Ed News, Friday, July 31, 2015 Edition


“The quality of the relationships that students have in class with their peers 
and teachers is important to their success in school.”
Bob Pletka , Educating the Net Generation: How to Engage Students in the 21st Century       
Rafe Esquith Case
Acclaimed LAUSD teacher Rafe Esquith who was unceremoniously removed from his 5th grade classroom at Hobart Elementary in April over an off-hand remark he made to his students and later had a 40-year old  case of alleged abuse surface and more recently the district has gone after the financial records of his non-profit Hobart Shakespeareans is firing back.  A YouTube video (4:33 minutes) titled “A Response from the Hobart Shakespeareans” enlisted actors Sir Ian McKellen and Hal Holbrook and a wide range of current and former members of Esquith’s classes to deal with the “charges” about how his funds have been spent.  Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for sending it along.  In addition, ALOED member Randy Traweek raised the point that he hopes this video doesn’t obscure the fact that thousands of other LAUSD educators were humiliatingly forced out of their classrooms and placed in “teacher jail” without due process, not knowing what they were accused of and  ultimately forced to resign despite later being exonerated of any wrongdoing by the CTC in Sacramento..  They didn’t have the luxury of big-time lawyers taking their cases or the ability to put together a video in their defense.  As the “Ed News” has stated before: “stay tuned, there are more chapters to be added to this story.”               The Andrea Gabor blog references the video mentioned above about  Esquith.   “This short video, which includes testimonials by over a dozen students and parents and a cameo appearance by actor Hal Holbrook, provides a compelling answer to what happens to the money donated to the Hobart Shakespeareans.  It also offers tantalizing clues,” she hints, “as to why the Los Angeles Unified School District might consider Esquith an educational subversive whom they might wish to silence.”  Gabor’s column has several other posts about the Esquith case which you can find under the heading “Recent Blog Posts.”           Diane Ravitch’s blog has a piece from a reader who was the camp director where Rafe Esquith worked as a teen-aged counselor 40 years ago.  The person comments on the abuse allegation against Esquith.
Reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB
Where does Teach for America stand on the passage of the Every Child Achieves Act that would update the Elementary and Secondary Education Act/No Child Left Behind law?  Gary Rubinstein on his Gary Rubinstein’s blog takes a look at some of the positions TFA took vis a vis the ECCA.  Rubinstein is a former member of TFA who now teaches math.  TFA, as he explains, was in favor of retaining the punitive aspects of NCLB and opposed the amendment that would have allowed parent to opt their children out of the testing.               Diane Ravitch was interviewed on Pacifica Radio station KPFK yesterday about the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB.  You can listen to that piece (21:50 minutes) and/or read a brief introduction to the legislation by clicking here and then click on the “Listen to this segment” button.                 The conference committee process to rewrite ESEA began in earnest yesterday according to a story on the “Politics K-12” column in EDUCATION WEEK.  The chairs and the ranking members of both the Senate and House Education committees laid the groundwork for further action that can successfully pass both chambers.
BATs in Action
The Badass Teachers Association held their “Teacher Congress” in Washington, D.C., last weekend.  Their website contains a review of some of the actions, meetings, lobbying, occupying and socializing that took place at the event.  It includes a link to a YouTube video (4:23 minutes) with some highlights of the gathering.  As Diane Ravitch explained on her blog:  “The BATS are strong-willed, courageous teachers who are tired of being kicked around by politicians and their dumb ideas.  They are ‘mad as hell”’and they won’t take it anymore. . . . The BATS made sure that teachers’ concerns were well represented to the decision-makers on Capitol Hill.  Thank you, BATS.”               A small group of California BATS buttonholed 16 of the 53-member California contingent in the House of Representatives to discuss key education issues and to hopefully open a dialogue with the legislators.  Another item on the BATS website summarizes what took place in the individual meetings.
Another Study Links Poverty to Poor Achievement
A number of corporate “reformers” and privatizers try to discount the role poverty plays in the academic achievement of students.  They quickly dismiss any protests regarding the topic since all they want to do is blame “lazy” teachers and powerful teachers unions.  SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN is featuring new research published in JAMA Pediatrics that shows how low-income students often have delayed brain development and how that leads to poor academic achievement.  “It has long been known that low socioeconomic status is linked to poorer performance in school,” the story suggests, “and recent research has linked poverty to smaller brain surface area. The current study bridges these converging lines of evidence by revealing that up to 20 percent of the achievement gap between high- and low-income children may be explained by differences in brain development.”  So the next time someone pooh-poohs the idea that poverty is a factor in student learning you can tell them they are full of poo-poo or enlighten them on important scientific studies like this one.
 “A Modest Proposal” To Deal With Cheating on Standardized Tests
With major test cheating scandals wracking districts in Atlanta, Washington, D.C., and (many) others, John Merrow, on his Taking Note blog, has some suggestions on how to deal with the problem.  If you note a bit of Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, that dealt with the hunger crisis in Ireland, in Merrow’s work, you are not far off.  “There are,” Merrow offers, “two obvious steps: 1) increase surveillance to catch the cheaters and 2) make the punishments more obvious to the outside world.”  He proceeds to explain, in some detail, what he means by each.
Charter Schools
Remember how a lot of charter schools tout the fact that they have long “waiting lists” to enroll at their campuses as if to demonstrate how “popular” they are?  One kindergarten parent in Boston has a piece titled “About Those Charter School Wait Lists” on the Public School Mama blog in which she recounts her experiences with those lists and how she is quite happy with her child attending the local Boston Public School in her neighborhood.   “Politicians make hay out of the charter school wait list as if the families on them were making a political statement by applying to a charter school,” she points out.  “I’m sure there are families that do reject BPS and only want a charter school, but most families are just looking for a school.  They aren’t rejecting anything.  They aren’t making a statement in the education wars.  If they are like I was, they didn’t even know a war was going on.  Stop politicizing our actions.  Stop threatening to destroy the schools that we love and that we are committed to for your own political agenda.”                No wonder some charter schools are flush with money.  A prominent hedge-fund manager just donated $8.5 million (million!) to Eva Moscowitz’s charter chain in New York City?  [Ed. note: I’m truly curious why he did it?  Why didn’t he give it to the public schools?]  The New York Times has all the details about the gift.
Corporate “Reform” in Action
What happens when the corporate “reformers” and school privatizers lose a key election at the local level?  They spend their millions, lobby heavily and buy influence with the state government.  Don’t believe it?  Read what The New York Times has discovered regarding the mayor’s race in New York City in 2013 and certain goings-on since then related to education policies in Albany, the state capital.  “Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg has been out of office for a year and a half, but his influence over New York schools is practically as strong as ever,” it begins.  “A group devoted to continuing his education agenda and founded in part by his longtime schools chancellor, has become one of the most powerful forces in Albany by pouring millions into lobbying and adroitly exploiting rivalries in state politics.  The organization, StudentsFirstNY, and another group with a similar focus called Families for Excellent Schools have formed a counterweight to teachers’ unions, long among the top spenders in the state capital.  This year alone, the groups saw major elements of their platforms come to pass, such as tying teacher evaluations more closely to test scores, adding hurdles to earning tenure and increasing the number of charter schools, measures all unpopular with the unions.”                Why do some governors persist in appointing rapid opponents of the public schools to state boards of education? Larry Lee on his Larry Lee blog recounts one such selection in Alabama of a man who never attended public schools, who proudly announces his children won’t attend them and took part in a campaign to defeat a school tax vote.  Is that really the kind of person who should be making profound decisions about the public schools?  Apparently in Alabama it is!  Even Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post, weighed in on this action.  Her column is titled “Alabama’s Governor Makes Surprising–and Scary–Education Appointment.”  Strauss makes reference in her post to the Larry Lee blog cited above and other efforts from Lee.               WOW! Even Bill and Melinda Gates are acknowledging that their investments in K-12 education in the U.S. over the years “haven’t paid off as well” as some of their other global endeavors.  That admission comes in a discussion with New York Times columnist Nicolas Kristof.
Home Schooling
Here’s a topic we don’t hear too much about–home schooling.  EDUCATION WEEK is highlighting a new report from the Education Commission of the States that looks at how regulations vary from state to state regarding home schooling and how different they tend to be.  The article includes a link to the full study (5 pages) titled “State Homeschool Policies: A Patchwork of Provisions.”  The Ed Week story provides some numbers on home-schooling: “Although it’s very hard to estimate the number of home-schoolers in the country (several states have no reporting requirements), the federal government put the number at nearly 1.8 million in 2012.  That’s 3.4 percent of the total student population. Although small, the number has been growing over the last decade: There were only a little over 1 million home-schoolers in 2003.”
Opt-Out Movement
The United Opt-Out (UOO) organization will be holding their national convention in Philadelphia Feb. 26-28, 2016.  The theme is “Transcending Resistance, Igniting Revolution.” Mark your calendars and make your reservations now.  All the conference information can be found on the United Opt-Out website.                Colorado may be one of the shinning stars in the opt-our firmament.  As previously reported in the “Ed News,” using preliminary figures large numbers of students chose to skip the ELA and math exams in the Centennial State, most of them were 11th graders.  CHALKBEAT COLORADO now has some official numbers on the opt-out phenomenon in Colorado.  “The brushfire of testing refusal sparked by some high school seniors last fall,” it notes, “spread during the state’s main testing season this spring, a Chalkbeat Colorado survey of the state’s largest school districts has found.  There were relatively high opt-out rates in more districts than was the case last fall, with only five of the state’s largest districts testing enough students to avoid scrutiny from federal education authorities.  In almost every district test refusal appears to have been concentrated in high school, particularly in 11th grade.”
Peter Greene turns his considerable writing talents towards the continuing phenomenon of colleges and universities jettisoning the requirement that applicants take the SAT or ACT tests for admission.  Commenting this time on EDUCATION WEEK he contends: “More and more people are coming to see the SAT and ACT for what they are—products for sale.  Much of the SAT and ACT customer base is people who pay for the product because, well, you know, you have to, right?  There’s no choice, right?  But with every passing defection it becomes clear there is a choice.  There’s a choice for students, and there’s most especially a choice for colleges and universities.  The SAT is not a necessary rite of passage,” he continues.  “It’s just another six-pack of snake oil, an expensive con that’s long on drawbacks and short on benefits.  The SAT and ACT may still rule the majority of college domains for now, but it is increasingly clear that the emperor is both fully mortal and mostly naked.”
The Teaching Profession
FLASH: Text messaging is a great way to improve parent involvement in a student’s work.  thenotebook from the Philadelphia Public Schools has an interesting article about some recent research about the use of the social media tool and offers some specific examples of how it’s being used in the classroom.  “Researchers at Stanford University have found that text messaging, given its widespread use, low cost, and ease of scalability, is an ideal vehicle for improving parents’ engagement in their children’s schooling,” the story points out.  “And it has been proven that the more a parent is involved – by attending conferences, helping with homework, volunteering at the school, or a combination of these – the better a child will do.”               Why is it often difficult to attract good, qualified applicants into the  teaching profession?  Poor salaries are one obvious factor but another is the difficult working conditions.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, reviews a recent poll on teacher job satisfaction and recounts some of the complaints educators have and points how those make it difficult to entice highly capable people into the field.  He includes a link to the original article about the poll that appeared in The Atlantic and discusses some serious blow back that it created, some of it, surprisingly, from one of the sponsors of the survey.  Bryant titles his piece “We Won’t Get Great Teachers by Treating Them Badly.”                 Here is something most of you already know but the general public may not be quite aware of the magnitude of the situation.  “Teachers Are Spending Thousands to Stock Classrooms With Basic Supplies” is the headline in a story from ALTERNET.  The author was a long-time veteran of the Oakland Unified School District where she taught elementary school.  “ School may be out for summer,” she relates, “but I guarantee you there’s one thing teachers are already worried about as they plan for the coming school year: how they’ll offset the inevitable out-of-pocket costs that come with running a classroom.  It’s not just a few books or art supplies we’re talking about here; the truth is much more discouraging.  During my last year of teaching, I spent over $5,000 of my own money on my classroom during the year, and I know I wasn’t alone.  On an annual salary of $42,000, that was hardly pocket change.”  How many of you can relate to what she reports?  WOW, OK, almost everybody raised their hand.
Revised A.P. U.S. History Framework
And finally, after drawing heavy fire from various conservative groups for its overly “negative” A.P. U.S. History framework, the College Board went back to the drawing board and created a revised edition which they released online yesterday.  “As you probably recall,” the item in EDUCATION WEEK concludes, “last year’s version of the framework sparked not only criticism, but moves in some states and districts to dump the product altogether.  The Republican National Committee blasted the framework last summer, prompting the College Board to take the unusual step of releasing a practice exam, and promising to issue a ‘clarified’ version of the framework.”

Dave Alpert

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


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