Ed News, Friday, July 17, 2015 Edition


“There are so many charlatans in the world of education. They teach for a couple of years, come up with a few clever slogans, build their websites, and hit the lecture circuit. In this fast-food-society, simple solutions to complex problems are embraced far too often. We can do better. I hope that people who read this book realize that true excellence takes sacrifice, mistakes, and enormous amounts of effort. After all, there are no shortcuts.”
Rafe Esquith, Teach Like Your Hair’s on Fire: The Methods and Madness Inside Room 56    
Rafe Esquith Case Update
The LAUSD originally yanked acclaimed teacher Rafe Esquith out of his classroom back in April and parked him in “teacher jail” for a supposed joke he made in class regarding a quote from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  Later a story surfaced about a possible case of abuse involving Esquith as a teenager counselor (40 years ago) and a young boy at a camp.  Now, according to the LA SCHOOL REPORT, the focus has shifted to an investigation of Esquith’s nonprofit group, the Hobart Shakespeareans founded in 1989, that raises money for his student productions and field trips.  “None of the students or parents involved with the Hobart Shakespeareans has complained about Esquith,” the story explains, “who was awarded Disney National Outstanding Teacher of the Year, among other awards.  Because of his ‘teacher jail’ status, the dozen sold-out performances planned this year were canceled, as well as a July trip to Oregon for a Shakespeare Theatrical Festival.”  Is this beginning to look like a vendetta against a popular instructor?  Check out the article and decide for yourself.  Thanks to ALOED member Randy Traweek for forwarding this item.
Common Core
How closely are Common Core textbooks aligned to the standards?  Good question, because many publishing companies are insisting they are. The author of this investigative piece for THE DAILY BEAST says not even close.  He further points out that those companies are collecting millions of taxpayer dollars while insisting they are aligned.  He titles his work  “The Great Common Core Textbook Swindle.”  “In response to the new standards, textbook publishers touted new editions they said were aligned to the Common Core. But nearly all of them were just repackaged versions of earlier books,” he discovers.  “And even five years later, the vast majority of textbooks say they’re aligned with the Common Core when they actually aren’t, creating a huge burden for teachers whose performance is often tied to their students’ test scores based on those standards.”
Reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB 

The U.S. Senate voted to limit debate and scheduled a final vote for Thursday on the rewrite of ESEA/NCLB now know as the “Every Child Achieves Act of 2015.”  A story in EDUCATION WEEK reviewed the latest action on the bill and examined some of the amendments offered.  “Thanks to an agreement struck between co-authors Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., and their respective party leaders,” it notes, “the bill was able to remain on the floor into Thursday until more than 40 outstanding amendments could be considered to the measure, the Every Child Achieves Act.”                Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, believes the current political debate over the reauthorization of ESEA boils down to a squabble over federal versus state control of education policy.  “If lawmakers really wanted to ensure all students were getting a quality education,” he maintains, “they’d hold BOTH the state and federal governments accountable for equitably funding our schools.  No more funding based on local wealth.  No more poor kids getting less funding than rich kids.  No more kids doing without because mommy and daddy have lousy paying jobs.”                 On a 34 yea to 62 nay vote the Senate defeated an amendment to the ECAA that would have allowed parents to opt their children out of standardized assessments without penalty to the local district or state.  An item in The Washington Post provides the specifics.  Almost all the Democrats voted “no” while most Republicans were in favor.                 By an 81-17 vote, the U.S. Senate approved the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 yesterday.  EDUCATION WEEK describes this latest development and reviews some of the key provisions of the Senate’s bill.  “The legislation’s passage in the Senate marks a crucial step in getting a bill to the president’s desk,” it points out.  “With the U.S. House of Representatives already having passed its Republican-backed ESEA rewrite last week, the two chambers can now begin working on conferencing their dueling reauthorization bills.”  A single bill must be sent to the president for his signature or veto.  Differences between the Senate and House legislation will need to be worked out by a conference committee made up of an equal number of members from both houses.               ED WEEK provides a handy “cheat sheet” that compares the two bills that you can read by clicking here.                Steven Singer, author of the GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, is appalled at the positions taken by the Democrats vis a vis the ECAA.  He sees the two parties as making a 180 degree shift in how they view education issues. “Up until now I’ve always been with the Democrats because they had better – though still bad – education policies than the Republicans.  I’m not sure I can say that anymore,” he complains.  “In fact, it may be just the opposite.  Which party is most committed to ending Common Core? The Republicans!  Which party has championed reducing federal power over our schools and giving us a fighting chance at real education reforms? Republicans!  Which party more often champion’s parental rights over the state? Republicans!  Sure, most of them still love vouchers and charter schools.  But increasingly so do the Democrats.”


As the number and length of high-stakes tests has increased dramatically a number of states have expressed concern.  The “Curriculum Matters” column in EDUCATION WEEK takes a look at what some of them have done in response to the mounting criticism.  “After years of outcry and intensifying public debate about whether students are overtested,” it begins, “many states are attempting to definitively address the issue this year.  But there’s no consistent strategy across the country, and just what the proposed solutions will mean for assessments could vary dramatically.”                Are there any alternatives to students taking high-stakes tests to graduate?  The answer is “yes” according to this item from EDUCATION WEEK which describes a program at East Side Community High School in Manhattan that allows students to complete “authentic” assessments in lieu of the Regents exams in New York.  It is one of 48 campuses that are part of the New York Performance Standards Consortium and they seem to be having a great deal of success. 
Ed Tech
Having internet access at school and at home is a critical aspect of education technology for students.  It’s often not an issue for middle and upper-income pupils but can be problematic for poor students.  A new federal program piloted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development called “ConnectHome” aims to provide a solution by providing broadband service to 28 housing projects around the country.  The venture is detailed in a story from THE HECHINGER REPORT.  “The program is expected to reach about 275,000 households and nearly 200,000 children,” the piece details, “according to the announcement from H.U.D.  About $70 million in investments from nonprofit organizations and businesses are expected to help make it work.  These partners signed on to provide resources such as tablet computers, Internet connections and on-site staff to facilitate use of these digital tools for educational purposes.”
The Teaching Profession
The summer break is often a time of reflection for teachers and administrators.  The “Ed News” has recently spotlighted several items describing what they might do differently when the new school year commences.  EDUCATION WEEK asked what teachers might change in their classrooms come the 2015-16 year and got a flood of tweets in response.  You can read them by clicking here.  How do they compare to what you might be contemplating?
Vaccination Vote
The California Secretary of State’s office announced Tuesday that opponents of the recently signed vaccination legislation were cleared to begin collecting signatures for a possible referendum on the Nov., 2016 ballot, that would, if passed by voters, overturn the new law.  Proponents of the measure have until Sept. 28 to collect 365,000 valid signatures from registered voters according to a story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times.  “The new law, which Gov. Jerry Brown signed June 30, eliminates the personal belief and religious exemptions that parents have used in the past to seek waivers from state vaccination requirements for their children,” it explains.  “State lawmakers and public health officials said the law was needed because a decline in vaccinations had contributed to the spread of disease, including a measles outbreak in California this year that was traced to Disneyland.”  Keep your eye out for those petition circulators at your local grocer or mall. 
Charter Schools
How good a job are charter schools doing?  At least in Ohio, they are more part of the problem than part of the solution.  The author of this piece on the 10th Period blog offers some new federal data that demonstrates that in the Buckeye state charters are contributing to the already wide achievement gap. 
New Trouble for the LAUSD
If it’s not problems with handing out iPads to students, or serious glitches in a new student data system, or challenges to “teacher jail,” or a recent superintendent leaving under a cloud of suspicion what else could give the beleaguered LAUSD another black eye?  If you guessed food management services you’ve won a free ice cream.  Believe it or not, a new audit from the district’s Office of the Inspector General finds serious problems with the massive food services program.  The disappointing details can be found in a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  The OIG’s 33-page report discovered mismanagement, overspending and ethical irregularities.  The bad news: “Auditors found increased food prices, bloated inventories, incompatible computer systems to order food, a ‘haphazard’ menu development process and insufficient controls over spending.”  There was a sliver of good news: “The audit also found increased meal participation and greater innovation and flexibility.”
Teacher Evaluations
And finally, they’re Baaaack!  Remember the group StudentsMatter?  They were involved in bringing the Vergara case last year that determined that teacher tenure and seniority rights were unconstitutional.  Now they have brought suit against 13 districts in California (LAUSD is NOT one of them) that have decided not to use student test scores as part of teacher evaluations.  StudentsMatter, on behalf of six plaintiffs, will argue that violates a state law that requires the scores be included according to an article in today’s L.A. Times.  “The litigation represents the latest effort by Students Matter,” it explains, “a Los Angeles-based group that has turned to California courts to make changes in education law that were otherwise blocked at the state and local levels. The organization was founded by tech entrepreneur David F. Welch to build on other attempts to limit teacher job protections and hold them more accountable for student achievement.”  The case is known as Doe vs. Antioch.  Stay tuned for more information on this one.                Here’s a major problem if this suit is successful.  What happens if teacher evaluations must include test scores and an instructor teachers a class like music, art or PE where there is no test.  The “Ed News” has highlighted articles raising this issue in the past.  SLATE confronts the same problem in an item titled “Why Are Some Teachers Being Evaluated Using the Test Scores of Kids They Didn’t Teach?”  “While no official count of states or districts exists,” it contends, “teachers in a handful of places have been or will be judged partially based on test score results for grades or subjects they don’t teach, including in Florida, Nevada, New Mexico, and Tennessee. Officials in Nevada are even considering how they might hold support staff—like school nurses and counselors—responsible for student test results, arguing that they impact student achievement by keeping students healthy and able to learn.”  Can someone explain how that is going to help improve instruction?

Dave Alpert

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



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