Ed News, Friday, September 11, 2015 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“In this world, it’s not enough to have a fine education. 
You need a piece of paper to prove you got it.” 
―  Jeannette WallsHalf Broke Horses

The Teaching Profession

A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the sad case of a small public school district outside Philadelphia, Chester Upland, where the teachers and staff voted to open the new school year despite their district not having enough funds to pay them.  This just so happened to be the second time in the last 3 years that this situation has developed.  Jeff Bryant, writing on SALON, thinks he knows the reasons why the money isn’t there–charter schools withunequal funding formulas and a state government that doesn’t seem to care about the public school system.  The piece is titled “The New Charter School Scam: This is How the GOP and Privatizers Have Bled Pennsylvania Schools.”  Is this the new strategy for destroying the public school system?               The “newsworks” program fromWHYY, the NPR station in Philadelphia reports that the teachers and staff at the Chester Upland School District will be paid for now.  In addition, a local county judge ruled that the state of Pennsylvania needs to come up with a workable plan so that funding does not run out again in the near future.  “Last week, Chester-Upland officials shared with staff that thanks to depleted coffers and no money flowing from the state (due to the ongoing budget standoff in Harrisburg), they didn’t have the resources to make payroll.  The staff decided to work anyway and schools opened their doors on September 2.
[Wednesday], district officials said the state had made some of Chester-Upland’s debt services payments for August and September,” the segment noted, “totaling $5,731,000. That freed the district to pay its staff this week.”
                An editorial in yesterday’s L.A. Times supported a recent federal court ruling that rejected a teacher’s claim that her caustic comments about students and parents on her personal blog were protected as 1st Amendment free speech.  [Ed. note:  The “Ed News” did not highlight the original story.  Sorry, we missed that one.]  The teacher was fired when her comments were discovered and parents complained.   “The court made the right decision,” the item maintains.   “A teacher has a right to blog — or write a letter to the editor — about politics or social policy or even educational issues.  But that right doesn’t extend to sarcastic riffs about one’s students.”               A high school English teacher and instructional technology coach in Hershey, Pennsylvania, reflects on her first year of having a connected classroom and shares some ideas on how to use social media with students.  Her essay appears in the “CTQ Collaboratory” column inEDUCATION WEEK.   “Connected classrooms can reach beyond physical barriers to create conversations with people from other classrooms, cultures, and communities,” the author relates.  “Social media provides venues for students to share their stories both within and beyond the classroom.  It also grants opportunities for them to hear stories from beyond their school.  Finally, being connected helps students recognize the power of personal voice.”                A drive to unionize the Alliance College-Ready Public Schoolscharter chain in Los Angeles is described in a piece in ED WEEK.  The organization manages 27 campuses as part of the LAUSD.  “Charters have expanded steadily in the city, but so have other school models favored by the United Teachers Los Angeles, such as ‘local initiative schools,’ which are unionized but freed from some work rules,” it explains.  “In light of that tension, a successful bid to unionize Alliance schools would come as a symbolically important win for the UTLA. . . .  Unionized charter schools remain rare nationwide, in part because with charters unions must do the painstaking work of organizing at a building-by-building level. . . .  About a fifth of Los Angeles’ 211 charter schools are currently unionized, though not all by the UTLA.”

LAUSD Supt. Search

Two letters appeared in Wednesday’s L.A. Times in response to the paper’s front-page article on Sunday about what type of superintendent the LAUSD board should select–a corporate “reformer” type or a more traditional selection.  One is from a current LAUSD teacher and the other is from Stu Bernstein, a former district teacher, principal and downtown administrator.
On Strike!
Julie Vassilatos, author of the Chicago Public Fools blog, offers some simple answers to questions about what is going on with thehunger strike in Chicago over the closure of Dyett High School on the city’s south side.  Even though Mayor Rahm Emmanuel and the Chicago Public Schools have offered the community a “compromise” the action continues.   “The Fight for Dyett is supported by those who have seen firsthand the damage wrought by corporate education control ‘reformers’ who find salvation in excessive testing, firing teachers, busting unions, closing schools, cutting budgets, and funding charter schools at a rate far outpacing underfunded public schools in broke districts,” she explains.  “Those ‘reform’ tools end in disinvested neighborhoods and disenfranchised children and it is no accident that they affect low-income black and brown children the most severely.”              The hunger strike in Chicago is not the only action of its kind taking place in the U.S.   On Wednesday, as promised if they didn’t have a contract by the time the new school year began, 5,000 educators and other school employees set up picket lines at all 97 schools in Seattle.  The Seattle Times reports on what took place on what would have been the first day of classes for about 53,000 students.  “Seattle teachers are on strike Wednesday, the first time in 30 years they have walked out over stalled contract negotiations with the city’s school district,” the story begins.  “And just minutes after the Seattle Education Association bargaining team made its announcement Tuesday evening, the Seattle School Board voted to authorize the superintendent to seek legal action to try to force teachers and other school employees back to work.”               Today marks the third day of the teacher strike in Seattle.  EDUCATION WEEK takes some time to outline the issues involved besides the standard ones of pay and working hours.  Also included are questions about teacher evaluations, testing, discipline policies and elementary school recess.  
Carol Burris, writing on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog forThe Washington Post, thinks she has a reason why the latest SAT scores that were recently released were the lowest since the college admission test was redesigned a decade ago.  Could it be that all those corporate “reforms” really aren’t working after all?  “Given that the Class of 2015 had five years of exposure to [the] Common Core State Standards . . . . as well as spending their entire school career in the era of NCLB accountability,” she suggests, “it doesn’t look like ‘something different’ is working very well. . . .  Education reform isn’t hitting a wall,” she concludes.  “It is the wall.”
California’s Test Results
Ahead of the release of California’s test results on Wednesday, Roxanna Marachi a professor at San Jose State wrote an open letter on her EduResearcher blog to the State Board of Education in Sacramento laying out why the SBAC assessment scores are unfair, invalid and unreliable.                California’s standardized test resultswere released on Wednesday and, no surprise, they weren’t very good.  This is the first year new assessments, aligned to the Common Core, were administered and the scores made public.  A front-page story, with an accompanying picture and several graphs, appeared in yesterday’s L.A. Times.   “Echoing a nationwide downward trend, most California students are falling short of state learning targets and are not on track to succeed in college,” it begins, “according to the results of new, more rigorous standardized tests released Wednesday.  And the picture is even worse for L.A. Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system, than it is for the state.  Across California, 44% of students achieved targets for their grade in English, while 34% did so in math.  In L.A. Unified, the figures were 33% and 25%.”  Interestingly, the article also noted that whereas 20% of student opted-out of the tests in New York, the figure was less than 1% in the Golden State.  You can check on how individual schools in the state did by clicking on the “Database” sidebar titled “How Did Your School Score?”  In addition, the Times has an article posted on their website yesterday morning that listed the top performing campuses in the LAUSD.  You can check that out by clicking here.               Two letters were published in yesterday’s Times in response to the paper’s story on Tuesday (highlighted in the previous edition of the “Ed News) predicting that the state’s test results would be disappointing.  One is from a current teacher and both took a more positive view of the low scores.
Washington Charters Ruled Unconstitutional
Last Friday the Supreme Court in the State of Washington ruled that the state’s charters were unconstitutional.  The decision set off speculation about how those 9 campuses would operate for the rest of the school year.  One solution–get private donors to provide the $14 million they will need to operate  for 2015-16 since the court said they can’t accept public funds. That is probably only a short term solution which is not feasible over the long term.   Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 reviews how that might happen and what it all means. “However, since they will not be publicly funded for this year, at least, it seems that Washington State might have the only charter schools that cannot possibly mismanage,” she breezily notes, “or outright steal public money.  Refreshing.”                Well, it didn’t take long for private donors to come up with the $14 million needed to keep the 9 charter schools in Washington open for the rest of the school year.  KING5 news, the ABC affiliate in Seattle, reports on the latest developments.  This piece includes a short video (1:56 minutes) and a transcript of the story.               Mercedes Schneider on her blog, deutsch29,commented on some incorrect information in several reports, including the one above, about charters and how they are governed.               Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK,explains carefully and in detail why charters are not “public” schoolsin the true sense of the word despite what the charter advocates argue.  He pens his piece in light of the court decision in Washington State that charters are unconstitutional because they accept taxpayer money but are not “public” schools as his essay points out.  As Bryant often does so well, he reviews a number of other articles and resources to bolster his point.  If you are having any trouble wrapping your head around why the court ruled the way it did, this should be of great assistance.
Teacher Evaluations
A former general counsel of the LAUSD, Harold Kawalwasser, makes the case, for what seems like the umpteenth time, for why using student test scores in not a fair and accurate way to evaluate teachers.  His op-ed appears in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  Kawalwasser often dealt with getting rid of ineffective teachers and says, at first, he was looking for a way to measure teacher performance and was a supporter of increased use of student testing as contained in the No Child Left Behind legislation in 2001.  14 years later he is raising some serious concerns about the tests and how they are used to rate teachers.  “Do we need standardized test results to distinguish good teachers from bad?  Fair and accurate tests could be helpful, but the answer is “no.”  Before standardized tests,” he points out, “some districts had great evaluation and professional development programs that weeded out low performers. Others did not.  Adding test data can’t turn weak programs into effective ones, as is reflected by the lack of a significant increase in teacher terminations in most districts in recent years. . . . .  Holding teachers and schools accountable is important, but the means should be accurate and fair.  The current standardized test program,” he concludes emphatically, “doesn’t pass muster.”
Edu-telethon to be Broadcast This Evening
You may have seen ads or promotions about a telethon to be broadcast this evening at 8 pm on CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox to raise funds to help middle and high school students create STEM-related projects.  The program is called “Think it Up” and is sponsored by the 4 networks, the Entertainment Industry Foundation and DonorsChoose.org.  So far, so good. However, the author of the Mitchell Robinson blog has some major concerns.  The primary funders of the DonorsChoose group right off raises some red flags.  “So, while I know this ‘made for TV special’ is going to make folks feel all warm and fuzzy as they watch school projects get funded via DonorsChoose donations, it worries me that we seem to be sliding down a slippery slope to a time in which the public doesn’t even question the premise of education being funded by telethons instead of our tax dollars,” Robinson relates. “Let’s be clear here: Education is a public trust, not a charity.  It deserves to be funded adequately and appropriately, not by bake sales, paper drives and telethons. . . . ‘Think It Up’ is a spectacle that just illuminates what we as a society value, and what we don’t—and that reflection in the mirror isn’t pretty.”
L.A.’s Heat Wave Impacts Students
How hot has it been where you live/work?  Remember it’s just as hot for the schools and students in the L.A. area.  Now that Labor Day has past, most, if not all, districts are now in session. TheMommy Poppins website [Ed. note: Don’t ask how I found this one] lists the starting and ending dates for a number of districts in L.A. County.  “August is the new September. . . .  We have to face the fact that, in most districts, August means back to school already,” it points out helpfully.  “Most Los Angeles area schools now start their school years smack dab in the middle of summer, though one or two districts still cling to the time-honored ‘wait until Labor Day’ approach.”   Many LAUSD campuses have antiquated air conditioning systems that work intermittently and during a heat wave like the city is currently experiencing their proper functioning can become problematic.  Yesterday’s L.A. Times profiles Thomas Alva Edison Middle School in South L.A. where one teacher’s classroom recorded 84 degrees Wednesday morning.  Needless to say, the AC was not working.
APUSH Battle
The LIVING in DIALOGUE blog continues its series on the battle over the new A.P. U.S. History curriculum that is now in its second iteration after critics on the right complained about the content of the first one.  Paul Horton, who teaches History at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and was a reader of the APUSH exams for five years, thinks the biggest problem with the complaints about the class’ content resides with the College Board itself, which administers the Advanced Placement program.  In part 3 of the series he lays out his criticisms of the College Board.  “A serious discussion about high school history,”  Horton concludes, “should not begin with debating the merits of the current APUSH course; it should begin with questions about why the College Board has so much influence over high school curricula.”  The article includes link to the first 2 parts in the series.
Teacher Training Online
And finally, you can now get just about anything, and we mean anything, online.  How about a teaching credential?  The answer is “yes.”  A fairly new program called TEACH-NOW began offeringonline teacher training and credentials in 2011.  Since then it has turned out over 700 fully credentialed educators from its 9-month program.  It now has plans to expand and hopes to prepare 10,000 new teachers in the next 10 years and add a master’s degree to its offerings.  Never heard of the program or how it works.  THE HECHINGER REPORT profiles it and the woman who founded the company.   “Graduates earn a teaching license from the District of Columbia Office of the State Superintendent of Education, which means graduates can obtain teaching credentials in states that have reciprocity agreements with D.C.,”  it explains.  “The expansion comes as enrollment is decreasing at many traditional teacher training colleges.  Some schools, like the University of Southern California, have ramped up their online presence in recent years to allow students to earn Master’s degrees in teaching.”  [Ed note: To the best of my knowledge, California does not have a reciprocity agreement with the District of Columbia.]

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


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s