Ed News, Friday, July 10, 2015 Edition


“It doesn’t hurt to get more education.”
Donald Trump
On July 1, two new members were sworn in and took their seats on the LAUSD school board.  Charter school founder Ref Rodriguez defeated pro-union incumbent Bennett Kayser and Scott Schmerelson ousted incumbent Tamar Galatzan in the May election.  Termed-out president Richard Vladovic and George McKenna  also took the oath of office.  The committee selected a new president, Steve Zimmer, who happens to be an adjunct professor of Urban and  Environmental  Policy  at Oxy. The board faces a number of key issues in it’s next term including selecting a new superintendent, monitoring charter schools and critical budget decisions among others according to a story in the July 2, L.A. Times.  “In coming months,” it points out, “the board will deal with an improved but limited budget, one that includes long-awaited pay raises but also layoffs.  Sweeping academic challenges also persist, including the need to revamp the college prep program so that more students graduate. The district also has yet to resolve two technology debacles: a faulty student records system and an aborted plan to provide every student, teacher and campus administrator with an iPad.”               Know what “sexting” is?  If not, I’d rather not have to explain it so I’ll leave it to you to read the article on the front-page of Tuesday’s Times about an LAUSD program to tackle the popular social media problem.  Its aim is to educate students about the ramifications of sexting rather than just punishing kids who are involved.  “The Los Angeles Unified School District,” it reports, “plans to roll out what may be the state’s most ambitious educational campaign around the issue.  Officials are creating a video, lesson plans and handouts on sexting, which they plan to distribute to all schools beginning this fall.”
2016 Election
What role should the issue of public education play in the upcoming election of 2016?  In recent races it’s taken a back seat to pressing issues like terrorism, the economy and healthcare.  The author of this piece from the Badass Teachers Association, an Ed.D. and retired educator, believes it’s time for it to take a more pivotal role.  “Public school teachers, parents and administrators,” he contends, “need to elevate the issue of how public education in this country is under siege and currently undergoing its greatest challenge for survival from the threat of privatization and high-stakes standardized testing.”
Arne Duncan
U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan wanted to engage parents regarding their rights in educating their children.  He opened up his July Twitter Chat to their comments and, boy, did he get a reaction.  Kathleen Jasper, educator and creator of the ConversationED website, provides some of the tweets he received along with her own comments about the entire event.                 It appears that U.S. Dept. of Education Sec. Arne Duncan will remain in his cabinet post until the end of the Obama administration in Jan., 2017.  The fact that he will serve all 8 years makes him a rarity among his colleagues and during that time he has often served as a lighting rod for criticisms of the Obama education agenda.  The reporter for this story in The Washington Post takes a generally positive view of what Duncan has accomplished during his tenure leading the DoE.  “Duncan has injected an unusual amount of federal influence into traditionally local decisions about public education,” she explains.  “The result is that most Americans now accept public charter schools as an alternative to neighborhood schools, most teachers expect to be judged in some measure on how well their students perform on standardized tests, and most states are using more demanding K-12 math and reading standards.  But,” she continues, “Duncan’s policies have led to side effects that people across the political spectrum feel have hurt more than they’ve helped.  Conservatives say those closest to students — local communities — lost power to decide what’s best for them.  Liberals complain about an unhealthy focus on math and reading and about overtesting, leading to an ‘opt-out’ movement that saw hundreds of thousands of students boycott tests this spring.”

Pushback on New California Vaccination Law
No sooner did Gov. Brown sign into law legislation that eliminates religious and personal belief exemptions for parents to opt a child out of state vaccination requirements, than a movement arose to place a referendum on the ballot next year to have voters overturn it.  Former state Assemblyman and unsuccessful gubernatorial candidate Tim Donnelly is spearheading the action.  An L.A. Times article July 2, explains what’s going on.   “Filing a proposed statewide referendum with the attorney general is the first step in the process of placing a measure on the ballot,” it explains.  “A $200 fee, which Donnelly has submitted, is required.  The attorney general then creates an official title and summary of the referendum.  Supporters have 180 days to collect signatures from at least 365,880 registered voters for the 2016 ballot, according to the California secretary of state’s office.”
Charter Schools
How are charter schools faring since they were introduced in the early 1990s?  According to this commentary from BUZZFLASH the answer is not encouraging.  It’s titled “Growing Evidence Shows That Charter Schools Are Failing.”  The author takes the long view in his piece rather than just focusing on specific cases.  He cites a number of studies that highlight the lack of oversight and transparency to back-up his premise.               Did a charter school in Chicago fire 17 teachers over their involvement in a unionization drive on the campus?  That’s the charge leveled in this story from IN THESE TIMES.  “This is only the latest case of such allegedly unjust firings,” it maintains, “as more and more charter schools in Chicago and across the country are organizing to unionize despite the legal hurdles, backlash, and the common belief—at least among school management—that charter teachers don’t need unions.”               Along the same lines, Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a letter Ravitch received from a teacher in New York who was fired for her attempts to organize a union at her charter school.  The woman describes the very difficult working conditions at the New Dawn Charter High School in Brooklyn and the fact that teacher complaints and suggestions were pretty much ignored by the administration.  Her story supports the one above about the teachers at a charter in Chicago.               Are the Detroit public schools going the way of the now all-charter New Orleans District?  If Gov. Rick Snyder of Michigan has his way the answer is “yes.”  And, surprisingly, the Michigan chapter of the AFT has supported the plan.  You’ll have to read the article from the World Socialist Web Site to follow all the twists and turns in this story.  “The crisis in Detroit schools,” it reports, “like those in districts across the country, stems from decades of corporate tax cuts, economic decay and the growth of social inequality. The 2008 financial crash was deliberately exploited by the Obama administration to force cash-starved districts to adopt anti-teacher measures and expand charter schools, which, in turn, divert more public resources to profit-making companies.”
Testing and Common Core
THE NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION offers a very simple graphic with “10 Reasons to Oppose High-Stakes Tests.”  Here’s NUMBER 6 to give you a preview: “High-stakes tests focused on Language Arts and Math have resulted in narrow instruction and curriculum that focuses on test preparation.”               Why has California, unlike some other states, seemingly embraced the Common Core State Standards and The SBAC tests that are aligned to them?  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, suggests one needs to dust off that old adage “follow the money.”  Major funding, and we’re talking over a million dollars, has been poured into the Golden State in a massive pr campaign in support of the standards and the assessments.  Where is much of that money coming from?  Answer: The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.  Surprise!!!  “A high stakes experiment in educational collaboration is unfolding in the state of California, and I have a feeling of foreboding,”  Cody begins.  “I am afraid teachers and students in my state are like frogs in a pot that is slowly heating, and before we know it we will be cooked.  Though State Superintendent Tom Torlakson issued a statement in May renaming the state standards the ‘California Standards,’ the state remains wedded to the Common Core.  At the end of this month, there will be a full day of events bringing teachers to California State Universities to celebrate the Common Core, funded by a $1.25 million Gates Foundation grant.”              A new blog called EduResearcher raises some serious questions about the validity, reliability and fairness of standardized tests and, in particular, the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) exams which are being used in California.  The creator of the column is an Associate Professor in the Department of K-8 Teacher Education at San Jose State University.  She recently wrote a letter to the California State Board of Education outlining her many concerns about the tests and how they are being used.  The link above includes selections from her missive.
NEA Convention Concludes
The National Education Association wrapped up their 2015 conference on Tuesday in Orlando, Florida.  The “Teacher Beat” blog at EDUCATION WEEK offers some fairly detailed coverage of the event.  A summary of some of the more specific proposals and whether they were passed or defeated can be found by clicking here.  An overview of some of the broader issues facing the delegates was provided.  Did the conference support the opt-out movement?  You’ll need to read a third item to try to sort out the mixed messages on that critical issue.               The Badass Teachers Association NEA caucus chair reflects on the recently concluded NEA conference and the impact her group had on the gathering.  She recounts the efforts the BATS put in preparing for specific legislative proposals and the outcomes of those endeavors along with extending kudos to the many members who assisted in the work.
Ed Tech
A story in the “Business” section of Wednesday’s L.A. Times identifies the Los Angeles area as a growing hub for ed-tech start-up companies.  “Interest in ed-tech has grown as technology — and accessibility to it — has improved,” it points out.  “Supporters say ed-tech not only enhances traditional learning experiences within the classroom, but gives people the freedom to learn wherever they want, however they want.  The best-known hubs are in Silicon Valley and New York City, but the blossoming tech scene in L.A., with its strengths in animation and entertainment, has even more potential to improve how students learn, they say.              There is a growing global movement protesting the rapidly increasing control Pearson has over much of the field of education. On the HUFF POST EDUCATION BLOG Alan Singer, a social studies educator at Hofstra University, has a commentary titled “International Movement to STOP the Pearson Octopus” based on a paper he was preparing to deliver at a conference in Madrid.
Reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB
This week the full U.S. Senate began what is expected to be lengthy debate on the long overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act and its most recent iteration No Child Left Behind.  The current legislation is titled “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.”  EDUCATION WEEK lays out what to look forward to. “Should the ESEA measure clear the Senate,” it predicts, “it’s still unclear what will happen on the other side of the Capitol.  The U.S. House of Representatives has its own reauthorization bill pending that at some point would need to be reconciled with the Senate’s bill.”               Leonie Haimson, head of the group Class Size Matters and a member of the board of THE NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION, wants to make sure everyone is clear about what the ECAA does and doesn’t do.  Her comments appear on Diane Ravitch’s blog.              Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 reviews the bill and reports that the Obama administration is not in favor of the legislation as currently presented in the Senate.                Carol Burris, the award-winning and now sadly retired principal of South Side High School in New York, on her Round the Inkwell blog, briefly explains why she supports ECAA.  “The federal government is not a national school board,” Burris concludes, “and Mr. Duncan is not a national superintendent.  Yes, the bill could be better (much better) but this is an important first step.  I will be contacting my Senators and asking them to support ECAA.  And if anything in that bill changes for the worse, you can be sure that I will let you (and them) know.”               Oh, oh.  Better keep a close eye on the U.S. Senate as it currently debates the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB.  An amendment was neatly tucked into the legislation that will allow districts to divert federal monies meant for low-performing schools to pay financial consulting firms.  What a plum for those companies poised to reap lots of taxpayer bucks.  Why would Senators Mark Warner (R-VA) and John Cornyn (R-TX) do that?  [Ed note: Spoiler alert–they accept heavy campaign contributions from the financial industry.]  The details of this latest move are from the INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES.                The U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday narrowly passed, by a 218-213 vote, its version of the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB.  If the Senate passes a different bill a compromise will have to be worked out among the two chambers.  THE HILL does a good job of describing the key features of the House and Senate bills and where the legislation will go from here.               EDUCATION WEEK has an extensive review of the House-passed measure.              A group of civil rights organizations called the Journey for Justice Alliance addressed an open letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) regarding what they would like to see included and not included in the Senate’s bill to rewrite ESEA/NCLB.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post reprints the note and the long list of signatories at the end.  It includes some noteworthy suggestions that need to be considered.
Take it to Court
Is it possible to sue our way to better schools?  An editorial in Wednesday’s L.A. Times takes a “yes and no” approach.  It cites a couple of examples where lawsuits were able to remedy serious situations.  In regards to the Vergara case from last year that ruled tenure and seniority rights in California are unconstitutional the piece maintains that a legislative solution was a better way to go but the Democrats who hold power in both the state Senate and Assembly have failed to act.  “Lawsuits have at times been disruptive and costly, and they tend to target one issue at a time without regard for the bigger picture.  But the Democrat-controlled Legislature,” the editorial complains, “which has long been too deferential to the wishes of the California Teachers Assn., has repeatedly failed to make sensible changes that would benefit students while remaining fair to teachers.  It may take more court edicts for that to happen.”
Teacher Evaluations Upheld by Federal Court
A Federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld the Florida law that partially ties teacher evaluations to student test scores.  The three-judge panel ruled unanimously that the Sunshine state may use controversial value-added models (VAMs) for up to 50% of an instructor’s evaluation.  The “School Law” column in EDUCATION WEEK provides the details of this latest ruling.  “Several teachers and three local teachers’ unions,”  it points out, “sued the state and three districts . . . . challenging the law and its implementation on 14th Amendment due process and equal protection grounds.  The suit argued that the policies arbitrarily and illogically evaluated teachers based either on the test scores of students or subjects they did not teach.”  A federal district court had previously ruled in favor of the school districts in the case.
School Funding
What about that often-heard charge that in the U.S. we just “throw money” at the schools and seldom see any positive results?  Who usually raises that issue and what are the facts behind it?  Steven Singer on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG offers a primer on the school funding issue and attacks some myths about it along the way.              When the Great Recession was upon the land many state legislatures used the excuse that as revenues plummeted due to the poor economy school budgets had to be slashed.  Now that the economy is rebounding and state coffers are rising why is it that schools are still woefully underfunded?  Is this part of the hidden war on the public schools?  Jeff Bryant, at the Education Opportunity NETWORK, looks at how many states are still not providing adequate dollars to fund the public schools.  Of note, he explains how California is a rare exception to the rule.  “If California can do more to support public schools,” he suggests, “certainly other states can too.  Further, those states that fund schools more equitably can be held up as models for the rest of the nation, and federal authorities could pressure states to adhere to those examples in much the same way the US Department of Education has succeeded in pressuring states to adopt all kinds of measures.  The federal government could also do more to support the numerous lawsuits now being conducted against states to force them to uphold their constitutional duties to provide adequate funding for education.”
Opt-Out Movement
And finally, how effective has the opt-out movement been?  More and more state are releasing concrete statistics and the tide against taking high-stakes assessments is certainly building.  Washington state just announced that more than 1-in-4 11th graders refused to take the recent English/Language Arts portion of the SBAC exam and a slightly higher number skipped the math segment according to a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  It notes that those figures could be even higher.  “The high opt-out rate for a single grade drove the state’s overall participation rate below the 95-percent participation rate that the federal government requires for students eligible to be tested,” the piece explains.  “The Washington state department [of education] says that one potential consequence would be for the federal government to withhold certain funds.  But it’s not yet clear how the U.S. Department of Education will respond to Washington’s statistics, which, remember, are only preliminary, and how they’ll deal with the state as well as individual districts and schools with high opt-out rates.”

Dave Alpert

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



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