road of technology-as-education-reform panacea?”                In a similar vein, EDUCATION WEEK has a story headlined “Why Ed Tech is Not Transforming How Teachers Teach.”  It looks at some of the obstacles that arise in introducing more technology into 21st century classrooms.  “Researchers have identified numerous culprits,” it lays out, “including teachers’ beliefs about what constitutes effective instruction, their lack of technology expertise, erratic training and support from administrators, and federal, state, and local policies that offer teachers neither the time nor the incentive to explore and experiment.”               Need a close-to-home case study of the pitfalls of introducing technology into classrooms?  Look no further than the LAUSD.  ED WEEK offers a Q & A titled “A Hard Look at L.A.’s Troubled Digital Learning Initiative.”  The guest is Jessica B. Heppen principal investigator for the American Institutes for Research (AIR) which has been monitoring and evaluating the district’s poorly planned and implemented technology programs.  She responded in a phone interview to several critical issues regarding the roll-out and training of the “iPad-for-all” plan.                 YEAH!  Summer vacation is here or rapidly approaching.  Time to pack up the classroom and get ready to enjoy another 3-month summer break.  The author of this article is a special education instructional coach and new teacher mentor on Long Island.   In the same publication she offers “3 Things You Can Do this Summer To Be a Better Teacher in the Fall.”  One item of particularly special note to the ALOED Book Club is her suggestion to “Create or participate in a book club that can provide you with a balance of professional and personal genres and topics.”  Obviously, good advice!  She goes on to provide a number of other practical hints for new and veteran teachers.               Here are some more things educators can do during the summer.  These suggestions come from none other than Peter Greene who is offering his opinion in his column for EDUCATION WEEK.  He believes this is an ideal time for teachers, who are very busy during the school year, to get involved in policy issues and contact legislators about items of concern.  “Teachers can (and should) channel time and effort into contacting their elected representatives,” he urges.  “Tell them what you think about the various assaults of testing and evaluation and charter takeovers and the rest of the mess of reformsterism.  Do it on a regular basis.  If it’s hard to get everything you want to say into one email or letter, write twelve.  Call them up.  Make sure that policy makers have every opportunity to hear your voice.  Teachers can (and should) take the time to read up on issues and learn about the policy discussions going on,” Greene continues.  “I am still astonished at the number of teachers who just don’t know much about what’s happening, who know that something’s going on that is making their job harder, but they don’t know what’s being done, by whom it’s being done, or where it’s being done. The days when teachers could ignore policy and politics and stay happily cocooned in their classrooms are gone.”  [Ed. note: Peter, thanks for promoting the “Ed News.” You have identified the major reasons why I put it out.]
Poverty’s Impact on Brain Development
An intriguing essay in THE NEW YORKER looks as some recent research on the effects of poverty on infant brain development.  It raises some critical issues regarding poverty and education.  “Over the past decade, the scientific consensus has become clear: poverty perpetuates poverty, generation after generation, by acting on the brain,” it ominously notes.  “The National Scientific Council has been working directly with policymakers to support measures that break this cycle, including better prenatal and pediatric care and more accessible preschool education.”
Market-Based Education Reform
Many corporate “reformers,” whose expertise is in market-based concepts of economics, like to apply those free enterprise ideas to education.  “If schools were just run like businesses,” is a common mantra.  Peter Greene, this time wearing his EDUCATION WEEK columnist’s hat, takes a look at a paper from the conservative American Enterprise Institute that tried to apply the simple concepts of supply and demand to school choice and charters.  Greene, in his unique style, isn’t buying it.  “I get the rosy picture of free market fans like the AEI crew– a world where there is a robust field of varied, high-quality independent schools,” he concludes dismissively, “and parents sort through them by consulting clear, rational, fact-filled materials to make sensible decisions and select the school that will best serve their children.  I myself like to imagine a picture in which I live in a beautiful mansion surrounded by a huge lawn that never has to be mowed, am regularly invited to travel the world to play tailgate trombone, and have a full head of hair.  Also, I would like to own a unicorn farm.  I think my dream is more closely connected to reality.”
The High Cost of High School Senior Year
And finally, the previous edition of the “Ed News” had a story about the high cost of high school for seniors that ran in Monday’s L.A. Times under the headline in the print edition “Diploma Shock.”  It cited prom, grad night, class ring and college admission costs among many items that added up to a hefty bill.  Wednesday’s paper ran a single letter reacting to the piece.

Dave Alpert

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




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