Ed News, Tuesday, July 14, 2015 Edition


“Nevertheless, (Jefferson) believed that the habit of skepticism is an essential prerequisite for responsible citizenship. He argued that the cost of education is trivial compared to the cost of ignorance, of leaving government to the wolves.
He taught that the country is safe only when the people rule.”
Carl Sagan, The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark    
Rafe Esquith Case Blowback
The way the LAUSD handled the case of acclaimed teacher Rafe Esquith has raised serious questions about its entire process of dealing with instructors accused of misconduct.  Assignment to “teacher jail,” the lack of due process and the failure to inform of specific charges against teachers are just a few of the ones being addressed.  A story in Saturday’s L.A. Times asks is “teacher discipline too much?”  It reviews the Miramonte Elementary School case and details new district procedures that were instituted in its wake and that are now being called into question.  “Teachers complained that the district had become overzealous, or worse,” it reports.  “Some administrators, they said, were using any allegation to get rid of instructors they disliked.  Minor infractions, they said, suddenly became grounds for dismissal and unproven allegations were enough to keep a teacher from ever returning to work.”               It’s official!  Esquith’s attorney has filed notice of an impending class action suit against the LAUSD that not only challenges the way Esquith was treated but also intends to raise the issues of a lack of due process and fairness in the way thousands of other educators were handled after being accused of misconduct.  The paperwork was received by the district on June 22 according to a story from the LA SCHOOL REPORT.  Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence who found this item before the editor did.
Teach for America
There’s a new book out about Teach for America that the program is probably not going to find very favorable.  It’s titled Teach for America Counter Narratives: Alumni Speak Up and Speak Out.”  TFA corps members share their experiences with the group.  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, features the book and includes some excerpts.  “The editors of the book say they view it as a counter-narrative to that given by the organization,” comments Strauss, “and it reveals some of the problems within the structure of TFA that they believe hurt teachers and students.”
How to Tell If a School if “Failing”
Citing standardized test scores is probably not the best way to determine if a school is under-performing, although most corporate “reformers” want you to believe that canard.  This commentary, from a former English teacher writing on the HUFF POST EDUCATION BLOG, offers “Ten Signs Your Child is in a Failing School District.”  “In these days of Common Core State Standards and continuing attacks on public education by billionaires and their bought-and-paid-for legislators,”  it begins, “parents need a few guidelines on how to tell if their child is in a failing school district.  It has nothing to do with low scores on state-mandated standardized tests and more to do with the culture in the school district.”  Here’s his first item: “1. The large majority of your teachers have less than five years of experience.”  Check out the other nine.
An ongoing series of reports from the “PR Watch” blog at The Center for Media and Democracy continues to uncover the serious lack of accountability and transparency among a number of charter schools even as Congress is poised to greatly expand the funding for the Charter Schools Program.  “Between 2001 and 2013, 2,486 charter schools have been forced to shutter,” it notes, “affecting 288,000 American children enrolled in primary and secondary schools.  Furthermore, untold millions out of the $3.3 billion expended by the federal government under CSP have been awarded as planning and implementation grants to schools that never opened to students.”               Ohio has been held up as an example of a state whose charter schools are riddled with fraud and corruption.  When the Buckeye state’s legislature got around to discussing a reform package with more accountability and transparency the state Senate passed the measure but it was not even taken up by the House before both chambers recessed for the summer.  REAL CLEAR EDUCATION headlines their piece “Money Talks, Reform Walks: Ohio Fails to Reform Nationally Ridiculed Charter School System.”  How could that happen?  It points to two familiar culprits–MONEY and LOBBYISTS.
Diane Ravitch’s blog reprinted a parody of the Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind” by a reader called “NY Teacher.”  His effort is titled “Must Be Bubbled-In.”  It pokes fun at all those high-stakes exams.  Here’s the first stanza:
How many tests must a child withstand
Before we can kill this scam?
How many years will we need to resist?
With so many heads in the sand?
Yes, how many tests must our children endure?
Before test-and-punish is banned?
Right answers my friend, must be bubbled-in
Right answers again and again.
As an extra bonus this item also includes a couple of parodies of Paul Simon and Neil Young tunes (feel free to sing or hum along).               Standardized test results are coming out in Pennsylvania and they are not encouraging.  That sparked the author of the Teacher’s Lessons Learned blog to pen a piece titled “No High Stakes Testing!”  In it she offers a number of well-reasoned arguments against the assessments and suggests a solution–join the opt-out movement!                Noam Chomsky, Professor Emeritus at MIT, offers his opinion in regard to the debate on testing in an article on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  This item includes a video interview (7:24 minutes) with Chomsky and a truncated transcript of his comments.  “In recent years there’s a strong tendency to require assessment of children and teachers,” he maintains, “so that you have to teach to the tests, and the test determines what happens to the child and what happens to the teacher.  That’s guaranteed to destroy any meaningful educational process.”               Why do some civil rights organizations support standardized testing, claiming it is good for poor and minority students, while other groups claim it’s harmful for pupils of all colors?  That question is tackled by a commentary from the “This Week in Education” blog at scholastic written by a teacher and historian.  “In my tens of thousands of interactions with stakeholders,” he notes, “I have almost never met a person who wasn’t quickly disillusioned by NCLB testing.  The only people who still seem to support stakes attached to its testing are politicos who are personally invested in the law they promoted.”  Diane Ravitch notes this is a “thoughtful column.”
Arne Duncan
The Chicago Public Fools (that’s not a misprint) website reports that U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan will be enrolling his kids in the fall at the private University of Chicago Lab School.  There they will not have the experience of Common Core, standardized testing or teachers who are evaluated using valued-added models–all things Duncan has been pushing for public school students in the U.S.  “Lab is an excellent, well-resourced private school,” the author describes, “with a rich arts curriculum, small classes, entire rooms devoted to holding musical instruments, a unionized teaching staff that you pretty much never hear anyone suggesting should be replaced by untrained temp workers, and not one single standardized test until students reach age 14.”               The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a laudatory piece on Arne Duncan from The Washington Post.  “Washington Post Writes the Most Embarrassing, Awful Profile of Arne Duncan Ever, Completely Misses the Point” is the headline of a scathing response to the Post’s article by Jeff Bryant writing for SALON “The result of [Lyndsey Layton’s] off-target report,” Bryant bemoans, “is that not only does she mischaracterize the painful flaws of the Obama administration’s education policies – and the consequences of those flaws for public school children and teachers – but she also misses the most important story about what this failed policy leader leaves in his wake.”
Education “Reform”
Putative education “reformer” and former CNN host Campbell Brown is starting a new website called “The Seventy Four” which refers to the number of school-aged children in the U.S.  The initial launch of the site was covered a couple of months ago by the “Ed News.”  In an interview with FORTUNE magazine Brown explains how she got into the business of reporting on education issues and describes the goals of her new venture.  “As an advocate for education-reform issues, Brown has become a lightening rod for criticism,” the introduction to the Q & A explains.  “Union leaders and some educators have accused the 47-year old of trying to privatize public education and to deny teachers’ due process rights.  Brown has responded that she is not a union-buster, saying that charter schools are a way of giving families a choice and that her goal is to create better educational opportunities for public school children.”               Jennifer Berkshire, over at EduShyster, quickly wondered how much Brown would be willing to uncover and report on scandals and other malfeasance at charter schools.  An education reporter and reader of Bershire’s blog applied for a job with The Seventy Four and was given some rather interesting information: “I was told that the newsroom will have two parts: an investigative team that will dive deep into ed issues and a daily news team that will write the news of the day,” the reporter relates.  “The investigative team will not do large scale investigations into faults in charter schools but the daily news people will write quick hit stories of this nature because it will be forced to. It could not ignore major breaking news on charters but can make sure it’s investigative work does not go into that territory.”               Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATON blog is highly skeptical of Brown’s motives.  He views her new “journalistic” endeavor as just another attempt to blame teachers and their unions for the “poor” state of public education.  “At any rate, 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,” he concludes dismissively, “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.”               The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of articles in the past that have attempted to explain why the billionaire philanthropists, foundations, corporations and hedge fund managers are so eager to privatize the public schools–there’s billions of dollars to be made in the process.  This item, from counterpunch, is written by a self-proclaimed non-education expert who works in the environmental and economic fields.  “Privatization exists in different forms, including vouchers, public private partnerships, low-fee private schools, and charter schools,” she explains.  “Whatever it’s called, it amounts to the same thing: private corporations gaining control of and profiting from an essential public function. In every country, the identical argument is used: public schools are failing, reform is needed and big business will do it best, providing choice and efficiency. If the statistics don’t match the argument, they are concealed or doctored to fit.”  Diane Ravitch says “This is an incredible article.  Please read it.  Send [it] to your friends, your elected officials, members of your state and local school boards, journalists, anyone else you can think of.  It is that important.”
Reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB
In a press release on Friday, THE NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION offers its “qualified endorsement” of the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.”   There are many things the group likes about the bill and several items they oppose.  “There is much we applaud in the Every Child Achieves Act (ECAA),” their statement begins.  “Although the bill is far from perfect, it is better than the status quo.  ECAA represents a critical step forward.”                As the congressional debate continues over the rewrite of ESEA/NCLB one of the arguments prominently made is that the use of standardized tests is really a civil-rights issue that will help poor and minority students to close the achievement gap.  How accurate is that idea and should it be used to continue the testing regimen?  Those issues are tackled in a piece from THE Nation.
2016 Election News
The American Federation of Teachers issued a press release on their aft website Saturday endorsing Hillary Clinton for president in 2016.  You can read the union’s statement, including quotes of support from Pres. Randi Weingarten and some comments in reaction to the decision by Clinton, by clicking here.               The Badass Teachers Association put out a statement in response to the AFT endorsement of Clinton.  In it they explained the process they will follow in possibly supporting a specific candidate in the upcoming presidential race.  They did not pick a candidate at this time.                Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, is rather suspicious of the quick AFT endorsement of Hillary Clinton.  “The American Federation of Teachers (AFT) endorsement of the former First Lady is strange in many ways,” he complains.  He provides several reasons why he feels that way and wants the union to “release the raw data” that supports their action.               Criticism of the AFT endorsement of Clinton came from a number of other quarters as well and it ignited a flurry of comments on Twitter.  Common Dreams has a piece titled “Teachers Say No Freaking Way to AFT Endorsement of Hillary Clinton.”  “Activist teacher members and others,” it noted indignantly, “lamented that the AFT endorsement of Clinton was a clear reminder of President Randi Weingarten’s autocratic leadership style that treats teachers like passive herd-driven professionals rather than independent thinkers with a voice.”                In These Times headlined their piece about the AFT action: “The AFT’s Endorsement of Hillary Clinton Is An Insult to Union Democracy.”  “The decision couldn’t be more wrongheaded, and it’s one that members should demand the union executive council rescind,” it thundered.  “We should propose instead a decision reached by a very different process: a referendum of members that follows and is informed by debate in union outlets.”              The fallout from the intemperate, racist comments made by Donald Trump during his announcement last month for a run for president in 2016 has reached all the way to the LAUSD.  The district was planning a fundraising golf tournament at the Trump-owned course on Rancho Palos Verdes but decided to change the venue in light of what the billionaire said about Mexican immigrants.  A story in Monday’s L.A. Times provides the particulars.  “The eighth annual Beyond the Bell Golf Classic is held to raise money in support of programs for students outside the traditional school day,” it points out.  “The tournament, scheduled for Nov. 23, was expected to bring in as much $70,000 for academic, music and other classes and activities.”                  The aft sent out questionnaires to all the announced candidates, both Republican and Democratic, running for president in 2016.  The only ones who responded were Democrats Hillary Clinton (whom the aft ultimately endorsed–see above), Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley.  Click on each of the names to read their responses to the union’s survey.                Add another name to the (LONGGGGG) list of GOP candidates running for president.  Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker threw his hat in the ring officially yesterday.  EDUCATION WEEK reviews his education policies in its series on the contenders.               A commentary from THE HECHINGER REPORT explains “Why Clinton Needs to Craft a Broad National Education Policy.”  It was written in response to a campaign event Clinton held at the New School in New York yesterday.  The author is a Professor of Education Leadership at Brooklyn College and the CUNY Graduate Center.
The Teaching Profession
A new survey finds that student access to quality teachers can be quite unequal and depends in large measure on one’s socio-economic level.  The interesting study was highlighted in a story in the “Teacher Beat” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  “Any way you define teacher quality,” the article begins, “disadvantaged students, academically struggling students, and nonwhite students get fewer good teachers, concludes a new study.  And at least in Washington state, where the study was conducted, those patterns were driven primarily by differences across districts, meaning that such students were more likely to attend districts with fewer high-quality teachers than their more-advantaged, white, and/or academically capable peers.”
Advice for LAUSD Board 
Two new members took their seats on the LAUSD board on July 1 and a new president was selected.  An editorial in today’s L.A. Times suggests it now time for the entire board to put aside their differences and get down to business.  In particularly it urges them to select a new superintendent especially since Ramon Cortines announced recently he would only serve through the end of the year.  “The board also needs to move swiftly, efficiently and transparently on other fronts,” the piece additionally points out.  “It has never identified its top goals for the next two to four years, which should include realistic strategies for improving academic achievement.  It must figure out how to direct more state money to the most vulnerable students, improve middle schools and decide how it will grow its technology program.”
“School’s Out!”           
And finally, that may be the title of an Alice Cooper song (4:33 minutes, courtesy of YouTube) but it’s also the topic of a current photo essay on EDUCATION WEEK with pictures sent in from students, teachers and administrators representing the final days of the school year.  Any of them look like what you experienced?
 Dave Alpert

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



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