Ed News, Tuesday, June 30, 2015


[Ed. note:  The “Ed News” will be taking a short break for the Independence Day Holiday.  Look for the next edition on Friday, July 10.]
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“It is hard not to feel that there must be something very wrong with much of what we do in school, if we feel the need to worry so much about what many people call ‘motivation’. A child has no stronger desire than to make sense of the world, to move freely in it, to do the things that he sees bigger people doing.”
John Holt
Rafe Esquith Reaction
The Rafe Esquith story generated the second most number of letters to the L.A. Times last week.  According to the “Numbers and letters” feature in Saturday’s paper “578 printable letters to the editor were received between last Friday and this Friday.  182 letters were about the shooting in South Carolina, the week’s most discussed topic.  41 readers wrote about the LAUSD’s treatment of teacher Rafe Esquith.   34 letters mentioned the pope’s encyclical on climate change and the environment, the third most discussed topic.”  The “Mailbag” feature in the same paper included an introductory note from the letters editor and included a sampling of comments by 3 readers regarding the LAUSD’s handling of Esquith.                The details of the Rafe Esquith story are pretty well known by now by most readers of the “Ed News.”  Here’s a case of a falsely accused LAUSD teacher who was hauled off to “teacher jail” for something he never did.  How did all this notoriety impact him and his life?  VERY seriously according to this item from the LA SCHOOL REPORT.  This is another example of why Esquith’s attorney is bringing a class-action suit against the district for denial of due process and why tenure is so important as a protection against false accusations and teacher mistreatment. 
New Research Raises Questions About Value-Added Models (VAMs)
Audrey Amrein-Beardsley is one of the leading experts on VAMs.  She has written extensively about them on her VAMboozled blog and many of her pieces have been highlighted in the “Ed News.”  In a recent post she features some new research from one of her former doctoral students that sheds more light on how poorly VAMs can be used for rating the effectiveness of teachers.  The piece is titled “Evidence of Grade and Subject-Level Bias in Value-Added Measures” which happens to also be the title of her student’s paper. 
Charters, Vouchers and Testing 
The Harvard Political Review has a story headlined “The Case Against Standardized Testing.”  The author is the associate editor of the publication and an intern at the Center for Civic Innovation in Atlanta.  He offers a number of reasons why high-stakes assessments will not achieve what supporters claim they will but suggests that accountability is still an important issue in U.S. schools.  “Thirteen years after NCLB’s mandates were first set into place,” he believes, “the rhetoric used by politicians and pundits is sounding more and more like that which the same politicians and pundits used to endorse NCLB.  Congress would be ill advised to try to use high-stakes test-based accountability to narrow the achievement gap and expect a different result than the aftermath of the 2002 law.  It is time to acknowledge that putting an enormous amount of weight on standardized test scores does not work, and to move on to other solutions.”               The U.S. Supreme Court term comes to an end today and over the last several days the justices have announced some key, if not, landmark, decisions.  A case on the constitutionality of vouchers may be making it to the court’s docket in the near future.  on A 4-3 vote the Colorado Supreme Court ruled yesterday that a suburban district’s voucher program was unconstitutional because it allowed taxpayer money to be used to send students to parochial schools.  Douglas County said it was contemplating an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  That doesn’t automatically mean the justices would take the case but this one bears watching.  The Denver Post has the interesting details.  “Most voucher programs nationwide serve only low-income students or those with special needs,” it reviews.  “After the election of a conservative, reform-minded school board, the Douglas County district adopted a program open to all students, arguing competition will make all schools better in a district that already boasts the state’s top accreditation rating.”  The article includes the full text (58 pages) of the court’s decision for those of you who are inclined to delve deeper.                Teachers in New York are required to sign a confidentiality agreement that they won’t discuss any questions or answers or point out errors from the standardized tests until they are made public.  A new law was recently passed to address that issue.  It now says they can do those things once the materials have been made public.  Yes, you read that right.  It’s now OK to do what it was OK to do before.  An article in The New York Times mentions the latest legislation.  “The ban has been reviled by many teachers,” it points out, “who say it makes it more difficult to properly prepare students and to have informed conversations about whether the exams need to be improved.  The state teachers’ union has sued the state’s Education Department in federal court over the confidentiality agreements, saying they violate free speech.”                Peter Greene of CURMUDGUCATION blog fame, was quick to point out the absurdity of the new law and the headline The New York Times attached to the story: “State Relaxes An Order That Prohibits Teachers From Discussing Standardized Tests.”  Greene questions whether the paper understands the meaning of the term “relaxed.”  So what, exactly, has changed?  “Teachers can still talk about test items that have been released, and test manufacturers are still free to keep any parts of the test under wraps that they so choose.  So as far as the gag order goes,” he answers, “nothing has changed.”
Here’s the “Ed News” cartoon-of-the day:”
A reason for everything
The Teaching Profession
Teacher activism on a number of pertinent issues is not restricted to the U.S.  A story in The Atlantic surveys a number of actions taken by educators around the world to protest things like low pay, poor working conditions and status.  This item includes a series of photographs illustrating actions around the world.  “The struggle isn’t limited to American teachers,” it reports.  “Educators around the world have taken to the streets to speak out against issues such as failing schools and subpar working conditions.  The discontent seems to be particularly intense in certain countries and regions—throughout Latin America, for example—and sometimes these are the same areas where teachers’ status in society is notably low.”               Mike Klonsky’s Small Talk Blog takes on the rather curious fact that many corporate “reformers” don’t want to address the issue of class size and how it impacts student learning.  Diane Ravitch believes he’s come up with “one of the best titles ever.”  He headlines his piece “Class Size: The Common Sense Bus Doesn’t Stop On School Reform Blvd.”  If for no other reason, check out the cartoon he uses to illustrate his article.   “I’m increasingly confronted by some local, self-described school reformers,  he begins, “who minimize the effects of rising class sizes on effective teaching and learning. ‘There’s no research supporting smaller class size’, they tell me. Of course, they are wrong.”                 Florida has a new teacher pay bonus that the reporter of the article in the Tampa Bay Times mentions was sparked by some ideas in Amanda Ripley’s The Smartest Kids in the World which was the topic for discussion by the ALOED book club in March.  The incentive plan, rather curiously, provides $10,000 bonuses to new teachers who scored above the 80th percentile on their SAT or ACT test that they took as high school seniors as well as educators who rate as “highly effective” on their teacher evaluation.  The second half of that idea kind of makes sense but the first part seems rather dubious as a solid predictor of teaching excellence.  It should be noted that Florida did away with salary bonuses for advanced degrees and National Board certification.                 Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, was quick to react to Florida’s new bonus plan as described in the Tampa Bay Times story (see above).  “Just when you think the state of Florida can’t find another way to misuse standardized test scores, it finds a way,” she begins dismissively.  “Now, it is planning to spend $44 million to fund a scholarship program that will award big bonuses to teachers who got high SAT and ACT scores before entering college — even if they took the test decades ago.  The proposal was so flawed that it didn’t make it through the Republican-led Senate during the legislature’s spring session, but it rose from the dead in a June special session, winding up in the 2015-16 Florida education spending budget.”              One often hears that education is or ought to be “only about the kids” or is or ought to be “about the teachers.”  The author of this piece on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, writes very personally about why she thinks “Teaching is About ALL of Us.”  She has a masters in Education and is a National Board certified teacher of Visual Arts in Mississippi and gets upset when critics imply that teachers don’t really care about kids and are only in the profession for themselves.  “Rhetoric that implies teachers do not care about students because they care about their own personal lives,” she summarizes, “is destructive not only to the profession, but ultimately to students as well. The conversation should be about how to lift all of us up because we are all connected in this life.”               A 22-year teaching veteran and member of the Massachusetts Badass Teachers Association writes movingly and heartbreakingly about why she’s leaving the profession.  [Ed. note: You can probably guess why.  The “Ed News” has, unfortunately, highlighted a number of these missives from talented and caring educators and the sad thing is, the reasons they offer are astonishing in their repetitiveness.]  “I want to make myself very clear,” she intones from the outset, “I am not leaving my peers and especially the children behind.  A fight has been ignited within and I can’t ignore it.  The take over of our public schools and the regime of high-stakes test supporters, union breakers and unfair evaluations is a blatant and bold invasion of our civil rights and a damaging blow to the very principles of democracy! Our children are it’s most tragic victims.”                The U.S Supreme Court has agreed to take up a California case in its next term beginning in October that challenges the right of public unions to collect fees from non-members for representation.  The case, whose lead plaintiff is an Orange County teacher, has national implications for the continued existence of public employee unions.  The details about the case appeared on the L.A. Times website this morning.  Look for it in the print edition of the paper, possibly tomorrow.  “The case is likely to be seen as a crucial test of public employee unions, which have been under political attack in several Republican-led states,” the story explains.  “The outcome may well have a political impact as well, because these unions have been reliable supporters of the Democratic Party.”               The “School Law” column in EDUCATION WEEK has some additional details about this prospective ground-breaking case.                    
Election 2016
An op-ed in the Miami Herald takes a withering look at the education policies of former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.  The author is a former Democratic State Senator who titles his commentary “Jeb Bush: He ‘Dumbed Down’ Florida Schools.”  Bush and many of his supporters like to point to Florida as a “model of reform.”  The author begs to differ.  “Any honest review of Bush’s education initiatives,” he maintains, “reveals a much different reality than the one promoted: a state that’s less a shining model of reform and more an example of the perils of combining excessive testing with inadequate funding.”               Paul Thomas, associate professor of education at Furman University, offers 5 questions about education that need to be asked of each and every one of the candidates for president.  They focus on the issue of inequality and how each person would address the issue.  The story appears in ALTERNET.  “In addressing education issues candidates are likely to remain trapped inside the failed accountability mindset for reforming schools — one that privileges ‘standards’ and ‘tests’ as the central means of closing the infamous achievement gap,” he writes.  “But there are better ways to approach what plagues us.  Instead of focusing merely on ‘accountability,’ presidential candidates should be challenged first to confront and then address the tremendous social and educational inequities that plague our public schools.”
Editorial: End School District Reserve Cap
This issue may be rather esoteric but it did draw the interest of the L.A. Times.  A Sunday editorial in the paper described what the “school reserve cap” is and suggested that it be jettisoned or modified.  In general, recent legislation has allowed school districts to squirrel away funds during boom years to use when those monies became more scarce.  At the request of some teachers’ unions in the state, a “cap” was placed on that reserve so districts wouldn’t just save the money and not spend it as needed.  The editorial concludes: “Repeal–or at lest modify–the school reserve cap.”
A Bittersweet Farewell
Carol Burris, award-winning principal at South Side High School in New York and prolific blogger, bade farewell to her 15th and final graduating class with a stirring and bittersweet oration to the senior class.  Burris is retiring at the end of this school year.  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, reprints Burris’s words that are built around a quote attributed to Winnie the Pooh: ““How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”
BREAKING NEWS: Gov. Brown Signs Vaccination Bill Into Law
And finally, today Gov. Brown signed into law one of the toughest mandatory vaccination legislation in the nation.  It eliminates previous exemptions for personal or religious beliefs.  Parents could opt their child out of the program if there is a medical condition certified by a physician.  A story about the issue was posted on the L.A. Times website mid morning today.  It will most likely appear in print tomorrow. “The governor acknowledged,” the piece notes, “that opponents of the measure expressed their positions with ‘eloquence and sincerity,’ but he decided to sign the bill into law regardless because of the benefit to public health.”

Dave Alpert

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



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