Ed News, Friday, June 26, 2015 Edition


“The aim of education should be to teach us rather how to think,
than what to think – rather to improve our minds,
so as to enable us to think for ourselves,
than to load the memory with the thoughts of other men.”
James Beattie
If you are looking for a good overview and history of the opt-out movement you can’t go wrong with an item from truthout.  It’s titled “Testing Wars: Opt-Out Movement Gains Momentum and Critics.” 
Election 2016
GOP presidential candidate Jeb Bush took up his “pen” and wrote an op-ed piece in the NEW YORK POST laying out his proposals for education should he win the election.  It is strong on parental choice and vouchers and quick to blame teachers’ unions for what ails public education in Bush’s view.  “As president of the United States,” he writes, “I will reduce the power and authority of the federal Department of Education, sending more money and flexibility back to the states so greater school-choice opportunities can be made available to parents and their children.”               Current Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal became the 11th, no, 12th, no, 13th official GOP candidate for president in 2016 with an announcement Wednesday.  EDUCATION WEEK continues its analysis of prospective contenders’ education policies as they formally enter the race.  Jindal who, at first, was a supporter of the Common Core is now counted among the more vehement opponents.  In addition, he’s a strong advocate for vouchers and parental choice.  [Ed. note: If you are having trouble keeping current on which candidates, both Republican and Democratic, are in the presidential election chase, The New York Times has an excellent, up-to-date feature listing who is in, who is out and who may be contemplating a run that will help to keep your head from spinning.  You can find it by clicking here.]
Vouchers, Charters and School Choice
If you’d like to see the detrimental impact of vouchers and school choice on the public school system, look no further than what’s happening in Wisconsin.  GOP Gov. Scott Walker and a Republican controlled legislature have made it their policy to siphon much-needed funds from the public schools and divert them to a voucher program.  The “PR Watch” blog at The Center for Media and Democracy describes what’s taking place.  “At a time when other states are reinvesting in public education,” it begins, “Wisconsin continues to slash and burn.  The Wisconsin Budget Project says that the state is now spending $1,014 less per public school student than it did in 2008 and more funds are slated to be siphoned off as Governor Scott Walker’s budget proposes an unprecedented voucher expansion, draining funds from public education and directing them to for-profit and religious schools.”                A group of teachers from the I Can charter chain in Cleveland, Ohio disrupted the National Charter Schools Conference earlier this week in New Orleans when they challenged the chain’s CEO for firing teachers who attempted to organize a unionEdushyster has all the details.               A new report singles out the Walton Family Foundation for its support of charter schools and suggests that support needs to include more accountability and transparency.  “A quarter-century ago, when progressive educators and teachers union leaders first proposed creating charter schools as a way to innovate and improve public schools,” the article from ALTERNET begins, “they never imagined that one of the nation’s biggest conservative foundations would hijack their idea and leave a trail of profiteering and financial crimes, political corruption, lawsuits blocking audits, and lobbying against basics as simple as installing fire extinguishers in schools or offering lunch to poorer students.  But those and other problems,” it continues, “are the legacy of the Walton Family Foundation’s billion-dollar effort to create a parallel school system—charters mostly funded by tax dollars—that has become known for a stunning lack of transparency and accountability.”  Along with the criticisms was an 11-point list of ways the situation should change.  The piece includes a link to the full report titled “Cashing in on Kids, Brought To You By Wal-Mart?  How The Walton Family Foundation’s Ideological Pursuit is Damaging Charter Schooling.”              Why are charter schools over 90% non-union and what happens when teachers at those campuses want to join a union?  Those 2 questions are addressed in a piece in THE AMERICAN PROSPECT titled “When Charters Go Union.”  It will appear in print in the summer edition of the magazine.  “In recent years, as growing numbers of charter school teachers have sought to unionize,” the story notes, “both the AFT and the NEA have stepped up their efforts to organize them.  Since 2009, the AFT has been flying teacher activists from across the country to meet one another, share stories, and strategize national campaigns.”
Ed Tech
What criteria should districts avail themselves of when deciding which digital learning devices they wish to purchase?  That’s a key question in lieu of well chronicled fiascoes in the LAUSD (“iPad-for-all” disaster) and other districts.  This feature, from EDUCATION WEEK’s “Technology Counts, 2015” report, breaks down the qualities to look for by grade level, i.e., Pre-K/Elementary, Middle School and High School.  If you or your district are contemplating a 1-to-1 purchase you should definitely review these recommendations.  “Everyone always says it’s not about the device, it’s what you do with it,” the author begins.  “But the truth is, educators need a good device to accomplish their goals, and there’s no shortage to choose from.  Still, getting to the point of purchase is far from easy.”
Rafe Esquith
The LA SCHOOL REPORT has new details about the possible class-action lawsuit that Esquith’s attorney plans to file on behalf of hundreds of LAUSD teachers who have been condemned to “teacher jail” for alleged “misconduct.” The number of educators involved in the action is not known but the case will raise serious questions surrounding issues of due process and the district’s questionable disciplinary procedures.  “Esquith’s case is thrusting the issue of ‘teacher jail’ into the spotlight once again,” the piece notes, “where it has been numerous times since the Miramonte Elementary sex abuse scandal broke in 2011 and former teacher Mark Berndt was ultimately convicted of multiple counts of committing lewd acts on his students.  The Miramonte case also led to the district’s record-breaking $170 million in civil lawsuit payouts.”               The Esquith case takes a strange turn.  According to a story in today’s L.A. Times the district is looking into a claim that Esquith abused a young boy while Esquith was a teenage counselor at a summer camp over 40 years ago.  Esquith’s attorney responded that this was all part of a “smear” campaign against his client. 
She’s Back!
Former CNN news host Campbell Brown is back according to THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.  She’s starting a non-profit education news site called “The Seventy Four” (for the 74 million students in our K-12 system) that is set to debut July 13.  “The creation of the site is likely to stir controversy.  Since turning to advocacy in the years after she left CNN in 2010, Ms. Brown became a lightning rod for criticism from the teachers’ union and its supporters who have seen her efforts – most notably a push to reform tenure rules in New York – as part of a thinly-veiled campaign aimed at union busting.”               That curmudgeon on the CURMUDGUCATION blog, aka Peter Greene, is not impressed with Brown’s intentions“At any rate,” he intones, “brace yourselves boys and girls– here comes the next wave of faux progressive teacher bashing and charter pushing by privatizers who will not rest until they’ve cracked that golden egg full of tax dollars.  Because that’s the other reason they’re willing to sink $4 million into something like this– because while that may seem like a lot of money to you or me, to them it’s peanuts, an investment that they hope will pay off eventually in billions of tax dollars directed away from public education and to the private corporations that are drooling at the prospect of cashing in on education.”
New LAUSD Budget
The LAUSD board voted Tuesday evening to approve a $7.8 billion budget for the 2015-16 school year.  For employees of the district there is good news and bad news.  The good news: a 10% pay increase spread over the first 2 years of the contract.  That’s the first raise in almost 10 years.  The bad news:  There will still need to be hundreds of lay-offs, mostly in adult education programs, in order to balance the budget.  94 elementary and secondary educators will also receive pink slips although some of the lay-offs may be rescinded as state spending on schools possibly exceeds current predictions.  A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times provides the details.  “The budget reflects an $850-million increase over last year, the biggest gain since before the latest recession,” it notes.  “Even so, Supt. Ramon C. Cortines warned that the spending plan is tenuously balanced for the fiscal year that begins July 1.”
LAUSD Supt. Cortines Says He’s Leaving in 6 Months
When Ramon Cortines was selected to replace the fiasco-prone John Deasy as LAUSD superintendent in October, he was adamant about not wanting the word “interim” as part of his title.  The district acquiesced.  The board even extended his contract recently to the end of the 2015-16 school year.  During the board’s meeting on Tuesday, Cortines made the surprising announcement that he will be leaving at the end of this December.  The Los Angeles Daily News has the story.  “Cortines, who turns 83 in July, has twice before served as LAUSD’s superintendent,” it notes.  “He also served as superintendent of schools in Pasadena, San Francisco, San Jose and as chancellor in New York City from 1993 to 1995.  Additionally, he previously worked as an adviser to former U.S. Secretary of Education Richard Riley.”
Hints for Principals
Are you a principal?  Do you happen to know one?  If you answered “yes” to either of those questions you may want to take a close look at this piece from EDUCATION WEEK titled “5 Things Principals Can Do Differently Next School Year” and take it to heart personally or share it with that administrator you know.  “As soon as the last bell of the school year sounds, educators begin reinventing themselves,” the author commences.  “So principals, while you are enjoying the quiet that only comes when both teachers and students are out, consider some things you can do right now to make teachers’ lives (and by extension, your own) easier.”
What Was He Thinking?
The governor of Texas just appointed a woman to become chair of the State Board of Education who has never sent her own children to a public school.  She at first home schooled her 3 sons before sending them to a private high school according to this item from RAW STORY.  The controversial appointment prompted this comment from Republican State Board member Thomas Ratliff (as quoted in the article): “Public school isn’t for everybody, but when 94-percent of our students in Texas attend public schools I think it ought to be a baseline requirement that the chair of the State Board of Education have at least some experience in that realm, as a parent, teacher, something.”
The Teaching Profession
A reader of Diane Ravitch’s blog, Joanne Yatvin, who has been a teacher and school administrator, has an interesting suggestion for evaluating teachers: ” ask the students.”  Before you dismiss her idea out-of-hand, read what she has to say.  It may not be a perfect solution but it certainly has promise over what some other states and districts are proposing.  Yatvin describes how her idea would work and offers some sample questions to ask the students.  A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted Steven Singer’s technique, on his GLADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, of having his students fill out a class evaluation at the end of the school year.  He described it as “the only teaching evaluation that matters.”               Speaking of Steven Singer, his latest effort on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG accuses some members of the Pennsylvania House of hypocrisy for voting to let teachers go without regard to seniority.  What’s wrong with that, you ask?  The chamber’s own leadership format is largely based on, you guessed it, seniority!  “Everything from preferential treatment for committee assignments to better office space and even seating closer to the front of the assembly is often based on seniority,” Singer points out.  “Leadership positions are usually voted on, but both Republicans and Democrats traditionally give these positions to the most senior members.  And these same folks have the audacity to look down their noses at public school teachers for valuing the same thing!?”               An article from The Atlantic looks at the issue of teacher retention and why up to 50% of educators leave the profession after less than 5 years in the classroom.  The problem is especially acute at the lowest preforming campuses.  The author describes his extremely difficult first year working at a middle school in Louisville, Kentucky.  He offers some suggestions on how to ease the task many new teachers face.  “When I think back to my first year,” he concludes,  “I’m no longer bitter.  I’m now completing my 11th year as a teacher; I mentor new educators and advocate for better support and working conditions.  But unless those resources are in place, I wouldn’t voluntarily work in another struggling school.”
Ed Reform New Orleans Style
Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, takes a look at how Hurricane Katrina impacted the public school system in New Orleans 10 years after it devastated that city.  His piece is titled “Lessons to be Learned From New Orleans Style Education Reform.”  “ As the tenth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches,” he begins, “you can count on seeing a lot of glowing stories about the great education progress made in New Orleans since a natural disaster killed nearly 2,000 people, emptied a beloved city, and gave public school reformers what they always wanted: a ‘clean slate’ to have their way unencumbered by the messiness of school boards, local politics, and the voices of teachers and parents.”  Bryant goes on to say that “progress” is certainly open to how one interprets the data that’s been generated and he concludes: “When someone comes to your community to sell you on the education reform model created for New Orleans, don’t buy it.”
Class Size Matters
And finally, Leonie Haimson who founded the group “Class Size Matters” in 2000 talks about how she got involved in the issue and why reducing class size makes a difference in a short video (4:06 minutes) featured on Anthony Cody’s LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.


Dave Alpert

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


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s