Ed News, Friday, August 7, 2015 Edition


[Due to a, hopefully temporary, memory lapse, the editor forgot to sent out this edition of the “Ed News” yesterday. This is Friday’s blog.]
“…rather than assuming that education is primarily about preparing for jobs and careers, 
what would it mean to think of education as a process of guiding kids’ participation 
in public life more generally, a public life that includes social, recreational, and civic engagement.” 
― Mizuko ItoLiving and Learning with New Media: 
The Teaching Profession
The Kansas State Board of Education voted to DROP the licensure requirement for hiring new teachers for 6 districts in the state, according to a story in The Topeka Capital-Journal.  The new rule would apply to two of the largest districts in the Sunflower state.  Kansas is facing a severe teacher shortage due to low pay, large class sizes,  the loss of tenure rights and other poor working conditions.  How did all of this come about?  For several years the governor and legislature have been providing major tax cuts for individuals and corporations resulting in drastic spending reductions for education (see this article in the Huffington Post) and other critical items in the state budget.  “The measure will waive the state’s licensure regulations for a group of districts called the Coalition of Innovative Districts, a program that the Legislature established in 2013 based on model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council. . . . The state’s main teachers union,”  the newspaper reports, “the Kansas National Education Association, also opposes the Innovative Districts program — a design meant to free up schools from state laws and regulations — and the idea of waiving licensure regulations.”               “Are You Sure Your Favorite Lessons Work?” is the title of an opinion piece in EDUCATION WEEK.  The author is a former teacher and K-5 public school principal and he offers some ideas on how to tell if a lesson is successful and what you can do if it isn’t.  “So, this summer take a look at your favorite interventions,” he concludes.  “Consider your greatest influences on learning, and decide how you can go deeper so they have a greater impact.  We all need a mind shift to know what we are doing has an impact, and there is never a better time to do it than right before the school  year begins.”              All this reflection about teaching is a sure sign of an impending school year. ED WEEK again offers some practical suggestions for improving your craft.  This one is titled “9 Mistakes New Teachers Make.”  It is obviously geared towards new educators but the the advice can come in handy for everyone.  The author is a 15-year classroom veteran and a National Board Certified teacher of ELA and Social Studies at a middle school in North Carolina. Here are 2 examples from her list: “4. Avoiding Parent Contact,  5. Not Setting Boundaries With Students.”  She explains each of the 9 in detail.                The NPR station in Philadelphia, WHYY 90.9 FM, on its “newsworks” program, has an interesting profile of a teacher who left the classroom because of burnout and then regretted his decision and decided to return.  The segment is called “Beyond Burnout: One Teacher’s Trip Back Into the Classroom.”  You can listen to the audio (5:20 minutes) and/or follow a slightly truncated transcript.  “McAleer left teaching in 2013, after four years at Catholic and charter schools in Philadelphia and five years of substitute teaching in New York City.  In many ways,” the article explains, “that path was preordained, although it took him a while to get there.”  The piece also includes a 3-picture slide show of Tim McAleer in his new teaching role and as a city tour bus guide.                Kansas is not the only state facing a teacher shortage this fall (see first story above).  A story in EDUCATION WEEK discusses a number of states, including some districts in California, that are having trouble filling positions and describes what some of them are trying to do to solve the problem.   “Available data from the National Center for Education Statistics paint a complicated picture of the current supply of teachers: Yes, there are fewer teachers compared to previous years, but nationally, the student-teacher ratio has remained relatively consistent.  The problem appears to be that available teachers aren’t always located where they’re needed most,” the item suggests.  “The most recent data from the U.S. Department of Education have in fact shown significant drops in teacher-education enrollment in many states, including in large states like Texas, New York, and California.  Many experts chalk up such declines, as well as regional teacher shortages, to the Great Recession and ensuing cutbacks in public spending.  Others have charged that poor teacher working conditions, such as low salaries and test-driven school cultures, are nudging existing and potential educators toward other professions, especially with the economy improving.”  The end of the article contains some interesting charts illustrating the problem.               Steven Singer has once again invited Yohuru Williams, a Professor of History and Black Studies, to co-write on piece on Singer’s GADGLYONTHEWALLBLOG.  This one is in response to a survey of teacher working conditions that was published by the Badass Teachers Association and the AFT and was recently highlighted in the “Ed News.”  An article in The Atlantic featured the poll but seemed to focus on the fact that teachers often couldn’t take bathroom breaks as the key complaint educators had about their profession.  Singer and Williams point out that that is a rather simplified reading of the feelings being experienced by current teachers.  They go into more depth in the survey results and find many, more critical factors affecting teacher attitudes towards their profession.  “In short, our problems are much worse than inadequate bathroom time.  We’returning our public schools into factories and blaming teachers when it doesn’t work,” Williams and Singer conclude.  “We’re allowing billionaire philanthropists to set education policy but holding educators accountable for the results.  We’re segregating our schools, providing Cadillac funding for the rich and bicycle funding for the poor and minorities but expecting teachers to somehow make up the difference.  We’re letting corporate raiders run charter schools with no transparency or accountability and when that proves a disaster, we point our fingers at teachers.  The result is a nation of frustrated educators who are increasingly leaving the profession in droves.”
Election 2016 
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted some intemperate comments made by GOP presidential candidate Gov. Chris Christie of New Jersey about punching teachers unions in the face and other nasty remarks directed at them.  The response from many individual educators and unions was swift and merciless.  A member of the Michigan Badass Teachers Association offers her two cents worth on the situation.  She doesn’t want or need an apology from Christie, she explains.  “I want a voice.  I want a seat at the grown up table of educational policy,” she demands instead.  “I want news reporters and writers and policy-makers to talk to TEACHERS.  Contrary to what those with access to the public’s ear may think, fame, money, and power do not make the EXPERT. . . .  And to the governor of New Jersey, I will quote someone who continues to be wise beyond his years [her son when he was in eighth grade]. ‘That’s it? That’s all you’ve got? That’s sad.'”               Jeff Bryant, on the Educational Opportunity NETWORK, weighed in on Christie’s comments (see above and the Aug. 4 edition of the “Ed News).  He reviewed a number of the reactions to the New Jersey governor’s words in his essay titled “Why Chris Christie Hates Teachers.”  [Ed. note: One of the people he quotes is Dana Goldstein and her book Teacher Wars, which just so happened to be the most recent topic of the ALOED book club.  Is that group ahead of the game or what?]  “What politicians don’t get is that teachers will generally put up with all the negative conditions of too little money to do a complicated, stress-filled job if people who hold public office would show at least a clue they get this.” Bryant concludes.  “Very few politicians do, so their short term interests rarely align with the perspectives of teachers whose very jobs demand they think long term and developmentally.  Until one of those two parties adjusts their attitudes, we’ll continue to see teachers openly disparaged, or disregarded, in the public sphere. For the sake of our children, let’s hope the politicians are the ones who make the adjustment.”  Amen to that!                The topic of education was only briefly discussed in the first Republican debate from Cleveland yesterday evening on Fox News.  A single question was asked about the Common Core and EDUCATION WEEK fills you in on the responses.  “The subject finally exploded onto the scene,” it relates, “about an hour into the primetime show, featuring the 10 highest polling GOP presidential candidates.  Fox News moderator Bret Baier asked former Florida governor Jeb Bush whether he agreed with Secretary of Education Arne Duncan that most of the criticism of common core is due to ‘a fringe group of critics.'”  Hopefully, the issue will get a more lengthy airing in one of the future face-offs.
The author of this piece from the THE HUFF POST EDUCATION Blog takes a very dim view of standardized assessments.  He’s the head of the Calhoun School in Manhattan and titles his commentary “Want to Reform Education?  Let Teachers Teach.”  “Tinkering with assessments is just rearranging the deck furniture on the titanic failure of education reform,” he concludes.  “Real education reform will come when, and only when, we address poverty, fund schools properly and honor the teaching profession with good pay and the respect teachers deserve.  America’s teachers will do the rest – if we leave them alone to love and teach their children.”               So many students failed this year’s SBAC standardized assessments in Washington  that the state board of education came up with a “creative” solution to the problem–lower the score for passing.  ABC affiliate KOMO Channel 4 in Seattle reports on the action.               When the “Ed News” editor was a senior at Occidental (1971) he remembers what were called “Comps” in which students who were majoring in history had to defend a paper they’d written before a committee of department faculty in order to graduate.  Anyone else remember those?  THE HECHINGER REPORT has an article titled “Should High School Students Have to ‘Defend” Their Diplomas Like a Ph.D?” that reminded him of his senior year experience at Oxy.  It focuses on some students at Los Angeles High School of the Arts (LAUSD) who are defending their portfolios as part of a graduation requirement.  “Portfolio assessments. . . . , which look a lot like doctoral dissertation defenses,” the story notes, “are on the rise in California.  The practice, touted by educators nationwide as a proven path to college success, has largely been squeezed out by standardized tests, the quicker, less-costly measure of student performance.  But the state’s reliance on test scores to rank school performance is about to change, and educators see an opportunity.”
Parent Trigger
Two letters appeared in yesterday’s L.A. Times reacting to the paper’s extended editorial on Monday regarding the parent trigger law.  The Times argued that the law should be retained but that it needed to be reworked.
Charter Schools
More labor-related grief for California charter schools.  The Public Employment Relations Board ruled that the largest charter school group in Los Angeles interfered with a unionization drive by a group of its teachers.  The Alliance College-Ready Public Schools organization is the target of the complaint by the educators and UTLA, according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  “The complaint filed by attorneys with the Public Employment Relations Board,” it reports, “alleges that charter school leaders violated state laws by denying pro-union organizers access to school buildings after work hours, distributing documents that criticized unionization efforts and blocking emails to employees.”  A mediation attempt will be made between the two sides and if that is not successful, a formal hearing will take place in front of an administrative law judge.               A recent edition of the “Ed News” described a $8.5 million gift from hedge fund manager John Paulson  to Success Academy Charters in New York founded by Eva Moscowitz.  Now a coalition of groups is protesting the donation based on how and where they say Paulson got much of his wealth (read Puerto Rico).  They issued a “Press Advisory” and held a rally in New York on Wednesday.  You can read about it on the Ed Notes Online website by clicking here.               To make matters worse, Puerto Rico has been experiencing a debt crisis and went into default on Monday.  Many hedge funds that invested in the island nation have an “easy” solution:  Reduce that debt by closing schools, cutting monies for universities and firing teachers so that they can recoup money they loaned to Puerto Rico.  CNN MONEY has a brief report on the situation. [Ed. note: Why is it, when states or countries get into financial distress, the first thing that seems to get cut is education?  Just asking.]
The Lighter Side of Teaching
And finally, the Comedy Central duo of Key & Peele have a created a parody of ESPN’s popular “Sports Center” program that they call “Teacher Center” with stories that treat educators like they are top athletes.  Check it out before you sit down and watch your favorite sports shows this weekend.  The segment (3:47 minutes) comes courtesy of EDUCATION WEEK.  It includes a second video from BuzzFeed that presents “If Teachers Were Football Players” which the “Ed News” highlighted when it first came out.

Dave Alpert

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

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