Ed News, Tuesday, June 16, 2015 Edition


“Admission of ignorance is often the first step in our education”
Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
Powerful Lessons in Personal Change  
High School Exit Exam  

Two letters in Saturday’s L.A. Times commented on an editorial the paper ran on Wednesday (highlighted in Friday’s “Ed News”) about the state legislature possible dropping the California High School Exit Exam.  One of the writers was David Tokofsky, former Social Studies teacher at Marshall High School and LAUSD board member for 12 years.

The Teaching Profession
Why would anyone want to teach in Arizona?  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, comments on a story in the New York Times about the sorry state of the teaching profession in Arizona.  The Grand Canyon State has some of the lowest, if not THE lowest teacher salaries, per pupil spending and test scores among other measures in comparison to the rest of the nation.  However, it gets high marks for being a great place for charters.  He titles the piece “Arizona’s Teacher Desert” and includes a link to that NYT article.                 How did your school year go?  The author of this piece in EDUCATION WEEK offers 10 tips for “How Teachers Can Recharge This Summer.”  She’s a National Board certified teacher who’s taught English/Language Arts at a high school in Massachusetts for 20 years and, in addition, is an adjunct professor at Emmanuel College in Boston.  Many educators, she notes, will be doing education-related tasks during the summer break.  “Despite all that,” she suggest, “it’s incredibly important for teachers to recharge those batteries before heading back to school in August or September.”  Her tip #2? “Read That Book” and join in the discussion with the ALOED Book Club.  [Ed. note: That latter suggestion was my idea, but I think she’d go along with it.]
The governor of New Hampshire vetoed a bill on Friday that would have allowed students in the Granite State to opt-out of standardized tests.  A very brief item in EDUCATION WEEK (via the AP) explains her decision.
Common Core
The Common Core State Standards have sparked a lot of debate on both sides of the issue since they were presented 5 years ago this month.  One of the questions raised is whether they are age and grade-level appropriate.  This item from The Boston Globe even wonders “Is the Common Core Killing Kindergarten?”  “Opponents say teaching some academic skills too early can be counterproductive,” the author suggests.  “They cite research suggesting that reading and math advantages in kindergarten are fleeting.  Furthermore, they say, the pressure to meet academic standards will lead to lecture and work sheet style teaching, foster rote memorization, and snuff out the inquiry and play-based instruction that can instill a love of learning.”
The Best Teacher Evaluation?
Steven Singer on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG offers what he calls “The Only Teacher Evaluation That Matters.”  What might that be?  At the end of the school year he asks his students to fill out a class evaluation.  (Didn’t most of our professors at Oxy do that?)  No names; no identifying marks; just the honest truth about what his students feel about his class and what they would suggest to improve it.  He reports on some of the results and even reprints his simple survey if you’d like to try something like it yourself.  [Ed. note: Throughout most of my 26-year career teaching high school Social Studies I did the same thing. Upon reading Singer’s blog I agree with almost all of what he wrote.  The results I got, like Singer’s, were most gratifying and many of the suggestions I got from my students helped to make my teaching even better.  The students felt good about it, too.]  [Giving my surveys is] not something I’m required to do.  I don’t share the results with administration.  The responses don’t go on file,” Singer relates, “increase my pay or get recorded in the newspaper.  They don’t become part of the district’s ranking in the Business Times.  No one is going to withhold funding from my district or close my building and convert it into a charter school based on these results.  No one ever will be on television decrying the state of public education referencing these surveys.  They are low stakes, class-based, teacher-centered and personal.”
Some Truths About Those International Assessments
Some corporate “reformers” are constantly throwing up their hands in despair over how “poorly” American students are doing as compared to pupils in other countries on those international exams.  Mitchell Robinson on his Mitchell Robinson blog points out some important truths about those tests.  “The issue here is that the PISA test scores are usually not disaggregated–that is, the scores are not parsed out by poverty rates, but instead are all lumped together,” he explains.  “Many in the corporate reform community are fond of reporting these international scores without sharing the fact that US poverty rates are nearly 30%, while countries like Finland are at 5% or less  There is a strong correlation (not causation) between SES [socio-economic status] and test scores (and zip code and test scores, for that matter)–which is not to say that wealthy kids are smarter than poor kids. They aren’t. Its just that kids with more financial resources have more opportunities and advantages than their less -advantaged peers.”  Mitchell proceeds to provide some scores for U.S. students that are disaggregated for poverty levels.  You might be surprised (or maybe not) at how well American kids do. 
Controversy Over Yoga Classes
A long-running battle over the offering of yoga classes in an elementary school district in northern San Diego County has come to an end with a decision by the attorney who brought the case to forgo an appeal of an earlier ruling.  The “Ed News” has periodically highlighted the details of this weird case.  The K-6 district has been offering twice-weekly, 30-minute yoga classes to encourage exercise and healthful eating according to the story in Saturday’s L.A. Times.  “The parents of two students had sued,” it explains, “alleging that the yoga program promotes Hinduism while the district discourages any display of Christianity.  The school district hired the yoga instructors and controlled the curriculum, the appeals court said.  Parents can have their children opted out of the yoga instruction.”
Charter Schools
Opponents of charter school have criticized the high turnover among their faculty as cause for concern.  This item from EDUCATION WEEK looks at the issue and how charters are addressing it.  “High rates of attrition,” the author concedes, “are a common criticism of the publicly funded, privately managed schools.  And despite contested data about the phenomenon, some charter leaders acknowledge teacher turnover as a liability for the movement.”                Does it just seem like Ohio charters are constantly in the news about one scandal or another?  The “Ed News” has covered a number of irregularities in the Buckeye State’s numerous charter companies.  Well, here’s another one.  It has to do with the board of Imagine Columbus Primary School.  All of the members promptly resigned when presented with a lease contract they were told they had no power to negotiate, among other issues.  You can catch up on all the details in this piece from the PB (Plunderbund) website.  “Unfortunately, the terms charter school and conflict of interest are becoming synonymous,” the author relates.  “And redundant.  Just mentioning both in the same sentence exposes one of the fatal flaws in the DNA of charter schools and school privatization.  That most fatal of charter schools flaws is called governance.”                Need more proof of the sorry state of charter schools in OhioThe Columbus Dispatch leads off a recent story with this: “A former Dayton charter school owes taxpayers nearly $1.2 million after padding its attendance rolls and receiving state aid for students who never attended.”  It notes that getting the money back may be impossible as the campus closed its doors a year ago.  Is this kind of activity an isolated incident.  At least in Ohio, the answer is an emphatic “no!”   “The Dispatch reported today,” the article concludes, “that the Department of Education is continuing to withhold or reduce payments to schools for about 1,700 charter-school students because they cannot verify where the students lived or what schools they attended.”
 [Ed. note: I’ll repeat a question I’ve posed many times in the past: How often does this happen with public schools?]               Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, reports that things have gotten so bad with charters in Ohio, that they “have become a joke–literally.”  She refers to several newspaper articles from the Buckeye State and includes links to each.  “Yes, some charter schools are great, but others are a mess — especially in Ohio,” she begins, “where academic results across the sector are far worse than in traditional public schools and financial and ethical scandals are more than common.”  [Ed. note: I’m not picking on Ohio out of any sort of bad feelings towards the state.  I was born in Cleveland and happen to be very proud of that fact.]                Enough of all the bad news about charters.  Diane Ravitch’s blog is featuring a newly released report
that, she says, both sides of the charter debate can take heart from some of the findings.  Ravitch describes the co-sponsors of the survey, The Spencer Foundation and Public Agenda, as ” completely non-political” and “non-ideological.”  She includes a link to the full report titled “Charter Schools in Perspective.”  “Nationally, there is very little evidence that charter and traditional public schools differ meaningfully in their average impact on students’ standardized test performance,” it finds.  “In some states charter schools have had positive impacts on student learning, in other states they have had negative impacts, while in others charters have had no differential impact compared with traditional public schools.”  The survey has some interesting statistics.  As of the 2013-14 school year there were 6,440 charter school in the U.S. that enrolled 2,514,000 students.  [Ed. note: That probably includes those phony enrollees in Ohio but that’s an unfair shot.  I apologize!  NOT]
Happy Birthday to the BATs
The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) celebrated their second birthday on Sunday.  You can read all about their accomplishments so far and what they hope to achieve in the future on their BATs website.  In just 2 years they’ve already stirred up the education establishment.  Their name got peoples’ attention from the get go.  [Ed. note: Could they possibly be approaching those “terrible twos?  Here’s hoping so!]  “Perhaps our greatest accomplishment in 2014 is that we continue to give support to teachers across the nation,” they proudly relate, “and provide them with a clearinghouse of what is happening to public education across the nation. We continue to fight for equality and equity in both society and education. We look forward to 2015 and to our continued effort to win back great public education for all our children, and return classrooms back to teachers and their communities.”
LAUSD Spending Criticized
California’s year old “local control funding formula” earmarks new state funds to K-12 students who are low-income, learning English and in foster care.  A new study from UC Berkeley found that large portions of those dollars are not being spent as they were intended in the LAUSD.  In response, the district claims the system is new, the kinks are being worked out and the rules are being followed.  All the details are found in a story in today’s L.A. Times.
Election 2016
And finally, a quick quiz.  With former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush jumping into the Republican presidential race yesterday, how many officially declared candidates are there on the GOP side?  Answer in a moment.  EDUCATION WEEK continues to review where the candidates stand on education issues as they enter the race.  Quiz answer: eleven.  Whoops! Hold the phone.  Since I wrote that yesterday, Donald Trump entered the fray TODAY making a total of 12 GOP candidates.  ED WEEK didn’t have anything up on Trump’s education policies as of the publication time for this edition of the “Ed News,” but stay tuned.                   Valerie Strauss in her column for The Washington Post has a slightly less positive take on Jeb Bush’s education policies.  Her piece is titled “Here’s What Jeb Bush Really Did to Public Education in Florida.”  “Did his Florida reforms, she begins, “really accomplish what he says they did? When he talks about helping schools, which ones is he talking about?  Here’s what you won’t hear — and what is vital to know to fully assess Bush’s education reform record and to understand why his critics call him a privatizer — and not a reformer — of public education.”  Strauss proceeds to offer chapter and verse regarding Bush’s claimed “accomplishments” related to education in the Sunshine State.

Dave Alpert

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




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