Ed News, Friday, August 28, 2015 Edition


“Intelligence is the capacity to perceive the essential, the what is; 
and to awaken this capacity,  in oneself and in others, is education.”
The Teaching Profession
Many states are facing a teacher shortage as the 2015-16 school year commences and one reason is the precipitous drop in candidates earning credentials.  However, another key factor is the problem ofretaining current instructors.  An op-ed in Sunday’s L.A. Timesaddresses the issue of why so many of them are leaving the profession and offers some specific ways to remedy the problem.  The author writes about education issues for “Mother Jones.”   “Every year, thousands of young and enthusiastic teachers all over the country start their first day of work,” she begins.  “Within the following five years, at least 17% of them will leave the profession. Teacher attrition is especially high in poor, urban schools, where on average about a fifth of the entire faculty leaves annually — that’s roughly 50% higher than the rate in more affluent schools.”  The author proceeds to focus on one high school in San Francisco, which she wrote a book about, and how it was able to deal with a high turnover rate among its faculty.               The piece above prompted the publication of 3 letters in Wednesday”s Times.                  “Where Have All The Teachers Gone?” is the headline in a story on the BAT’s (Badass Teachers Association) website.  It reviews some of the recent articles about the teacher shortage and why it has developed and what might be done about it.  It leads off with a link to a Peter Greene piece last month from his CURMUDGUCATION blog that has a state-by-state run-down on the lack of teachers that you shouldn’t miss (at least take a look at what Greene writes about California). “When you take a look at the latest report produced by the USDOE the data shows that every state in the country except for Pennsylvania has reported a teacher shortage for the 2015-2016 school year,” the BATs piece reports.  “Some states show the number of categorical shortages to be higher than others, with Idaho seeming to need the most types of teachers.  What becomes apparent however, when looking through the different lists from year to year is that the number of teacher area shortages has risen from the 1990-1991 school year to the current year.  During the 1990-1991 school year the number of categories of teachers needed ranged from zero to nine.  Now the range of shortages falls between zero and forty-three!”                  Valerie Strauss weighs in on the teacher shortage issue on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post.  She reviews some previous posts about the problem and offers some “real reasons” contributing to the shortage and describes the situation in California a couple of times.  “If we are to turn this trend around,” Strauss suggests, “we need to act now to not only stop the attacks on teachers and tenure, but to stop evaluation systems designed to fire teachers based on metrics that no one understands.  And we cannot forget that pay and working conditions matter.  It should also come as no surprise that in states that pay teachers relatively well like New York State, the shortage does not yet exist.”                  
Election 2016
The author of a commentary from ALJAZEERA AMERICA wonders why national Democratic leaders have “abandoned public education.”  He notes that people like Pres. Obama, Arne Duncan and Rahm Emmanuel are or have sent their kids to private schools and so are not totally aware of the impact on students’ schooling of things like Common Core, charters and standardized testing.  “Since at least the 1990s, education reformers have argued that schools should be run like businesses focused on the bottom line — in this case, test scores.  Parents and educators,” he concludes, “from across the spectrum reply that our society should strive to offer all children the kind of opportunities provided at the finest private schools.  Unfortunately, too many Democratic elites have joined the side of market-based economic reform.  They may do so with a clear conscience, perhaps, because their own children do not suffer the consequences.”
Community Activism
As a hunger strike nears the end of a second week to protest the closing of a high school on the Southside of Chicago ( International Business Times), a group of 35 parents and children have been protesting the closure of a school in Puerto Rico.  Steven Singer on his GADFLYONETHEWALLBLOGranges far afield to report on what’s taking place on the U.S. Territory.  “For more than 80 days, about 35 parents and children have been camping out in front of their neighborhood school in the U.S. Territory of Puerto Rico,” he explains.  “The Commonwealth government closed the Jose Melendez de Manati school along with more than 150 others over the last 5 years.  But the community is refusing to let them loot it.  They hope to force lawmakers to reopen the facility.”  Because of Puerto Rico’s status as a U.S. territory issues such as taxes and government debt can get very tangled as Singer describes.              For an extended essay from theSeven Scribes blog about the meaning of the Dyett High School hunger strike in Chicago titled “Phantoms Playing Double-Dutch: Why the Fight for Dyett is Bigger Than One Chicago School Closing”click here.  “Here is my personal opinion, as someone who has gone through a school closing, my professional opinion as an educator, and my scholarly opinion as a researcher who is now writing a dissertation about Bronzeville’s shuttered schools.  I will say it without reservation to whomever will listen, so listen: the decision to shuffle students from one building to another in the name of numbers is shameful,” the author writes movingly.  “The decision to do so is based on the premise that children, teachers, and schools are indistinguishable widgets, to be distributed as efficiently as possible across the landscape.  But the fact is that schools are ecosystems, each with its own history, culture, and intricately woven set of social relationships.  Schools are community anchors.  They not interchangeable, nor are they disposable.  Schools are home.”
How Does Living in Poverty Impact Student Learning?
Valerie Strauss, on her blog in The Washington Post, returns to the often ignored issue by the corporate “reformers” and privatizers of how poverty impacts student achievement. She features a new study from the nonprofit EdBuild which offers several maps showing how student poverty has grown alarmingly during the period of the Great Recession and how that affects the ability of poor, low-income students to learn.  Instead of imposing more “test and punish” policies she points out using the report, how this country should truly address the issue of poverty.  Strauss also references the story below about a lawsuit filed against Compton Unified and how it’s related to her column’s topic.  Check out the link to the “interactive map” and you can get an individual school district’s poverty rate.  [Ed. note: I checked LAUSD and discovered that in 2006 the poverty rate was 24.8% and in 2013 it had jumped to 31.4%.  Give it a try.  Interesting stuff!]
Court Case About Student “Demons”
Court cases have been won forcing districts to provide special programs for students with mental and physical disabilities.  A lawsuit was filed last week in a U.S. Federal court in Los Angeles on behalf of 8 pupils against the Compton Unified School District.  It seeks to have teachers, administrators and staff receive special training to recognize and deal with students who have suffered fromviolence, abuse and other traumas.  The story was posted on theL.A. Times website Thursday evening and ran in Monday’s print edition.  “The litigation could test whether ‘complex trauma’ qualifies as a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act. If the lawsuit is successful,” it explains, “school districts would be required to provide special academic and mental health services to students who have suffered from violence and other trauma.”
Hurricane Katrina 10 Years Later
Saturday marks the 10th anniversary of the devastating Hurricane Katrina striking the U.S. Gulf Coast.  The City of New Orleans was particularly hard hit by the storm.  As the anniversary approaches, lots of reports have come out on how things have changed since then.  Some  paint rosy pictures of improvement and change.  Most of those have a certain agenda they are pushing.  The author of this opinion piece in The New York Times has a more nuanced approach.  She’s a professor of business journalism at Baruch College, City University of New York and titles her piece “The Myth of the New Orleans School Makeover.”  “For outsiders, the biggest lesson of New Orleans is this: It is wiser to invest in improving existing education systems than to start from scratch.  Privatization may improve outcomes for some students,” she contends, “but it has hurt the most disadvantaged pupils.”                New Orleans is now a 100% charter district.  How have teaching staffs changed since Katrina?  The “Teacher Beat” blog for EDUCATION WEEK provides a profile of those changes based on a new study from the Education Research Alliance for New Orleans.  Some key findings: educators in the Crescent City are now more white and less experience than before the storm.                 The city was not the only thing devastated by the hurricane.  Another feature from ED WEEK profiles a number of veteran Black teachers who were not rehired  to work in the “new” New Orleans school district in the wake of Katrina.  It is titled starkly “Death of My Career–What Happened to New Orleans’ Veteran Black Teachers.”  “Just five months after floodwaters engulfed her home in New Orleans East, [one teacher], living in Dallas, got walloped again,” it reports.  “She was fired.  After more than 30 years of teaching, she, along with almost every one of the 7,000 employees of the New Orleans public schools, was dismissed.  [She] does not forget. She does not forgive, either, not least of all because she has never received an apology,” it continues matter-of-factly.  “Resentment remains, she says, because she lost her job under the pretense that she failed her students.”  This one’s a particularly tough read.
Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, reads everything VERY carefully.  Her analysis of the separate House and Senate bills to rewrite ESEA/NCLB were proudly highlighted in previous editions of the “Ed News.”  She continues her study of the two bills and believes that the conference committee that’s meeting to create a single piece of legislation on the reauthorizaton will not include federal sanctions for states that have high numbers of opt-outs.  “The reality is that opting out of federally-mandated testing is not going away,” she maintains, “and likely will only continue to gain momentum across years as increasingly more children are branded American public school failures.  Test-centered American public education has had its day, and based upon the growing appeal to parents of opting their children out of mandated tests, that day has more than passed.  There was no opt-out movement throughout the heyday of test-and-punish NCLB, but there certainly is one now.”               The opt-out movement is probably the strongest in New York right now but the state of Washington is not far behind.  Seattle Education reviews the latest numbers of students who refused to take standardized tests in the Evergreen State in a piece titled “48,000+ Students Refused the Testocracy in Washington State by Opting-Out.  This Isn’t an “Anomaly,” It’s An Uprising.” 
Testing & Common Core
The “Ed News” has diligently highlighted numerous articles, editorials, opinion pieces and letters-to-the-editor about the controversy over standardized testing.  An interesting item in Tuesday’s L.A. Times featured a new Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll, released Sunday, that reports on how different racial groups, white, black and Latino, view the now ubiquitous exams.   65% of whites, 60% of Hispanics and 57% of blacks answered affirmatively to the question of whether there was too much emphasis on the assessments in their community public schools.  Another query looked at how many parents, by racial group, would opt-out their children from the tests.               How successful have the Common Core State Standards been since their roll-out?  If you only listen to the recent public relations spin around them you’d think they were a resounding success but the release of 2014-15 test scores have predictably yielded large numbers of failures and a widening achievement gap.  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUEblog, reports on the situation in a piece under the headline “Caution! Common Core Spin Doctors at Work.” “Here in California, where about one sixth of the nation’s students attend school,” he notes, “we have been told that we must wait for September to get the test results.  Never mind that these tests were promised to be better because they would deliver results more quickly.  Given that California has a large proportion of English learners, it is likely that our scores will be very poor.  This may be why the Gates Foundation spent more than a million dollars here last month to sponsor a teacher day devoted to Common Core implementation.”                 The California Dept. of Educationdeleted the last 17 years worth of standardized test results prior to the release of this year’s scores.  Why?  This year is the first time students in the Golden State took Core-aligned assessments and the DOE didn’t want comparisons of what was essentially apples to oranges.  Confused?  You can read all about it in a short article onEDUCATION WEEK.  “The department has said it removed the data,” it notes, “to ‘avoid confusion,’ and to help comply with a 2013 law that forbids state agencies and local districts from comparing scores on the old and new standardized tests.  The deputy superintendent issued a statement explaining that the new results will be going up soon and that ‘the two tests cannot be compared.'”                     California’s first set of Common Core aligned standardized test results will be coming out later this year.  If they are anything like what other states are experiencing, brace yourself for some (VERY) disappointing numbers.  New York’s scores were poor and now Jonathan Pelto on the Wait What? blog reviews the also very poor results from Connecticut which, by the way, uses the same SBAC assessments as California.  “As designed, intended and projected,” he complains, “the vast majority of Connecticut students have been labeled as failures according to the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core SBAC math test results. . . .  According to the Common Core SBAC results, a majority of Connecticut students  – in every grade – failed to meet the so-called ‘achievement’ level.”  You may not want to hold your breath while awaiting those “fabulous” California scores!
Charter Schools 
The charter school “scandal of the day” visits South Carolina.  The State newspaper out of Columbia, South Carolina, reports that the head of a charter school in Lee County is headed to prison for 3 1/2 years for stealing over $1.5 million in funds intended for the education of low-income students in that poverty stricken area.               
Diplomas and the CAHSEE
Gov. Brown signed emergency legislation on Wednesday that waspassed last week by the state Assembly and Senate that will allow approximately 5,000 seniors in the state to get their diplomas despite not passing the California High School Exit Exam which was previously required for graduation.  A brief item in yesterday’s L.A. Times provides the details.
Reaction to Latest School Issues Poll
The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a newly released Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup poll on education issues like the Common Core, testing, school choice and teacher evaluations among others.  Reaction to the findings was swift.  Jeff Bryant, writing on theEducation Opportunity NETWORK thinks education policy leaders are not in step with what the public wants.  He titles his piece “People Don’t Like Current Education Policies, So Why Do Policy Leaders?”  “So the schools American families participate in are generally doing their jobs, but we need better, more qualitative ways of assessing their work, and what schools mostly need is more funding and support,” he summarizes.  “Why don’t we ever hear policy makers and political leaders talk about that?   The reason we don’t is that in our current political climate, the ‘test and punish’ reform policy is the easier path to travel.  Stern rhetoric and ‘tough-minded’ policy-making are rewarded as being ‘very serious’ approaches to governing.  Taking a position to support a valued institution like public schools, to assess their outcomes in a richer, student-centered way, and to ensure adequate, equitable funding, would take something altogether different – something more like, you know, real leadership.”               Valerie Strauss, on her column in The Washington Post, headlines her piece on the survey: “Poll: Most Americans Oppose Key Tenets of Modern School Reform.”  “Not only do most Americans think kids are subjected to too many standardized tests,” she offers as one example, “but a majority reject holding teachers, students and schools accountable based in part on test scores, the survey found.  And there’s this: The No. 1 problem Americans said their local schools are facing isn’t bad teachers or unions but insufficient funding, a finding that has remained consistent for the past 10 years.”
School Lunches Get a Makeover
Remember those generally icky school lunches you endured as a student?  School food has certainly improved over the years but still probably has a long way to go before anyone would describe them as gourmet.  One school district in L.A. County is making a major effort to change all that according to a “delectable” story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times.  It checks out what’s “on the menu” at La Canada High.  “School cafeterias have not generally been known for their memorable meals — at least not in a good way,” it starts off.  “Many evoke memories of surly lunch ladies dishing up Sloppy Joe sandwiches made out of ‘mystery meat’ to unwitting pupils.  In an effort to burst that stereotype, La Cañada Unified School District officials have hired a new vendor that is focusing on providing fresher, more healthful meals and giving students more leeway to build their own creations.  So far, officials said, the burrito bar seems to be a hit.”
Connection Between TFA and New State Education Dept. Heads
Diane Ravitch’s blog points out the connection between Teach for America and several right wing governors from states that have appointed Dept. of Education leaders to push for their corporate “reform” and privatization agendas.  “What is it about TFA,” she asks, “that produces leaders who want to privatize public education and crush the teaching profession?”
Back to School
And finally, ALOED member Larry Lawrence said this short video (4:21 minutes) “gets my vote for the best beginning of the school year I’ve seen” and he’s been around awhile (Oxy, ’58).  WGNtv in Chicago captures what took place when a district in West Des Moines, Iowa, met the day before students returned for the new school year.  A group of teachers and staff parodied a song from a hit musical describing their feelings about their last moments of summer.  Be sure to follow the words to the tune as projected on the auditorium screen.  If you are back at school already, or are about to be, this one’s for you.  

Dave Alpert

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


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