Ed News, Tuesday, November 17 Edition


            A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                   “You musn’t neglect your education
                              in favor of your studies.”
― Nick O’DonohoeThe Magic and the Healing
The Teaching Profession
Last month, NEA President Lily Eskelsen-Garcia was presented with a “Progressive Champions” award from the CAMPAIGN FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE.  She spoke at their gala and delivered a short but sweet picture of what teachers do.  You can view the video of her talk and read a brief description of the award on the organizations website.               Unfortunately, here’s another one of those all to common “I Quit Letters.”  This one is from a thoroughlyfrustrated elementary school teacher in Florida and like all the previous ones the author hits the nail on the head.  It appears on theDAILY KOS website and thanks to ALOED member Ron Oswald for sending it.  “Like many other teachers across the nation,” she writes, “I have become more and more disturbed by the misguided reforms taking place which are robbing my students of a developmentally appropriate education.”  Don’t think these are hitting a nerve around the country?  Take a minute and peruse the LONG list of comments written about this post.                TheNational Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) published its latest study titled “2015, State of the States. Evaluating Teaching, Leading and Learning” this month.  It offers a state-by-state analysis of teacher and principal evaluations and how they are being used to inform instruction.  You can find the full report (106 pages) by clicking here.                Peter Greene, on hisCURMUDGUCATION blog has never been impressed with NCTQ studies and publications and this latest one is no different.  How do I know he’s not impressed?  Read on about just his impressions of the organization itself.  “The National Council on Teacher Quality’s continued presence in the education world is one of the great mysteries of the reformster era (or maybe just one of the great con jobs),” he leads off.  “This ‘national council’ includes a staff composed almost exclusively of former TFA [Teach for America] folks and professional bureaucrats and a board of directors that contains no teachers.  Let me say that again– this group that has declared itself the arbiter of teacher quality for the country has no career teachers in positions of authority.  None.”  The rest of his critique of the NCTQ is not any more positive, to wit: “There are people and organizations in the reformster world that can, I believe, be taken seriously.  I may disagree with almost everything they conclude, but they are sincere, thoughtful, and at least to some degree intellectually honest.  They raise questions that are worth wrestling with, and they challenge those of us who support public schools in ways that are good for us.  I have a whole list of people with whom I disagree, but whom I’m happy to read or talk to because they are serious people who deserve to be taken seriously.  NCTQ is not on that list.”  How’s that for an endorsement?               Teachers at California’s largest online charter organization, California Virtual Academies (CAVA) , won theopportunity to be represented by the California Virtual Educators (CVE) union under the auspices of the CTA, the statewide NEA affiliate. [Ed. note: Wow, a lot of acronyms in that sentence.]  The state’s Public Employees Relations Board issued the ruling at the end of last month.  The San Bernadino Sun has the details.               Valerie Strauss reprints 15 remarkable photographs from Reuters, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, that show classroom situations from around the world from the poorest to the most wealthy.  If you think you have poor working conditions you have to check out the pictures from Afghanistan and the Ivory Coast; think your class is over crowded–peak at the first photo from Pakistan (there are two in this collection.)
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” highlighted several warnings about a new educational partnership called #TeachStrong that included both the AFT and NEA which raised some serious red flags from several sources.  Mitchell Robinson, on his eponymousMitchell Robinson Blog, speculates that the corporate “reform” movement may have finally met its Waterloo.  “These are the acts of desperate people. They know their window for gaining control of public education is closing,” he suggests, “and are responding by coming up with ridiculous, outlandish ideas in an attempt to attract attention from the public and the media.  Their actions are not unlike the lunacy of Trump and Carson in the Presidential campaign. Walls and pyramids, anyone?  Although it looks pretty dark out there for students and teachers, now is the time for those of us in the resistance to redouble our efforts.  Our opponents are scared, and we have them on the run; and rightfully so–because they know they are on the wrong side of history.  Stand up and speak out!”
School Choice
A Chicago parent explains, on the Chicago Public Fools website [Ed. note: That’s NOT a misprint.], why she would rather not have school choice but would much prefer a good neighborhood school “Most of us are savvy enough,” she concludes, “to know that the future goal and end game of ‘school choice’ is the breakdown of a fully funded public school system in favor of full privatization.  But there’s more going on here, and it has to do with the breakdown of our democratic voice as we are spoon-fed false promises of individual consumer preference. Is this a trade we’re really willing to make?”
Charter Schools
Several articles and an editorial relating to charter schools in last week’s L.A. Times drew responses from 4 letter writers in Saturday’s paper.
Obama’s Dept. of Education Failures
Now that Arne Duncan has announced that he’s leaving his post as Secretary of the Department of Education at the end of this year after a tumultuous 7-year term, John Thompson, writing on theLIVING in DIALOGUE blog, wonders if he and Pres. Obama will own up to their failed policies. Thompson cites programs like Race to the Top, School Improvement Grants and waivers from NCLB among the programs that DoE helped promulgate and implement.
LAUSD Supt. Search
Steve Lopez, in his Sunday column in the L.A. Times, reviews some of the pluses and minuses in the LAUSD and believes the best characteristic of the new superintendent should be plain and simplestrong leadership.  He explains what that would entail:“Focus on instruction.  Track down, study and clone the best principals.  Find ways to give teachers the gift of smaller classes.  Turn schools into after-hours community centers.  Do some screaming about California’s shameful national ranking in student funding.  Celebrate and replicate the district’s many strong magnets and other schools, so parents don’t go looking for charter alternatives.”               Yesterday’s Times opens its “Op-Ed” section to various education experts, teachers, parents, students and others to opine briefly on what the LAUSD’s priorities should be as it selects a new superintendent.  Among the familiar names who took the paper up on it’s offer are Alex Caputo-Pearl, President of UTLA, David L. Kirp, professor of public policy at UC Berkeley (who spoke at Oxy a year-and-a-half ago), Marco Petruzzi, the head of Green Dot Public Charter Schools, Pedro A. Noguera, professor of Education at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and information Services abd Walt Gardner, a 28-year teacher in the LAUSD and a columnist for EDUCATION WEEK.  The web version of this piece has several more entries than the print version.
School Reform
Remember Bill Honig, former California State Superintendent of Public Instruction from 1982-94?  Diane Ravitch’s blog reprints a commentary he wrote about how school reform should not be the current “test and punish” system but should be more like “build and support.”  “As more educators, parents, community, political, and opinion leaders become aware of the harm done and the lack of results from high-stakes accountability based on reading and math test scores ( ‘test and punish’) and privatization (‘choice, charter, and competition’), they are increasingly open to alternative strategies.  A viable replacement is staring us right in the face–not primarily from the limited number of excellent charter examples but mainly from our most successful schools, districts, and states which follow a more positive, engaging ‘build and support’ agenda.”  He points to what’s going on in Massachusetts as a great example of this.               THE NETWORK FOR PUBLIC EDUCATION has created an infographic and newsletter to illustrate the damage Bill Gates and his “reform” ideas have done to the public school system over the past 15 years.  The project is headed by Carol Burris and Anthony Cody.  It includes expanded comments about policies Gates has helped create and pursue in various states written by a number of education experts.  You can click on any or all of them to read their take on a particular situation.  “For Bill Gates this has all been a grand experiment,”Burris and Cody write by way of introduction to their project, “one that he believes he is entitled to conduct on our children, our teachers and our schools.  It is astounding that a man, who has no qualifications to guide our nation’s educational system has been allowed, by virtue of his fortune, to meddle in it as he has.”                The protest against corporate “reform” is spreading beyond our shores.  Teachers in Puerto Rico planned a one-day strike today against efforts to charterize and privatize the public schools on their island, a territory of the U.S.  Just because they have a body of water between them and the the lower 48 states doesn’t mean they’re immune from moves to take over their system reports Steven Singer on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG.  “The protest is in response to Project 1456 which would close more than 380 public schools,” he writes.  “The government has already closed 150 schools in the past 5 years.  This would force many students into even more overcrowded classrooms. Thousands of children would have to be relocated to schools far from their homes.  But that’s not all.  The proposed legislation would also privatize 15% of those schools left standing. Unlike the mainland, Puerto Rico has no charter schools. Teachers went on a 10-day strike in 2008 which only ended after the island Secretary of Education Rafael Aragunde signed an agreement promising not to open any charters.”              The Badass Teachers Association (BATs)issued a statement, in both English and Spanish, in support of the action in Puerto Rico today (see above).  “The Badass Teachers Association stands in strong solidarity with our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico,” it ends, “who are fighting for the very foundation of their democracy – the survival of their public school system which is under assault by the 1% who seek to close it up and deny Puerto Rican children a right to an education.  It is time to stop the attacks on the very foundation that elevates all children in the world – a strong public education system.”         Many corporate “reformers’ want to blame teachers for poor student outcomes.  The mayor of Newark (and former high school principal in that city) realizes it takes more than an excellent teacher to cure the ills of poverty.  THE HECHINGER REPORT prints his authoritative commentary.  “Our schools need a comprehensive and expanded approach to school transformation,” he argues, “because it takes more than a teacher to disentangle a child from the barriers and lack of opportunity that poverty creates for their development.”
Importance of Reading to Student Achievement
THE HECHINGER REPORT highlights a recent study that found that a small increase in reading (4.7 minutes to be exact) could lead to major gains in academic achievement.  The report, titled “What Kids are Reading” was published by Renaissance Learning the creator of an online reading program which might make the results a little suspect but before you give up on that account, read the piece anyway.  “Teachers typically recommend 20 to 30 minutes of reading practice a night,” the item concludes.  “One data mining lesson here is that you can get away with a lot less and still make extraordinary gains.”
Election 2016
EDUCATION WEEK has an article titled “Four Ways Hillary Clinton Differs From Obama on K-12 Policy.”  Clinton participated in a roundtable discussion with AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten and several other members of the organization last Monday.  The story distills some of her policy differences with the present administration in areas like charters, teacher evaluations and early childhood education.  “Given her record and how controversial some of the Obama administration’s K-12 policies have become with both the Democratic base and other voters,” the analysis concludes, “there’s a decent chance Clinton would put less emphasis on K-12 issues, particularly if ESEA is reauthorized this Congress, and pivot to the early-childhood arena, where she might also stand a chance of having greater success of the bipartisan kind.”
More LAUSD News
The LAUSD is looking into whether students of military familiesmay need some extra support services.  “The Los Angeles school system,” the story in yesterday’s L.A. Times begins, “is taking steps this week to better determine whether students in military families need special help.  Those students, officials say, could be at a higher risk for stress, behavioral problems and other issues that could be addressed at school.  Over the summer, L.A. Unified School District included some new questions on the emergency forms sent to all students, asking whether they have family members serving in the military or who are veterans.”  The piece reprints a portion of the new mandatory Emergency Information Cards with the new sections related to military service.              Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of Steve Jobs, is expanding her program, “College Track,” to LAUSD’s Jordan High School.  “It will support dozens of students attending Jordan High School in Watts,” the article in yesterday’s Times explains, “through a program designed to help them prepare for college and then earn a degree.  College Track has established a similar program at Roosevelt High in Boyle Heights.  The program is underwritten in large part by Emerson Collective, a Bay Area-based group also headed by Powell Jobs.”
Common Core, Testing & Opt Out
EDUCATION WEEK has an interactive map with the latest test score results along with an analysis of where the nation is at this point regrading standardized assessments and the Common Core.  You can click on individual states to see how they are faring.  “The 2014-15 school year marked a big change for many states because they switched to tests that for the first time reflect the Common Core State Standards [i.e., California]. . . .  Please use caution,” it reminds, “when interpreting these results.”               Oregon’s legislature passed a law enabling parents to opt their children out of standardized tests if they wish.  However, the state’s Dept. of Education was not happy with that and added some language to the form that contains some rather intimidating language explaining what might happen if they decide to opt-out.  The Portland Oregonian describes what’s going on.  “The portion of the form that has testing opponents most livid,” it notes, “are the two sentences above the line where a parent must put their signature to get their child out of testing: ‘I understand that by signing this form I may lose valuable information about how well my child is progressing in English language arts and math. In addition, opting out may impact my school and district’s efforts to equitably distribute resources and support student learning.'”                OPT-OUT OREGON was highly disturbed when they saw the new forms (see above) and promptly issued a scathing commentary which includes a copy of the offending section with a comment overlaid on it in red ink.  “As in other states, Oregon will start to see building principals, district administrators, superintendents,”  it predicts, “stepping forward about the harmful effects of high-stakes testing.  School board members, teachers, specialists, parents, and students have been speaking up, and the numbers continue to grow. ODE adding that phrase above the signature is not only misleading, it’s obnoxious, and on the wrong side of history.”                 Not sure of the impact the anti-testing movementis having?  Valerie Strauss, in her column in The Washington Post, highlights a new report from FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which has been fighting to end the misuse of standardized assessments.  The document is titled “Testing Reform Victories 2015: Growing Grassroots Movement Rolls Back Testing Overkill.”  Strauss embeds the full report (26 pages) in her article and includes a link to it if you wish to read it  as a pdf.  
Reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB
And finally, the author of this piece from THE HECHINGER REPORT, a Senior Fellow at the Alliance for Excellent Education in Washington, D.C.,  believes that the prospect of the U.S. Senate and House reaching an acceptable compromise to the rewrite of the ESEA portends a possible “new era in education policy.”  He reviews some of the key aspects of the legislation and the prospects of their inclusion in the final bill.  “For more than a decade,” he concludes, “the NCLB system has defined school practice, for good or ill, and the law has been a convenient target for anyone with concerns about what has happened in schools.  The new law would create new possibilities, and new challenges.  Let’s see what happens.”                Next step for the legislation (see above)?  Appointing members of a Senate/House Conference Committee to work out a compromise bill between the two chambers’ competing versions.  EDUCATION WEEK points out that the House selected their members and now awaits the Senate’s picks.  It further details what is likely to emerge from that process and the likelihood of its final passage by the House and Senate.  “After eight years and at least three serious attempts,” it begins, “Congress is finally moving forward on bipartisan, bicameral legislation to rewrite the almost-universally-despised No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.  The preliminary agreement—or ‘framework”‘—as the lead negotiators, Reps. John Kline, R-Minn., and Bobby Scott, D-Va., and Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., are calling it—is not the final word.  Instead, it’s a jumping off point to set the stage for an official conference committee that is likely to begin—and maybe even end—this week.”


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


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