Ed News, Tuesday, October 6, 2015 Edition


         A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                  “Between natural ability and education choose natural ability, 
                   as it will keep you happy and will fetch you the glory sooner.” 
― Amit Kalantri
Arne Duncan Announces He’s Leaving
A front-page story in Saturday’s L.A. Times details the announcement that U.S. Dept. of Education Sec. Arne Duncan will be leaving the Obama administration at the end of December after nearly 7 years of service.  Duncan is the second-to-last cabinet secretary to have served for the entire Obama presidency.  The article outlines Duncan’s turbulent tenure and features his dealings with California.  “Duncan had a sometimes stormy relationship with California,”  it notes, “despite its status as a stronghold of support for Democrats and the Obama administration.  Early conflicts centered on Duncan’s signature Race to the Top competitive grant program.  States had to agree to a teacher evaluation system that partly used student test scores, angering unions and others.”               THE NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION (NPE) issued a press release upon the resignation of Duncan and the appointment of John B. King Jr. as the acting secretary to serve until Duncan’s term expires in Jan., 2017.  [Ed. note:  Why didn’t Obama pick a permanent replacement?  Answer: he’d have to go through the Congressional appointment process and this way he avoids what could be a contentious debate over the selection in the GOP controlled Senate.]  “The Network for Public Education assigned an ‘F’ to the selection of John King as a replacement to Arne Duncan,” the release begins rather pointedly, “who recently resigned as Secretary of Education.”                How do you think charter and school choice leaders feel about Duncan’s decision to leave and the selection of King to replace him?  EDUCATION WEEK has a sampling of their responses including several from Twitter.  “The Obama administration and the education department,” Ed WEEK points out, “helped support and expand charter schools through a couple of programs including the Investing in Innovation Fund and the Charter Schools Program.”  Does that give you any kind of hint as to what they think about the changes at the DoE?               THE HECHINGER REPORTreviews Duncan’s tenure as Sec. of Education and how it impacted and will continue to effect education in the future.  “As he leaves his post this December, his forceful strategy to push dramatic changes to the U.S education system is being tested,” it suggests.  “The aggressiveness and urgency that defined his efforts to transform American schools alienated friends and could, in the end, be what derails his reforms.  During his tenure, one of the longest in President Barack Obama’s cabinet, Duncan made a deep mark on U.S. schools with a series of major efforts stretching from early education to college.”              Steven Singer, author of theGADFLYONETHEWALLBLOG, was beside himself when he heard John B. King was going to replace Duncan.  Singer believes the choice simply continues the image that Democrats don’t really care much for public education.  [Ed. note: Singer used a slightly more graphic term.]  “We’ve put up with 7 years of Duncan’s buffoonery as U.S. Secretary of Education: A man with no practical knowledge of the field.  A corporate functionary.  A drone.  A mouthpiece,” Singer sneers, “ for all the worst ideas of the 1% to sabotage public schools and replace them with charters.  And who does Obama replace him with!?  Former New York State Chancellor King!?  A man who was almost run out of his state on a rail!?  A man with – admittedly – more experience than Duncan but all of the worst kind.”               What does someone who supports Teach for America, charters and the corporate “reform” movement think about Duncan’s departure?  Let’s ask Andrew Rotherham, who is now on the advisory board of Campbell Brown’s “The 74” and is a cofounder and partner of Bellwhether Education Partners.  He offers several “Lessons From Arne Duncan Leaving” in a commentary for US NEWS & WORLD REPORT.  “The education world reacted with surprise to [the] announcement that Secretary of Education Arne Duncan is stepping down, and former New York education commissioner and current acting Deputy Secretary John King Jr. is stepping into the role at the end of the year.  As with any political transition,” he suggests, “there’s plenty of spin and speculation.”               Arthur Goldstein, on the nyc educator blog, reacts to the above item by Andrew Rotherham.  His piece is titled “Meet the New Boss, Even Worse Than The Old Boss.”  You can probably figure out from that how he feels about Duncan leaving and King coming on board.               How bad has Duncan been for public education in this country?  Obviously, it depends on who you talk to.  Jan Resseger, on her janressegerblog, is not sad to see him go.  Her piece is titled “Arne Duncan’s Misguided Policies” and includes a litany of poor actions and ideas emanating from the U.S. DoE.   “School policy ripped out of time and history: in many ways that is Arne Duncan’s gift to us — school policy focused on disparities in test scores instead of disparities in opportunity — a Department of Education obsessed with data-driven accountability for teachers,” she relates, “but for itself an obsession with ‘game-changing’ innovation and inadequate attention to oversight — the substitution of the consultant-driven, win-lose methodology of philanthropy for formula-driven government policy — school policy that favors social innovation, one charter at a time.  Such policies are definitely a break from the past.  Whether they promise better opportunity for the mass of our nation’s children, and especially our poorest children, is a very different question.”               As may be expected, the ewa (EDUCATION WRITERS ASSOCIATION) took a slightly different tack regarding the story about Duncan’s departure. It reviews how a number of different education reporters/columnists/bloggers informed readers about the news in addition to how they judged Duncan’s impact and their predictions of how King’s policies would be received.  “A good test of reporters’ skills,” it commences, “is how they handle breaking news – and last week’s surprise announcement that Arne Duncan would step down as U.S. Secretary of Education was a prime example.   To be sure, the news was more surprising to some than others, given the political battles looming as the election cycle speeds up.  But education journalists at the regional, state, and national level wasted no time framing Duncan’s legacy . . . . what his departure will mean for the long-overdue reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, and taking a look at Duncan’s replacement.”               How best to assess Duncan’s term as Secretary of Education?  Valerie Strauss, in her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post, decides to use Duncan’s own words.  She reprints, along with her own comments, some of the more notable things the secretary has said in the past almost 7 years.  Some of the quotes you many recognize as they garnered much attention at the time, while others may have been a little less noteworthy.  Here’s just one example from Strauss’ piece: September, 2011 “I don’t think anyone in the country has done more over the past 15 to 20 years than Wendy Kopp [founder of Teach for America] to identify the talents and characteristics that lead to great teaching.”  [Ed. note: My simple response: “Oh, really?”]  [TFA] has been a prime mover in the ‘no excuses’ movement,” Strauss writes in reaction to Duncan’s comment, “which promotes the notion that the conditions in which children live can’t be blamed for poor academic performance.  In other words, teachers should be able to overcome a child’s hunger, sickness or trauma.”
Election 2016
The NEA board of directors, as widely predicted, on Saturday issued a primary endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president in 2016 despite a strong reaction from many of its rank-and-file members that it wait until later in the process when the organization has had a chance to hear more specifically from the other candidates.  The Washington Post provides the details of the decision.  “Seventy-five percent of the union’s 170-member board backed Clinton. . . . But the endorsement triggered an immediate backlash among some of the union’s 3 million members,” it explains.  “Some argued that an endorsement was premature, while others said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was a better choice.”             The Badass Teachers Association immediately issued a press release questioning the NEA’s hasty action “The National Education Association has chosen to make an early endorsement in the Democratic Primary.  This is a process that we disagree with for many reasons,” it declares.  “First and foremost, none of the Democratic candidates have made clear their position on public education.  Secondly, there has not been an open Democratic debate in which the candidates have discussed their positions on public education.”               Steven Singer, he of the GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, wasaghast that the NEA leadership would endorse Hillary Clintonwithout polling its membership.  “The National Education Association (NEA) represents 3 million educators.  It is the largest labor union in the country.  However only about 180 people made the decision to back Clinton. . . . But wait.  It can’t really be that simple,” he hopes.  “All of these people are voted in by members.  Surely they polled their constituencies to gauge how individuals wanted them to vote.  Nope.”              The fall-out from the interim appointment of John King from New York to fill out the remainder of Arne Duncan’s term at the U.S. Dept. of Education is already being anticipated.  John Thompson, writing on Diane Ravitch’s blog, believes King will prove to be a particular thorn in the side of the Democratic nominee for president in 2016.  “King, like Michelle Rhee, Scott Walker, John Deasy, Eli Broad and, yes, Arne Duncan, dismisses educators who disagree with him as putting ‘adult interests’ over our kids.  So, I believe the national press will soon be learning why we teachers are so offended by the King appointment,” Thompson concludes.  “I just hope that Clinton, Sanders and, perhaps, Biden are not hurt by it.”
A Week of Letters to the Times
The “Numbers and Letters” feature in Saturday’s L.A. Timesreports that “675 printable letters were received between last Friday and this Thursday.  62 readers expressed their opinions about follow-up stories on the Volkswagen scandal regarding politics, recalls and repairs.  40 letter writers weighed in on columns about ‘remembering teachers’ and teacher pensions.”  It was the second most popular topic of the week.
Transformation of the SAT and ACT
The current edition of TIME magazine (Oct. 12) has a feature article on the evolution of the venerable SAT and ACT tests.  They used to be for college admission exclusively but they are now being used more and more as a form of standardized test for students in the K-12 years.  “The organizations behind the SAT and the ACT are now locked in a battle for lucrative state-funded contracts to offer the tests to public high school students,”  the story reveals.  “These contracts benefit families by having taxpayers fund a college-admission test–but states are buying into the concept because the exams do double duty as assessment tests required of public schools.”
Teacher Evaluations
Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, writes about how teacher evaluations have evolved under pressure from the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top” monetary incentives.  Cody invites teachers and administrators to take part in a survey about their experiences with these new evaluations.  “The Network for Public Education has launched a research project to investigate.  We want to hear from educators – teachers and administrators who have been involved directly in the evaluation process over the past decade,” he explains.  “How have evaluations changed?  What are the impacts that are being felt in your classrooms and schools?  How are students being affected?”  At the bottom of his brief description, Cody includes a link to the survey if you’d like to check it our/share with colleagues and/or respond.
Principal of the Year
Alan Tenreiro, the school leader of Cumberland High School in Rhode Island, has been named National Principal of the Year by the National Association of Secondary School Principals. The “District Dossier” column in EDUCATION WEEK has a brief profile of the winner and details about how he was selected.  “The search for the 2016 national principal of the year started in early 2015,” it describes, “as each state principals association selected its state principals of the year.  From the pool of state winners, a panel of judges selected three finalists, Tenreiro along with Patricia Fry of Plymouth South High in Plymouth, Mass., and Kyle Hoehner of Lexington High in Lexington, Neb.”
School Choice
The concept of “school choice” is not only having a dramatic, and some would say damaging, impact on the public school system but it is now turning its focus on the private  and parochial sector. EDUCATION WEEK takes a look at this growing phenomenon of vouchers and charter expansion in yet another segment of the education field.  “But now, as new private-school-choice programs continue to emerge—most prominently in Nevada, where all public school students are eligible to participate—some advocates are pushing the private-school-choice movement,” it reports, “to look to its charter brethren for strategies on how to recruit talent, fund new schools, and ultimately, survive.”  6 states (not California) account for the vast majority of the students participating in private school choice programs.  Click on the sidebar labeled “Top Private-School-Choice States” to see who they are and the numbers that are involved.
Ed Tech
Yong Zhao, a former ALOED book club author, has a new book out (with 3 other co-writers) titled Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 Edtech Mistakes.  Valerie Strauss, on her blog for The Washington Post, turns her space over to Zhao who writes about some of the technology errorsschools tend to make and how to correct them.  He also provides a preview of his new book.  “Technology has been traditionally conceived as a tool to enhance and improve existing practices within the existing educational setup,” Zhao explains, “but it has become a tool to enable a grand education transformation that has been imagined by many pioneering thinkers such [as] John Dewey.  The transformation is not about technology, but about more meaningful education for all children.  Perhaps finally we can escape the cyclic amnesia we have suffered in using technology to improve education.”
And finally, to help lighten your day and hopefully bring a smile to your face, Jimmy Fallon, host of the “Tonight Show” on NBC, asked viewers to send him their tweets in response to the hashtag #OneTimeInClass. Valerie Strauss, in her Washington Postcolumn, publishes a number of them along with a video clip (1:56 minutes) from YouTube showing Fallon reading some of the funnier ones which is located at the top of Strauss’ piece.  You can’t miss it and be sure you don’t.  

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


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