Ed News, Friday, November 13, 2015 Edition


             A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                “I may not have a degree, but I certainly got an education.” 
                           ― Jodi PicoultLone Wolf
LAUSD Supt. Search
After a number of open forums held around the district during the last two weeks of October drew over 1,400 participants and an online survey attracted 9,400 respondents, the search firm hired by the LAUSD to assist in selecting a new superintendent presented a report to the school board on Tuesday about what the community is looking for in the next leader.  The findings boiled down to someone with the powers of Superman or Superwoman according to an article in Wednesday’s L.A. Times.  It presents a number of the characteristics people around the district are hoping to find in the new chief.  “The consultants described defining characteristics that could frame the board’s choice,” the story notes.  “They reported, for example, that an educator is favored, someone with ‘experience as a teacher and a principal working in an urban environment,’ preferably with a doctorate from a fully accredited institution of higher learning.  This preference alone would disqualify two of the last four superintendents — David Brewer, a retired Navy admiral, and Roy Romer, a three-term governor of Colorado.  And Cortines, though a career educator, lacks a doctorate.”               An editorial in the same paper describes what qualities the Times would like to see the new superintendent possess.  It focuses on the short, stormy tenure of John Deasy as the chief of the LAUSD to illustrate its point-of-view.
Education Coverage Criticized
The L.A. Times takes a lot of flack for its pro-charter, anti-public school coverage.  Now Susan Ohanian, writing on thecounterpunch site, looks at “Bias at the New York Times on Education Reform.”  She reviews a number of misstatements in the NYT about education issues.  “The New York Times education coverage,” she complains, “has become quasi-governmental, promoting the corporate push for standardization of public schools.”
Effect of Vouchers on Student Achievement is Minimal

Chris Lubienski, professor of education policy and the Director of the Forum on the Future of Public Education at the University of Illinois, testified before a U.S. Senate committee last week about theimpact on student academic achievement of various voucher programs around the U.S.  Diane Ravitch’s blog  briefly discusses his findings and includes a link to his 12 page opening statement.  “The academic impacts of vouchers on student achievement are generally lacking, and sporadic and inconsistent, at best,” the professor writes in his statement.  “Even focusing only on the studies highlighted by the pro-voucher Friedman Foundation, most found no effect for the clear majority of overall and subgroup analyses.”  If you are really into the subject, Ravitch also links to a video of the full committee hearing (146:35 minutes–that’s almost 2 and 1/2 hours).  If you don’t want all that information, she summarizes his conclusions in about a half-a-page.

High School Dropout Rates Continue to Decline
A new study released this week documents the continuing decline in the nation’s high school dropout rate.  The figures dropped 25% from about 1 million in 2008 to 750,000 in 2012 according to a story in The Washington Post that features the report. “The number of ‘dropout factories’ — high schools in which fewer than 60 percent of freshmen graduate in four years — declined significantly during the same period,” the article additionally provides, “according to the study by a coalition of education groups.”
ALOED Presents Documentary Film Screening
Over 60 students and non students attended a screening presented as part of the ongoing ALOED Education Film Series of the timely and informative documentary “Education, Inc.” on Wednesday evening on the Occidental Campus.  A contingent from Antioch University and the BARD MAT program were also among the audience.  A panel that included Oxy professor and LAUSD board president Steve Zimmer, Oxy professor and newly elected member of the South Pasadena USD school board Suzie Abajian and Venice resident and parent activist Karen Wolfe reacted to the film after the screening and fielded questions from the rapt audience.  The event was co-sponsored by the Oxy Ed. Dept. which provided  refreshments for those in attendance.  For more information about the movie and to view the trailer go to the official website by clicking here.

Beware #TeachStrong
Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News” had a warning from Peter Greene about a new “reform” organization called #TeachStrong.  He was particularly disturbed that the AFT and NEA were part of the group and believed it is just a front for Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.  More red flags are being raised about the association.  Marla Kilfoyle, Executive Director of the Badass Teachers Association (BATs), had a negative reaction upon learning about the organization.  She points out why she has problems with #TeachStrong and looks at where much of their funding comes from.  She appends to her piece her own 5-point plan to help children and teachers.               Greene, on hisCURMUDGUCATION blog, delves deeper into what concerns him about #Teach Strong.  He looks at their 9-point program and finds a few of them “laudable.”  He disagrees with the rest of their proposals and explains point-by-point why.  “Because the devil is in the details, and all nine of these are items that have been used as reformster dog whistles, as ways of saying what folks will assume means one thing when the plan is something else entirely,” he intones.  “And given that the TeachStrong partners are mostly a big pile of reformsters, I’m not inclined to trust their intentions. . . .  Until somebody with the campaign fills in the blanks, I have to assume this is just deep-fried baloney.”  [Ed. note: Greene has toned down his language a little.  He referred to their ideas as “a steaming pile of manure” in his first post.]               Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, responded to the storm of criticism when her organization signed on to the the new group #TeachStrong (refer to first story in this section).  She writes on the Medium website a piece titled “Why the Hell Would AFT Sign On to TeachStrong?”  This is what she writes to begin her rebuttal:  “Here’s why we signed on: The tide is turning — rejecting the blame-and-shame and test-based sanctioning policies of the last decade — but educators must have a role in what replaces that flawed ‘reform.’”               Peter Greeneand his CURMUDGUCATION blog quickly jumped back into the fray with a column about Weingarten’s mea culpa.  He’s not convinced by her arguments.  “Man, Weingarten talks so pretty.  But we have meandered a far distance away form our original question,” he concludes, “which is why the hell did AFT sign off on a piece of reheated recycled reformster leftovers that put AFT and NEA in the same camp as some of the most relentlessly anti-teacher, anti-public education groups in the country?  That’s the question I came to hear answered, and I still haven’t heard a satisfactory answer to it.  I’m still waiting.”
LAUSD’s New Discipline Procedures
A front-page story in Sunday’s L.A. Times described how the LAUSD is trying to reduce student suspensions and institute a restorative justice system for dealing with student misbehavior.  As is all too typical with new initiatives in the district, the planning, training and implementation of these new policies left much to be desired.  The piece drew 5 responses from letter writers published in Wednesday’s paper.  All were critical of the LAUSD’s handling of the entire situation.
Value-Added Models Criticized AGAIN
The “Ed News” has highlighted several scholarly reviews of value-added models (VAMs) for evaluating teachers.  None of them have been supportive.  Along comes an AERA (American Educational Research Association) report that adds to the negative findings.  The 5-page official document appears on the SAGE journals website.  “Many states and districts have incorporated VAM in a comprehensive system to evaluate teachers, principals, and educator preparation programs,” it states in the conclusion.  “There are considerable risks of misclassification and misinterpretation in the use of VAM to inform these evaluations.”              Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, on her VAMboozled blog, reviews the findings about VAMs from the AERA report (see above).  She contributed to the research prior to its final revising and vetting process and summarizes the 8 technical findings for how VAMs should be properly used.
Teachers Priced Out of  San Francisco Real Estate Market
The booming real estate market in San Francisco has made it next to impossible for teachers in the city to be able to afford to live there.  Many other middle class workers are facing the same problem.  An article in the “Explainer” column in yesterday’s L.A. Timesdescribes an innovative program being implemented to provideloans and affordable housing for the city’s educators.  “In a city where full-time teachers make a median salary of $66,960 and median rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $3,670 a month,” the piece notes, “many educators are living outside the school district, said Matthew Hardy, spokesman for the district’s teachers union, United Educators of San Francisco.  The lengthened commute is expensive, Hartley said, and can prevent teachers from being as involved in their communities or in after-school activities as they would like.  The expensive housing can also deter teachers from coming to the district altogether.”
Election 2016
The Seventy Four’s Editor-in-Chief Campbell Brown has two exclusive interviews with GOP presidential candidates Dr. Ben Carson and Senator Marco Rubio about their education policies.  Each includes a video of the Q & A (Carson’s is 24:38 minutes and Rubio’s is 11:18 minutes) and an Education Card (it’s like a baseball card) with “stats” regarding specific positions on key issues and biographical information.               Hillary Clinton seems to be making inroads with the education vote this week with her comments about charters while her key opponent Senator Bernie Sanders remains surprisingly silent on many K-12 issues.  Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONETHEWALLBLOG, takes a look at the top two Democrats and their views on education policies ahead of the second debate tomorrow from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa.  It will be broadcast on CBS starting at 6 pm PST.               Jeff Bryant, writing on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, outlines the “education battle” taking place currently in the Democratic Party.  He reviews some of the key issues and what various pundits, reporters and bloggers are writing about them and how the candidates positions are panning out.
Is LAUSD Going Bankrupt?
You hate to toss around terms like “deficits” and “bankruptcy,” but they certainly get peoples’ attention.  An independent panel delivered a sobering report to the LAUSD board at its meeting on Tuesday about projected district finances for the next couple of years.  A previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted some speculation about what the report contained but the stark reality was on display when the findings were made public this week, according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  “Declining enrollment along with the cost of providing employee benefits and special education services for students are among the key drivers contributing to a projected long-term deficit at the Los Angeles Unified School District,” it begins, “according to an independent financial review panel.  The eight-member panel convened by Supt. Ramon Cortines presented its findings at Tuesday’s Board of Education meeting.  It warned that the district could face a budget deficit of $333 million in the 2017-18 school year, which would grow to $600 million by 2019-20.”  The document focuses on the usual culprits for the red ink, employee compensation and special education students, among others, but the article was relatively quiet about costly district fiascoes (iPads, student information systems and others) which drain vital funds from district coffers and the possibility of future revenue sources from the state.
Friedrichs vs CTA Case
The Badass Teachers Association (BATs) today filed a friend of the court brief in the pivotal U.S. Supreme Court Case Friedrichs vs CTA  that challenges the requirement that people who don’t wish to pay union dues at least pay an agency fee to cover representation costs.  The short item includes two links to previous articles that summarize the case if you need to catch up and includes the entire 48-page brief filed with the court if you are into reading that kind of document.
Another Milestone for Ravitch
Diane Ravitch’s blog reached 24 million page views yesterday.  Her timely and informative column began in 2012.  “Thank you for joining the Resistance,” she writes.  “Thank you for fighting the Status Quo.  Together we will prevail because the people financing the assault on public education have no successes; all their policies have failed.  We fight for real education, where children can experience the joy of learning and the quest to know.  We oppose the monetization and privatization of public education.  We oppose high-stakes testing.  We support the teaching profession.  We support children’s right to learn without fear or labels or rankings or ratings.”
The Teaching Profession
The previous edition of the “Ed News” highlighted a militant blog from Peter Greene in the form of a “I’m Not Quitting Letter.”  Emily Talmadge of Save Maine Schools pens her own “Dear Reformers” missive explaining why she’s not giving up and, in fact, plans to fight back.  “I am here to tell you that there is a growing army of us – yes, army – who are refusing to quit, despite the havoc you are wreaking on our profession.  I am here to tell you that not only have we vowed not to quit – we have also vowed to fight,” she thunders.  “We are getting organized, and are rapidly growing in our ranks.  So let it be clear that just as you have declared war on us, we have declared war on you.”               What types of challenges do women face in the classroom?  Sacramento high school English and Social Studies teacher Larry Ferlazzo, author of the “Classroom Q & A” column for EDUCATION WEEK, opens his blog up to various educators who identify some of those challenges and offer some hints on how to deal with them.  Least you think his column is being a might sexist in only dealing with women, he provides a link to a previous piece he wrote about challenges facing men.  “Women make up the majority of the teaching force,” one of Ferlazzo’s contributors points out, “yet there are still challenges that we face in the classroom.  Much of these challenges have to do with power, communication, and unresolved biases.”               The same publication has an extensive special report titled “Understanding Formative Assessment” that includes 11 distinct and detailed stories about various aspects of this key teaching tool.  You can access the cover sheet for the entire report by clicking here “Formative assessment is one of the most widely used—but poorly understood—instructional techniques,” the introduction states.  “This special report highlights common misconceptions about the approach and shows how formative assessment differs from other kinds of assessments, such as summative or benchmark tests.  It also illuminates some ways that educators can use formative assessment in their classrooms to find out on the spot whether students are really ‘getting it.'”
LAUSD Prepares for El Niño
In case you hadn’t heard, a major El Niño weather pattern is predicted for this winter.  The last time this situation developed was in 1997-98.  Forecasters are looking at up to double the normal amount of rain falling in southern California this season.  A story in today’s L.A. Times describes how the LAUSD is preparing for the potential deluge and its impact on district campuses including roof repairs and the stockpiling of sandbags.  “Custodial staffs at each school have checklists of the supplies and activities they need to complete to make sure their schools are prepared.  That means reporting roof leaks or other damages that could be worsened in a storm,” it explains, “and cleaning out roofs, gutters, downspouts and drains to make sure there isn’t a build-up of leaves and dirt.  Each of the district’s seven geographic field offices also has supplies including sandbags, plastic sheeting, rain gear and shovels to send to schools if necessary.  They’re already sending out sandbags to the schools that have had flooding in the past.”
Charter Expansion’s Impact on LAUSD
How would the Broad Foundation’s proposal to increase student enrollment in charters to 50% over the next 8 years effect the LAUSD?  An invitation-only forum held near downtown was thefirst public discussion of the massive expansion plan.  A story in today’s L.A. Times offers arguments on both sides of the charter school debate.  Proponents claim it will improve choices for parents whose children are stuck in the “failing” school system while opponents fear it could mark the death knell of traditional public education in the city.  “Facing off with [Broad Foundation Executive Director Gregory] McGinity was school board President Steve Zimmer,” the piece reports, “who swiftly and strongly opposed the Broad plan when The Times made it public in September.  Zimmer said that he is not sure L.A. Unified can survive the charter plan, and that students would be harmed as a result.”  [Ed. note:  Steve Zimmer was one of the panelists who participated in the post-screening discussion of the documentary “Education, Inc.” that ALOED co-sponsored with the Oxy Ed. Dept. on Wednesday evening (see the fifth story from the top of this edition).]
Reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB
Could the logjam holding up the rewrite of ESEA/NCLB finally be breaking up?  A joint statement from leaders of the Senate and House Education committees seems to indicate that is the case.  EDUCATION WEEK reprints their declaration, the outlines of a possible compromise and explains the ramifications.  “The next step: a conference committee, which could kick off in coming days,”the piece delineates.  “The goal is to pass a bill to revise the ESEA—the current version of which is the No Child Left Behind Act—for the first time in 15 years, by the end of 2015.”
Poverty and Academic Achievement
And finally, corporate “reformers” like to ignore the impact of poverty on student achievement.  Most researchers have found that factors like low-income have a major effect on how students learn.  In 2014, for the first time in this country. over 50% of public school student were children of color.  This year the percentage of public school students labeled as low-income reached 51% for the first time ever.  An op-ed from today’s L.A. Times points out that in order to fix the achievement gap an emphasis must be placed on improving the socio-economics of neighborhoods.
Enjoy the weekend and keep in mind Thanksgiving is just around the corner!

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


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