And now to the news.
Breaking News: Arne Duncan to Leave
Cabinet Post at End of Year
Embattled U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan will be leaving his post at the end of the year according to a story in The New York Times. The news was first reported by the Associated Press this morning. Duncan, who joined the Obama administration at the outset in Jan., 2009, will have served for almost 7 years. Obama announced he was appointing the equally controversial former New York State Superintendent of Schools, John B. King Jr. on an interim basis, to fill the post until Duncan’s term would have concluded in Jan., 2017. “Mr. Duncan was arguably one of the most powerful education secretaries in history,” the article relates, “both because of his personal ties to the president and the billions of dollars in funding that came to the department as part of the fiscal stimulus program during the financial crisis. He was at times the subject of criticism from both parties, angering Democrats by challenging teachers’ unions and infuriating Republicans by promoting national academic standards.” The piece includes a video segment (2:09 minutes) of the official announcement. Reaction to the changes at the department was swift. Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post zeroes in on the controversial nature of John King’s tenure in New York. “King led a series of school reforms that included a new teacher evaluation system using student standardized test scores that critics say is nonsensical (for example, art teachers are evaluated by student math test scores) and the implementation of the Common Core standards, and aligned Pearson-designed standardized tests,” she writes, “King’s oversight of all of this was considered such a disaster that Cuomo last year wrote in a letter to top state education officials that ‘Common Core’s implementation in New York has been flawed and mismanaged from the start’.” NYS Allies for Public Education (NYS APE),
in a press release
promptly called the appointment of King a “bizarre move by the White House”
and “a bad move for the nation.”
The Badass Teachers Association (BATs)
also issued a press release which lambasted King
for his actions in New York. “John King’s tenure in New York was one of controversy,” it suggested, “and with an established agenda of dismantling public education by using corporate education reform tactics. King was run out of New York in 2014 because of a staggering test opt out rate, because he ignored and dismissed parents at education forums, and because he refused to fix an education system that he himself destroyed. The state teachers union, NYSUT, had a unanimous vote of no confidence in him prior to his departure.”
Arts Education in the LAUSD
Three years after the LAUSD designated the arts as a core subject in the district the results of that ambitious undertaking have been mixed according to a report from NPR station 93.3KPCC. “As the district’s decision nears its third anniversary this October, the goal of universal arts instruction remains elusive,” it reveals. “A KPCC analysis of the most recent district data found that at about 100 elementary schools, the vast majority of students get no arts instruction. Still, across the district, there are signs of improvement. Forty-five new art teachers were hired for the new school year, according to district numbers, and resources like professional development for teachers have been increased. Plus, the district’s arts branch has launched a series of arts festivals that showcase student work.” The piece includes one audio segment (4:03 minutes) of the story (click the “Listen” button) at the beginning of the article and a second one that features a conversation (4:36 minutes) with the station’s art education reporter who produced the feature (located at the end of the item in the “soundcloud box).
The Opt-Out Movement
Valerie Strauss, on her blog in The Washington Post, once again invites Carol Burris, the award-winning New York principal–now retired, to take over her column. For this one, Burris looks at thehistory of the opt-out movement and profiles a parent and activist who became the leader of one of the most effective groups in the country, Long Island Opt Out. Burris also singles out other individuals and organizations that have spearheaded the movement to have their children refuse to take standardized tests. “Opt-out parents are now seeing beyond the stress of their children and becoming attuned to the connections between testing and charter schools, the Common Core, teacher evaluations based on test scores, school closings and other politically popular policies designed to undermine public schooling. Opt out has become a movement of civil disobedience and of conscience against corporate school reform.”
Letters to the Times
Two sets of letters were published in Wednesday’s L.A. Times. The first was 4 different missives reacting to the Sandy Banks and Steve Lopez columns that appeared in the paper on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. Banks wrote about a teacher who remembered a student she had as a 3rd grader back in 1970 and Lopez noted hundreds of students who returned for a memorial service to pay tribute to a History and Philosophy instructor they had at Hamilton High School. The second set of 4 comment on the Sunday column in the “Business” section about teacher pensions. The lead letter just so happens to be from ALOED member Darlene Wilson.“If critics would read what the experts have to say about countries with great educational systems,” she writes, “they would stop interfering and work to promote an American culture that prizes education as highly as sports and entertainment — maybe even higher.” [Ed. note: in an email to the editor of the “Ed News,” Darlene revealed that the Times edited out her reference to Broad and the Koch brothers as two of the main culprits who are attacking teacher pensions. Might that be because the paper’s new education section “Education Matters” is partially funded by the Broad Foundation? Just asking.]
Gov. Facing Some Key Education Decisions
California Gov. Jerry Brown has until Oct. 11, to make some critical decisions regarding education-related bills sent to him by the state legislature. EdSource provides an excellent list of items sent to the governor for his action. A few have already been taken care of (vaccination requirement) but several still remain on his desk including proposals to ban for-profit charters in the Golden State and a suspension of the high school exit exam.
New Plan to Privatize Schools: Bankruptcy
The corporate “reformers” and privatizers have discovered a new ploy for destroying public education–bankruptcy. Cut their budgets to the core to the point they can no longer meet their costs and you can force entire school districts into bankruptcy which could then open them up to being taken over by the private, for-profit sector. Sound outlandish? A number of cities including Detroit have been forced into that position. Why not force school districts into the same corner? The Center for Media and Democracy’s PR Watchreviews a recent gathering of corporate types that explored that very notion. “The school privatization movement has long sought to consign public schools and locally elected school boards to the dust heap of history to usher in a brave new world of ‘free market’ schools instead of free and universal public education. One big reason for this obsession? There’s at least half a trillion dollars a year up for grabs for corporations that want to line their coffers with taxpayer money,” the item harrowingly relates. “K-12 education, Rupert Murdoch explained in a press release a few years ago, is a ‘$500 billion sector in the U.S. alone that is waiting to be transformed.’ But the transition to for-profit education has been too slow for some advocates who have some new and rather drastic ideas on how to pick up the pace.”
New Guide to Colleges of Education
You probably need to be more than a little wary of this one. TheNational Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ–yes, those folks) has produced what they are calling an online “Consumer’s Guide to Colleges of Education.” Even the author of this piece fromEDUCATION WEEK about the new publication, titled “Path to Teach,” offers a few caveats in his brief review of the website. “I probably don’t need to remind you of the controversy swirling around the NCTQ’s efforts,” he warns plainly, “so bear that in mind as you explore the site.” The article includes a link to the site if you want to check out what it says about a particular school. The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) a vocal critic of the NCTQ, briefly reviews the new online tool on itsEdPrepMatters website and is quite leery of its value. “While many teacher preparation programs dispute their ratings in the Review, NCTQ is undeterred in its attempt to be an arbiter of program quality for teacher preparation. With the 2016 Review already under way,” the author urges, “institutions should be prepared to examine their program’s rating and determine whether a response is necessary.”
Another Tech Glitch for the LAUSD
After the “iPadgate” fiasco and a botched roll-out of a new student information system, another technology issue is NOT what the LAUSD needs. But, they have one. A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times describes how a phone poll directed to parents and employees about different academic calendar options was plagued by technical goblins [Ed. note: It is getting close to Halloween]. Some respondents were not able to access the poll or were cut off in the midst of taking it. The article explains both the tech problems and some of the options for future school calendars in the LAUSD. One choice was a fairly radical change from more traditional calendars. “One option for an academic schedule would be a significant departure from past practice: a five-week break in summer and a seven-week vacation in winter,” the piece point out. “Although that alternative was one of six presented to a calendar committee, officials have not seriously considered such a schedule in recent times. The survey presented that approach by asking parents if they would like a ‘year-round’ style calendar that allowed for four-week intercession classes in both the winter and summer. These courses would allow students to catch up or get ahead academically.”
The article includes two audio segments. One is the introduction to the phone survey (23 seconds) from Supt. Ramon Cortines and the second is a message of apology (1:10 minutes) about any problems people encountered dealing with the poll. Click on the > (red arrow) that’s part of the “soundcloud” to access both of those.
The Teaching Profession
Do the actions and reactions of teachers sometimes provoke misbehavior in students? That’s the interesting focus of an article on the ASCD (formerly known as the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) website. The article, appearing on their “EDUCATIONAL LEADERSHIP” blog, is written by an author and education consultant based in Portland, Oregon. He presents 5 “Provocations” from classroom teachers that often lead to student misconduct and what teachers can do instead to avoid pupil reactions. One example: “Letting Students Choose Their Seats.” Read what he has to say about that and what he offers as an alternative. “At the end of the day, students will want to learn with us when they’re confident they won’t feel cruddy in the process. Engaging their resistance and analyzing how we may have provoked their misbehaviors will help us take advantage of opportunities to learn about their perspectives, appreciate their experiences, and improve our practices. This approach,” he suggests, “will produce far more learning for students and teachers alike than punishments and exclusion ever will.” How many of you have attended parent/teacher conferences either as a parent and/or a teacher? Most of you. That’s what I thought. If you have been to more than one, were they pretty much formulaic? Most of you agreed. Is it possible to bring the format into the 21st century? Last year 10 schools in Georgia piloted a concept in parent/teacher relationships through the formation of “academic parent-teacher teams (APTT). The idea of APTT has been around for 5 years and is now in 250 schools in 15 states. You can discover how the program works using as a case study one of those elementary schools in Georgia.
EDUCATION WEEK has the intriguing details. For even more information about how the APTT work go the WestEd website where the creator of the program, Maria Paredes, has an informative article about the plan (please click here).
Teach for America
Mitchell Robinson, writing on his Mitchell Robinson blog, has some major misgivings about Teach for America to the point that he visualizes the organization as a”Trojan Horse for America.” That’s pretty significant. Robinson believes TFA had some noble goals at the outset. “But TFA’s mission has now been perverted,” he claims, “as a result of the convergence of factors such as a struggling economy, an emboldened corporate education reform movement led by hedge fund managers and investment bankers looking to turn a quick profit, and blistering attacks on teachers and schools from both sides of the political aisle.”
He details how TFA has gone off the rails and has some suggestions on how they can change and improve for the future based on one of their own “Commitments for Improvement.”
Mention the words “Common Core State Standards” and you are likely to elicit some strong responses both pro and con. They have been around officially for 6 years, yet controversy still surrounds them. If you are still not real clear about the basics or need some concrete information to share with family and friends around the Thanksgiving table or with colleagues, check out this primer on the CCSS in EDUCATION WEEK. It’s in the form of a Q & A. “The Common Core State Standards arose from a simple idea: that creating one set of challenging academic expectations for all students would improve achievement and college readiness,” it begins. “But the idea proved to be the only thing that was simple about the common core.”
With the AFT already announcing its endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 and the NEA poised to take a similar position, possibly as early as this weekend, teachers around the nation are beginning to resist these actions of their big national union organizations. “One of the most hotly debated issues among rank-and-file educators this week is whether Clinton deserves their support,” the story in yesterday’s L.A. Times points out. “Many are saying no — or at least, not yet — and calling upon their state leaders to resist a move by the president of the union representing 3 million teachers to endorse Clinton. They are deeply bitter about President Obama’s education policies and fear Clinton would stay on the same path, which is championed by some of her ultrawealthy friends and supporters, particularly Los Angeles philanthropist Eli Broad.” The piece goes on to note that leaders of the California Teachers Association, the biggest and most powerful NEA affiliate, are remaining neutral on the question of how their representatives should vote on the Clinton endorsement issue. Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, reports that the NEA Board of Directors is set to officially endorse Hillary Clinton for president tomorrow in a move that ignores the sentiments of the rank-and-file. His piece is titled “A Handful of NEA Leaders Have Taken Another Step Toward Endorsing Hillary Clinton Despite Member Outcry.” “‘We are what Democracy looks like.’ With those words, he begins, “Lily Eskelsen Garcia took the reigns of the National Education Association (NEA) as President in 2014. A little more than a year later, the NEA is set to prove those words false by endorsing a candidate for the 2016 Presidential Primaries without input from the rank and file.”
Budget Battles Wreck Havoc on School Openings
Most K-12 public school funding, particularly in California, comes from the state level. Most other states follow a similar formula. What happens when partisan and other battles hold that critical funding up? EDUCATION WEEK explores several states (not California) where major fights are taking place and the collateral damage they are causing to local school budgets. States that are impacted the most include Pennsylvania, Washington, Alabama, Colorado, Kansas and Mississippi which are singled out for special attention in a sidebar to the main story.
Anti-Vaccination Petition Drive Falls Short on Signatures
Opponents of the new vaccination law, signed by Gov. Brown in June, fell short of their goal of collecting enough signature to place a repeal measure on the Nov., 2016, ballot. An article in yesterday’sL.A. Times has the numbers and spells out what happened. “Opponents of a new child vaccination law in California,” it begins, “have reported that they turned in some 228,000 signatures on petitions for a referendum to overturn the measure, far short of the number needed to qualify it for next year’s ballot. Referendum supporters needed the signatures of 365,880 registered voters by Monday to place the measure before state voters in November 2016.”
Diane Ravitch’s blog has a piece from L.A. parent activist Karen Wolfe, who lives in Venice, about an apparently innocuous telephone “poll” that could underhandedly be pushing Eli Broad’s charter agenda for the LAUSD. Something like that is called a “push poll” which Ravitch explains in her introduction to Wolfe’s article. An editorial in today’s L.A. Times chastises two members of the LAUSD board for comments they made regarding a major plan to expand charters in the district and calls on both to turn down the rhetoric. The item characterizes the battle raging between pro and anti-charter forces as having “all the calm maturity of a playground shouting match.” “But if the district really wants to fend off a charter incursion,” the piece urges, “its best bet is not to ramp up the angry rhetoric but to create and build the kinds of public schools that attract and keep students. Parents whose children are happily enrolled in orderly, well-run neighborhood schools, or exciting magnet schools, have little reason to switch.” How successful has Eli Broad been in supporting charter schools that show consistent academic improvement? According to the LA SCHOOL REPORT the results are “mixed.” “The Broad plan points to three of LA Unified’s largest charter operators that have received Broad largess — Green Dot Public Schools, Alliance College-Ready Public Schools and KIPP Public Charter Schools — and says, ‘These organizations have turned our investments into significant academic gains for students.’ In some cases, the gains are clear,” the article reveals, “but in others they are not. One category shows a regression in test scores, and others that demonstrate only marginal gains.” Be sure to check out the chart provided by the Broad Foundation showing gains in proficiency and you’ll see the results are not as rosy as Broad would have you believe.
Court Decision Aids Unions
A federal district court judge in Los Angeles provided teachers unions with an important victory when he dismissed a case brought by 4 educators who claimed that being forced to join the union violated their free speech rights since the unions often use money from dues to advocate for positions they were not in favor of. The case, Bain vs California Teachers Association, was filed in April and the ruling was issued on Wednesday according to a story in today’s L.A. Times. The NEA, a defendant in the lawsuit, issued a news release about the ruling
on their website. It includes a statement from union Pres. Lily Eskelsen-Garcia. “This case is just another attack on educators and their unions,” she charges, “that is being bankrolled by wealthy special interest groups whose objective is to undermine public education. Teachers unions are made up of educators who join together to make their voices heard on issues that affect their students, classrooms and schools.”
Preventing Sexual Assaults/Harassment
And finally, a bill signed into law yesterday by Gov. Brown would require high schools in the state that offer health classes to includelessons and materials on the prevention of sexual violence and discussions about affirmative consent before two people have sexual relations. An article in today’s L.A. Times describes the legislation and also mentions some other bills that were education-related that the governor approved. “The law is the first of its kind in the nation, according to the legislators,” it notes, “and follows a measure signed last year requiring college campuses to improve policies to prevent sexual assault and to require that couples affirmatively consent before engaging in sex.”
Dave Alpert (Oxy, ’71)
ALOED, Alumni of Occidental in Education
That’s me working diligently on the blog.