Ed News, Tuesday, October 13, 2015 Edition


         A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                               “My education was neglected,
yet I was passionately fond of reading.” 
                           ― Mary ShelleyFrankenstein; Or, the Modern Prometheus  
Charter and Magnet Schools
Under the Charter Schools Program (CSP) this year the U.S. Dept. of Education (DoE) has approved grants of $125 million to 8 separate state departments of education including the scandal-plagued charter system in Ohio which received the biggest single award of $71 million.  It was that last item that drew the ire of theCenter for Media and Democracy’s PR Watch.  The author of the piece, titled “With Federal Millions, ‘Wild West’ of Charters is About to Get Even Wilder,” reviews some of the problems at the core of Ohio’s largely unaccountable system and is at a loss for words as to why Ohio earned the largest award.  “With its lax-to-non-existent charter school laws, and vast number of unaccountable authorizers, Ohio has long been an embarrassment even to the charter school industry.”               How did Ohio win the largest single grant of federal funds from the federal Charter Schools Program this year (see story above)?  According to an investigative piece in The Columbus Dispatch, state education officials were not fully truthful and up front in the information they provided on the application for the grant and  federal officials at the DoE did not dig very deeply in approving the state’s paperwork.  “Ohio’s school report cards list standards for schools to meet: 80 percent of students in certain grades must be proficient in math and reading, for example, and certain numbers of seniors must graduate.  In 2013-14, almost half of the state’s charters couldn’t meet a single standard,” the article reveals.  “The grant application said that almost half of Ohio charters rated ‘high-quality’ during 2011-12.  But the state report cards said that fewer than a quarter received A or B grades overall that year.”                The LAUSD has regular schools, charters and magnets.  The “Ed News” has provided fairly extensive coverage of the the first two.  The “Explainer” feature in Saturday’s L.A. Times has a Q & A about how to select and apply for a district magnet program.  The online version has a few extra questions than are contained in the print edition.               The “charter school scandal of the day” comes from WPLG Local 10 in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area.  It describes the shenanigans going on at the Paramount Charter Elementary School in Sunrise, Florida, which has only been open for a month.  The school has already received $740,000 of taxpayer funds and is scheduled to collect $3 million more during the current school year.  “Paramount — an elementary-level school that, like all charters, is privately owned but publicly funded — is riddled with problems,” the story recounts.  “According to a school board member, it’s already had three principals, lost nearly all of its teachers after the first month due to firings and resignations and has some parents alleging their children aren’t learning there.  The president of the company that owns the school, Jimika Williams Mason, drove away from a Local 10 News camera in her vehicle.”  This item includes a video segment (3:45 minutes) from the station about the story.   [Ed. note: This whole thing sounds like a “take the money and run” story.]  “Just when I think I have heard the most absurd story possible about charter schools that pillage taxpayers’ dollars, I discover a story like this one,” Diane Ravitch writes on her blog about the story above.                Charter school proponents and the Broad Foundation released the results of a poll they commissioned touting the fact that nearly 70% of registered voters supported the expansion of charters.  It may also have been timed to come out just prior to a planned UTLA protest against the charter plan at the LAUSD board meeting scheduled for this afternoon (see following story).  Opponents of charter expansion highlight the fact that 88% of respondents favor investing in existing public schools in order to have more magnet programs.  “The poll asked voters about their views on local public schools, the teachers union, charters, classroom teachers and the Los Angeles Unified School District,” the article in today’s L.A. Times notes.  “Many questions focused on charter school expansion.  Voters were given positions from opponents and supporters of charter schools and asked if any of those arguments made them more or less likely to support expansion.”            The UTLA website has a brief description of aunion-sponsored rally to be held during the LAUSD board meeting this afternoon from 4 to 5 pm to protest the planned major expansion of charter schools in the district.  You can view/print-out a copy of the flyer about the event with a link at the bottom of the piece just above the map or by clicking here.
Nutritious School Food
The Nation of Change Bull Horn website has a brief item about the National Farm to School Network and how it is providing nutritious food along with food education to over 40,000 students in all 50 states.  “The core elements of farm to school includes school gardens, education and procurement,” it notes.  “Through school gardens, students learn about agriculture through hands-on farming. They are educated on agriculture, food, health and nutrition and local foods [are] then served in cafeterias or through taste-test activities, which promotes farmers in local communities.”
Election 2016
Dr. Ben Carson is currently running number 2, behind Donald Trump, in the latest polls of Republican candidates for president.  He likes to remind audiences that American kids were better educated in 1830 than they are today.  He shares a test he claims is from that period and an alleged quote from Alexis de Tocqueville (both items are also mentioned in his book) praising the U.S. system of education at that time.  Both are bogus as pointed out by a piece in The Progressive.  “To suggest that Americans today are somehow less educated and dumber than they were in the early 1800s is absurd from any angle that you look at it.  It also is yet another baffling example of how Ben Carson, a man whose central qualification for the presidency is his scientific background,” the author complains, “can take such a decidedly unscientific approach to investigating and proving his silly hypothesis.  It’s as if Dr. Carson lives in two worlds.  By day, he’s a gifted neurosurgeon who relies on evidence-based science before performing delicate operations on children’s brains; by night, he’s a howling mad, anti-intellectual, Tea Party doofus,” the piece concludes.  “Maybe instead of Dr. Carson, we should call him Dr. Jekyll.”               Diane Ravitch writes a piece for SALON, ahead of the first Democratic debate this evening from Las Vegas, suggesting four questions that should be directed to the candidates about education policies.  She notes that education issues were pretty much ignored during the 2012 presidential campaign.  “The media and citizens at public forums must not let that happen again,” Ravitch urges.  “Education is central to our future as a nation; it is also the single largest item in every state’s budget.  Yet the candidates for the 2016 race in both parties are talking only about pre-kindergarten and higher education, skipping right over the important issues that face millions of children and educators in public schools today.”
“Another One Bites the Dust” (From the Song by the Group Queen)
Charter schools are not the only ones that get caught for criminality and malfeasance.  Testing and other scandals have rocked public schools in Atlanta, Washington, D.C. and many other districts around the country.  The latest one?  The former CEO of the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) Barbara Byrd-Bennett was indicted on bribery and kickback charges in conjunction with some multimillion-dollar no-bid contracts she steered to an education consulting firm where she used to work.  The defendant was scheduled to make her first court appearance in the case before a U.S. Federal Court judge this morning.  The Chicago Tribuneprovides the details.  “A federal indictment unsealed Thursday,” it reveals, “accused Byrd-Bennett of a massive scheme to hand $23 million in contracts to SUPES Academy, a company she worked for before landing at CPS.”              In a follow-up story the Tribunereports that former CPS CEO Byrd-Bennett pleaded guilty to a single count involving a kickback scheme before a federal court judge today.  “According to her 22-page plea agreement,” it reveals, “prosecutors have agreed to seek a sentence of about 7 1/2 years in prison — below the 11 to 14 years in prison called for under federal sentencing guidelines — in exchange for her cooperation.”
Pre-K is OK
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted an op-ed in Thursday’s L.A. Times that argued Gov. Brown shouldn’t sign a bill that would commit California to fund a pre-K program for low-income children since, by the age of 4 the author maintained, it was too late to have an impact on their academic potential.  Two letterspublished in Saturday’s paper took the opposite position.  The first one was from Bruce Fuller, professor of education and public policy at UC Berkeley, and the second was written by the president of a children’s advocacy organization.               Susan Ochshorn is an expert on early-childhood education (ECE) and a strong proponent of states that are expanding their pre-K offerings. However, she is terribly troubled when those 3- and 4-year-olds are being subjected to Common Core-like academic rigor rather than learning about socialization and play.  Her comments on the topic appear on theCNN website which also includes a video segment (8:40 minutes) from the Clinton Global Initiative about the importance of ECE.

“Universal prekindergarten is essential to developing America’s human capital.  True, preschool isn’t enough — it’s not a silver bullet for inequality, and we need to start earlier, with better care of infants and toddlers,” Ochshorn suggests.  “Still, it’s a critical piece of the enterprise, especially when you consider that the United States stands in the lower half of the Economist Intelligence Unit index for provision of preschool across 45 countries.  Indeed, nearly 6 in 10 children are not enrolled in preschool in the United States, while the highest quality programs are off limits to many.”

Is TFA in Disarray?
Two-and-a-half years ago Teach for America founder and CEO Wendy Kopp resigned her position and two c0-CEOs were appointed.  Last month one of them announced he was stepping down.  Gary Rubinstein, a former TFA alumnus and close follower of the organization on his Gary Rubinstein’s Blog, predicts the other CEO will also leave  and Kopp may have to return to pick up the pieces.  Rubinstein concludes his piece with some advice for the TFA board: “You can fire all the CEOs you want and replace them with other ones with different names and faces, but the problems that TFA is currently facing will not improve as long as they are following the same script as the ones they replace.  TFA is struggling because they have attached themselves to dishonest education ‘reformers.’  Each time ‘reformer’ lies get uncovered, TFA’s reputation takes a hit.  This is why the corps size is down.  This is why cities are canceling their contracts with TFA,” he continues.  “This is why most the TFA alumni who were once leading various districts and even states have resigned recently.”
Corporate “Reform” Reviewed
5 years ago Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a $100 million matching gift to the public schools of Newark, New Jersey, in order to implement corporate “reforms.”  A new book (highlighted previously in the “Ed News”) by Dale Russakoff, The Prize: Who’s In Charge of America’s Schools?” looks into the donation and what it has accomplished in changing those schools in the past half decade.  John Thompson, on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, has two different articles about the book and what lessons can be learned from what happened.  The first one is a general review of the volume and introduces the term “venture philanthropists” to the lexicon.  “The best thing about The Prize,Thompson explains, “is that it is an objective look by a non-educator investigating under the hood of corporate school reform.  We educators are all too familiar with the test, sort, reward, and punish mentality of the Billionaires Boys’ Club and the technocracy they have tried to impose on public schools.  The press and the public have properly focused on Russakoff’s balanced narrative about the way that Cory Booker, Chris Christie, Christopher Cerf, Cami Anderson and other corporate reformers squandered the $200 million fund that Zuckerberg made possible.”  The second article is titled “Will Reformers Learn a Lesson From Newark?”  “After reading The Prize, it will be hard for anyone to give credence to venture philanthropists and their snake oil.  They’ve had their chances to show that their expensive experiments can do more good than harm to children.  Now,” he concludes, “it is clear that their new assaults on Los Angeles and D.C., and other cities yet to be named are about ego and control.  Its not about the quality of schools; their concern is who runs them.”
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LAUSD Resumes Commercial Filming on Campuses
One day after abruptly halting commercial filming on LAUSD campuses after a KNBC4 investigative report raised some serious questions about the lucrative practice, the LAUSD announced it will tentatively allow the resumption of filming on 5 projects while an internal investigation continues.  An article in yesterday’s L.A. Times reviews the issue and why the district decided to reverse it’s previous decision.  [Supt. Ramon] “Cortines quickly ordered a halt to commercial film projects and asked the district’s inspector general to look into how the nation’s second-largest school system handled them.  But Cortines and others changed tack,” the piece explains, “after deciding it would be unfair to disrupt film projects in progress, especially because they seemed to comply with district guidelines.”
Charters, Choice and Social Justice Reform
Diane Ravitch describes this next one as “Peter Greene’s Best Post Ever” on her blog and that’s saying a lot.  Greene, aka the author of the CURMUDGUCATION blog, returns to that corporate “reform” argument about charter schools and choice being a social justice issue.  He actually agrees with the first part of their two-part case–schools in low-income neighborhoods ARE inadequate.  However, he takes a radically different approach when it comes to solutions.  The “reformers” want to introduce market-based outcomes like charters, vouchers and other methods of choice.  Greene believes those will never work and what needs to be done is to properly fund those schools, guarantee that every classroom has a well trained, experienced teacher and provide all the resources they need to bring them up to same level as campuses serving wealthier pupils.  He concludes his analysis with this: “To charter choice advocates: Your problem is a real problem, but your solution is not a solution.  Whether you’re blinded by devotion to your ideology or your intent to make a buck or just your lack of understanding, your vision is impaired.  You need to clean your glasses, take a step back, and look again.”  G. F. Brandenburg, a retired math teacher, writing on his GFBRANDENBURG’S BLOG, suggests “Peter Greene may be the best blogger in America.  Please read his latest post on how education reform deals with social justice.  It’s long but, as always, excellent.”
Computers and Testing
A recent study from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), highlighted in a previous edition of the “Ed News,’ reported, rather surprisingly, that students in 31 nations around the world who use computers more at school score lower on both math and reading tests on that group’s Program for International Student Assessment (PISA).  Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, thought those findings rather incredulous particularly since more and more standardized tests require that they be taken by computer!  The title of his commentary asks the question “If School Computer Use Reduces Standardized Test Scores, Doesn’t That Prove that the Tests Are Inadequate?”  Singer has a brief history of standardized exams (he traces them back to China in 206 B.C.) and how they are used today and demonstrates how computers and tests don’t necessarily go hand-in-hand “If we really want to prepare the next generation for the jobs of the future, we need to scrap high stakes testing.  We need to invest in MORE technology, not less.  We need to ensure technological lessons are being overseen by trained educators and the devices aren’t used as a babysitting tool.  As such, we need to provide teachers with support and professional development so they can best take advantage of the technology they have,” he challenges.  “America can prepare its children for the world’s high level management and administrative positions or we can prepare them to do only menial work that will soon by replaced by machines.  Computers do the former. Tests the latter.  Choose.”
Teacher Evaluation Systems Ending Up in Courts
The heavy stress corporate “reformers” place on states to create teacher evaluation systems that include up to 50% student scores is leading to an influx of litigation challenging the fairness and accuracy of those ratings, reports EDUCATION WEEK.  The piece looks at court cases filed in seven states (not California).  It provides a review of each case and it’s current status.  
Suspending K-1 Students
The PBS NEWSHOUR program did a segment (9:16 minutes) comparing the suspensions of kindergartners and first graders in Success Academy (SA) charters and similar public schools in New York City.  The findings are quite revealing and the program includes an interesting interview with Eva Moscowitz, founder and CEO of the SA schools who defends her chain’s discipline policies.  You can watch the program, listen to an audio of it and/or read the transcript. “Studies show that students who are suspended are more likely to be held back a grade, to drop out of school, or end up in trouble with the law.  Most suspended students are in high school or, less often, middle school.  But in some schools,” Judy Woodruff intones by way of introducing the segment, “children as young as 5 or 6 are being disciplined this way.”
An Education “Conversation,” Really?
Dr. Mitchell Robinson, blogger and member of the Badass Teachers Association leadership team, decided to wander over to the “Education Post” blog (‘better conversation, better education”) that is funded by the corporate “reform” billionaires and is clearly anti-public school, pro-charter and pro-choice.  Prior to that Robinson had engaged in a Twitter exchange with Peter Cunningham, executive director of the website.  “The verdict? Far from being an outlet that is designed to promote ‘better conversation,’ the Ed Post is nothing more than a corporate-funded mouthpiece for the reform community, and the site only runs stories designed to reinforce and advance the reform agenda.  The headlines for these pieces reads like a cheat-sheet of Michelle Rhee’s talking points: anti-teachers and unions, anti-public school, pro-Teach for America and The New Teacher Project, pro-testing, pro-school choice, pro-charter schools.  If Mr. Cunningham,”Robinson sums up, “is really serious about a ‘better conversation,”‘then he should start asking some actual teachers and parents of public school students what they think about this agenda.  A conversation with only one voice is a monologue, not a conversation.”
Gov. Brown Vetoes Ethnic Studies Bill
Gov. Brown vetoed a bill that would have directed state education officials to create an ethnic studies program for public school students in the state.  Today’s L.A. Times describes the governor’s decision and why he did what he did.  “In a statement, Brown said the bill would create a redundant process, as another state panel, the Instructional Quality Commission, is currently revising state standards to include guidance on ethnic studies courses. . . . The veto is a blow to a movement across the state to require ethnic studies in high schools,” the story explains.  “Supporters have had success at the local level. School boards in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Pico Rivera had approved plans for the classes to be a requirement for graduation.”
Scranton Teachers’ Strike Ends
And finally, teachers in the Scranton School District in northeastern Pennsylvania went out on strike Sept. 25.  The Scranton Federation of Teachers (SFT) reached an agreement with the district last night that will have 940 teachers, 110 paraprofessionals and 10,000 students back in their classrooms tomorrow according to an article from the Scranton Times-Tribune.  The contract was approved by the SFT this afternoon.  An article published in the paper earlier today, which you can access by clicking here has some additional details about the strike and the agreement .

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

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