Ed News, Friday, July 24, 2015 Edition


  “An educated person is one who has learned that information almost always turns out to be at best incomplete and very often false, misleading, fictitious, mendacious – just dead wrong. ”
Russell Baker
Battle for the Public Schools
Jeff Bryant, this time writing for ALTERNET, describes a nasty battle taking place in Jefferson County (aka Jeffco), Colorado, a suburb just west of Denver, between public school advocates, charter proponents and a conservative majority on the local school board.  The district is mostly white and middle-class.  “What is also true about Jeffco is that the story unfolding here is one that is recurring across the country,” the story relates, “as community after community becomes mired in debates about who gets to call the shots in education systems strained by unending financial austerity and an unremitting “reform” agenda whose intent is unclear to the people in its way.”  Jefferson County may, unfortunately, be better known for the terrible shooting that took place at Columbine High in 1999 when two students opened fire on campus.                No wonder the public schools can’t win these days.  philly.com, the website of the Philadelphia Inquirer and the Philadelphia Daily News, reports that the superintendent of the city’s public school system has filled a number of administrative posts in the district with people who have “lengthy charter backgrounds.”  
As more and more states abandon the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) standardized exams that are aligned with the Common Core, the existence of the consortium that created them is being called into question.  As many as 24 states and the District of Columbia originally signed on to administer the tests but that number has dwindled to 12 states and the D.C., and that could quite possibly drop to 6 states and D.C., during the next school year.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) the other group that developed Core-aligned tests is in a little better shape.  18 states, including California, offered the exams in 2014-15.  3 states have dropped them for 2015-16, so far.  EDUCATION WEEK provides the details.               The PARCC tests are getting a makeover after receiving months of criticism.  THE HECHINGER REPORT describes how the exams will be shortened from their current 11 hours, administered over several day,s and other changes.  “ After a rough spring testing season,” the piece explains, “the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of two state consortia tapped by the federal government to develop tests tied to the Common Core educational standards, is making big changes to its tests, which were administered to over five million students across 11 states and the District of Columbia this year.”
Children Living in Poverty Increase
If childhood poverty is a key indicator of poor educational achievement than the situation is getting worse.  A new report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation featured in USA TODAY reports that the number of children living in poverty has increased from 18% when the Great Recession began in 2008 to 22% in 2013.  The implications of that statistic for education are disturbing.  “The report also examined racial disparities between children living in low-income households,”  the news story notes.  “Black, Hispanic and American Indian children were more than twice as likely to live in poverty than white children, the report said.”  Check out the video (1:27 minutes) from “Newsy” at the start of the article that discusses some recent research linking poverty with decreased brain development in children and how it relates to student test scores.  Scary!
California’s Continuation Schools
THE HECHINGER REPORT has an investigative piece on the lack of transparency and accountability at California’s 480 continuation or alternative high schools.  “Although the schools serve the most vulnerable students, the state has no mechanism for determining which schools are doing a good job and which need to get better. . . . Continuation schools are supposed to take students who are far behind in credits,” it explains, “and help them catch up in less time than at a comprehensive high school and are only required to offer 15 hours of classes a week, although they can offer more.”  The piece describes the very different experiences of two students who went through the system.
School Discipline
“White House Hosts School Discipline Summit” is the headline of a story on the “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  On Wednesday U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan and other members of the department joined school leaders who have offered some innovative programs for dealing with school discipline issues.   “School districts featured at the event,” it points out, “that have made headway on discipline issues include: Baltimore City schools, which revamped its student behavior system to be more rehabilitative, rather than punitive, and LA Unified, which was the first district to ban suspensions for willful defiance.”
The Teaching Profession
Some teachers fear that corporate “reformers” want to turn them into robots.  If you don’t believe that, wait until you read this account from a middle school ELA teacher in Massachusetts writing on the EduShyster blog.  Her district adopted a draconian program called No Nonsense Nurturing that turns interactions with students into robotic exchanges.  Her narrative certainly struck a cord based on the number of horrified comments it received.  WARNING!  The graphic description that follows is NOT science fiction:  “Last year, my school contracted with the Center for Transformational Training or CT3 to train teachers using an approach called No Nonsense Nurturing.  It was supposed to make us more effective instructors by providing ‘immediate, non-distracting feedback to teachers using wireless technology.’  In other words, earpieces and walkie talkies.  I wore a bug in my ear.  I didn’t have a mouthpiece.  Meanwhile an official No Nonsense Nurturer, along with the school’s first year assistant principal and first year behavior intervention coach, controlled me remotely from the corner of the room where they shared a walkie talkie.  I referred to the CT3 training as C-3PO after the Star Wars robot, but C-3PO actually had more personality than we were allowed.  The robot also spoke his mind.”  Postscript: The teacher was let go at the end of the year because, she was told, she was not the “right fit” for the school.  This is truly appalling.
Remember when vouchers were sold as a method for poor and minority students to get the same type of schooling as their middle class peers?  If that was ever the original intent of them it no longer is a selling point.  ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) is holding its annual closed-door conference in San Diego this week and even they are now admitting that vouchers are really for suburban, middle-class kids to escape the public school system.  That’s the focus of THE CENTER FOR MEDIA AND DEMOCRACY’S “PR WATCH” column.  “School vouchers were never about helping poor, at-risk or minority students,” it begins.  “But selling them as social mobility tickets was a useful fiction that for some twenty-five years helped rightwing ideologues and corporate backers gain bipartisan support for an ideological scheme designed to privatize public schools.”                The North Carolina Supreme Court yesterday ruled 4-3 in favor of the state’s voucher program.  “the progressive pulse” blog from NC POLICY WATCH has the details.  “The challenged law,” it notes, “enacted as part of the 2013 state budget, allows the state to appropriate more than $10 million in public money to award qualifying low-income families $4200 per child for use at private schools.  Those schools, which can range from religious schools with several students to a home school of one, are not subject to state standards relating to curriculum, testing and teacher certification and are free to accept or reject students of their own choosing, including for religious or other discriminatory reasons.”   
Diane Ravitch on her Diane Ravitch’s blog called the ruling a “bizarre decision” and printed a press release from the “Public Schools First NC” group decrying the outcome.  “Public Schools First NC is disheartened by the NC Supreme Court ruling,” it states, “that will transfer tens of millions of desperately needed public education dollars to fund unaccountable private schools.”
Some Advice for the LAUSD
None other than Diane Ravitch has penned an op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times offering some parameters for whom the district should select as its next superintendent“We cannot afford to write off the guarantee of a good public education for all,” she concludes.  “Countries that do the best job at educating their citizens — Finland, Korea, Japan, Singapore and Canada — do it with strong and equitable public school systems, not charter schools or private school vouchers.  LAUSD needs a leader who believes in restoring and strengthening public education, which society counts on to develop citizens with the talent, skills and knowledge to sustain our democracy.”
Achievement School Districts (ASD)
And finally, a recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a column by Steven Singer on his GADFLYONETHEWALLBLOG that explained what Achievement or  Recovery School Districts are and how they are impacting public schools in New Orleans, Detroit, Nashville and other cities.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, chimes in on the same topic but sees ASD’s as a possible outgrowth of the conference committee scheduled to meet soon to reauthorize ESEA/NCLB.  He explains how the ASD works in Nashville: “ASD required districts to enforce, for their lowest performing schools, either or both of the following measures: fire school staff or hand the school over to a charter school management organization.  Conveniently, the ASD is also a charter authorizer, so it can designate any of its schools for charter takeover, and indeed has done so numerous times.”

Dave Alpert

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



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