Ed News, Friday, August 21, 2015 Edition


[Ed. note:  The “Ed News” will be taking a brief break.  Look for the next edition on Friday, August 28.]
“For many years I have been asking myself why intelligent children act unintelligently at school. The simple answer is, ‘Because they’re scared.’  I used to suspect that children’s defeatism had something to do with their bad work in school, but I thought I could clear it away with hearty cries of ‘Onward! You can do it!’  What I now see for the first time is the mechanism by which fear destroys intelligence, the way it affects a child’s whole way of looking at, thinking about, and dealing with life. So we have two problems, not one: to stop children from being afraid, 
and then to break them of the bad thinking habits into which their fears have driven them.
First Day of School
Wednesday’s L.A. Times has a relatively benign account of the first day of school Tuesday for some 650,000 students in the LAUSD.  A year ago the district was plagued by a disastrous student information system, troubling questions about the “iPad-for-all” program and a controversial superintendent.  As of yesterday the computer system was working the tablet plan had been scrapped and Supt. John Deasy had left under a very dark cloud in October and was replaced by Ramon Cortines.  There are other positive signs, as well, which the article recounts and it includes a brief video (51 seconds) titled “The District By the Numbers.”               The new school year has already begun for millions of students or will start shortly for millions more.  Mitchell Robinson, on his Mitchell Robinson blog, takes the opportunity of the start of the new school year to once again decry the accountability and standardizationbeing pushed so forcefully by the corporate “reformers.”   “There is nothing about [our] schools–or our students–that is standardized.  Schools are not fast-food franchises,” he reminds us, “engineered for consistency and similarity of ‘customer experience.’   The differences in our schools, and among our students, are to be savored, treasured and celebrated, not targeted as ‘issues’, or ‘problems’ to be solved, or ‘variables’ to be accounted for in the construction of a standardized exam.  The diversity in our schools is not a ‘bug’, it’s a feature. . . .  Education is not simply about constructing efficient delivery systems for the transfer of information–books and computers can do that. Education is about the building of relationships–between students and teachers, and among learners themselves,” he continues.  “And schools, in all of their messy, noisy, confusing chaos, do this spectacularly well.”  VERY wise words, indeed!                  What is the optimal time for the school day to begin?  According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, most states start too early, especially for middle and high school students.  EDUCATION WEEK features a new study from the CDC about when school should start.  It suggests an 8:30 start is ideal.  Schools in Louisiana have the earliest average starting times, 7:40 am, while in California the bell rings to start the day at 8:07.  Only Alaska and North Dakota begin after 8:30.  “Too little sleep has been proven in studies to lead to an increased prevalence of anxiety and mood disorders, use of stimulants (coffee, for example), drowsy driving-related crashes, and subsequent risk of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic dysfunction,” the piece explains.  “By starting later, studies have shown students’ academic achievement improving, less absences, and better end-of-year test scores.”   This article includes a interactive state-by-state list of stating times.
Charging Fees for “Free” Public Education
The corporate “reformers” are at it again.  In their push to privatize the public school system by getting state legislatures to slash K-12 education budgets to the bone they are forcing more and more schools to charge fees for things that were previously part of a “free” public education.  Participating in sports or cheerleading, going on field trips and some elective courses are among the items now costing students to take part in.  Even transportation to and from school is costing parents according to this commentary from theOTHER words blog.  “Public schools themselves have steadily been shifting from free education toward what amounts to fee education,” the author contends.  “This is a product of the budget slashing frenzy imposed on our schools in the past 15 years or so by the convergence of Koch-headed, anti-public ideologues and unimaginative, acquiescent education officials. Beset by tight budgets, too many school systems are accommodating the slashers by shifting the cost of educating America’s future from the general society to the parents of students who are presently enrolled.”
New Education Issues Poll
EducationNext is out with its annual poll on school reform.  The group, sponsored by the Hoover Institute at Stanford University, the Harvard Kennedy School and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, has been described as “a propaganda outlet for corporate reform policies such as charter schools, school vouchers and merit pay,” so you may need to take their findings with a grain of salt.  It does report that majorities of parents and the general public support annual testing; teachers were split on the issue.  All three groups had little sympathy for the opt-out movement.  EDUCATION WEEK has an analysis of the survey and a link to the full report.                 Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, took the “Ed News” editor’s advice and didn’t buy many of the findings of the EdNext poll (see above).  However, he did zero in on two items–perceptions about failing schools and poor teachers.  Greene discovered that the general public only believed that 6% of the nation’s schools were “failing.”   “There are certainly aspects of these data that are unbragworthy.  But it is still worth noting that the reformsters narrative of terrible schools staffed with horrible teachers,” his analysis concludes, “is not what most folks see– certainly not the level of disaster needed to really jumpstart a good round of disaster capitalist roulette.  Perhaps that’s why some folks have to work so very hard to create the impression of educational disaster.”
The Teaching Profession
A 10-year veteran teacher in Philadelphia, who is National Board-certified, describes her first year experiences working in a “teacher-led school” in a piece for EDUCATION WEEK.  She explains what she learned and what she had to “unlearn” after working in a more traditional setting.  “Sometimes I still crave a quick, clear-cut answer.  But I’m learning that at a teacher-led school, I co-create the answers.  I’m becoming more comfortable with the process of seeking answers together.  My first year at a teacher-powered school was far from a smooth transition,” she confides.  “But heading into the second, I’m confident that I am exactly where I want to be.”                     Several previous editions of the “Ed News” highlighted the significant upcoming U.S. Supreme Court caseFriedrichs v CTA which contains a pivotal challenge to the concept by which public unions collect “agency shop” fees from people who do not want to be full dues-paying members.  Experts have predicted that an adverse ruling could be a major blow to the influence and even existence of public employee unions.  The Tuesday, Aug. 18th edition of the “Ed News” presented Part 1 of an analysis of the case by the BadAss Teachers Association.  You can read Part 2, titled “The Deception Goes Deeper,” by clicking here.  A link to Part 1 can be found in the sidebar titled “Blog Archive.”                 If you are not back at school yet or have some extra time this weekend you can read ALL the affidavits submitted in the New York case of Lederman v King that is challenging the New York State teacher evaluation system that makes heavy usage of value-added models (VAMs) to rate teachers.  Diane Ravitch’s blog is touting the one written by psychologist Brad Lindell who writes about the unreliability of VAM scores.  If you don’t wish to read his full affidavit you can read a (very) brief note he sent to Ravitch explaining his view in ‘layman’s terms” by clicking here.  
Election 2016  
Campbell Brown’s education blog “The Seventy Four” hosted separate discussions on the future of K-12 education with six of the GOP candidates for president in 2016.  Gov. Jeb Bush, Carly Fiorina, Gov. John Kasich, Gov. Scott Walker, Gov Bobby Jindal and Gov. Chis Christie were each  questioned Wednesday in Manchester, New Hampshire for approximately 45 minutes by editor-in-chief of T74 Brown.  A second “Education Summit” will take place in October in Iowa and will feature Democratic leaders who will address how to meet America’s education challenges.                 For a slightly different take on the New Hampshire education discussion (see above) we refer you to Peter Greene and his CURMUDUCATION blog and Jennifer Berkshire over at EDUSHYSTER who reports on one teacher who preregistered for the event and had a ticket but was denied entry.  [Ed. note: Why was she refused?  Your guess is as good as mine.]  Check out the brief video (1:25 minutes) of the confrontation.                Members of the National Education Association including teachers from New Hampshire, Maine and Connecticut protested outside the “Education Summit” event hosted by “The Seventy Four.”  EDUCATION WEEK has a description in the form of a timeline with summaries of some of the candidates comments and some of the actions that took place outside.                Yesterday’s L.A. Times also reported on the “Education Summit” from New Hampshire (see above).  Their story focused on Jeb Bush’s comments about the Common Core and briefly reviewed what some of the other candidates said on the topic.   “Bush has watched his onetime signature issue — education reform — transformed into the thorniest of topics,” it points out.  “As his campaign struggles to win support in a crowded field, the standards have become a test of his ability to win over conservatives, or keep them from pulling him too far to the right.”
Hunger Strike in Chicago
A group of 11 parents, teachers and community members are engaged in a hunger strike in a South Side neighborhood of Chicago in a desperate attempt to reopen their local high school that was among 50 campuses closed by Mayor Rahm Emmanuel a couple of years ago. Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, provides the details of why these activists are resorting to such drastic actions. “If the Emanuel administration has its way,” he complains, “this mostly black community will have to choose between sending their children to a failing charter school or a failing public school run by a private company – all while the neighborhood’s historic Walter H. Dyett High School is closed.”
Teacher Jail
In lieu of a recent L.A. Times editorial about “teacher jail” (highlighted in the Aug. 11th “Ed News”), Walt Gardner, a now retired LAUSD teacher and former lecturer at the UCLA Graduate School of Education, comments on the phenomenon in L.A. and New York (“rubber rooms”).  His commentary appears inEDUCATION WEEK and is titled “Teacher Jails and Rubber Rooms are a Travesty.”  “Before remanding teachers to these purgatories,” Gardner suggests, “I think it’s important to make a distinction between instructional incompetence and moral turpitude.”
Problems With State High School Exit Exam
An editorial in Wednesday’s L.A. Times was highly critical of California Supt. of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson for a situation that developed at the end of last year that left some 500 of the state’s seniors in graduation limbo because they hadn’t yet passed the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam).  [Ed. note: Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted how the San Francisco Board of Education dealt with the problem  facing 107 of their seniors.]  Briefly, the test measures if students have basic skills in English and math and is offered beginning in a pupil’s sophomore year.  Students have a number of opportunities to pass the exam but it is a requirement for graduation.  Torlakson cancelled the final administration of the test scheduled for July due to the fact that it didn’t align with the new Common Core standards.  That left a number of seniors around the state who had passed all the other graduation requirements out on a limb because they had yet to pass the CAHSEE.  Legislation was introduced in Sacramento (SB 172) to deal with the situation but no bill has yet passed.               An item in EdSource is reporting that the California Assembly is taking up an emergency bill this week to tackle the problem of seniors being denied diplomas due to the students not being able to take the CAHSEE (see above).                An item posted on the L.A. Times website yesterday afternoon reviews the snafu over diplomas and discusses its impact on 492 students in the LAUSD with the snarky headline “Here’s One Way to Give Out More High School Diplomas.”  Thanks L.A. Times for your thorough understanding of the situation!    
Duncan’s Op-Ed About STEM
U.S. Dept. of Ed. Sec. Arne Duncan’s op-ed in Tuesday’s L.A. Times about California spending more of its education budget on preparing students in the STEM subjects drew 4 letters in yesterday’s paper.  The first one is from Walt Gardner, retired veteran LAUSD teacher and columnist for ED WEEK.
Opting-Out in New York
And finally, a recent edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a threat from the New York state commissioner of education to withhold federal and state funding for any districts in the Empire State that had too many students opt-out of standardized exams.  Now the warning has been withdrawn according to an article in The New York Times sent by ALOED member Randy Traweek.   “For months,” it mentions, “state and federal officials warned that districts that fell below a 95 percent participation rate might lose federal funds, while the leaders of the so-called opt-out movement have dismissed these as empty threats.”  Apparently, the opt-out leaders were right!                    Last week The New York Times published an editorial chastising parents who chose to opt their children out of standardized tests in New York.  They published 4 letters that supported the opt-out movement including one from a middle school teacher from San Francisco who explained why the opt-out phenomenon has not caught on in California.

Dave Alpert

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

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