Ed News, Friday, September 25, 2015 Edition


    A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

“…education is a sacred thing, and the pledge to build a school is a commitment
that cannot be surrendered or broken, regardless of how long it may take,
how many obstacles must be surmounted, or how much money it will cost. 
It is by such promises that the balance sheet of one’s life is measured.” 
― Greg MortensonStones Into Schools: Promoting Peace With Books, Not Bombs, in Afghanistan and Pakistan
Charter Expansion Plan for LAUSD
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted the 44-page report outlining how Eli Broad and some of his fellow billionaires and foundations planned to charterize the LAUSD by converting up to 50% of the district’s scho0ls by 2023.  Reaction to it was swift. Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, reviews what the memo lays out and properly characterizes it as an “LA Plan to Crush Public Education.”  “This is not just about educational quality (or lack thereof), or just about how to turn education into a cash cow for a few high rollers– this is about a hamhanded effort to circumvent democracy in a major American city,” Greene worries.  There’s nothing in this plan about listening to the parents or community- only about what is going to be done to them by men with power and money.  This just sucks a lot.”  Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for forwarding that one.                 The fractious, 7-member LAUSD school board, which has the ultimate authority to make policy for the district, was initially, predictably split over the Broad proposal.  A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Timesreports on the positions taken by several board members upon reading the report.  “Dividing lines quickly emerged on the Los Angeles Board of Education on Tuesday over an ambitious plan to double the number of charter campuses across the city,” the piece begins, “with two members vowing an all-out fight and two others applauding the expansion of choice for parents.  The three remaining board members had deep reservations about the $490-million proposal, suggesting that the money should be used for existing schools.  One said the charter campaign should influence the selection of the next superintendent.”               A brief item on theUTLA website reports on the union’s rally and protest against the charter school expansion that took place in front of the new Broad museum on Sunday morning.  It includes a video (49:31 minutes) of the protest.  [Ed. note: It’s a shortened version of the one highlighted by the “Ed News” in the previous edition.]              In reaction to the L.A. Times story on Tuesday about the 44-page report that outlined an ambitious charter expansion plan for the LAUSD (see above and Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News”) yesterday’s paper had 7 (seven!) letters-to-the-editor expressing opinions on both sides of the issue.             This should give pause to those corporate “reformers” who are pushing an ambitious plan to expand charters in the LAUSD.  Karen Wolfe, a public school proponent and parent activist from the Venice Community in L.A. writes on her PS connect website  about a new report that clearly shows that LAUSD magnet schools far outperform district charters “In English Language Arts, 65% of magnets scored higher than the state average compared with 34% of independent charters.  On the Math assessment, 56% of magnets scored higher than the state average, more than twice what the charters scored,”Wolfe writes.  “This report proves what many public education advocates have always known: the diversity of our public schools is an asset, not something to avoid.  Charter school parents often choose charters because class sizes are smaller and the school community is similar to their own.  But this report turns that choice on its head.”  Want to delve into this subject deeper?  Wolfe includes two links to the district report and to the pertinent test score data.
Does Washington State Court Decision Against Charters Have National Implications?
The recent Supreme Court decision in Washington State against charter schools could have nationwide implications.  The author of an op-ed for the CT NEWS Junkie applies the legal reasoning behind the ruling to the State of Connecticut.  She also believes theVergara case (which she explains) is also significant to the Nutmeg state.  
New Evaluation System Being Developed for California
California has been working on a new accountability system to replace the old API (Academic Performance Index).  Officials are still trying to decide what and how much of a role student test scores will play in the system.  EdSource has an important article describing the thought processes going on to create a new academic measure for students and schools.  “Last year, as a result of adopting new Common Core standards in English language arts and math, the state stopped giving tests aligned to the previous California academic standards,”  it explains.  “The state board then suspended the API, with plenty of support from school organizations like the California School Boards Association and the state’s teachers unions.  Board members, all of whom are appointed by Gov. Jerry Brown, have indicated they don’t intend to recreate the API using the results from Smarter Balanced tests.  Instead, the board wants to create a broad measure of student and school success that takes into account many measures of progress, such as high school graduation rates and student suspension rates, as indicators of progress in middle and elementary school.  There may be early education metrics as well.”
Merit Pay Plan Fizzles in Florida
A highly touted, at the time, partnership launched in 2009 between the Hillsborough County Schools in Florida and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to introduce a merit pay plan for teachers proved to be a financial bath for the district.  It ended up coughing up much more taxpayer money than originally anticipated while the Gates Foundation bailed early when it still owed $20 million.  The complicated details of the proposal and its aftermath are detailed in a story from the Tampa Bay Times.  “A seven-year effort to put better teachers in Hillsborough County schools is costing the system millions of dollars more than officials projected,” the item begins.  “And the district’s partner in the project, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is spending $20 million less than expected.”  The entire episode raises important questions about how trustworthy and dependable are those billionaires’ millions.              Peter Greene, aka the CURMUDGUCATION blogger, has a slightly more humorous take on the whole deal.  His piece is headlined “Gates Plan Crashed, Burns School District.”  “Public schools make an institutional commitment to educate students in their community for, well, ever.  Businessmen make a commitment to spend money on something as long as it makes sense to them,”Greene points out.  “This does not make businessmen evil, but it does mean that they are bad candidates to become involved in the institution of public education.  Hillsborough has been left holding a multi-million dollar bag because, while the Gates Foundation can walk away any time they feel like it, Hillsborough County schools are committed to educating children in the county as long as there are children in the county.”              Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, provides a scholarly analysis, as always, of what went wrong between Gates and the Hillsborough Schools.  Her column is titled “Hillsborough County Schools Loses Both Gates Money and Financial Reserves.”               Anthony Cody, on hisLIVING in DIALOGUE blog, cites both the Tampa Bay Times and Mercedes Schneider articles (see above) to ponder when the country will tire of private organizations taking taxpayer money for charters or other programs and then abandoning what they’ve started or absconding with the funds.  We have, in the United States, a well-reasoned and necessary separation of church and state.  Maybe, Cody wonders, it’s time to erect a wall  between philanthropies and public education.  “We need a fundamental reappraisal of the role philanthropists are playing in education,”  he implores.  “There ought to be a much higher wall between the influence of philanthropies and our public institutions. School boards and other elected bodies exist to guard the common good, and even in times when money is scarce, ought to be vigilant, and not allow policy to be set by philanthropists with deep pockets and big ideas.”
Where Does Some of that Foundation Money Go
Veteran educators often rail against the outsized impact of thosecorporate “reform” foundations run by Broad, Gates, Walton and others and the vast amounts of money they throw around .  This item may prove to be a real eyeopener.  The Walton Family Foundation published a detailed list of recipients of its largesse as it is required to do by law.  Take a couple of minutes and scroll through the list and you’ll see where their money is going.  You’ll find things like the California Charter School Association ($3.5 million!), KIPP Foundation ($300,000 + another $8.454 million), National Alliance for Public Charter Schools ($1 million), Teach for America ($2.43 million) and High Tech High Graduate School of Education ($414,200).  The list is very extensive and the second part of it is not education related (it deals with environmental grants).  Go ahead, take a peak and you’ll see the huge clout this one foundation has over education policy.  And, remember, this is just one of many such organizations attempting to influence critical education issues.
Achievement Gap Widens Between Rich and Poor Students
For many years there was lots of hand wringing and teeth gnashing over the conundrum of the achievement gap between different racial and ethnic groups.  Progress has actually been made on that front.  However, the latest problem to crop up is a growing education gap between rich and poor students.  In other words, before the problem was racial whereas now it is based on class.  An item in The New York Times explores this new disturbing reality.  “On the day they start kindergarten, children from families of low socioeconomic status are already more than a year behind the children of college graduates in their grasp of both reading and math.  And despite the efforts deployed by the American public education system,” the piece notes, “nine years later the achievement gap, on average, will have widened by somewhere from one-half to two-thirds.  Even the best performers from disadvantaged backgrounds, who enter kindergarten reading as well as the smartest rich kids, fall behind over the course of their schooling.”
Election 2016
The AFT (American Federation of Teachers) took some flack for their July endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president.  That decision was made almost half a year before the first primaries and 16 months prior to the general election in Nov., 2016.  Now the NEA (National Education Association) may announce a similar move.  They may officially endorse Clinton as early as next month.  Anthony Cody has a commentary on his LIVING in DIALOGUEblog titled “Why an Early NEA Clinton Endorsement Will Backfire.”  ” If NEA endorses Clinton or any other candidate without an adequate process that actively involves and engages their membership, and without clear answers to the vital questions we have regarding the Department of Education and Democratic party support of corporate reform,”  he suggests, “then teacher activism will take place outside of the NEA.  That will leave the organization weakened, and make the endorsement far less powerful than it could be.”               The author of theGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, Steven Singer, is also disturbed by the NEA’s plan to endorse Hillary Clinton (see above) for president without polling its members.  The union may make its choice early next month.  “Leadership at the National Education Association (NEA),” he maintains, “has been making troubling moves toward endorsing Clinton that could commit the organization to supporting the Democratic presidential hopeful with no regard for the wishes of its 3.2 million members.”
LAUSD Tackles the Problem of Sexting
The LAUSD is unveiling an ambitious program to combat the problem of sexting among students.  The district has created a video, lesson plans, posters and other materials for school personnel and parents in multiple languages as part of its “Now Matters Later” campaign to deal with the issue of students sharing explicit photos among themselves via social media.  An article in Wednesday’s L.A. Times outlines what the district is offering and why it believes it’s necessary.  “As teens’ access to social media grows – 92% report going online daily and three-quarters have access to smartphones, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center report – sexting has proliferated,” it relates.  “Across the nation, police and prosecutors have charged teens with criminal offenses and more than 20 states have enacted legislation to deal with sexting.”
Charter Schools
How successful are charter schools?  Not very, based on this metric: how many have closed since 2000.  The Center for Media and Democracy put together a chart and interactive map with their research on the subject.  Here’s the “Ed News” standardized test question-of-the-day.  Between 2000 and 2013 how many charter campuses do you think have closed around the country?  (A) Less than 100 (B) Almost 2500 (C) Around 325 (D) About 1800.  If you selected “A” you are way off.  The correct answer is “B!”  Bonus question: How many of those closures were in California?  (A) 294 (B) Less than 35 (C) 156 (D) 217.  Correct answer = “A!”  “As CMD has calculated, nearly 2,500 charter schools have shuttered between 2001 and 2013, affecting 288,000 American children enrolled in primary and secondary schools,” the article notes, “and the failure rate for charter schools is much higher than for traditional public schools.  For example, in the 2011-2012 school year, charter school students ran two and half times the risk of having their education disrupted by a school closing and suffering academic setbacks as a result of closure.  Dislocated students are less likely to graduate.”  Be sure to click on the (two) links that take you to the both state-by-state chart and the map.
Online School Enrollments Booming
The education world is nowadays constantly  discussing the pros and cons of public schools, private/parochial schools, charters, magnets, homeschooling and other options.  One area that often gets left out is online or virtual schools.  The topic needs to be addressed because the numbers of students who attend fully online schools or have taken an online class are surging and the phenomenon often flies under the radar.  POLITICO has an extended piece on these schools titled “Virtual Schools are Booming Who’s Paying Attention?”  The story is subtitled “Millions of Kids, Some as Young as 5, Now Get Their Schooling Online.  Just One Problem: Nobody Knows How Well it Works.”  “Where online schools have produced results that have actually been studied, the grades aren’t pretty,” the author reports.  “According to the latest findings of the National Education Policy Center, a nonprofit housed at the University of Colorado-Boulder, most students enrolled in full-time virtual schools do not perform as well as their classmates attending brick-and-mortar schools. Retention rates show a high level of churn, raising questions about just how cost effective it is to be funneling taxpayer dollars to online operations.  And while the state standards that teachers must meet to work in a virtual classroom are largely the same as in traditional brick-and-mortar schools, we know very little about what makes for a quality online instructor.”  Here are just 2 numbers from the story to demonstrate how extensive virtual schools have become: 5 million K-12 students have taken at least one online course; Over 300,000 American children were full-time online students during the 2013-14 school year.
The Teaching Profession
[Ed. note: As a former secondary social studies teacher for 37 years with the LAUSD before retiring in 2009 this next item strikes a nerve. Any other history teachers can most certainly sympathize]:EDUCATION WEEK prints a commentary headlined “Why Do Students Hate History?  Some Thoughts on the ‘Boring’ Social Studies.”  The author is the Social Studies Dept. Chair at a Catholic high school in Akron, Ohio, where’s he starting his 13th year.  He explains why history is important and offers some suggestions for making it pertinent and relevant to students in the 21st century.  “If we want our students to make reasoned decisions,” he maintains, “then they’ll have to be able to understand the complicated mix of people, places, and things that lead to an outcome.”
The Opt-Out Movement
And finally, could the opt-out movement achieve some of its goals?  THE HECHINGER REPORT takes a look at that issue and thinks it has a better chance at the state level than in Washington, D.C.  The information is based on a poll taken by Whiteboard Advisors about the extent of the opt-out movement and its growing impact.  “Only 47 percent of those surveyed, including current and former U.S. Department of Education leaders, Congressional staffers, state school chiefs and experts at think tanks, expect to see any change to federal law,” according to the article.  “By comparison, 70 percent say they think the thousands of students refusing to take exams will force states to rethink what tests they give and how they use the results of those tests to judge students, educators and schools.”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)
ALOED (Alumni of Occidental in Education)
That’s me working diligently on the blog.

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