Ed News, Friday, August 14, 2015 Edition


“…education is a sacred thing, and the pledge to build a school is a commitment that 
cannot be surrendered or broken, regardless of how long it may take, 
how many obstacles must be surmounted, or how much money it will cost. 
 It is by such promises that the balance sheet of one’s life is measured.”
Greg Mortenson , Stones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan       
Back-To-School Speech
LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines delivered the district’s annual “Back-to-School” speech to administrators, board members and guests on Tuesday at Garfield High School, reports a story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times.  Like a coach’s pregame locker room exhortation, Cortines attempted to fire up the troops as the new school year approaches (m ost students in the LAUSD start classes on Tuesday) stressing themes like unity and collaboration.   “Cortines, who seemed intent on rebuilding morale, said he was not backing away from the urgency of helping struggling students,” the article explains, “but he rejected the rhetoric of district critics who refer to failing schools and blame district employees for the system’s shortcomings.”  The story includes a brief (2:09 minute) video segment of the event from CBS Channel 2 News.
New APUSH Standards
The ongoing battle over the Common Core may have been at the root of a similar conflict over new A.P. U.S. History standards published by the College Board.  Previous editions of the “Ed News” highlighted the conservative backlash over the first version that was released last year.  In response, the College Board went back to the drawing board and came back with some new ones.  The author of this item on CARE2 titles her commentary “Conservatives Love the New AP U.S. History Standards–And That’s A Problem.”  She believes the latest version leaves out some critical issues important to the teaching of American History to today’s students.  “To many people’s surprise, the College Board listened to the arguments, decided to do another revision, and even hired some of the loudest critics to work on those changes.  The College Board has just released the new curriculum framework for its AP U.S. history course,” she complains, “and it appears to have satisfied many of the old framework’s critics.  In doing so, the Board has either glossed over or completely ignored many important issues such as racism and slavery.”
A Peak at the Future
Peter Greene, on his always fun to read and insightful CURMUDGUCATION blog, takes a fanciful peak into the future (he dates this piece April, 2019) to see what the state of education looks like 4 years from now.  He uses North Carolina as his example because, unfortunately, they may be on the road to fulfilling his predictions sooner than any other state.   To give you a sense of this piece, here’s how Greene begins: “Political leaders gathered to celebrate today as Department of Education bulldozers upgraded the last NC public school, replacing it with a picturesque park.  ‘It has been a long road,’ said State Education Biggifier Harlen McDimbulb, overseeing the work as the dozer knocked down the last chart-encrusted data wall.  ‘But our big breakthrough came with the court ruling that certified our voucher system back there a few years.  That finally allowed us to get money and support,” Greene continues, “to outstanding schools like God Loves White Guys High and Aryan Academy.  Great private schools were being denied public tax dollars just because they wouldn’t teach state-approved so-called ‘fact’ and ‘science.’  ‘Vouchers opened the door,’ said Assistant Secretary of Money Laundering Chauncey Gotbux.  ‘But with the court’s blessing, we were finally able to use public education tax dollars as they were meant to be used– as a source of profit for people who deserve it.'”  You have to read the entire article as it continues in a similar vein.  On person commented at the end of Greene’s piece: “This is so clever it almost makes me forget how awful the situation is.”               Why did Greene choose North Carolina?  Maybe because of the secret out of state money being poured into the Tar Heel State to help turn its under performing schools into charters.  NC POLICY WATCH uncovers the details.  “The proposal to create an ‘achievement school district’ that wrests control of low-performing schools away from local school boards and into the hands of charter operators,” it reveals, “is being developed behind closed doors as the legislative session marches on, with numerous lawmakers and advocates working in tandem on successive drafts of the legislation.”
Opt-Out Movement

The new education commissioner for the State of New York is planning to play hardball with schools that have high numbers of students opt-out of state testing.  She announced this week that they would lose funding if too many pupils skipped the assessments in April.  POLITICO NEW YORK provides the details about the commissioner’s threats.  The Empire State had some of the highest numbers of opt-outs around the country.  “Of the 1.1 million students eligible to take state exams in math and English language arts this year,” it notes, “nearly 20 percent, or 200,000 students, opted out.  The state Education Department is in conversations with the U.S. Department of Education working on a plan regarding possible sanctions for districts with high opt-out rates.”               The New York State Allies for Pubic Education (NYSAPE) represents 50 groups of parents and educators.  They were not at all cowed by the state education commissioner’s statement about possible cuts in funding if too many students opt-out of tests next year (see above).  In fact, they stated that even more pupils will skip the tests if policies regarding them don’t change.  You can read their statement on their website by clicking here.  “Test refusals, also known as opt outs, rose to a record number of 222,500, surpassing advocates’ estimates.  More New York parents across the state are informed and have said no to the high-stakes testing regime that is disrupting quality education and harming their children.  With no relief in sight,”  it responds, “opt out figures are expected to grow significantly again this year until damaging education laws and policies are reversed.”                 Carol Burris, writing on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post comments on the latest New York State test results and the impact the opt-out movement had on them.  “Once again,” she notes, “New York State Common Core test scores are a flop. The proficiency needle barely budged.”             Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, explains how  parents have the power to change the course of education today.   “It doesn’t matter where you live.  It doesn’t matter what laws are on the books.  It doesn’t matter if your state is controlled by Democrats, Republicans or some combination thereof.  No government – not federal, state or local – can trample your parental rights,” he maintains.  “If you don’t want your child to be evaluated based on standardized tests, your child doesn’t have to be.  And if a majority of parents nationwide make this decision, the era of standardized testing comes to an end.  Period.  It has already begun.”  He cites other examples of how parents can have an impact on education policies.

The Teaching Profession 
Some of the columnists and reporters writing about the current teacher shortage may, in fact, be the ones who helped create it.  The author of the nyc educator blog goes after New York Times columnist Frank Bruni for lamenting the fact a teacher shortage exists and suggests Bruni look in the mirror to find part of the cause.   “Another big reason [for the teacher shortage] is mainstream media, which hires people like you,” the author thunders.  “When people read nonsense like the stuff you write, they may not know that fundamental research is something you consider beyond the pale.  They may not be aware that your piece does not entail talking to working teachers.  They may think we don’t love our jobs and we don’t love working with and helping children. . . .  And neither do you.  That’s why you’re a big part of the problem.”  The article includes a link to the Bruni column the author finds so offensive.               NEWSFLASH!  A new school year is starting soon.  Hate to spoil your last days of summer but the author of this article for EDUCATION WEEK offers some suggestions on how to handle that first day of school.  His advice is specifically geared to elementary school but some of the ideas could relate to secondary school classrooms.  He explains how scary that first day can be for students.  “The first day can be pretty terrifying for teachers, too.  I have been a teacher for 15 years, but I’ve never had a first day of school that wasn’t preceded by at least a tingle of dread,” the author reveals.  “We don’t know the 25 or 150 human beings who will shape our days for the next ten months, and we don’t know their parents.  It’s like a yearlong arranged marriage, but with 25 sets of in-laws instead of one.”               Is using a newspaper (or two) in the classroom an outdated teaching technique?  The author of this story, also from EDUCATION WEEK, is a retired Wisconsin elementary teacher and former K-8 principal.  “To better serve students, teachers need to explore a variety of ways to develop their skills and increase their knowledge.  One such move,” she suggests, “would be to bring newspapers back into the classroom and include them in the array of materials used to teach important information and skills.  Newspapers could be a strong motivator for students to connect with the world today.”  She offers a number of ways print or digital newspapers can be used to teach reading, writing and communication skills.               The Aug. 4th edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a new study that found that millions of dollars are being wasted on poor professional development for teachers.  Howard Gardner, Clayton Lewis and Jim Reese, 3 educators, beg to differ.  They’ve penned a commentary on Valerie Strauss’ blog in The Washington Post titled “It’s No Secret That Most Professional Development for Teachers is Awful.  Less Well Knows is that Some of it is Great.”  It describes a program of PD that they created called “Project Zero” that has been offering materials, techniques and tools to teachers and administrators for 48 years.                Classroom management is an important concept and skill for effective teaching.  But just what does classroom management entail?  Some believe it means teachers “controlling” student behavior while others take a more humanistic approach.  An essay on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog looks at “How the Myth of Teacher Control Undermines Classroom Management.”  The author describes his experiences at a “no-excuses” charter school.  “While strategies and techniques are certainly useful in classroom management,reducing classroom management to strategies and techniques effectively reduces students to widgets,” he explains.  “It neglects their individual personalities, the circumstances of their lives, their developmental need to test boundaries, their mood that particular day, their reasons for ‘acting out.’  It reduces them to less than human.  Such a view is totally counter to the need for teachers to consider, get to know, and try to understand their students as individuals—to build the sort of relationship that enables effective management in the first place.”
Some Wise Educational Advice From Over 300 Years Ago
John Locke is well known as a social and political philosopher from the period of the English Enlightenment.  He is not so well known as a font of sound educational advice.  The author of this item from EDUCATION WEEK is a senior research associate at the Boston University School of Education and he reviews some of the thoughts and ideas Locke presented on child development and educational theory.  Keep in mind that Locke was writing over 300 years ago.  The commentary is headlined “John Locke: An Education Progressive Ahead of His Time?”  Locke had some great insights regarding teachers.   “Equally important was the influence of tutors,” the article points out.  “In advice relevant to current debates about teachers, he states that tutors should be smart and sophisticated, knowledgeable about content and pedagogy.  Tutors should know not only subjects but also the outside world, combining tact and judgment with character.  If you want highly qualified teachers, Locke says, select them carefully and pay them well.”  [Ed. note: I’ll drink to that!]
Charter Schools
Karen Wolfe is a parent activist for public schools who lives in the Venice area of Los Angeles.  Diane Ravitch’s blog prints Wolfe’s response to an article in the L.A. Times Saturday (highlighted in Tuesday’s “Ed News”) about a plan by the Broad Foundation and several others to ultimately turn LAUSD into a district where 50% of students attend charter schools.  Wolfe notes that the charter school lobby in California has sustained a few defeats lately and may be attempting to turn things around.  “This revelation that the charter groups have lost their patience and are announcing a public attack should be met with redoubled resistance,” Wolfe suggests.  We have done the work to elect officials who will champion our public schools, even against wealthy special interests like the groups in this article.  But the board needs to listen to community members and truly consider the supports that are necessary to enable our neighborhood schools to stand up to the threat of charters.”  [Ed note: The link that Ravitch provides to Wolfe’s article is faulty and takes the reader to another Ravitch item about the charter takeover.]                An organizational meeting and a press conference/rally in the Los Angeles area will be taking place on Sunday (in Northridge) and Monday (Century City), respectively, to promote a petition that wants to place an initiative on the ballot to repeal the charter school law in California.  The August 11th edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the petition drive and Diane Ravitch’s blog is publicizing the two meetings.  You can read her comments and get more information about the two gatherings by clicking here
Teacher Jail
Two letters were published in yesterday’s L.A. Times in reaction to the paper’s extended editorial on Monday about teacher jail (see Tuesday’s “Ed News”).   “Many of us have fallen victim to this devious and unfair practice.  It is devastating in many ways and needs to be stopped.  Yes, investigate when an accusation is made; however, do it quickly and fairly,” the author of the first one implores, “and if the investigation reveals the teacher has done nothing wrong, then reinstate him or her so that neither they nor their students suffer.”
Here’s a Way to Get Some Action
“Wash. St. Supreme Court Levies $100,000 Daily Fine on State Over K-12 Spending” is the surprising headline of a story in EDUCATION WEEK.  Some history: 3 years ago the court ruled that the state was not providing adequate funding to its K-12 public schools.  Since then the state legislature has not been able to remedy the situation to the court’s satisfaction, so the fine was imposed to get their attention.  “Declaring that state lawmakers have failed to fix the state’s unconstitutional system for funding public schools,” the story begins, “the Washington State Supreme Court imposed a daily $100,000 penalty on the legislature until it makes firmer commitments to increasing teacher salaries and reducing class sizes.  The court’s Aug. 13 order is effective immediately, although the court said that if Gov. Jay Inslee, a Democrat, calls a special session and lawmakers pass legislation that commits the state more heavily to reducing class size in K-3 and expanding all-day kindergarten, that daily fine may ultimately be ‘abated.'”
Election 2016
Some pundits believed Ohio Gov. John Kasich acquitted himself rather well during last week’s Republican debate.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, says that may be the case but in the area of education, which got scant mention, Kasich could be a disaster.  “Given the current crop of Republican governors bidding for the presidential nomination,” Bryant relates, “it is difficult to pick which has been worse on education policy. . . .  But the effect Governor Kasich has had on public education policy in Ohio is especially atrocious.”  Bryant provides chapter and verse to support his contention including how Kasich has made hash of charter expansion in the Buckeye State.               Former Democratic Iowa senator and longtime education champion Tom Harkin endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in an op-ed in The Des Moines Register.  Although he didn’t mention her education policies, he did note they share the same values on economic and social justice.                A group of 35 Southern Wisconsin area principals has sent an open letter to 2016 GOP presidential hopeful and current Badger State Gov. Scott Walker demanding he “Stop Hurting Our Schools.”  It outlines a number of Walker’s policies that are having a major negative impact on schools at all levels in the state.  The letter is reprinted in full along with some brief comments by Valerie Strauss on her blog for The Washington Post.  
Now that those Common Core aligned PARCC and SBAC assessments have been administered and scored the next step is to determine how many points a student needs to earn for each proficiency level.  Sounds simple?  This story from THE HECHINGER REPORT walks you through the process as over 100 educators from 10 states and the District of Columbia meet in Denver to set those critical parameters for the PARCC exams.   ” Now, educators – representing the states that administered new Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) tests in the spring – have to decide how many questions a student needs to get right,” it describes, “to reach each of the five performance levels, with Level 3 and above signifying that students are on track to be college and career ready.”  If you are at all interested or curious about how passing scores are determined you should find this a fascinating read.
Esquith Retaliates
And finally, acclaimed  Hobart Elementary School 5th grade teacher Rafe Esquith filed suit against the LAUSD for mishandling his alleged misconduct case according to a story in today’s L.A. Times.  On top of previous issues a recent district investigation“‘revealed multiple inappropriate photographs and emails of a sexual nature’ on his school computer as well as email correspondence with students that was ‘inconsistent’ with the district’s code of conduct. [It] also referred to allegations of ‘threats to a parent and two students’.  In addition, the district said there were ‘possible ethical and District policy violations’ related to Esquith’s nonprofit, the Hobart Shakespeareans.”  In response to these latest charges Esquith’s lawsuit “seeks his return to school as well as damages for alleged defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, retaliation and age discrimination.  According to the litigation,” the article continues, “stress from the investigation led to Esquith’s recent hospitalization for thrombosis.  The suit also characterized one motivation for the investigation as retaliation for Esquith ‘consistently and publicly opposing many of LAUSD’s wasteful policies and practices’.”
On that “cheery” note, we’d like to wish everyone a “cool” weekend!

Dave Alpert

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



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