Ed News, Tuesday, July 21, 2015 Edition


“Some men never recover from education.”
Oliver St. John Gogarty, It Isn’t This Time of Year at All:
An Unpremeditated Autobiography       
Reaction to Senate Passage of ECAA
The Senate passed the Every Child Achieves Act of 2015 (ECAA) on Thursday.  Since the House passed a different version of the bill, The Student Success Act (SSA), the next step is a Senate/House conference committee to work out the differences.  Reaction to the upper chamber’s action has some from several sources.  Barbara Madeloni, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association commented on the legislation on the MTA’s website.  She headlined her reactions “A Bittersweet Victory on Accountability.”  “Now that the Senate has passed the ECAA, we need to talk about resources and about the larger issues of race and class,” she noted.  “But we need to acknowledge that our efforts must focus on Democrats as well as Republicans.  Indeed, some of the worst excesses of corporate ‘reform’ have been supported by elected officials who call themselves our allies.”                Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 focuses on the opt-out provisions contained in both the House and Senate versions of the bill.  “Both the House and Senate have passed proposed authorizations of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) of 1965,” her analysis indicates, “and both House and Senate versions have opt-out provisions that allow for states to avoid being penalized for students whose parents opt them out of federally-mandated testing.  That’s right: Both House and Senate versions of the ESEA reauthorization provide a means for students who opt out to not be counted against the “95 percent” that the state is supposed to test as a condition for receiving Title I funding.  They just go about it differently.”  Schneider describes how they differ.                An extended editorial in yesterday’s L.A. Times urged passage of the Senate’s version of the rewrite of ESEA/NCLB.  It compared the House and Senate bills and found the latter to be more compelling and bipartisan.  “[The new law] should be more realistic — schools were given 14 years under No Child Left Behind to bring every student in the country to full academic proficiency — and less arbitrary in its measurement of school progress,” the piece maintains.  “It should be less prescriptive and punitive in its remedies for low-performing schools, and less authority should be centralized in the often out-of-touch U.S. Department of Education.  At the same time, it should require some level of actual accountability from schools.  The federal government has the right — the obligation, really — to ensure that Title I funding for low-income students is spent effectively.”                Next step for the reauthorization bill is a Senate/House conference committee to iron out the differences in the two versions of the bill.  The “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK forecasts what to expect.  It discusses how the bills diverge and what the prospects are for agreement.  “No matter the result, one thing is for sure: The forthcoming conference process,” it concludes, “which is set to begin as soon as possible and likely last several weeks, represents the most serious reauthorization attempt since Congress last overhauled the law in 2001.”
School “Reform?”
Corporate “reformers” are quick to push rating and ranking of teachers using student test scores and value-added models.  Applying that construct of employee “stacking” in the business world is more and more being called into question.  A story in the “Business” section of The New York Times titled “Why Employee Ranking Can Backfire” has some important ramifications for education.  The reporter for the article cites two recent studies that raise serious doubts about the practice.              Have you heard of what are called “Achievement School Districts?”  They exist in New Orleans, Detroit, Tennessee and Nevada and are coming soon to Georgia and North Carolina.  They are low-performing districts that are taken over by state or local governments who promise rapid turn-arounds using all sorts of interesting techniques from charterization to privatization among others.  Mitchell Robinson, on his eponymous blog, offers “An Achievement School District Primer” for your edification.  “Public education is far too important to treat it like a science experiment, with fuzzy methodology and uncertain results,” he writes.  “Our children deserve schools that are adequately funded, controlled by locally elected school boards made up of persons with ties to the community and a vested interest in the success of their schools, transparency in reporting of school finances and learning outcomes, and that are founded and administrated with educative goals in mind, not punitive ones.  It’s time to demand the return of our schools and our children from Achievement School Districts and the forces of school privatization.  Education is not a business, and our children aren’t widgets.”               The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was created about 15 years ago.  In that time it has done a lot of good for kids around the world.  One area where its largesse has been called repeatedly into question is its education initiatives.  The author of this commentary from the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog wonders if it’s time for the philanthropists to retool their thinking towards education reform.  “Whether it was promoting small schools, charter schools, value-added teacher evaluations, or Common Core,” he points out, “the foundation seemed oblivious to the interconnected nature of the problems that its policies were supposedly seeking to address, or the  contradictory nature of the solutions it favored.”               Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, turns her column over to Dave Powell, an associate professor of education at Gettysburg College who raises some serious questions about the top-down changes to education policy being pushed by the corporate “reformers.”  “One thing’s for sure: top-down education policy-making is a losing proposition in an education system as diverse and vibrant as ours is,”  he concludes.  “Maybe it’s time to turn the page on this failed experiment so we can move on to more fruitful ones. “
The Teaching Profession
What happens when massive, ongoing budget cuts are directed toward K-12 education?  Among many factors salaries are frozen or decline, benefits are reduced, class sizes increase, supplies and textbook funds decline and TEACHERS LEAVE.  The “Ed News” has previously highlighted the exodus of educators from Arizona but what is taking place in Kansas may be even worse as teachers are leaving the state in droves according to a feature on the website of the Lawrence (Kansas) Journal-World.  “Classroom spending cuts, uncertain school financing, low pay and eroding tenure protections all play into a hostile climate in Kansas,” it begins, “that teachers and school administrators say is spurring a surge of teacher departures and retirements.  At least 3,720 Kansas teachers have left the state, retired or taken jobs outside of education after this past school year, a huge jump from the 2,150 who did so just a couple of years ago, according to a newly released data by Kansas State Department of Education.”              Diane Ravitch’s blog is promoting a new documentary film titled “Heal Our Schools” that responds to some of the attacks on teachers.  The filmmaker is an almost 30-year classroom veteran.  Ravitch includes a list of screenings of the film scheduled in the near future (none in L.A., yet).  You can check out the film’s official website which includes a trailer (4 minutes) by clicking here.
The teaching profession is fraught with many problems including low salaries, poor working conditions and morale, lay-offs and declining prestige but THE HECHINGER REPORT identifies another one.  Some locales, including the Silicon Valley, now have such high housing prices that make it difficult for educators to afford to reside in the areas where they work.  The situation could cause an exodus of quality teachers from high-housing price cities.  “Teachers, like other civil servants, are paid based on available state funding, local property taxes, and political will, not the market,” it notes.  “They are lucky to hit the regional median in a lifetime, let alone early enough to build the equity needed to buy a home in a boom market.”  The article explains the economics of the problem and describes some attempts at solutions.
2016 Election
Education policies have rarely been discussed when elections roll around.  2016 may be different what with Common Core, testing, opt-out, charters, teachers unions and the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB all hot topics in recent years.  One problem has been that many lay people are not familiar with the education terms currently in vogue and the media tend to stick to what the author of this item from the FAIR (Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting) blog calls “buzzwords.”  She describes the important role the media must play in this critical discussion.  “When reporting on the often shallow, hypocritical or self-interested talking points put forward by the candidates,” she urges, “it’s media’s responsibility to correct the inaccuracies, explain the buzzwords, and illuminate the impact of the policies being pushed on children, families and teachers.”                Ohio Gov. John Kasich today became the 16th (!) Republican candidate to officially announce his entrance into the race for president in 2016.  EDUCATION WEEK continues its review of each entrant’s education policies.  “He doesn’t have the kind of high-profile and polarizing history with public schools,” it notes, “that former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker can claim.  But his work in K-12 policy is actually quite extensive.”               Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, adds her analysis of Kasich’s education policies upon his entering the 2016 race for president.  “In some crowds, it may be a great record to run on,” she concludes.  “To public school advocates, not so much.”
Charter Schools
What are charter schools most fearful of?  Could it be unionizationSALON conducts an interview with the author of a recent article who suggests that scenario.  According to the Q & A, about 7% of charter teachers are currently unionized but that figure is growing by leaps and bounds.                Here we go again!  The founders of a highly lauded charter chain in Houston and members of their family face a 19-count indictment including charges of conspiracy and embezzling $2.6 million from the schools according to a story in the Houston Chronicle.  It includes a copy of the full report (65 pages) conducted by the Texas Education Agency into the chain and the official indictment (21 pages).              More charter foul play from EDUCATION WEEK (via the Associated Press).  The head of Ohio’s School Choice division in the state’s Department of Education resigned last week after admitting to excluding failing grades for a couple of charter schools in evaluations of the schools’ overseers.  That’s a major NO, NO!  “David Hansen, the School Choice director for the Education Department, confirmed last week he left F grades for online and dropout recovery schools off evaluations of charter school sponsors,” the article explains.  “He said he felt the marks would ‘mask’ successes elsewhere.  The omission boosted the ratings of two sponsors, which could make them eligible for more state perks.”
Budget Cuts and Disappearing School Libraries
Since the Great Recession began over 6 years ago, K-12 schools have suffered large, lingering budget declines that had manifested themselves in lower salaries and benefits, furlough days, lay-offs, cuts to counseling and nursing services and reductions in librarians with the concomitant closing of school libraries.  This piece from THE CONVERSATION blog chronicles “The Calamity of the Disappearing School Libraries.”                Ever wonder why public schools struggle while charters seem to thrive?  Here’s one answer.  The latest budget for Chicago schools provides a possible $60 million cut for the public schools and a $3o million increase for the city’s charters.  The Chicago Sun-Times has the gruesome details. 
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, reviews the battle between two sets of civil rights groups over the topic of testing.  One set of organizations sees high-stakes assessments as a civil rights issue for minorities and students of color.  The other one views them as a diversion from the real issues of adequate funding and equality.  “It’s up to education voters to educate themselves on the subject and demand real Civil Rights reforms.  End the system of Test and Punish,” he asks for in summation.  “Remove or reduce standardized testing from our schools.  Provide equitable funding for schools serving impoverished children.  And give our students of color a fighting chance to achieve the American Dream.”
Rafe Esquith Case
Jay Mathews, Washington Post education columnist and blogger, reviews the case against renowned LAUSD teacher Rafe Esquith.  “Esquith is being treated like a Wall Street cheat,” the reporter complains.  “On July 8, the district’s investigators asked him for all of his tax returns, loan and bank records since 2000, giving no reason.  Many other teachers being similarly targeted are asking Esquith’s lawyers for help.  This is an investigation gone rogue.  If it continues, the Los Angeles school district — previously devoted to helping its students — is at risk of not only losing an exceptional teacher, but also its very soul.”
Ed Tech
“Which Cities are the Top Ed-Tech Hubs?” asks the “Marketplace K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  Los Angeles is mentioned among them but so are Boston, the Silicon Valley, Baltimore and others. 
Court Rules on Parent-Trigger Petition
And finally, on Thursday, an Orange County Superior Court judge overruled an Anaheim City School District decision that denied a parent-trigger petition to turn Palm Lane Elementary School into a charter.  EDUCATION WEEK describes the ruling and its ramifications.   “Under California’s Parent Empowerment Act, a school is subject to the law if it meets certain requirements, including failing to make adequate yearly progress after one year and having a state Academic Performance Index score of less than 800,” the piece spells out.  “The Anaheim City School District’s board initially rejected the petition in February, stating Palm Lane did not fall under the definition of a subject school and that the parents did not follow the petition instructions when they submitted it, according to a press release from Kirkland & Ellis LLP, the law firm representing the parents.”

Dave Alpert

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



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