Ed News, Friday, October 16, 2015, Edition


    A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                    “There is something deeply hypocritical in a society that holds an inner-city child 
only eight years old ‘accountable’ for her performance on a high-stakes standardized exam 
but does not hold the high officials of our government accountable for robbing her 
of what they gave their own kids six or seven years before.” 
UTLA Rally Against Charter Expansion
UTLA held a rally Tuesday during a district board meeting to protest the planned major expansion of charters in LAUSD.  The teachers’ union put together a coalition of other employee groups during their gathering before the board.  “Joining the teachers union on Tuesday, in a presentation to the Board of Education, was Rusty Hicks, leader of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor,” the story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times points out.  “Also joining in were the other seven district employee unions, including those representing administrators, other managers, police officers, clerical workers and other non-teaching campus employees.”
Nevada Facing “Horrific” Teacher Shortage
The Las Vegas Sun reports that Nevada is facing a severe shortage of teachers described as “horrific” by the Nevada Board of Education president.  “Nevada is suffering an acute teacher shortage as its student population rises and its primary supplier of educators — California — deals with a shortage of its own,” the story relates.  “Colleges there are producing fewer teaching graduates, and Nevada colleges are far from being able to churn out enough homegrown education graduates to meet the state’s needs.  Some blame the shortage on low pay, especially for first-year teachers, and a general lack of respect for the profession.”  The article cites Clark County (Las Vegas) as an example where schools lost 1,650 educators out of a total of 18,000 this year.  900 left due to retirement but the district is baffled as to why the other 750 left.
Arne Duncan Resigns
Now that the initial reaction to the news has passed that Arne Duncan will be stepping down as secretary of the U.S. Dept. of Education (DoE) and Pres. Obama has appointed John King to finish out his term, thus avoiding a probable nomination fight in the Senate, the focus is turning to describing Duncan’s legacy and trying to predict what King will do in the a little over 13 months he will hold the post.  Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, leads things off by explaining that King actually taught, founded and led a school and oversaw a string of charter schools (unlike Duncan) so there’s a concrete track record available as to his philosophies, policies and goals.  How might that record translate into broad plans for the DoE?  Bryant has some intriguing predictions in a piece titled “Where Will John King Stand on Student Suspensions?”                John Merrow, long-time education observer and expert with his work as a reporter for National Public Radio and more recently with the Public Broadcasting Service, reflects on his THE MERROW REPORT website on the tenure of U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan upon his resignation from his post.  “Arne Duncan departs with quite a track record,” Merrow relates, “clearly the most powerful Secretary of Education since the Department was created in the Carter Administration.”  Merrow proceeds to delineate some of the pluses and minuses of Duncan’s influential term.                             And what about that Duncan legacy?  THE Nation magazine looks back and finds he was certainly “a champion for the corporate reform movement,” as the item is subtitled.  “To understand the legacy of outgoing education secretary Arne Duncan, look to the Crescent City.  Hurricane Katrina, Duncan said once, was ‘the best thing that happened to the education system in New Orleans.’  What the disaster did was enable state legislators and out-of-state reformers to transform the system on an unparalleled scale,” the article begins.  “Nearly all of the schools were converted to charters, which receive public funds but have less oversight than traditional public schools.  Some 7,500 unionized teachers and other employees were fired, many of them people of color.  The city’s teaching core went from 71 percent black in 2004 to less than 50 percent last year. . . . [Duncan] pointed to[New Orleans] as a sort of blueprint for remaking public education across the country.  It’s the place where his vision for school reform was most fully realized,” it continues.  “Whether the overhaul was a miracle or misguided is a question about Duncan’s legacy more broadly.”
Parent Donates $70,000 to Seattle Elementary School
Here’s a rather unique tale.  A Seattle parent donates $70,000 to a local elementary school to help save a teaching position and the kicker is, his own daughter attends a different school.  The man, who runs his own reality film production company, was reading some stories about school cut-backs and decided to take action.  [Ed. thought: Just consider how many public school teaching positions Eli Broad could save with the almost half-a-billion dollar plan to expand charters in the LAUSD.]  KIRO 7  TV in Seattle reports on the story including a short video (2:12 minutes) about it.
LAUSD Supt. Search
Local parent activist and Venice resident Karen Wolfe has some serious concerns about the person selected by the LAUSD to head the community-outreach portion of the search for a new superintendent.  Her piece is titled “Is Eli Broad’s Hostile Takeover of the LAUSD Coming From the Outside or the In?” and appears on the PS connect website.  “The person at the center of the outreach for the supe search is a lobbyist who has spent her career advancing an agenda closely aligned with Eli Broad’s,” Wolfe writes.  “Before joining LAUSD’s lobbying department, Beth Doctor Gibbons sharpened her chops for nearly three years at Michelle Rhee’s lobbying group, StudentsFirst, one of the leading organizations that champions Broad-style reforms.  Gibbons’ entire resume reads like the biography of a Broad zealot.”  Wolfe goes on to provide some highlights of that resume. How muchpublic input will the LAUSD allow in its selection process for a new superintendent?  In Boston, earlier this year, the district opened up the interviews of the 4 finalists to public questions.  That may be taking thinks a little too far in Los Angeles.  NPR station89.3KPCC has both a printed story on the topic and a brief audio segment (54 seconds) about it.  “The school district has posted an online survey, translated into four other languages, asking the public for its input on the ideal superintendent,” it mentions. “Fourteen community forums are scheduled in the last two weeks of October to hear what kind of superintendent the public wants.”               The TopSchoolJobs” feature in EDUCATION WEEK has a very interesting listing for a superintendent for the LAUSD.  You can read the job description and link to the preliminary application all by clicking here.  “The District is the largest American school system with an elected Board of Education,” the notice explains.  “The Board seeks a superintendent who is a strong instructional and organizational leader to provide vision, inspiration, commitment, and outcomes for continued District improvement.  The ideal superintendent will possess strong managerial skills and focus the District’s efforts on the Board’s goals of achievement for all students, significant parent/community engagement, safe school environments, high attendance, and high graduation rates.”  Interested in applying?  Know anyone who might be?
Election 2016
Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, was quick to report on the first Democratic debate held in Las Vegas on Tuesday evening.  He, like the editor of the “Ed News” found very little of substance was mentioned regarding education issues.  Singer complains that no questions were asked of the candidates about America’s K-12 schools.  A couple of the answers included brief references to pre-K programs and making post-secondary schools more affordable but that was about it.  Singer partly blames the media for not taking education seriously enough and Democratic candidates for paying lip service to the issue but not making it a major part of their campaigns.  Republicans, he points out, take great glee in taking pot shots at “failing” public schools, “lazy” teachers and “bullying” teachers’ unions.  “The media just doesn’t care about public education.  Nine times out of ten if they even print a story about schools,” Singer bemoans, “it’s a puff piece spin doctoring a school reform policy that isn’t working, never has been working and is – in fact – making things much worse for our nation’s students.  Otherwise it’s an expose of how teachers can’t make these horrendous policies work so its their fault and don’t even glance at the ballooning child poverty rate – that’s completely irrelevant to the issue of all these lazy teachers who can’t be fired because we’d have to prove they’re bad first.”               Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, was rather non-plussed by the almost total lack of discussion of education issues at the debate.  He references Steven Singer’s comments (see above) and notes there’s not much to report.  “Bottom line– US public education, despite the assorted crises associated with it (both fictional and non-fictional) is shaping up to be a non-issue once again in Presidential politics. . . . If I was harboring any dreams, any spark of hope that maybe this would be our year, that maybe, given everything that has happened, this might be the year that public education somehow became a real campaign issue, that spark has been extinguished,”he wails, “buried, stomped on and drowned in a bucket of tears.”                The “Politics K-12” column for EDUCATION WEEK reports that most of the (little) talk there was about education at the debate was focused narrowly on post-secondary issues like affordability and rising college debt.  “There were plenty of quick shout-outs to education during the Democratic presidential candidates’ very first debate in Las Vegas,” the author begins.  “But if you were hoping for a meaty discussion of the big issues facing K-12—testing, teacher evaluation, fixing low-performing schools—you were out of luck.  (That’s been a trend in the Democratic primary so far.)   There were some substantial exchanges on college access, however.”  She reviews some of the comments the candidates made during the course of the over 2-hour debate.               Prolific blogger and former charter school instructor Julian Vasquez Heilig had a viewer question for the Democratic candidates at their debate on Tuesday.  He was not selected by CNN to air his question during the broadcast.  The LIVING in DIALOGUE blog has a copy of the video (28 seconds) that he submitted.  Check out what he asks and you can only guess how the candidates might have responded.  Why do you think CNN rejected his query?               Hillary Clinton recently won a highly controversial endorsement from the NEA.  How did she pull off that major coup?  Mike Antonucci, on hisIntercepts (“A Listening Post Monitoring Public Education and Teachers’ Unions”) blog, has an exclusive “EIA” (Education Intelligence Agency) report on how Clinton was able to convince the NEA board she was their person.  She met with them prior to the vote and after delivering an opening statement she answered 13 questions about her positions.  “I have 11 of those questions, and Clinton’s responses,” he discloses.  “Some are quoted, some are clipped, and some are paraphrased.  I do not have a tape or a transcript of the proceedings, so I can’t personally attest to the full context.  I am, however, supremely confident in my sources, and would not post this here if I were not certain that it is an accurate account of events.”
NEA Blasts “McTeacher’s Nights”
The National Education Association is blasting McDonald’s for its“McTeacher’s Nights” promotion.  What is that?  You say you never heard of it?  Join the club.  An item from the ccfc (Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood) includes a press release describing the events and mocking the entire concept.  “On McTeacher’s Nights, McDonald’s recruits teachers to ‘work’ behind the counter and serve burgers, fries, and soda to their students and their students’ families.  The corporation heavily brands the events, even going so far as to provide uniforms and branded shirts for teachers to wear behind counters.  In return, McDonald’s donates only a small portion of the event’s proceeds.  The events take advantage of cash-strapped schools,” the press release continues, “and use teachers to sell junk food directly to their students in order to create brand loyalty. . . .Not only are McTeacher’s Nights harmful for children’s health, they are also chronically poor fundraisers.  Schools typically receive only 15 to 20 percent of the event’s proceeds, often amounting to only one to two dollars per student.  According to CCFC’s research of a sampling of 25 schools which had participated in McTeacher’s Nights, only five schools raised more than $1,000.”  The piece ends with a list of organizations that are calling for McDonald’s to end the events.  It includes the NEA and AFT state affiliates in California and both organizations’ local chapters in Los Angeles among a number of others.
Ed Tech
Peter DeWitt, author, presenter and former elementary school principal, offers “Two Technology Tools That Will Help Change Your Impact.”  He mentions “Touchcast” a product that provides educators with a multi-camera, interactive television studio so they can create and record all sorts of student projects, lessons and instructional tutoring segments (a la the Khan Academy).  Tool number 2 is “Swivl” a simple device one wears around the neck where, at the touch of a button, your smartphone becomes a recording device to video interactions with individual students or teachers or groups of people.  DeWitt suggests it can become a excellent way for teachers to reflect on their techniques and find avenues for improvement.  EDUCATION WEEK has DeWitt’s article and it includes links to both items so you can get even more information and even place an order if you find them of value.Swivl and Touchcast are serious contenders to be game changers with how we connect with others in our school communities,” he concludes.  “Even the biggest technophobe could use these tools in a way that will help deepen learning and communication.”
When Teachers Care, High Schools Will Improve
All sorts of corporate “reformers” and education experts have offered myriad solutions for improving the nation’s secondary schools.  Very rarely does anyone ask a student for input about possible answers.  A 17-year-old student in Colorado has a rather simple idea.  If teachers demonstrate they care, students will respond.  THE HECHINGER REPORT discusses the issue with Jerika Miller and how her school made some vast improvements in its graduation rate over the past 5 years.  “What I would tell the teachers,” the young woman responds as part of a Q & A, “listening to students and looking out for those students who don’t talk a lot, or don’t engage a lot in class, looking out for them and asking them how they’re doing, and making them feel like you actually care about them, is a huge, huge part of being successful in school. When the teacher cares and wants me to succeed, that’s always when I’ve done better.”
LAUSD Votes to FIRE Rafe Esquith
The LAUSD board, in a unanimous, behind-closed-doors decision Tuesday, voted to fire Rafe Esquith, the popular 5th grade teacher at Hobart Avenue Elementary School  and acclaimed author.  [Ed. note: Esquith spoke to an ALOED group at Occidental a year or two ago.]  A story in yesterday’s L.A. Times explains the board’s action.  “In a letter to Esquith’s attorneys in August, district officials said they were investigating claims that he inappropriately touched minors before and during his more than 30-year teaching career,”the article reports.  “The district also said the inquiry ‘revealed multiple inappropriate photographs and videos of a sexual nature.’  Other allegations involved his handling of a nonprofit.”  Esquith’s attorneys filed a class-action lawsuit this week on behalf of thousands of LAUSD teachers claiming they were treated unfairly and denied due process by the district in an effort to get rid of them as they approached retirement age.  Esquith will be able to challenge his firing before an administrative law judge.               The Esquith case has shined a light on a special LAUSD unit formed about a year ago to expedite the investigation of child abuse cases.  A front-page story in today’s Times describes its formation and how it works.  “The investigative unit grew out of the 2012 arrest of Miramonte Elementary teacher Mark Berndt,” it notes, “which led to a flurry of allegations and several prosecutions.  At one point, more than 320 instructors were in limbo after they’d been pulled from classrooms.”                A piece about the class action lawsuitfiled by Esquith’s attorney appeared on the LA SCHOOL REPORT  website yesterday afternoon.  “The suit was filed in state superior court on behalf of Rafe Esquith, a well-known teacher who was dismissed in April, as well as thousands of other unnamed teachers who have been placed in ‘jail’ by the district in recent years,” it reports.  “Calling LAUSD ‘a criminal cartel,’ the suit charges the district with violations of due process, age discrimination, whistleblower retaliation and wrongful discharge —  all in a scheme to remove older teachers whose salaries and benefits make them more expensive to retain.”               Jay Matthews, education columnist and blogger for The Washington Post, is a long-time follower and supporter of Rafe Esquith.  He believes the case against Esquith is “part of a witch hunt against hundreds of other L.A. educators.”  “Esquith will continue to do good work,” Matthews concludes.  “But it will take the L.A. school leadership many years to right the wrongs they have done, out of panic, to him and many others.”
School Shootings
Why do so many mass shootings in this country take place on our nation’s campuses?  Since the horrific massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in Dec., 2012, there have been over 140 school shootings.  Walt Gardner, 28-year veteran teacher in the LAUSD and lecturer at the UCLA Graduate school of Education, offers some reasons why students are often the perpetrators of these terrible events.  His brief commentary is discouragingly titled “Why School Shootings are Unpreventable.” The truth is that we have no surefire way of making schools sanctuaries where learning can take place,”he depressingly relates.  “It’s one thing if shooters were outsiders who tried to enter campuses.  But if students themselves are the very same ones who are capable of murder, it’s a different story.”  Gardner’s piece includes a link to an extensive recent article in the latest issue of THE NEW YORKER about how school shootings proliferate.  Both items make for some pretty distressing reading.
Charter Schools
The charter school movement is proving to be a great way for lots of different people to make money.  Even real estate investors are getting on board according to a story in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.  “Real-estate investors are showing an increasing interest in charter school development,”  it points out, “as the demand grows for classroom seats and some state and local governments become more willing to help finance charter-school projects.  Almost all charter schools are operated by nonprofit organizations . But these groups often rent and buy their buildings from private real-estate developers, and that is creating a new niche asset for some investors.”  The article goes on to explain how all of this works with a couple of specific examples.             Daniel Katz, on his Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog charges that Eva Moscowitz, founder and CEO of the Success Academy charters in New York, istaking advantage of parents, students and teachers to push her agenda for increased funding and expanding the number of charters under her control.  Katz describes two rallies organized by Families for Excellent Education, within two weeks of each other, that did or will pull those students and teachers out of class in order to join the protests and pretty much compel parents to take time off from work.  “I don’t know about you, but when my children’s unionized public school teachers take a half day, it is because they are in professional development workshops and related activities.  They certainly are not being taken from their schools,” he complains, “to a rally organized by a lobbying group funded specifically to increase their influence with lawmakers in City Hall and in Albany.”
Student Privacy
Major questions are being raised regarding the protection of private data with Microsoft’s brand new Windows 10 operating system.  EDUCATION WEEK explores the issue particularly as it relates to the system’s collection of private information from students but it would certainly seem to include anyone utilizing Windows 10.  “Windows 10 appears to collect extensive data about the Web addresses that users visit, then sends that information back to the company’s servers for storage,” it reveals.  “In one test conducted by a computer engineer at the request of Education Week, an individual student’s login and password for a popular online educational service were among the data sent back to Microsoft.”  Are you currently using Windows 10?  Thinking of upgrading?  Be careful!
Testing and Common Core
The California High School Exit Exam (CAHSEE), which began amid much hoopla in 2001 died quietly last week when Gov. Brown signed a bill that signaled its demise. The author of an op-ed in yesterday’s L.A. Times is a high school English and journalism teacher in Sacramento.  He titles his piece “Goodbye and Good Riddance to California’s High School Exit Exam.”  That should tip you off as to how he feels about the whole thing.  “The exam is preceded to the grave by a century’s worth of forgotten and abandoned education initiatives that headline-seeking politicians once promised were going to make our schools great again,” he relates.  “(Remember class size reduction?  Remember how every kid in Los Angeles was supposed to get an iPad?)  It is survived by zombie ideas that refuse to die despite overwhelming evidence that they should. (Can we forget about using standardized tests to evaluate teachers?)”              A 4th grade teacher reports on her experiences the past year with Common Core and the SBAC exams used in her state.  “How Bad Is It Going To Get?” she asks in the title of her commentary on her Save Maine Schools blog.  “But let me tell you that when you work in a field where those with the cash and political influence are constantly ‘reforming’ your profession, without ever asking what those who actually work with children think about the changes they are making, you realize pretty quickly that there’s really not much you can do about any of it anyway,” she confesses wearily.  “And so all the new stuff that comes your way starts to become…. well, all the new stuff that’s always coming your way.”
Famed Education Correspondent Signs Off
And finaly, veteran education correspondent John Merrow signed off yesterday from his 31-year gig at the PBS “NewsHour” program.  His career began as an education reporter in 1974 for NPR after teaching high school for a short time.  EDUCATION WEEK has a short article about his career which includes a video Q & A segment (7:21 minutes) with Judy Woodruff in which Merrow reflects on some of the highlights of has career.  Former “NewsHour” founder and host Jim Lehrer had this to say about Merrow several years ago: “Nobody reports on the treasures and traumas of public education better than John Merrow. He is, quite simply, the leading education journalist in America.”  High praise, indeed!

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



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