Ed News, Tuesday, September 8, 2015 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“The quality of the relationships that students have in class with their peers
 and teachers is important to their success in school.” 
―  Bob PletkaEducating the Net Generation: How to Engage Students in the 21st Century
As previously noted, it is test result season and the California Dept. of Education is scheduled to release the latest results for students of the Golden State tomorrow.  NPR station 89.3KPCC has a brief story about the scores which includes an example of the report sent to parents on how their child fared on the assessments.   “Education officials and school district administrators have been tamping down expectations of the coming test scores,” it reveals.  “Because the tests aim to measure students’ skills on such new learning standards as problem solving and critical thinking, the first round scores won’t be stellar, they said.  In addition, almost all of the 3.2 million California students who took the tests this year did so online for the first time.  So officials have said students had to learn how to take the digital tests — and that could negatively impact scores.”               Today’s L.A. Times has a similar story to the one above.  State education leaders are warning that when the latest California test results on released tomorrow everyone should brace themselves for some less than robust scores.  The new SBAC assessments were used for the first time this year so drawing a parallel with previous results will be likened to comparing the proverbial apples to oranges.  “Critics of public schools call the test results evidence of a failing system.  Critics of testing say the low scores are causing unnecessary anxiety and advise against attaching too much importance to them,” the story  notes.  “Some also express concern about using results as grounds to dismiss teachers, while others applaud that possibility.  But with the expectation of low scores comes another message from most officials: Don’t panic.”              Today’s Times has an editorial titled “What Will The Common Core Test Results Show?” about the anticipated release of the latest test scores this week.  “California will get an immediate sense of how it’s doing, because it belongs to a consortium of more than a dozen states that gave similar Common Core tests.  If indeed California’s test results are significantly worse than the others’,  it warns, “state education officials should waste no time figuring out why.”
Hunger Strike in Chicago
Today marks the 24th day of the Chicago hunger strike.  Michelle Gunderson is a veteran elementary school teacher with the Chicago Public Schools who describes the latest developments in the actionin an article on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  Last week Mayor Rahm Emmanuel offered what he called a “compromise” but it was not acceptable to the strikers.  “In the end, we owe the hunger strikers a huge debt of gratitude.  The dignity and grace with which they decided to carry on will benefit all of us,” she concludes movingly.  “It would have been so easy to call off the strike and declare a victory last week, but if we let powerful politicians and not our communities have full control of our schools what really would have been won?  In all of our continuing battles to keep our public schools in public hands, we will look to the Dyett 12 that paved this path for us.”
New School Year, New Technology?
As teachers continue to return to their classrooms for the new school year, many of them may be faced with new technology in the form of hardware or software.  How do educators deal with this situation so they can make the most of the new devices and tools for their students?  The guest writer of a commentary on “The StartUp Blog (Ed Tech from the Ground Up)” on EDUCATION WEEK has some practical suggestions for how to deal with those new tech items in your classroom.  She’s the technology coordinator at the Science Leadership Academy, a teacher, lifelong learner and new mom.  “Many teachers find themselves in a bittersweet situation at the start of the new school year,” she submits at the outset of her piece.  “Often, their school has used the summer break to begin new initiatives or to make new investments in technology and infrastructure.  This can be both a blessing and curse.”  She proceeds to deal with both of the latter situations.
Charter Schools

The Center for Media and Democracy’s (CMD) PR Watchcontinues its investigative series on federal funding for charter schools.  This installment looks at some of the secrecy surrounding which states have applied for the federal grants and their track record on transparency and accountability.  It’s interesting that many of the corporate “reformers” and privatizers demand “accountability” from the public schools and their teachers yet eschew it for the charters they are so quick to want to set up.  Congress is currently contemplating a significant increase in funding for the Charter Schools Program (CSP).  “The clamor for charter expansion comes despite the fact that there are federal probes underway into suspected waste and mismanagement within the program,”  the article notes, “not to mention ongoing and recently completed state audits of fraud perpetrated by charter school operators.   Earlier this year, the Center for Popular Democracy documented more than $200 million in fraud, waste, and mismanagement in the charter school industry in 15 states alone, a number that is likely to be just the tip of the iceberg.  Is now really the right time to plow more tax money into charters?”  At both the beginning and end of this piece are sidebars with links to additional articles about charters.                A brewing charter school scandal in Ohio could reach all the way into the office of Gov. John Kasich who is running for the Republican nomination for president in 2016.  Previous editions of the “Ed News” have highlighted the facts around the case and the attempt by several media outlets in the Buckeye State to obtain pertinent communications regarding the situation.  USA TODAY has a story with the latest details.   “In the scheme of presidential-candidate scandals, speculation over what’s contained in public records related to a charter-school skirmish in Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s administration doesn’t rise to the level of Hillary Clinton’s Benghazi or Chris Christie’s Bridgegate,”  it begins.  “For starters, no one died.  But for Kasich, the records serve as the biggest possible ethical blemish hanging over his presidential bid.”              The author who blogs on the Education Matters website indicates that Florida has over 300 (!) charters that have closed.  Two more have closed since the school year started several days ago.  “I know our public schools have issues,”  it concludes decisively, “but it’s time we realized the cure of charter schools is worse than the disease.”                  The Walton Family Foundation has been at the forefront of the corporate “reform” and privatization movement.  Sam Walton was the founder of Walmart and his heirs are some of the wealthiest individuals in this country.  A extended piece fromALTERNET describes how the foundation is attempting to charterize as much of the public school system in their home state of Arkansas as they can and how a determined group of grassroots education leaders, parents and community activists succeeded in thwarting much of the Walton agenda particularly their push to take control of the schools in Little Rock, the state capital.  The item is titled “How the Billionaire Kingpins of School Privatization Got Stopped in Their Own Backyard.”

Teacher Evaluations
Sheri Lederman is the New York teacher who is suing the state over its teacher evaluation system that she claims is an inaccurate and imprecise way to rate educators.  AL Jazeera America has a video (3:41 minutes) explaining the case.  It includes several quotes from Lederman and her husband, an attorney, who is representing her in the suit.

Home Schooling
A small but highly influential lobbying group battles constantly to keep states from passing regulatory rules that apply to home schooling.  The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) is based in Virginia and often flies under the radar until legislation is proposed that attempts to control home schools.  An extensive investigative piece from PRO PUBLICA describes how the group swings into action whenever it believes bills threaten home schoolers’ complete independence.   ” Since homeschooling first became legal about 25 years ago, HSLDA’s lobbying efforts have doomed proposed regulations and rolled back existing laws in state after state,” the piece relates.  “The group was founded in 1983 by lawyer and ordained Baptist minister Michael Farris, who also founded Patrick Henry College.  Although its members represent only about 15 percent of the nation’s estimated 1.5 million homeschooled children — up from 850,000 in 1999 — its tactics have made it highly influential.”  The article outlines a number of actions the organization has undertaken to defeat rules it finds onerous.  HSLDA resorts to letter-writing campaigns and other political pressure tactics including, at times, outright intimidation to get its way.  Be sure to click on the sidebar labeled “Homeschooling Regulations Vary by State” for a state-by-state breakdown of regulations. 
The Teaching Profession 
Are you ready to hear from a now-retired, 34-year teaching veteranwho has pretty much seen and done it all during her classroom career?  The author originally wrote this essay on her blog and it is being reprinted , with her permission, on thenotebook from the Philadelphia Public Schools.  If you have taught for any length of time you will certainly relate to what she has to say.  [This]is important reading,”  the editor notes in the introduction to the piece, “in an era when good teaching is defined and judged mostly as helping students do well on tests.  It is so much more complex than that.”                 Former ALOED book club author Daniel Willingham has some bones to pick with how teachers are trained in this country.  His thoughts appear in an op-ed in The New York Times titled “Teachers Aren’t Dumb.”  “The problem in American education is not dumb teachers.  The problem is dumb teacher training. . . .  Teachers are smart enough,” he maintains, “but you need more than smarts to teach well.  You need to know your subject and you need to know how to help children learn it.  That’s where research on American teachers raises concerns.”  Willingham points out the shortcomings in the way teachers are trained in the U.S. and offers some simple solutions.
State Court Rules Charters Unconstitutional!
WOW!  The Supreme Court in Washington State ruled 6-3 late Friday that charter schools are UNCONSTITUTIONAL!!!  An article from The Seattle Times has news of the stunning decision.   “The ruling — believed to be one of the first of its kind in the country — overturns the law voters narrowly approved in 2012 allowing publicly funded, but privately operated, schools,” it explains.   “Eight new charter schools are opening in Washington this fall, in addition to one that opened in Seattle last year.  It was not immediately known what would happen with the schools that are already running. The parties have 20 days to ask the court for reconsideration before the ruling becomes final.”
The article goes on to detail the reasons behind the decision and it’s immediate ramifications for the nine charters currently operating in the state.               The always timely and informative Mercedes Schneider was quick to offer her analysis of the court’s ruling, which can sometimes be a little dense, on her “EduBlog” atdeutsch29.  “The Court’s decision hinges on the issue of public funding being sent to schools that are not publicly governed,” she explains simply.  “As is true of charter schools nationwide, the charters in Washington State (up to the current ruling) were eligible for public funding diverted from traditional public schools.  Charter schools were approved via a November 2012 ballot initiative (I-1240, the Charter Schools Act) in which charters were declared to be ‘common schools’ despite their not being subject to local control and local accountability.  And also like America’s charters in general, Washington’s charters are not under the authority of elected school boards.  Thus, Washington voters had approved to give public money to private entities– a one-way street that provided no means for such funds to overseen by the public,” she continues.  “On September 04, 2015, the Washington State Supreme Court ruled against this public-school-funding one-way street.”               You can read the full, official court decision (41 pages) by clicking here.               What’s going to happen to those 9 charter schools in the State of Washington and their students now that the State Supreme Court has ruled them unconstitutional?  That’s a good questions and, so far, nobody seems to have any good answers.  That doesn’t mean to say there aren’t lots of people offering suggestions.  One of them is none other Peter Greene on hisCURMUDGUCATION blog.  He reviews some of the ideas being bantered about and comes up with a simple one of his own.  “The court’s decision, as I understand it, is based on the idea that charter schools cannot receive ‘common school’ public funds because they are not overseen by an elected school board.  And if that’s the case, charters can fix this very easily,” he maintains.  “Are you paying attention, charter operators?  I have your solution right here.  Just submit to being overseen by an elected school board.  Act like the public schools you claim to be.  Make your finances and operation completely transparent to the public.  And allow yourselves to be overseen by an elected school board instead of a collection of individuals who are not answerable to the voters or the taxpayers.”  However, Greene is not totally convinced charters want to open themselves up to the transparency and accountability that would entail and that they have so studiously avoided up until now.  “Many eyes are on Washington right now,”he concludes.  “One of the things we’ll be watching to see is what charter operators do next, because their next move will be one more sign of what they really care about.”
New LAUSD Board Member Welcomed
New LAUSD school board member Ref Rodriguez took his seat on July 1, and the new school year began in the district in the middle of August.  Rodriguez is primarily known as the founder of several charter schools and a vocal critic of the public school system.  Two members of the faculty of Marshall High School (LAUSD, opened in 1931.  Check out the photo at the head of the article) take the opening of school as an opportunity to welcome Rodriguez who represents the district where their school is located.  They try to “educate” their new board member about the realities of their school and what he can learn from it in an essay on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog.  “Today, educational issues are quickly viewed as public vs. charter.  But for the next five years Mr. Rodriguez will sit on the board that charts the course for all the city’s schools.  We urge him to keep in mind that excellence can and does occur across all LAUSD,” they suggest.  “Mr. Rodriguez’s challenge will not just be to support excellence at the charter schools from whence he came or at places like Marshall High where it is already flourishing, but to support excellence across the city.  Not just for the academically inclined student, not just for the student without multiple disabilities, not just for the student who hails from a family that can navigate the charter school application process, but to truly support and nurture excellence for all kids at all their neighborhood schools across all the city.  It’s Ref’s first day,” they conclude.  “Let class begin.”  Powerful words!
New York is often put forward as the epicenter of the opt-out movement in the U.S., with Long Island held up as the hotbed.  However, a story in the upstate New York PRESS REPUBLICAN,while revealing lower than average test scores, noted that in two counties in the area test refusal rates ranged from 41%-51%.  The overall opt-out rate for the entire state was around 20%.  
More LAUSD Scrutiny
The Friday edition of the “Ed News” highlighted two reports about the LAUSD.  The first reviews technology policies in the district and the second looked at AP results and participation.  A new state audit, featured in Saturday’s L.A. Times, reports that the LAUSD is doing a better job lately in its handling of teacher abuse cases.  “The nation’s second-largest school system,” the article mentions, “made ‘dramatic improvements’ in conducting faster investigations, properly notified the state regarding allegations against teachers and managed legal claims and litigation more effectively, auditors wrote.”  Agreement on the strides made by the district was not universal.  Attorneys for Rafe Esquith and some of the victims of the Miramonte case were quick to denounce the audit’s findings.  “Esquith supporters have called the district probe a farce or worse and likened the school system to the mafia,” the piece goes on to note.  “At another extreme, attorneys representing alleged victims of former Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt have repeatedly questioned whether the district is doing enough to keep students safe from potential predators.”
Training for Principals
This is rather mind boggling.  The Denver PUBLIC Schools now have a contract with the National Principals Academy Fellowship, run by the Relay Graduate School of Education, to train its principals.  Two things you need to know about Relay: (1) it was founded by a consortium of CHARTER schools initially to train teachers to work in charters and (2) it is NOT ACCREDITED by any institution of higher education.  You read those correctly and what is even of more concern, it has a number of other contracts to train public school principals in districts other than Denver.  This feature from the GREATER PARKHILL COMMUNITY website describes Relay’s entry into the Denver PUBLIC schools but could its tentacles be headed for a district near you?                 If you’d like some more insight into RGSE, Peggy Roberson on her Peg With Pen blog did some digging into who they are and what they do.  Relay did some training on her elementary school campus in Colorado which she describes.  “If you are familiar with my blog you will know that I spend a great proportion of my time discussing opt out and various facets of how to tear down corporate education reform,” she writes.  “Tearing down these faux graduate schools will be a new venture for me and one that I must pursue simply for selfish reasons – it is inside of my school, infesting our democratic inquiry-based school with all sorts of propaganda – and sadly, we are just beginning.  We are in year one of a three year grant.”
Closing Schools
A key strategy of the corporate “reformers” and privatizers is to close under-performing or, what they call, “failing” schools.  How successful has that tactic been?  Carol Burris, writing, for THE NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION, doesn’t think it’s had much of an impact.  How can you tell?  Her commentary is titled “School Closures: A National Look at a Failed Strategy.”  “Poor test scores and low graduation rates are the excuse for closures,”  she points out, “but the reasons for academic failure that lie beyond the schoolhouse are never addressed.”
LAUSD Supt. Search
A front-page feature in Sunday’s L.A. Times discusses some of the criteria the LAUSD might be considering as it sets out to select the next superintendent.  Should the board pick an educational “reformer” in the mold of former leader John Deasy, who left under a dark cloud in October, or would a more “traditional” choice be in order?  The story sets the stage for you.  In addition, it reveals Deasy’s travel and other expenses while he served as superintendent.  “A close look at Deasy’s tenure,” the article relates, “clearly shows the challenge of juggling the responsibilities of running a sprawling, often-dysfunctional district while serving as a leading voice in the national movement to overhaul schools. . . .  Deasy’s tenure has become a lesson for the board in an era when urban school chiefs must navigate a minefield of political interests — including unions, politicians and foundations — all seeking greater influence.”               How would you like to peak at a big, urban school district superintendent’s expense account for some selected business dinners?  The Times was able to piece it together from public records and interviews relating to former LAUSD Supt. John Deasy.  Keep in mind his salary as head of the district was $350,000 per year.  Deasy was forced to leave the LAUSD in October.  Guess where he works now?  For the Broad Leadership Academy, training future district leaders and administrators.            Sandy Banks, writing in her Tuesday column for the L.A. Times,expresses the hope that a possible candidate’s position on charter schools won’t become a litmus test as the LAUSD seeks a new superintendent.  She believes they are a necessary option for an inept and “bumbling” LAUSD.  “The academic record of charters is mixed,” she concedes, “but their popularity keeps growing because some things matter more to parents than test scores; they want their children — and their own contributions — to be valued and supported. The district can learn from that.  Charter schools are not the enemy, nor are they a panacea.  But the heated philosophical battle needs to stop; that’s what turns parents off.  Critics may blast charter schools as pawns of corporate reform,”Banks concludes.  “But parents see them as a safety valve in a school district that just keeps bumbling along.”
Preparing for College
Here’s a feel-good story for you.  A 19-year-old, soon to be college sophomore, has created a summer program to help students at her old high school get accepted at a college or university and once there to be successful.  THE HECHINGER REPORT profiles Marjada Tucker, graduate of Starkville High in Mississippi and currently attending Rice University in Houston, who is attempting to assist students at her low-income alma mater to follow in her footsteps.  She is facing some very tough odds.  “Tucker says her experience of getting into Rice, where she plans to major in biochemistry before going to medical school, drove her to return home and lift as many high school students as she can to higher education.  It’s an area that needs help: the four-year graduation rate in 2012-13 was so low in Mississippi,” the article reveals, “that for every two students that graduated, another did not.  About three quarters of Starkville High School students managed to graduate in four years, compared to the national average of 81 percent.”
Teachers Unions

Yesterday was Labor Day and John Thompson, historian and inner-city teacher, knows that Republicans are long-time opponents oflabor unions but he’s not sure why some prominent Democrats have nary lifted a finger to protest continuing GOP assaults on working peoples’ organizations.  His commentary appears on the HUFF POST EDUCATION BLOG.  “One reason why elite education reformers don’t understand the essential role of labor in working for justice is that too many of them have no experience in the blue collar working world,” he suggests.  “If the rank-in-file of the corporate reform movement had more experience in the industrial world, they would have seen how little the lives of workers are worth.”

Reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB
Congress returns from its 5-week summer break today and at the top of its agenda is the Iran nuclear deal and a spending bill.  Almost as important is the rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and its most recent iteration, No Child Left Behind (NCLB).  EDUCATION WEEK reviews the competing House and Senate reauthorization bills being dealt  with by a conference committee, along with some other key education issues.  
Back to School
And finally, comedian John Oliver on his “This Week Tonight” show on HBO has a “syllabus”  with descriptions of what you can expect to learn in those important school subjects.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, includes the video (4:01 minutes) from YouTube and a truncated transcript of Oliver’s comments.  Parental advisory for content that includes adult language.
Keep Cool!  Weather forecast is for VERY hottemps for the next couple of days.
Inline image 1

Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)
ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.


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