The ED NEWS
A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues
Upcoming event: The always timely and informative ALOED Educational Film Series continues on Wed., Nov. 11, from 6:30 to 9 pm with a screening of the provocative documentary “Education, Inc.” in Mosher 1 on the Oxy campus. A stimulating panel discussion will follow the viewing. You don’t want to miss any ALOED event and you certainly don’t want to miss this one. Light refreshments will be provided by the Oxy Education Department, which is co-sponsoring the screening. For more information and to RSVP please click here.
“I had always insisted that a good education was a synthesis of book learning and involvement in social action,
that each enriched the other. I wanted my students to know that the accumulation of knowledge,
while fascinating in itself, is not sufficient as long as so many people in the world
have no opportunity to experience that fascination.”
LAUSD Supt. Search
The L.A. Times, over the past week or so, had several articles as the search for a new LAUSD superintendent kicks into high gear. The first one appeared in the Oct. 21, edition and reported on thefirst in a series of public forums held to give community members input in the selection process. This one only drew about 2 dozen participants, according to the report. “L.A. Unified hopes to select a superintendent by the end of the year, which is when current Supt. Ramon C. Cortines has said he would like to step down,” it explains. “The Board of Education has decided to recruit, evaluate and interview applicants confidentially, but it also insists that community input matters to them. School board President Steve Zimmer attended the forum, but he did not take part.” Two days later the Times printed a front-page story speculating on who might want the job of LAUSD superintendent and wondering why anyone would even want the very difficult position. The piece named several specific people who might be interested. “Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second-largest school system, is widely viewed as a management minefield. The district leader reports to seven elected board members, with differing politics and priorities,” it relates. “The superintendent runs a $12.6-billion entity, develops and carries out policies, and negotiates contracts with employee unions — all the while confronting lagging academic achievement and declining enrollment.” An editorial in the same paper questions how much input the community should have in the process. It’s all in favor of the board gathering information from community members in the district but ultimately they need to make the important final decision. “In a district as politicized as L.A. Unified, an open search process would be more likely to backfire than to bring about a moment of clasped hands among the various factions. Divisions over the candidates would form between reform and labor leaders,” the piece suggests. “And what if the board ultimately ignored the committee’s recommendation? The bad feelings would start even before the new L.A. Unified boss’ first day on the job.”
EDUCATION WEEK has an excellent primer on teacher strikesthis year with comparisons to previous years. Over the past 6 years, 8 states, including California, have experienced labor actions. Pennsylvania leads the way with 20 during that stretch; Illinois is second with 16 and the Golden State is tied for third with 5. The article also discusses why teachers have been willing to walk picket lines. “A casual observer may think there have been an inordinate number of teachers’ strikes this year,” the piece relates. “An Education Week Teacher analysis of public school teachers’ strikes over the past six years, however, shows that the pace of such strikes hasn’t increased or decreased significantly. And considering how many school districts there are,strikes are rare occurrences, attention-grabbing though they may be.” A teachers’ strike that began on Oct. 1, in East St. Louis came to an end yesterday when educators returned to their classrooms after one of the longest labor actions of 2015. A short item inEDUCATION WEEK reviews the strike and outlines the key provisions of the new contract. “Students will have to make up the lost instructional days,” the story notes. “District spokesperson Kelli Hawkins told the Belleville News-Democrat that holiday breaks may be shortened, and classes would likely extend into summer. Some of the more than 6,000 students transferred to other districts as the strike dragged on.”
A major criticism of most charter schools is that they have high turnover rates among their faculties. The author of this article, on the Journalist’s Resource website, looks at some the causes of that phenomenon. He’s an assistant professor of Education Leadership at Montclair State University in New Jersey. His post is titled “How Teacher Turnover, Burnout, Can Impact ‘No-Excuses’ Charter Schools.” “My findings about teacher burnout and turnover,” he reports, “suggest that teachers and students should have more input into the creation and adaptation of rules about behavior. A more consultative and adaptive approach might reduce conflict, resistance, and teacher turnover. Recognizing the sorts of realities I have documented, some charter schools have started to experiment with alternative approaches to discipline.” Sunday’s L.A. Times reports that an L.A. County Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order against the Alliance College-Ready Public School charter chain that prohibits them from interfering in unionization efforts on its campuses. “The order, signed by attorneys from Alliance and United Teachers Los Angeles,” the story notes, “states that the city’s largest charter group cannot coerce or ask teachers about their positions on unionization, must let organizers onto campuses, cannot block emails from the union and must stay 100 feet away from organizers.” How effective are online charters? A new study from the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) at Stanford University is extremely critical of them. Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, looks at the recent findings. 17 states, including California, enroll students in these types of “schools.” “There’s still some possibility that there’s positive learning,” one of the authors of the report is quoted as saying, “but it’s so statistically significantly different from the average, it is literally as if the kid did not go to school for an entire year.”
Testing and Opt-Out
Is the federal government finally backing away from its over-emphasis on standardized testing that kicked into high gear under Pres. George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind and continued under Pres. Obama’s Race to the Top? A prominent front-page story in last Sunday’s L.A. Times describes how the Obama administration is attempting to limit the amount of classroom time spent on the assessments. “In the new policy, the administration acknowledged the focus on testing was ‘consuming too much instructional time and creating undue stress for educators and students.’ It called on states and school districts,” the item notes, “to cap the time spent on assessments at no more than 2% of classroom hours and pledged to ask Congress to enact the limit into law.” TheBadass Teachers Association (BATS) issued a statement in reaction to the President’s new policies. “The blame and punish test agenda has not closed either the education or opportunity gap,” it maintains. “We are reluctantly pleased that the President and his administration are finally taking a stand, but sadly the devastation has already been done. We are confident that if the President and his administration make a commitment to work with educators, parents, and students we can fix it and make it right.” The press release also includes several specific quotes from members of the BATS board. In a follow-up post the BATsformulated a letter to Pres. Obama about his Testing Action Plan. It contains additional reactions and specific comments regarding some of the states that were mentioned in it. “Your New Testing Plan, though obviously in the planning for many months,” it complains, “does not tackle the single most significant issue affecting student performance, poverty and funding inequities.” Peggy Robertson, on her Peg With Pen blog is totally nonplussed with Obama’s new proposals regarding testing. The title of her brief response is equally brief: “No Victory.” Steven Singer, aka the GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, also weighs in on the highly disappointed side of the President’s plan. “The Obama Administration must think the nation’s parents, teachers and students are pretty darn dumb,” he begins rather bluntly. “President Barack Obama and his hand-picked Department of Education are solely responsible for the knuckle dragging academic policies strangling our public schools day in, day out. Yet instead of doing anything to reverse course to proven methods that might actually help kids learn, the department trudges out its annual apology.” Singer goes on to explain why he finds this latest revision simply another “apology.” Lamar Alexander, former U.S. Sec. of Education and current chair of the Senate Education Committee, comments on Obama’s recommendations about testing in the current edition (Nov. 9) of TIME magazine. “I am glad to see the president’s focus on over-testing,” he writes. “But let’s not make the same mistake twice by decreeing from Washington exactly how much time to spend on tests or what the tests should be. States and 3 million teachers in 100,000 public schools are in the best position to know what to do about over-testing. A “Back Story” feature in last Sunday’s L.A. Times offers a 15-question multiple-choice quiz about standardized testing. The test is self-scoring. [Ed. note: I’ll tell you how I did if you tell me how you did.] An editorial in last Monday’s Times was critical of Obama’s new proposal. “If Obama is sincere about easing the testing frenzy,” it concludes, “he should drop the teacher evaluation mandate and support intensive help, rather than punishment, for struggling schools. His existing proposal would treat the symptoms more than the cause.” With the controversy over standardized testing continuing, Anthony Cody on his LIVING in DIALOGUE blog asks a key question: “What Sort of Assessment DOES Enhance Learning?” About 15 years ago Cody was involved in some research with Stanford University that helps answer the question. He quotes extensively from one of the authors of that study. “There are ways to assess learning that DO enhance learning,” Cody suggests, “rather than stifle it. This assessment is done by the classroom teacher, and is directly connected to the work they have students do on a daily basis. This is called ‘formative’ assessment, and it informs the teacher and the student about what the student is able to do. It helps the teacher shape their instruction to their students’ needs, and also provides feedback to students so they can stretch and grow. Jesse Hagopian, history teacher at Garfield High in Seattle and one of the first educators to speak out against the overuse of standardized testing, appeared on an PBS “NEWSHOUR” segment talking about the assessments and the opt-out movement. He is interviewed by the networks correspondent Gwen Ifill. You can view the segment (6:35 minutes), listen to an audio and/or read a transcript byclicking here. Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for sending it. Lawrence also alerted the editor of the “Ed News” to the fact that Hagopian will be speaking in the L.A. area on Monday, Nov. 9, on the local campus of Antioch University in Culver City for their “Friends of Education SPEAKER SERIES.” The event is free and open to the public. Lawrence and Dave Alpert, the “Ed News” editor, are planning to attend. Please click here for more information.
NAEP Scores Decline for First Time in Almost 20 Years
Scores for 4th and 8th grade math and English on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) declined for the first time in almost 2 decades. The results, on what is often referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card,” prompted a flurry of finger-pointing in many directions. EDUCATION WEEK looks at what factors are being blamed for the highly disappointing results and offers some analysis of the numbers. You can find more detailed figures from The Nation’s Report Card website by clicking here.
A Popular AND Successful LAUSD Public School
As more and more parents opt for charter or private schools they may be overlooking some highly successful traditional public campuses. A story in last Monday’s L.A. Times profiles the K-8 Porter Ranch Community School which is part of the LAUSD. “The 10-acre campus features a gleaming gym, science and computer labs, a library and performing arts spaces,” the item describes. “Parents also say they chose the school because of the dynamic principal, dedicated teachers, close community and what they find to be a rich and engaging educational program. The school offers a Korean-English dual language program, along with third-grade Spanish and after-school Korean and Mandarin Chinese.”
What is going on in Chicago? Amid continuing budget cuts from the state capital and the city school board, the latter approved two new charters for the Chicago Public School system. The Chicago Sun-Times reports on this latest decision. “While Chicago Public Schools continues to beg Springfield for $480 million to balance its budget and enrollment has dropped another 4,400 students,” the item begins, “the Board of Education on Wednesday unanimously decided to open two new charter schools in the fall.” The Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), which struck the district in 2012, is so fed up with the ongoing budget crisis that it is warning its rank-and-file of the possibility of another labor action. Diane Ravitch’s blogreprints a press release from the Union explaining why it’s preparing members for another strike.
Declining Arts Education in LAUSD
The LAUSD repeatedly says it wants to expand arts education in the district but it still has a number of campuses with limited or noofferings in art and music. A prominent front-page story in yesterday’s L.A. Times reviews the situation and looks at attempts to correct it. “Budget cuts and a narrow focus on subjects that are measured on standardized tests have contributed to a vast reduction of public school arts programs across the country,” the article points out. “The deterioration has been particularly jarring in Los Angeles, the epicenter of the entertainment industry. The Los Angeles Unified School District is discovering the extent of those cuts as it seeks to regain the vibrancy that once made it a leader in arts education.” Be sure to click on the “Database” sidebar titled “Grading the Arts in LAUSD” for individual ratings of over 700 schools in the district. The LAUSD can spend millions of dollars on testing and technology (“iPads-for-all-program) but dramatically shortchanges arts education as described in this article. SHAME! SHAME!!
And finally, are the Common Core State Standards in trouble? A piece in THE WALL STREET JOURNAL answers in the affirmative. It looks at the reasons why a number of states arequestioning their initial support for the Common Core. “One reason is that Common Core became a hypercharged political issue,” it suggests, “with grass-roots movements pressing elected leaders to back off. Some conservatives saw the shared standards as a federal intrusion into state matters, in part because the Obama administration provided grant funding. Some liberals and conservatives decried what they saw as excessive testing and convoluted teaching materials.” Be sure to check out the graphic of the map of the U.S. showing the status of the Common Core in each state. Peter Greene, on his CURMUDGUCATION blog, has an “I could have told you so” reaction to the WSJ article (see above). “And no, the Wall Street Journal does not, technically declare Common Core dead,” he concludes. “They just describe how the body is laid out on a slab, its nationally unifying heartbeat stilled and its collective testing brain silent. Is a thing true if we describe the condition but don’t say the word? I don’t know. That’s such a complex question that I need a computer to answer it.” [Ed. note: Greene really likes the map that accompanies the WSJ story. So it you don’t want to take my advice to look at it, at least take his.]