Ed News, Friday, November 20, 2015 Edition


           A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                         “It’s not that I feel that school is a good idea gone wrong,
but a wrong idea from the word go. 
             It’s a nutty notion that we can have a place where nothing but learning happens,
cut off from the rest of life.” 
                           ― John Holt
LAUSD Supt. Search
The LAUSD school board is getting down to serious business in regard to selecting a new superintendent.  Current chief Ramon Cortines has expressed a desire to return to his retirement at the end of this year.  That’s less than 2 months away.  The board has winnowed down a list of characteristics suggested during a series of public meetings to some workable ones. [Ed. note: Sounds a little like they’ve created a rubric, but I digress.]  A story in Wednesday’sL.A. Times gets you up-to-date on the latest on the search for an acceptable candidate.  [Ed. note: Now, if that person will take the job of not is another story, but I digress (again).]  The piece is titled “Board Tweaks Qualities for Next LAUSD Chief Down to a T.”  “Among the desired characteristics,” it asserts, “is a leader who is ‘politically savvy,’ can develop ‘productive working relationships with all LAUSD labor unions’ and has ‘experience as a teacher and a principal working in an urban environment.’  A candidate would not be eliminated for not meeting all the desired qualities.”
What’s Up With Michelle Rhee?
Michelle Rhee, a darling of the corporate “reform” movement, has faded from public view recently.  A story in The Sacramento Beespeculates about her future and wonders why she’s been maintaining such a low profile lately.  The latter could be related to some previous charges that re-emerged against her husband Kevin Johnson, former pro basketball star and current mayor of Sacramento, regarding sexual molestation and harassment.  “Her recent absence is a change for Rhee, 45,” the piece points out, “who despite living in Sacramento part time often has accompanied her husband to [Sacramento] Kings [basketball] games and other public events.  She stepped back from her own political activism last year and focused more of her attention on working with Johnson.
“iPadgate” Redux
Remember last December 1, when the FBI removed 20 cartons of documents from LAUSD headquarters related to the district’s controversial “iPad-for-all” program?  Whatever happened to that investigation?  The LA SCHOOL REPORT revisits the case and brings it up-to-date with some speculation about what might come of it.  “Since that day [in December] little if any new information has been publicly revealed about the investigation’s status,” it points out, “and that is primarily due to the secrecy laws that surround federal grand juries. Unless the jury issues an indictment or an investigative report, the evidence and testimony is by law to remain forever sealed, and leaks of federal grand jury evidence are extremely rare.”
Election 2016
Where does Hillary Clinton stand on charter schools?  In favor? Opposed?  After making some recent comments about them her position seems to have been muddled by differing interpretations of what she said.  Ann O’Leary, an education advisor to the Clinton campaign, attempts to set the record straight on the blog theMedium.  In an attempt to get it right, I will provide the full title of the essay: “Yes, Hillary Clinton Supports Charter Schools.  She Also Supports Equity and Inclusion.”  To bolster her case, O’Leary quotes extensively from previous Clinton statements on the topic and includes a couple of graphs for persuasion and clarity.  Does it all clear up Clinton’s position for you?               Diane Ravitch’ blogstill seems confused by the whole situation.  She reacts to Clinton’s comments and O’Leary’s statement about them (see above).  “Please, Hillary, think about it some more,” Ravitch urges.  “Or better yet, meet with me so I can walk you through the issue.”
Corporate “Reform”
Paul Thomas, on his the becoming radical blog, takes the rather audacious step of pointing out 4 ways Bill Gates is “delusional”about his ideas on educational reform.  Thomas accuses Gates of “spouting what at best are misrepresentations and at worst out-and-out lies about education reform [and this] is just another example of the very persistent delusions of billionaire-edureformers.               The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundationannounced Wednesday on their website a series of grants totaling $34.7 million over 3 years “To Help Improve Teacher Preparation Programs.”  That sounds encouraging but to paraphrase that old adage: “Beware of Gates bearing gifts.”  This is from the conclusion of the official press release which you can read on the foundation website: “For too long, teacher preparation providers have not supplied the teachers students deserve,” said Tom Stritikus, deputy director of innovation on the College Ready team at the foundation. “We’re excited to work with these programs to learn how we can better prepare teachers to help students succeed, and we look forward to sharing our findings with the entire field.”               One of the popular tactics of the corporate “reformers” is to close schools that are under performing.  Leonie Haimson, writing on theNYC Public School Parents blog, analyzes a new report on closures of schools in New York City under Mayor Michael Bloomberg that concludes the actions were effective.  Haimson is skeptical of the findings for a number of reasons including that the group who published the report, the Research Alliance, was founded with backing from the Gates Foundation [Ed. note: Not them again!] and is staffed by people who push the corporate “reform” agenda.  
Student Protests at Oxy
Occidental College was the focus of two articles in the L.A. Timeson Tuesday and Wednesday about student protests and an occupation of the Administration building.  Both pieces were in the context of similar protests around the country at the University of Missouri, Yale University, Ithaca College, Claremont-McKenna College and some others.  “After several days of protesting Occidental College’s handling of diversity issues,” the first onedetails, “students occupied an administrative building Monday, demanding that the school president step down if officials don’t take such steps as creating a black studies major and hiring more minority faculty.”  The second story appears on the front-page of the Times.  It provides additional details about the specific actions at Oxy and other campuses around the U.S. in recent weeks.  It also looks at how the protests differ from previous college activism over the Vietnam War, civil rights, apartheid and the Womens’ movement.  A key difference is the role being played by social media. The item includes a short video (1:20 minutes) about the activities on the Eagle Rock campus.  In emails distributed to the Oxy community, the Board of Trustees has strongly supported the college president.              A follow-up item in today’s Times updates what’s been happening with the student protests and occupation of the Administration building on Oxy’s campus.  It includes quotes from a number of students participating in the action telling why they are there and what their demands are.  “The students say it’s their right to protest problems on campus,” the article notes, “and the administration is largely letting them do so with little resistance.  Students who sleep overnight inside the hall have plenty of bottled water, snacks, hand sanitizer, phone chargers and laptops that illuminate their protest zone at night.  There have been between 70 and 120 campers each night.”              3 lettersappear in the same paper reacting to the articles in the Times about current campus protests, in general, and the actions at Oxy, in particular.  The first one is from a student who attended Oxy for 1 year in 1956.
How An Over Burdened Principal Copes
Teachers rightly complain about overwhelming responsibilities.  An elementary school principal in Portland, Oregon, has a similar lament about an overloaded schedule.  He offers some suggestions about how he uses technology to help manage his long day in a commentary on EDUCATION WEEK.  “One of the benefits of ubiquitous wireless access in a school, and lightweight laptop computers and smartphones, is that it gives administrators the ability to get out of their offices and spend more time in classrooms,” he reveals.  “Not being tied to a desktop computer to deal with school business allows an administrator the opportunity to keep up with that work while out and about in the school.” How does he keep from being tied to his desktop?  He describes a new technology tool called “iBeacons” and how it allows him to be more efficient at the many tasks he’s asked to perform.  
Teacher Evaluations
The State of New York bet heavily on teacher evaluations that relied to a large extent on the inclusion of student standardized test scores.  The system debuted last year, cost a lot of money and is now being placed on hold for this school year as advocates step back and wonder what they have wrought.  Award-winning and now retired New York Principal Carol Burris, writing on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post, titles her piece “New York’s Costly Experiment in Test-based Educator Evaluations is Crashing.” Burris, who predicted the new evaluations were of questionable value back in 2011, writes today that “New York is not alone in this folly.  Over half of all states adopted evaluation systems that give student test scores an oversized role, of up to 50 percent in teacher evaluations.  Even those states that have minimized tests scores have created enormous paperwork for teachers and principals, forcing them to be the collectors of evidence rather than the instructors of children,” she continues.  “These tedious and ineffective teacher evaluation systems were funded in some school districts by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Duncan’s Education Department coerced states to adopt them with Race to the Top dollars and No Child Left Behind waivers.  But there was never any evidence that they would work, or serve the best interest of kids.”
LAUSD Hiring TFA Interns to Teach Special Ed Students
A group of education experts has posted a petition on theMoveOn.org website demanding that the LAUSD terminate its contract with Teach for America to hire interns to work with Special Education students.  The coalition of public school advocates promoting the action includes, among others, Anthony Cody, Cynthia Liu, Julian Vasquez Heilig and Karen Wolfe, who participated on the panel after the ALOED screening of the timely and provocative documentary “Education, Inc.” last Wednesday at Oxy.  You can read the particulars of the petition and its background and sign it if you wish by clicking here.  “Los Angeles Unified School District ratified a contract with Teach For America,” the background states, “to provide trainees to fill 25 teaching positions in special education at its November 10, 2015, board meeting. There was no debate on the matter; it was hidden in the consent calendar with attachments of attachments buried deep.
The Teaching Profession
A small-town Texas business owner, whose wife has taught primary school for a number of years, describes his experiences volunteering in his wife’s second grade class and what he learned about what it means to be a teacher.  His commentary appears on NPR affiliateKERA in Dallas.  You can listen to his piece (2:28 minutes) and/or read a transcript.  It’s titled “Dark Secrets in the Classroom” and it’s short but quite powerful.               A veteran high school Biology teacher in North Carolina headlines her piece in the “CTQ Collaboratory” column in EDUCATION WEEK “Why I’ve ‘Softened’ My Classroom-Management Style.”  She goes on to describe how she adopted the technique of restorative justice in her classroom rather than a more punitive system.  [Ed. note: The poorly implemented roll-out of this technique in the LAUSD was highlighted in the “Ed News” last week.]  Note the shout-out she gives to Garfield High in the LAUSD for its highly effective use of restorative justice.                The battle to unionize the largest charter chain in L.A., the Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, is not only causing fissures between management and teachers.  Parents are also chiming in on the dispute on both sides according to a story in yesterday’s L.A. Times.  “At a news conference Wednesday,” it notes, “a small group of parents, community organizers and United Teachers Los Angeles members complained that they felt pressured by Alliance College-Ready Public Schools to take a stance against unionization.”               It is indeed sad when we arrive at this state of affairs.  A former elementary school principal in Houston urges her daughter NOT to follow in her footsteps and enter the teaching profession.  Her assessment of the career appears on The Urban Edge blog under the heading “I Was A Teacher.  I’m Worried My Daughter Will Follow in my Footsteps.”  “The state of teaching has taken some unexpected twists and turns that would make any parent concerned about it as a career choice for her child.  What I have not shared with my daughter,” she somberly continues, “are the stories of administrators and teachers who have been marginalized by a system that values testing more than people.  I haven’t spoken with her about the ambivalence many leaders have about the vast turnover of teachers who leave schools year after year.  Often, it’s an issue that goes unaddressed, since the unspoken assumption is that those who left were not good enough to stay.  But that couldn’t be further from the truth.”              Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post over to a Teach for America alum and a former member of the Executive Board of the San Jose Teachers Association who explains in simple but detailed terms the criticalimportance for public employee labor unions of the Friedrichs vs California Teachers Association case soon to be argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.  The “Ed News” has highlighted this case several times in the past but it is now reaching a critical point.  If you are familiar with the case or not the author of this piece lays out for you just what’s at stake.  He does the same thing for a second case Bain vs. California Teachers Association.  “The fact that Friedrichs and Bain rely on a variety of misleading and/or dishonest claims illustrates what’s really driving these lawsuits.  They aren’t about free speech or free choice and they’re not about constructing sensible policy.  Instead, they’re about undermining organized labor and further diminishing union strength and worker bargaining power,” the author concludes.  “For wealthy interests who benefit when workers lose and those congenitally opposed to teachers unions, these lawsuits are thus welcome.  But those who truly care about workers’ rights and are interested in the facts would do well to oppose both Friedrichs and Bain.”
LAUSD Charter Expansion
One way to remove villain Eli Broad from fronting the drive to turn the LAUSD into a district with at least 50% of students attending charters is to create a really highfalutin sounding nonprofit that doesn’t include his name.  They wouldn’t do that, would they?  Yup!  They just did.  Ever hear of the Great Public Schools Now organization?  [Ed. note: How’s that for a fancy, deceptive title?]   No?  Don’t feel bad.  It was just formed to do exactly what’s describes in the first sentence of this entry.  Wednesday’s L.A. Times reveals this latest slight-of-hand tactic and it is certainly a sneaky one.  You have to hand it to who ever came up with that moniker.  The Times, bless their hearts, is on to the subterfuge.  “The nonprofit will be run by two executives from ExED, a local company that specializes in helping charter schools manage their business operations.  Former banker William E.B. Siart will chair the governing board; Anita Landecker will serve as interim executive director.  No other individuals or foundations are being included in a Wednesday release about the organization, an apparent effort to distance it from the Broad Foundation,” the reporter uncovers, “which became a target of critics of the proposal. Eli Broad or a designee, however, is expected to occupy one seat on an 11-member board of trustees.”  Please be sure to read the disclaimer at the end of this and most Times items about education.  Did I detect Eli Broad’s name?  Hmmm.               Charles Kerchner, a professor and research scholar at the Claremont Graduate University, foresees a  “charter school war” developing in the LAUSD over the plan to turn up to 50% of the district campuses into charter schools.  He writes the “On California” column forEDUCATION WEEK and offers a 5-point peace plan to avoid “bloodshed’ in the looming “conflict.”  “The charter school war will not be a short or limited conflict.  It will spread beyond the bounds of Los Angeles and influence politics at the state and national levels,” he predicts.  “Those who have studied past education wars know that they grind on for a long time.  15 years of school reform wars in Los Angeles have produced no winners.”
Reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB
The Senate/House Conference Committee working on a compromise bill from their two competing versions to rewrite the ESEA/NCLB law make quick work of their task yesterday.  By a vote of 39-1 they reported out a single bill, titled “Every Student Succeeds Act,”  that now heads separately to the Senate and House for final action.  EDUCATION WEEK has an extensive report on this latest development along with several summaries (they call them cheat-sheets) of what’s included in the compromise legislation and prospects for final passage of the law.  A copy of the full “ESEA Conference Framework” (3 pages) is provided.  “After more than a decade, Congress seems to be on the verge of leaving the almost-universally despised No Child Left Behind Act … well, behind,” the story begins.  “Lawmakers on the U.S. Senate education committee and more than a dozen House members—amid much bipartisan backslapping—voted Thursday 39-1 to approve a bicameral, bipartisan compromise measure that would scale back the federal role in education in the underlying Elementary and Secondary Education Act for the first time since the early 1980s.”
Charter School Appeal Denied in Washington
In September the Washington State Supreme Court issued a blockbuster ruling that the state’s voter approved charter law was unconstitutional.  Yesterday it denied an appeal of that decision.  An article in The (Tacoma) News Tribune has the latest details.  “The high court had been asked to reconsider its decision by several parties,”the item explains, “including the state charter school association, state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, a bipartisan group of 10 legislators and four former state attorneys general.”The court’s official ruling (5 pages) in turning down the appeal is included at the end of the story.
How Much Classroom Time is Taken Up by Testing?
How much time is really devoted to those standardized tests?  According to a new report the time spent is often underestimated.  The study was done by the Benjamin Center for Public Policy Initiatives at SUNY New Paltz which looked at the situation in New York.  It’s highlighted on Valerie Strauss’ column in The Washington Post who turns her space over to the two authors of the report.  Strauss embeds the complete document (16 pages) titled “Time on Test–The Fixed Costs of 3-8 Standardized Testing in New York State” at the end of her blog.  The two authors also include a link to a pdf copy as part of their comments.
VAM Score Developed for Sec. Duncan
And finally, a group called “Educators for Shared Responsibility” writing on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog have developed avalue-added score for U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan as he prepares to leave his post at the end of this year after an almost 7-year tenure.  They actually rated all the secretaries to 1979 when the cabinet position was created. They came up with criteria for measurement and plugged in all the data and came up with the scores.  It’s all explained in the article.  “If our children are failing to meet academic expectations, Educators for Shared Accountability believed it to be tremendously dishonest—though politically useful—to pretend that teachers alone bear the fault,”the group complains.  “Instruction is not the only input affecting the education of children.  Is funding equal from school to school?  Teachers have no say over this.  Are resources sufficient?  Teachers have no say. Are schools crumbling?  Are libraries stocked?  Are nurses available?  Are there arts or other creative opportunities available to the children? Extracurricular activities?  Are adequate social supports in place for students?  Teachers have no say.”


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

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