Ed News, Friday, October 9, 2015 Edition


         A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                      “If you are willing to be a self-learner, you can develop yourself.”
                         ― Lailah Gifty AkitaPearls of Wisdom: Great mind 
LAUSD Supt. Search  

A recent edition of the “Ed News” reported on an outside group of civic, civil rights and education organizations that wanted to have major input in the selection of the next LAUSD superintendent.  They met privately with LAUSD Pres. Steve Zimmer to present their proposal.  They apparently didn’t like the reception their ideas received so they have stepped up their pressure to have them accepted.  The “Education Watch” column in Wednesday’s L.A. Times reports on these latest behind-the scenes-maneuvers to influence the critical selection of the next district superintendent.  “In a letter to the board released Tuesday,” it explains, “the groups requested that a committee of key civil rights and community leaders interview the top three candidates and provide recommendations to the school board. . . . Groups signing the letter include: the United Way of Greater Los Angeles, the Los Angeles Urban League, the Community Coalition, the California Charter Schools Assn., Teach for America-Los Angeles, the California Community Foundation and Public Counsel [among others].”  The online version of this article includes a link to the letter with a full list of all the groups that signed it.

Here We Go Again
Why have Eli Broad, out of Los Angeles, and Alice and Jim Walton. from Arkansas, contributed a combined $650,000 to to a PAC in Louisiana?  Take a wild guess.  Might it be so that the person who runs the PAC, Lane Grigsby, can distribute the funds to particular corporate “reformers” and privatizers in order to keep control of the state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) in the Pelican State?  The important election is the end of the this month and would place members on the board for the 2016-19 term.  Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29 explores the situation.  “Money from two billionaires from Arkansas and one billionaire from California,” she complains, “constitutes the principal funding for Grigsby’s efforts to preserve a BESE majority known for supporting charters and vouchers without equally supporting adequate oversight; supporting high-stakes testing without supporting timely, clear, comprehensive reporting of testing results, and for allying with a state superintendent known for hiding and manipulating data, refusing to honor public records requests, and refusing to consistently audit the Louisiana Department of Education (LDOE).”
School Funding Determined by Race
You wouldn’t think this was occurring in 2015 but it is, at least in Pennsylvania.  According to a recent study, highlighted in The Atlantic, the amount of school funding is not based on socio-economic factors but the predominant racial make-up of the students.  “No matter how rich or poor the district in question, funding gaps existed solely based on the racial composition of the school,” the article notes, based on the research.  “Just the increased presence of minority students actually deflated a district’s funding level. . . . Pennsylvania isn’t the only state that has a problem with poor minority schools and rich white ones.  White flight has left low-income, minority students in failing urban public schools.  The compounding issue of low-income neighborhoods and scarce (or biased) funding leaves such schools with little money or resources to educate their students, and thus little hope of breaking the poverty cycle.”
Supreme Court Case Challenges Unions’ “Fair Share” Concept
As followers of the “Ed News” should be aware, the U.S. Supreme Court began its 2015-16 term this week.  The 9 justices are faced with a pivotal case regarding the equitable nature of the “fair share” concept for the collection of union fees.  The case is Friedrichs vs California Teachers Association and a hearing date has not been set yet.  The “On California” column in EDUCATION WEEK is guest hosted by Catherine Fisk, the Chancellor’s Professor of at the UC Irvine School of Law, who argues the plaintiff’s case is “unfair and unworkable” and calls it “a potentially crippling challenge to teacher unionism.”
Charter Schools
Jamaal Bowman, the author of this commentary in the New York Daily News, is the principal of the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action Middle School in the Bronx.  He’s highly critical of the Success Academy Charters founded by Eva Moscowitz for their “no excuses” policy and  their over-emphasis on test scores.  His piece is titled simply “Teach the Whole Child.”  “Although praised by many for its test scores, the draconian policies at Success are well documented,” Bowman explains.  “Students must walk silently in synchronized lines.  In classrooms, boys and girls must sit with their hands folded and feet firmly on the ground, and must raise their hands in a specific way to request a bathroom break. . . . Regarding the praise for Success Academy’s test results, we must be mindful of overstating the quality of an education based on test score evidence alone.”     Want some more horror stories about how Success Academy charter schools operate?  Diane Ravitch’s blogis glad to comply.  She passes along tales from two more sources who are/were involved with SA schools.  Neither one paints a very pretty picture.              Former Ohio Governor (and current U.S. Senate candidate) Ted Strickland was joined by several other high-ranking state Democrats to write a blistering letter to outgoing U.S. Dept. of Ed. Sec. Arne Duncan about his department’s recent decision to award $71 million to the scandal-ridden charter system in the Buckeye state.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer describes some of the problems facing charters in the state and reprints Strickland’s letter.  “Strickland, who is running against Sen. Rob Portman next year, said that Ohio’s charter schools should not be expanded because their performance lags behind traditional public schools,”the article notes.  “He also said he doesn’t trust Ohio’s grant application or the Ohio Department of Education’s ability to give out grants to schools.”               Speaking of charters and Ohio.  Is the once thriving city of Youngstown next in line to have its school system taken over by charters?  The answer is “yes” if you believe an off-the -cuff remark made to a local legislator by Gov. John Kasich.  BELT magazine has an extended piece with the alliterative title “The Mess of Academic Distress: Are Charters in the Future for Youngstown City Schools?”  “Things are bad in the Youngstown City Schools, and have been for some time,” the author concludes.  “But anyone who thinks things can’t get worse lacks imagination.”               There may be light at the end of the tunnel for the scandal-plagued charter school sector in Ohio (see two stories above plus previous coverage in the “Ed News”).  Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post notes that the state legislature recently passed measures that would  help clean up the mess that has developed.  “The legislation, expected to be signed by Gov. John Kasich, who is running for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination,” she points out, “includes a series of governance and financial controls on how charter operators run the schools [and] that would allow better oversight.”                Alan Singer, writing on the HUFFINGTON POST EDUCATION BLOG, provides another list of charter scandals and wonders, with all this recurring criminality and malfeasance, why are hedge fund managers, philanthropists and presidential candidates so eager to promote charter schools.  Good question.  Be sure to check out his multiple references to what’s going on in Los Angeles.               John Thompson, historian and teacher writing on Diane Ravitch’s blog, analyzes the Broad Foundation plan to turn up to 50% of schools in the LAUSD into charters by 2023.  Needless to say, he’s skeptical of the entire idea and reviews some of the previous reporting that has raised questions about the proposal.  He concludes by asking if anyone can say “no” to Eli Broad.
Arne Duncan is Leaving
Jeff Bryant wraps up the week with a commentary on theEducation Opportunity NETWORK about a story that much of the mainstream media may have missed regarding the resignation of U.S. Education Sec. Arne Duncan.  Bryant believes Duncan is leaving just ahead of a brewing storm over the charter mess in Ohio and other states and how the DoE may be complicit.  Three days before Duncan announced he was leaving he “rattled the education policy world with news of a controversial grant of $249 million ($157 the first year) to the charter school industry,” the article notes.  “This announcement was controversial because, as The Washington Post reports, an audit by his department’s own inspector general found ‘that the agency has done a poor job of overseeing federal dollars sent to charter schools.’”  Bryant reviews a number of stories on the charter situation in Ohio, including several cited in this issue of the “Ed News,” and also mentions issues in other states as well.               “The Onion” is known for its satirical take on news stories and the individuals involved in them.  EDUCATION WEEK takes a look back at some of the headlines generated by outgoing Sec. of Education Arne Duncan as reported in the pages of “The Onion.”  Be sure to keep in mind that they are 100% satire (or are they?).  Here’s just one example: “Nation’s School Systems Held Back A Year.”  Enjoy the rest of them and remember we and “The Onion” soon won’t have Duncan to kick around anymore, at least as the Sec. of Education.
Election 2016
Last Saturday the NEA board of directors, in a controversial decision (covered extensively by the “Ed News”), decided to issue a primary endorsement of Hillary Clinton for president.EDUCATION WEEK offers a breakdown of how various state affiliates voted on the proposal.  “There has been a great deal of media interest in the National Education Association’s decision to endorse Hillary Clinton in the primary campaign,” the item begins.  “On paper, it joins its sister union, the American Federation of Teachers, and increases pressure on other on-the-fence labor groups to make up their own minds.  Behind the scenes, the NEA’s endorsement process was a lot more complicated, and even contested, than it looks.”              An NEA member from California writes on his blog, TULTICAN, about a very disturbing letter he recently received from NEA Pres. Lily Eskelsen-Garcia justifying the organization’s decision to endorse Hillary Clinton for president.  He found her arguments for the action disingenuous and basically untrue.  The author headlines his piece “Lily’s Betrayal Letter” and concludes in his response to it: “Lily, you need to rethink your course.  You are a smart beautiful spokesperson for the NEA.  You are dumping that great opportunity to make a real difference and playing value degrading power politics that has eliminated the democratic process in our union to get this endorsement.”              Former CNN host Campbell Brown held a televised debate for the Republican candidates in New Hampshire last month on education issues.  Only 6 of the 16 or so showed up.  She planned to do the same with the Democrats in Iowa this month but NONE of the five accepted her invitation.  She blamed the teachers’ unions for the snub. However, Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog has the real reason:  “Her Iowa shindig failed because she’s just not that important or relevant.”               Charles Pierce references the Peter Greene item above while writing about Campbell Brown inEsquire.  Pierce headlines his brief comment “The Ongoing Destruction of Public Education.” He was amazed that Brown would have the audacity to blame the teachers’ unions for the fact none of the Democratic candidates would attend her planned debate on education issues.  “She blames a teachers union,” he snickers, “every time a cloud passes in front of the sun.”
The Teaching Profession
Amid threats to expand charters in the LAUSD by 2023 to 50% of student enrollment, district teachers and their union, UTLA, are beginning to fear what impact that might have on teachers’ jobs.  Charters are traditionally anti-union and tend to hire inexperienced teachers, often from alternative credential programs, who won’t rock the boat and often don’t stay in the profession very long.  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times explores this explosive issue.  “The[charter expansion] proposal makes no mention of recruiting instructors from the ranks of L.A. Unified — even though the foundation acknowledged this week that the charter growth would require about 5,000 instructors.  The plan talks about hiring from an expanded Teach For America and other groups that work with young, inexperienced instructors.”               Bill Gates delivered a major, national speech yesterday on what he’s accomplished regarding his efforts to improve the teaching profession.  The always creative CURMUDGUCATION blogger, Peter Greene, “borrows” the Gates persona and creates his own speech about  what he believes Gates said.  Greene almost does a better job of explaining what Gates said than Gates himself.  Agree?  Remember, this is Greene channeling Gates: “Look, I’m a simple man.  I had some ideas about how the entire US education system should work, and like any other citizen, I used my giant pile of money to impose my will on everyone else.  It’s okay, because I just want to help.  We’re not done yet– I’m going to keep trying to fix the entire teaching profession,” Greene (Gates) concludes, “even if nobody in the country actually asked me to do it.  And no, I don’t intend to talk to anybody actually in the profession.  What do they know about teaching?  Besides, when you know you’re right, you don’t have to listen to anybody else.”              EDUCATION WEEK has an extended piece covering the real speech Gates delivered to the U.S. Education Learning Forum in Bellevue, Wash.  [Ed. note: Please take careful note of the second sidebar to this item titled “Education Week Receives Gates Funding” and make of it what you will.]   “In his first major speech on education in seven years,” the article reports, “philanthropist Bill Gates made it clear Wednesday that his foundation is not backing away from the twin priorities that have defined its K-12 work since 2008—teacher effectiveness and common academic standards—even as both initiatives have sparked a turbulent transformation in the nation’s schools and become deeply politicized.”               Pasi Sahlberg, currently visiting Professor, Graduate School of Education, Harvard University and previously the Director General of the Finnish Ministry of Education, again writes about how the teaching profession is different in his country as compared to the U.S.  This time he zeroes in on the amount of autonomy educators have in both nations and notes it is much greater in Finland than in the U.S.  His observations appear on THE CONVERSATION website.  Visiting teachers from the U.S. noticed the following when they toured classrooms in Finland according to Sahlberg’s article: “Among other things they said was the following: the atmosphere in schools is informal and relaxed.  Teachers have time in school to do other things than teach.  And people trust each other.  A common takeaway was that Finnish teachers seem to have much more professional autonomy than teachers in the United States to help students to learn and feel well. . . . And this is perhaps the most powerful lesson the US can learn from better-performing education systems: teachers need greater collective professional autonomy,” he concludes, “and more support to work with one another.  In other words, more freedom from bureaucracy, but less from one another.”

Common Core

California is preparing to adopt a slew of Common Core-aligned materials for its K-12 English/Language Arts curriculum.  EDUCATION WEEK has the details.  “California’s Instructional Quality Commission, which reviews materials against the state’s curriculum framework, is recommending the state board adopt 25 of the 29 instructional materials submitted,” it reveals.  “In all likelihood, those materials will be adopted at the board’s upcoming meeting set for the first week in November, according to Thomas Adams, the director of California’s curriculum and instructional-resources division and the head of the commission.  Programs by several major publishers—including Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, McGraw-Hill, and Pearson—are on the recommended list.  Two programs by Amplify Education Inc. and two by the College Board were found not to meet the adoption criteria.”               The author of an extended commentary on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog taught for 10 years in Mexico and for the last 29 in California including a stint with the LAUSD.  His piece is titled “Why Does NEA Still Support Common Core?”  He deals with how outside entities often control the conversation regarding education among the professionals who work in the field.  “For veteran educators, the potential long and short term consequences of the CCSS problematic implementation –confusion, sinking scores, lack of support and materials, students and teachers frustration, unreliable systems of evaluation, and so forth– would be good enough reasons to request a cautious and vigilant approach,” the author maintains.  “However, there is another ignored reason that should be comprehensively considered: the undue influence of Bill Gates in the creation and promotion of CCSS.”  Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for sending this.
Pre-K for All?  Not OK
The author of this op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times is a research follow in education policy studies at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank based in the nations’ capital.  She argues that a bill on Gov. Brown’s desk to expand Pre-K programs for low-income children is a mistake because by the time kids are 4 years old it’s already too late to have an impact on their academic potential.  The focus, she believes, should be on the first three years of their development.  “Instead of launching a costly and unproven program for 4-year-olds,” she concludes, “California should invest in helping vulnerable, young children where they are during the first 35,000 hours of their lives: in the home and in child care.”  What do you think of her proposals?
Test results for the Common Core-aligned assessments have been pretty much reported by the various states for this year.  Interestingly, the rate of students scoring “proficient” fluctuated wildly from state-to-state even given that the same exams were administered.  A story in The New York Times surveys a number of states, including a brief mention of California, and reports on their scores and how they compare to other states that used the same PARCC or SBAC exams.  The article reports on states that used the former test and focuses on how the results came out in Ohio.  In addition, it attempts to explains why the results were so varied.  “It all came down to the different labels each state used to describe the exact same scores on the same tests,” the piece demonstrates.  “That kind of inconsistency in educational standards is what the Common Core — academic guidelines for kindergarten through high school reading and math that were adopted by more than 40 states — was intended to redress.”               This is the first year that most states are reporting Common Core-aligned test results.  Whether it’s the SBAC or PARCC, results have been coming in hot and heavy as of late.  The co-authors of this item from EDUCATION WEEK offer “5 Questions Policymakers Need to Ask About Common-Core Test Results.”  “Conversations about assessment results tend to revolve around how high or low scores are,” they suggest, “and what districts and schools should do in response.  In this first year, however, it is particularly important to view the results within an appropriate context, linked to other metrics.  Indeed, for assessments to fulfill their purpose of informing educators, schools, districts, and states about what students know, and how to improve their progress, decisionmakers must ask some key questions.”               Standardized tests were supposed to provide “rich” data that teachers could use to analyze the progress their students were making and where, possibly, they needed remediation.  Peter Greene, on his always informative and entertaining CURMUDGUCATION blog, says that at least in Pennsylvania, where he works, and probably in every other state, most of that data turns out to be pretty worthless Greene proceeds to describe what he discovered on the state’s website regarding results for his students.  He found it to be pretty thin.  “I wish some of the reformsters who believe that BS Testing gets us rich data that can drive and focus instruction would just get in there and take a look at this,” he complains bitterly, “because they would just weep.  No value is being added, but lots of time and money is being wasted.”
Questions Raised About LAUSD and Commercial Filming
And finally, a KNBC4 investigation over the past 6 months raised some serious questions regarding the filming of commercial projectslike movies, television shows, music videos and commercials on LAUSD campuses.  EDUCATION WEEK reports the story and includes a film clip (5:20 minutes) from Channel 4.  In reaction to the television report the district halted all filming and the LAUSD’s inspector general is looking into the situation.  “Los Angeles’ schools—in the shadow of the film, television, and music industries—have been attractive sites for location work for years,” the ED WEEK story mentions.  “But NBC4 reporters Matt Schrader and Jenna Susko aired two stories this week about disruptions and questionable practices caused by some video production companies leasing L.A. schools, classrooms, and campuses for their television shows, commercials, and projects.  The reporters said the station has been looking into ‘the millions of production-company dollars’ collected each year by the state’s largest public school district, concluding that the revenue ‘may come at the cost of education.’  Susko and Schrader highlighted examples of what they called racy images and edgy content, and questioned the behavior of some film crews on campus.”
Hope you are dealing well with this extremely hot weather for at least the next couple of days.

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



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