Ed News, Tuesday, August 18, 2015 Edition


“What I’ve found about it is that there are some folks you can talk to until you’re blue in the face–they’re never going to get it and they’re never going to change. But every once in a while, you’ll run into someone who is eager to listen, eager to learn, and willing to try new things. Those are the people we need to reach. We have a responsibility as parents, older people, teachers, people in the neighborhood to recognize that.”
Charter Schools
Last week the “Ed News” highlighted a story from the L.A. Times about a plan by the Broad Foundation and others to turn the LAUSD into a district with 50% of its student attending charters.  Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, wants to know how Broad and his ilk have appointed themselves the chief policy makers in the district.  Isn’t that the role of the VOTER-ELECTED school board?   “Did somebody elect the Broad Foundation to the school board of the LAUSD?  No?  Well, why let that stop them from going ahead and setting policy.  I think I may go ahead and declare myself the chief of police here in my town,” Greene proposes, “stop down to City Hall, and let them know what the new policies are going to be.”  Greene also wonders who is going to fund this major charter expansion.  Broad and his fellow philanthropists?  The taxpayers, who had no say in the policy?                 How can this be?  The BASIS charter chain in Arizonaconsistently ranks among the top public schools in the country.  However, an investigative piece by a reporter for station KPHO Channel 5, the CBS affiliate in Phoenix, finds that it suffers a major decline in students between middle school and 12th grade.  “Critics argue the small graduating classes give BASIS the appearance of a school system that succeeds in creating top scholars out of nearly all of its students,” the story notes.  “They say the lower-performing students transfer out of the system before senior year.”  Some numbers to back up this claim: One BASIS campus in Scottsdale had 144 students in 6th grade in 2012-13 but only 32 pupils in the 12th grade.  The article includes a short video segment (5:18 minutes) about the story by the reporter.                  An Arizona teacher and reader of  Diane Ravitch’s blog  offers some additional insights into the inner workings of  BASIS charter schools  in that state.                ALOED members Randy Traweek, Larry Lawrence and Dave Alpert attended the press conference/rally yesterday afternoon in front of the office building that houses the Broad Foundation in Century City to promote a petition that aims to place on the ballot in California a initiative that would repeal the state’s charter school law.  The event apparently drew no media attention and only attracted 14 or 15 people who held signs and passed out literature to passersby on Avenue of the Stars.
Election 2016
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, expounds are seemingly contradictory votes Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders cast over the past 15 years on NCLB and the current rewrite of the ESEA.  A key term in the controversy seems to be one’s definition of “accountability.”  Both Sanders and Singer explain their interpretations of what the latter describes as “teacher accountability” and “lawmaker accountability.”                Jeb Bush, like some of the other Republican candidates for president, iswaffling on the Common Core.  Once a strong proponent of the standards he now finds it difficult to even mention them by name.  As far back as November of last year he was supporting the CCSS.  New he’s against them.  What changed?  Hint, hint! He’s running for president among a number of other GOP hopefuls who can’t stand them either.  Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” atdeutsch29 reviews the history between the former Florida governor and the standards.
The Teacher Shortage
Add Oklahoma to the growing list of states with teacher shortages much of which can be traced to unenlightened policies toward teacher pay, budget cuts, class sizes, due process rights and unionization.  YAHOO! NEWS provides the details about what’s going on in the Sooner State.   “Low pay, more mandatory tests, funding cuts and what some educators feel are more demands from policymakers,” it relates, “are among the reasons cited by departing teachers, and by administrators trying to replace them.”
Opt-Out and Testing
When too many students opt-out of standardized tests it raises questions about the validity of the results that are reported.  The New York Times has an interesting analysis of this growing trend and its impact on the entire “accountability” movement.  It focuses on the situation in New York but is certainly applicable nationwide.  “With 20 percent of eligible students sitting out the New York state standardized tests this year,” it begins, “even some central organizers of the ‘opt out’ movement were surprised at their own success.  But those numbers are more than just a thumb in the eye of state education officials.  They also are a significant setback for the educational accountability movement in New York, which has sought to use data to evaluate educational progress on all levels, including the success of districts, schools and individual teachers.  Now, in many districts with high rates of test refusals, the data has been badly crippled.”  Diane Ravitch labeled this “a terrific article.”               The New York Times has an editorial condemning the opt-out movement.  “With opt-out activists threatening to redouble their efforts next year,” it concludes, “political leaders need to convince everyone involved — school boards, superintendents, principals, parents, state education officials, guidance counselors, and teachers and their unions — of the importance of these tests and find ways to help students and teachers meet the challenge they pose.”               The state of New York is worried that the large number of students who opted-out of the standardized tests may call into question the use of those scores for evaluating districts, schools and individual teachers (see 2 stories above).  Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, reminds everyone once AGAIN that high stakes test results were NOT meant to be used for evaluating anything or anyone other than the students who took the exams.  ” Under no conditions is it a valid use of student test scores to evaluate teachers or schools,” she repeats.  “The students are the test takers; these tests purportedly measure their achievement.  There is no way to account for all of the possible variables that would enable the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to accurately evaluate teachers and schools using student test scores.”               A state high school exit exam snafu left 107 students in San Francisco in graduation limbo.  The board of education in that city took the unprecedented step of ignoring state law in order for the blameless students to be able to complete their high school requirements and prepare for college entrance, job training or the military. EDUCATION WEEK sorts out the details of this sordid tale for you in a piece titled “California Diploma Bungle: San Francisco Board Goes ‘Rogue’ to Rescue Students.”              What should test reform activists do next as the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB gets down to business in earnest as Congress prepares to return from its summer recess after Labor Day?  That question is answered with a list of 5 options from an article in the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog which concludes with an action plan that teachers or parents can implement.
Teacher Evaluations
In a case that could have nationwide implications, a 4th grade teacher in New York, Sheri Lederman, has filed suit against the state’s teacher evaluation system.  Her hearing before the NY Supreme Court took place last week in Albany and a group of teachers from the Badass Teachers Association attended the trial in support of Lederman.  They wrote short reflections on what they’d experienced while witnessing the proceedings in Lederman v King.  As an example, here’s a portion of what Maria Kilfoyle wrote:  “1.  At first when Bruce Lederman [Sheri’s husband and attorney] was methodically going through his arguments the judge seemed bored and disinterested.  At one point I thought he was going to fall asleep and my hopes were falling but an amazing thing happened….It seemed to me the judge GOT IT!  He seemed to be well read and assured Bruce that he had read the ‘expert’ submissions on behalf of Sheri Lederman (Linda Darling-Hammond and Carol Burris submitted expert testimony on Sheri’s behalf).”   This article includes a series of real time tweets that were sent while the court was in session.                Alexandra Miletta, a high school classmate of Sheri Lederman and a “teacher educator” offered her impressions of the case on her Alexandra Milettablog.               Peter Greene did not attend the hearing but offered his always cogent comments about it on his CURMUDGUCATIONblog.   “God bless Sheri Lederman,” he begins.  “The New York teacher is in court this [last]  week, standing up for herself and for every teacher who suffers under New York’s cockamamie evaluation system.  If she wins, there will be shockwaves felt all across America where teachers are evaluated based on VAM-soaked idiocy.”  Greene actually touts Alexandra Miletta’s blog (see above) as an excellent source for information on the case.  [Ed. note: He does get the spelling of her last name wrong, but we won’t hold that against him].               Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post over to the now retired award-winning New York principal Carol Burris, who also attended the hearing, for her eyewitness report on the proceedings.  As an introduction to Burris’ comments, Strauss offers an excellent history of the case and a review of some of the key issues at stake.  “Here’s what happened to Lederman: In 2012-13, 68.75 percent of her New York students met or exceeded state standards in both English and math,” Strauss recounts.  “She was labeled ‘effective’ that year.  In 2013-2014, her students’ test results were very similar, but she was rated ‘ineffective.’   Meanwhile, her district superintendent, Thomas Dolan, declared that Lederman — whose students received  standardized math and English Language Arts test scores consistently higher than the state average — has a ‘flawless record.'”  As a result of this mishmash, Lederman sued the New York State Department of Education over its flawed evaluation system.                The satirical news site the ONION has a brief, totally tongue-in-cheek proposal about new standards for teacher evaluations in Illinois.  Remember: this is completely fictitious, but then again, you never can tell what some crazy state will come up with.  “In an effort to hold classroom instructors more accountable, the Illinois State Board of Education unveiled new statewide education standards Friday,” the story reports, “that require public school teachers to forever change the lives of at least 30 percent of their students. . . .  If 30 percent of students don’t recall a particular teacher’s name when asked to identify the most influential and inspiring person in their lives, that instructor would be promptly dismissed.”
Common Core
An editorial in The Washington Post strongly supports the Common Core against critics from both the right and the left.  “The left-right movement of activists, ideologues and unions that is ‘poisoning’ the Common Core brand,”  it maintains, “is willing to sacrifice transparency and accountability for the sake of ideology, job security or some combination.”               Diane Ravitch’s blogwas scornful of the Post’s position and points out some factual errors.   “I am shocked,” she concludes, “that the Washington Post could be so misinformed.”
Corporate “Reform”
Mitchell Robinson, on his personal blog, offers a 4-step process for how corporate “reformers” go about the take-over of public school districts  “One of the more subtle, yet damaging, weapons in the reformers’ playbook,” he writes, “is simultaneously less visible to the uninformed eye and more insidious in its ability to accomplish the reformers’ ultimate goal: the destabilization of public education by an intentional, purposeful strategy of near-constant turnover and turmoil in the leadership and teaching force in the schools.  The business world has a name for this practice: creative destruction.”  Robinson goes on to explain where this term came from and how it’s used to accomplish the privatization of the public school system.  He uses the Detroit Public Schools as a prime example.
The Teaching Profession
Before going on its annual summer recess, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear the pivotal case of Friedrichs v CTA in the coming year.  Back in June the “Ed News” highlighted this very significant case.  It deals with the issue of public sector unions and their agency shop provisions regarding the payment of dues.  The plaintiffs will argue that this arrangement violates their first amendment rights.  A commentary on the Badass Teachers Association website looks at the individuals and organizations that are bringing the challenge and what they ultimately hope to gain by it.  If you are not already familiar with the stakes involved inFriedrichs you should be scared, VERY SCARED!   “If Friedrichs successfully overturns [a previous decision] and removes ‘agency shop’ fees,” the item warns, “many surmise it will destroy labor unions in the country.  Exposure of the real intent of the Friedrichs case is necessary because the political nature of this case is alarming; not just because of its ability to destroy labor unions but because of the nature of the deception.”               Here we go again.  You’ve heard about this happening before in different places but a group of 16 teachers at Chicago’s Urban Prep Academy were fired after the school voted to unionize.  Almost all of them were prominently featured on a pro-union flyer that circulated prior to the balloting in early June.  EDUSHYSTER provides the detail in her piece titled “Your’re Fired!”  “It took the Labor Board weeks to certify the results of the election due to large number of ballots that school administrators were contesting,” she recounts.  “And during this ‘grey area’ period when the new union wasn’t yet officially official, Urban Prep fired sixteen teachers.  Hows come?  Well, because they could.  Administrators are arguing that until the exact moment that the union becomes official, they are allowed to do whatever it is they feel like doing.  Which would seem to be an example of exactly the kind of asshole-ish behavior that prompted teachers at the charter network to form a union in the first place.”
Back to School
Today, over 500,000 students began classes in the LAUSD for the 2015-16 school year.  The L.A. Times has 4 education related stories, three of which relate to the nation’s second largest school district.  Last year the LAUSD attempted to roll-out a new student information system which proved to be a fiasco as pupil programs were incorrect and teachers had great difficulty even taking roll.  The now abandoned “iPads-for-all” program also proved problematic to put it kindly.  The first story discusses how the district is hoping for a much smoother opening this year than last.  “The student records system had seemed like a bargain at first — it was based on free computer code, obtained from Fresno Unified, which could be modified as needed,” the story reviews.  “It was intended to unite all student records in one place, including attendance, course schedules, emergency contacts, past performance and special needs.  Such coordination, officials hoped, would lead to faster and more appropriate services for students and more efficient business practices.  The new program, called My Integrated Student Information System (MISIS), cost $133 million to get on track.  Officials set aside $80 million this year to pay for additional fixes.”               The second article profiles the last remaining campus in the LAUSD that’s still on a year-round schedule–Bell High School–which started its school year early in July.  [Ed. note: From 1983-2009 I taught at Huntington Park High (LAUSD, and a neighbor of Bell, they were our big rival in sports), and was on a slightly different year-round calendar].   ” The campus, located in the southeast city of Bell,” the Times item notes, “is the last vestige of an era of explosive growth that pushed L.A. Unified’s enrollment to 700,000 from 500,000 between 1980 and 2000. The growth caused acute overcrowding, with some schools tripling in size to 2,000 students.”                The third piece is an infographic with charts and figures showing LAUSD enrollment, number of charter schools and students attending charters in the district, racial/ethnic statistics for both pupils and teachers, SAT scores and graduation and drop-out numbers.                The final item in today’s paper is an op-ed piece by U.S. Sec. of Ed. Arne Duncan who suggests California would be better served by focusing much of its education spending on the STEM (Science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.  ” If we want our children to grow into the scientists, researchers, educators and entrepreneurs who will address our most pressing challenges,” he writes, “and if we want our nation to remain a global leader in innovation, we must ensure that all students have access to deep learning in STEM subjects and are taught by talented teachers knowledgeable in these fields.”                Finally, why such wide coverage of education in today’s L.A. Times?  The paper’s Publisher and Chief Executive announced, in the form of a “Dear Reader” letter, a new, expanded emphasis on the subject that aims to provide students, teachers and parents with ongoing information.   “With the start of a new school year,” he explains, “the Los Angeles Times is rededicating itself to coverage of teaching and learning.  Our goal is to provide an ongoing, wide-ranging report card on K-12 education in Los Angeles, California and the nation.”  You can read his full remarks by clicking here.               Oops!  Hold the celebration!  Diane Ravitch writes about the new Times initiative on education: “Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, you read a story like this.  It is a letter from the publisher of the LA Times informing readers that a group of wealthy foundations are underwriting expanded coverage of education.  Not surprising to see the Eli Broad Foundation in the mix.  Former Mayor Richard Riordan is not listed but you can be sure he is involved.  These control freaks–er, philanthropists–worry that the LAT has not provided enough space to cover this vital topic,” she complains. . . .  “A guest column by Arne Duncan!  Now there’s a fresh perspective!  I wonder if I will ever be invited to write for the LA Times again?”
Educational Measurement–Phooey!
Gene V. Glass of Arizona St. University has been involved with psychometrics since 1959 and has been a strong proponent of educational measurement since he entered grad school 3 years later.  His commentary, which he wrote for the Education in Two Worlds website, explains why he’s become disenchanted with how the numbers are being used to undermine public education.  “Measurement has changed along with the nation.  In the last three decades,” he laments, “the public has largely withdrawn its commitment to public education.  The reasons are multiple: those who pay for public schools have less money, and those served by the public schools look less and less like those paying taxes.
The degrading of public education has involved impugning its effectiveness, cutting its budget, and busting its unions.  Educational measurement has been the perfect tool for accomplishing all three: cheap and scientific looking. . . .  When measurement became the instrument of accountability,”
Glass continues, “testing companies prospered and schools suffered.  I have watched this happen for several years now.  I have slowly withdrawn my intellectual commitment to the field of measurement.  Recently I asked my dean to switch my affiliation from the measurement program to the policy program.  I am no longer comfortable being associated with the discipline of educational measurement.”
Fundraising TV Special for EDUCATION
And finally, CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC will broadcast a 1-hour music and entertainment special on Fri, Sept. 11, at 8 pm EDT/PDT to help raise funds for education.  The Entertainment Industry Foundation has previously produced cancer benefits and has lined up a star-studded cast for next month’s program.  A brief item in EDUCATION WEEK details the show.  “The foundation’s Think It Up initiative is hoping the benefit helps build excitement for learning in classrooms around the country,” the piece spells out.  “The broadcast will showcase stories of students and teachers.”

Dave Alpert

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


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