Ed News, Tuesday, September 15, 2015 Edition


A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“Education is a lifetime assignment & terminates when you do.” 
―  Orrin WoodwardLIFE
California’s Test Results
The California SBAC test was administered for the first time this year and results were released  on Wednesday.  Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” had the long anticipated disappointing numbers.  Saturday’s L.A. Times, in another prominent front-page story, reported that the scores indicated a growing gap between certain racial and ethnic groups in the Golden State.   “Although scores declined for all students, blacks and Latinos saw significantly greater drops than whites and Asians,” the article notes, “widening the already large gap that was evident in results from earlier years, according to a Times analysis.”              Two letters appeared in today’s Times in reaction to the story above about the widening achievement gap between Whites/Asians and Latinos/Blacks.               Diane Ravitch’s blog commented on the first item above from the Times.  She was not surprised by the test results “The tests are ‘harder,’ ‘more rigorous,’ and so the students who already had low scores have even lower scores.  This is akin to raising the bar in a track event from 4 feet to 6 feet.  Those who couldn’t clear the 4 foot bar will certainly not clear the higher bar,”she points out.  “If anyone remembers, we were told repeatedly that the Common Core would close achievement gaps between whites/Asians and Blacks/Hispanics, and between upper income/low income students.  It hasn’t, and it won’t.  The tests were designed to fail a majority of students of every group.  The developers predicted mass failures last fall.  Let’s just say that the Common Core and the tests aligned to them are a disaster for American education,”  Ravitch continues.  “Kids don’t necessarily try harder when they fail again and again. They may give up.  Many people suspect that the purpose of all this manufactured failure is to make parents eager for charter schools and vouchers. They may be right.”             3 letters were published in Saturday’s edition of the Times reacting to the paper’s story on Wednesday about the release of the state’s test scores.   One is from Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus of education at USC.   [Ed. note: On the Times’ website, the article cited as the one the letters responded to is incorrect. The print edition has the right one.]              How didCalifornia’s charter schools fare on the just released standardized test results compared to the public schools they are competing with?  (A) The same, (B) Worse, (C) Better, (D) A & B.  OK, time’s up, pencils down.   “D” is the best answer.  The San Jose Mercury News did an analysis of charter schools serving low-income students in the San Jose area and the results were quite discouraging.  Please keep in mind, charters have been sold to the public as being (vastly) superior to their public school counterparts when it comes to student achievement.   “Like paragliders caught in a downdraft, test scores of many once high-flying charter schools plummeted on state results released last week,” the piece reveals.  “Even more so than their public-school counterparts’ tests, a number of charter schools’ scores took a nosedive.  Now schools are scrambling to examine why.”  Be sure to check out the chart at the end of the article with comparable results for charter campuses in the San Jose area.  It’s is quite revealing.  Somebody should do an analysis of charters in the LAUSD area and see how they did compared to their public school counterparts.  Anyone want to volunteer?  [Ed. note: I wonder if the L.A. Times has the resources and the courage to do it?]
LAUSD Supt. Search
The K-12 NEWS NETWORK reports on a new parent activist group called “Vet the Supe” that   demands to be included in the search for and selection of the next LAUSD superintendent.  They are worried the board will pick another person like John Deasy who left the district in October under some very dark clouds.  You can find their burgeoning Facebook page by clicking here.
Charter Schools
Charter school have their positive points but the “Ed News” has major concerns about the amount of money they are taking away from the public schools and their lack of accountability and transparency among others.  Recent editions have recounted the myriad problems that have arisen with a number of charter chains in Ohio and in other states.  Florida is not far behind according to this item from Jeff Bryant on ALTERNET.  He believes a trail of “corruption and chaos” has followed the Sunshine State’s attempt to implement school choice.  Bryant doesn’t hesitate to point a finger at the person who got the ball rolling on education “reforms” in Florida–Jeb Bush.  “Charter schools may continue to enjoy generally favorable ratings in national surveys of Americans,”Bryant concedes, “but many parents and public officials across South Florida, where these schools are now more prevalent than in other parts of the country, openly complain about an education ‘innovation’ that seems more and more like an unsavory business venture.  The obsession over money that is driving charter school growth in Florida is increasingly evident to those who bother to look. . . .  Most people trace the manic scramble for more charter schools in Florida to one source: former governor and current Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush.  In 1996, two years before he became governor,” Bryant continues, “Bush helped steer passage of the state’s first law permitting charter schools.  That same year, he led the effort to open the state’s first charter, Liberty City Charter School in Miami.”               This next item should not come as a big surprise.  A lengthy editorial in Sunday’s L.A. Timessupports the rapid expansion of charter school in the LAUSD.  The “Ed News’ highlighted a recent article that planned for charters to service 50% of district students by 2023.  The current figure is a little over 20%.  The piece offers a few suggestions about improved oversight of charters and better regulation of how students are selected but typically nothing about increased funding and providing much needed services to assist the students of the LAUSD.  “A new era of charter schools is at hand, one in which they seek to be a bigger, more established player in the education arena rather than simply a model of how public schools might improve.  But California law and policy need to be brought out of the 20th century.  The state needs well-enforced rules requiring charters to keep their doors open to all students,” the editorial concludes.  “Poor academic performance cannot be grounds for keeping a child from enrolling, or for telling him or her to leave.  By all means, bring on more charter schools, as long as they are built on the principles of academic excellence and equal access for all.”  [Ed. note: One question: I wonder how many charter school operators are truly interested in “academic excellence and equal access for all” or is it just about the MONEY?  Just asking!]             Writing on Diane Ravitch’s blog, a parent explains why she took her now 6th grade son out of the Basis Mesa Charter in Mesa, Arizona, despite his doing quite well there.  “BASIS schools are a good idea in theory but I think they are leaving out the human touch.  They have many dedicated teachers and administrators who truly care about the students, but whose hands are tied by the sheer volume of information they need to cover in a particular year,” the parent confesses.  “It’s the inch deep, mile wide approach to education that may look great on a transcript but may leave your child with great deficits in other aspects of their lives.  Also, since many of the teachers have no actual teaching experience or background they lack what it takes to engage and motivate students and are not the best choice for teaching such advanced material.”              Walt Gardner, the 28-year teaching veteran of the LAUSD, lecturer at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and regular columnist for EDUCATION WEEK offers some intriguing ideas about why it’s so difficult to evaluate charter schools and compare them to public schools.  His commentary appears on his “Reality Check” column for Ed Week.  “Of course charter schools have posted better results than traditional public schools in Los Angeles and – by extension – in some other cities as well,” he writes.  “Why shouldn’t they?  They counsel out low-achieving students, who then enroll in traditional public schools.  They also erect barriers for enrollment, such as expecting parents to ‘volunteer’ for certain activities, and requiring long application essays.  In short, they operate like private schools.”
Paul Karrer, a 5th grade teacher from Castroville, writes about “high standards” and why they are so important to the corporate “reformers.”  His commentary appears in the Monterey Herald. High standards are a sickening joke — a money-making bandwagon,” the author complains.  “A distraction from what is needed.  Once again a top-down phony solution.”  Karrer is quick to point out he’s not against “high standards” but, then again, who is?  His argument is that the “reformers” and privatizers are using the concept to divert attention from the real problem–poverty–and ignore what the solutions to that problem are.
Teach for America
Teach for America is in the cross hairs once again.  A piece fromNPQ (NONPROFIT QUARTERLY) is titled “After 25 Years, Teach for America Results are Consistently Underwhelming.”  It believes the organization has done an excellent job of public relations but when one looks beyond the hype one finds less than the advertised successes.  
Are there any alternatives to the high stakes, standardized test based accountability regimen that has been in place in the public schools since No Child Left Behind became law in 2001?  The “Ed News” has explored a few programs that, in some cases, get waivers from state departments of education in return for developing innovative ways to evaluate student learning.  A story in THE Nation explores just such a program called the New York Performance Standards Consortium.  The article presents the plan as an antidote to the growing opt-out movement in the Empire State.  “Remarkably, examples of ‘opt-in’ models already exist at the high school level, with many of them thriving within the New York City public school system,” the article relates.  “Thirty-eight schools in the statewide New York Performance Standards Consortium have waivers exempting their students from having to take most Regents exams, the statewide standardized tests required of all high-school students, as well as other uniform measures of achievement.  In their place, they have what Ann Cook, executive director of the Consortium, calls ‘a different vehicle for accountability’: rigorous ‘performance-based’ assessments that are individualized, student focused, research oriented and often interactive.”  The reporter of the story visits several schools and describes how the non-exam assessments work. Diane Ravitch is impressed by what’s taking place at the Consortium schools.  “The New York Performance Standards Consortium has as a well-documented record of success with the same students as those in regular public schools.  They don’t skim the top students, as so many high-scoring charters do.  This would be an excellent model to replace the current regime of standardized testing, which repels many parents and teachers,” she states in the piece.                AreCommon Core test results that are currently being released by various states actual test scores?  The possibly surprising answer is “no.”  A very informative commentary from the CAMPAIGN FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE introduces and explains such terms as “raw scores,” “scaled scores” and “cut scores.”  It goes on to explain why those percentages of students scoring at certain proficiency levels are NOT numbers of questions answered correctly.   “So in the coming weeks and months when consortium or state officials announce ‘proficiency’ levels from Common Core tests,”  it sums up, “understand that these are simply not objective measurements of students’ learning.”  Diane Ravitch called this “a terrific article”and she urges everyone to click on the link that takes you to the SBAC “cut scores” (see p. 5-6) that announce that most students, at each grade level, will “fail” the tests.  Interesting stuff and lots of food for thought.               Test results were released for Maine at the end of last week.  You are welcome to check out the scores but probably of more significance is the information that, on average, 10% of students opted-out with some campuses recording up to 50% refusing to participate.  By the way, the Pine Tree State uses the same Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium assessments as California, however, the Maine state legislature voted in June to drop out of the SBAC for several interesting reasons which the article describes .  The Bangor Daily News has the details regarding the results.                 Ohio released its PARCC test results and like most other states they were not encouraging.  However, Ohio officials know how to remedy the situation–just raise the score for a passing result.  Presto, and with that minor adjustment, pupils in Ohio will instantly become more proficient.  See how easy it is.  A brief piece from EDUCATION WEEK explains the procedure so you can suggest it to your state board of education.               “”It’s not *that* data and tests are bad; it’s *how* data and tests are used that’s bad.”  That’s the topic tackled by Mitchell Robinson on hisMitchell Robinson blog.  He uses a comedy sketch about the wind to make his point.  “As teachers know better than anyone, assessment is a necessary and valuable tool for improving our practice in the classroom, and helping our students improve their learning,” Robinson relates.  “And contrary to public opinion, teachers are not at all averse to assessment strategies that help their students learn, and are not ‘afraid’ of being evaluated on their practice. They just want the evaluations to be fair, and to make sense.”  Robinson proceeds to offer a list of things parents can do to see if students are learning and teachers are doing their jobs.
Friday’s Education Telethon
Anybody watch the education telethon titled “Think it Up” on Friday evening on CBS, ABC, NBC and Fox?  A lot of public school supporters were a little leery of the program’s goals and agenda given that much of the funding was provided by some of those corporate ‘reformer” types.  Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted one such piece.  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, was surprised that the program did not end up being what he thought it might be.  He wasn’t 100% pleased with the entire package but he found some aspects of it to be rather positive towards the public school system.  If you saw the program or if you missed it you’ll get some good insights from his review.  One of the program’s segments asked students to “reimagine high school” in new ways.  Cody has some suggestions of his own to offer even though he’s not a student. 
ELL Settlement 
A settlement was reached recently that will require more state oversight of district services for California’s 1.4 million English Language Learners.  An article in Sunday’s L.A. Times reviews the agreement.  “Under a new watchdog process, state officials agreed to improve data collection systems to more easily identify students denied English language services,” it explains, “better inform school districts of their legal obligation to help them and strengthen reviews of their assistance programs.”
Teacher Evaluations
Two letters were published in Sunday’s L.A. Times regarding the paper’s op-ed on Thursday about why using student test scores was not a good idea for evaluating teachers.  One of the letters was written by a teacher and school board member of the Garvey School District.
Education Records of Some of Those School “Reformers”
Here’s something that should certainly stir the pot.  Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, looks at the school records and histories of corporate “reformers” Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, former CNN host Campbell Brown and, he needs no introduction, Bill Gates.  The piece is provocatively titled “Why Were So Many Education Reformers Bad Students?”  “Bad students often hate school,”  Singer begins simply.  “Not exactly shocking, I know.  But perhaps more surprising is the pattern of low, sloppy or inconsistent academic achievement by so many of those adults who consider themselves education reformers, particularly corporate school reformers.  Our ideas of school are certainly formed during our years in it.  Those working so diligently to destroy the public school system and reshape it to resemble the business model are so often people who didn’t fit in,” he suggests.  “They earned low grades or only excelled in subjects they really liked.  Perhaps school failed them or perhaps they failed school.  There’s no way to know for sure since school records are almost always kept private.  But details do trickle through and display a clear pattern – a pattern that certainly gives the appearance of an ulterior motive.”  Where you a lot, or a little bit, like Walker, Brown or Gates in school?  Maybe that’s why you’re not into corporate “reform” of education.
The Teaching Profession
The author of this item from EDUCATION WEEK has a suggestion for improving teaching and student learning: “Give Teachers Time to Collaborate.”  She is is the co-founder and president of the National Center on Time & Learning and served as a deputy assistant secretary of education in the Clinton administration.  How do you give educators the time to work together within the constraints of a typical school day?  Add time on to that old , 18th century concept of what constitutes a “school day.”  “Often overlooked in gauging the impact of expanded-time schools on student learning is the equally beneficial effect that a longer day and year has on teachers,” the author argues.  “Within an expanded schedule, teachers typically have many more collaboration and professional-learning opportunities built into their workday.  As teachers work together to strengthen their teaching skills, they also can augment instructional practice dramatically, and thus make their time with students even more valuable.”  She goes on to describe a number of expanded-time schools and how their schedules offer collaboration time for their educators.
School Choice
When parents are presented with “choices” of where their children can attend school, why do they often make poor, uninformed selections?  THE HECHINGER REPORT uses Chicago as a case study of this phenomenon.  The piece is titled “When ‘School Choice’ Leads Families to Trade One Bad School for Another.”  “In Chicago, researchers had an unusual opportunity to study, over several years, how publicizing information about school quality influenced where families enrolled their children.  And they found that many families did pull their children out of failing schools.  But they usually ended up in ones that were just as bad, or only slightly better,” the story notes.  “Astonishingly, more than 25 percent of the transfer students moved to another school that was also on the city’s probation list of failing schools.”
Seattle Strike
A move is afoot in Seattle urging parents to cancel subscriptions to the Seattle Times because of the paper’s anti-union, anti-teacher, anti-public school, pro-charter positions in its news reporting and editorials.  Could that possibly be related to Bill Gates’ purchase of a pull-out section of the Times which is named “Education Lab?”  TheSeattle Education website describes why parents are angry at the paper and what they are planning to do about it.  “The majority of people I speak to,” the author relates, “are thoroughly disgusted with the Times and its biased editorials and selection of topics headlined that seem to reflect the views and opinions of the moneyed few rather than providing real information.  . . .  It seemed it wasn’t enough that the Seattle Times was already a shill for charter schools and merit pay for teachers based on test scores, Gates now had his own pull-out section of the newspaper.”              LATE BREAKING News on this the fifth day of the Seattle teachers strike.  The Seattle Education Association (SEA) announced atentative agreement was reached this morning with the Seattle Public School District.  KING5, the NBC affiliate in Seattle, has the latest developments on this breaking story.  The piece includes a short video (3:51 minutes) about the agreement.  “The SEA, which represents 5,000 teachers,”  it reports, “said the three-year deal addresses teacher pay, evaluations, length of school day, testing, student equality and discipline, and recess.  Exact details won’t be released until the teachers see it.”
LAUSD’s Student Recovery Program
And finally, today’s L.A. Times has a story describing a LAUSD program called “Student Recovery Day” in which district employees visit the homes of students from various schools who appear to have dropped out or have excessive absences.  The goal is to try to bring them back to the school rather than losing them permanently.  “In the past six years since recovery day began (this year was the seventh), the district has seen almost 4,600 students return because of these home visits, LAUSD Board of Education President Steve Zimmer told volunteers Thursday morning,” the article explains.  “He and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti visited homes on Thursday, and Zimmer established the annual event with current Supt. Ray Cortines in 2009.”  The piece follows one team as they visit several homes and encounter various situations with students they are attempting to recover.

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


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