Ed News, Friday, December 4, 2015 Edition


           A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

             The 8-day Jewish holiday of Chanukah begins at sundown tomorrow.
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“Of all the purposes of education, I think the most useful is this: It prepares you to keep yourself entertained.
 It gives you a better chance of an interesting job.” 
                         ― Roger Ebert
Cellphones are Back
Remember when cellphone use by students in the classroom was verboten?  Well, guess what?  They’re baaaack.  An article in the Nov. 25, L.A. Times describes how the devices are being used as part of class assignments.  The reporter visits an English class at the Social Justice Humanitas Academy in San Fernando (LAUSD) to demonstrate how teachers are now presenting lessons that require the use of the phones.  “Nationwide, most school districts are reversing their bans on student mobile devices, said Liz Kolb, an assistant professor in the School of Education at the University of Michigan.  Districts have found that banning cellphones fails,” the story notes, “because students will always find ways to bring them in — and because many teachers think phones have some educational value.  An added benefit, said Kolb, is that allowing students to bring in devices is often a more affordable option to schools than providing one for each student.”
Police in Schools
truthout has an interesting piece about the history of police involvement on public school campuses in this country, dating back to 1958, and some ideas on how to lessen their impact and participation in light of the recent incident in South Carolina between a female African-American teenager  and the campus school resource officer (SRO).  “Police weren’t always in schools.  They don’t need to be there.  They can be removed.  If we are going to protect disadvantaged students from unnecessary arrests,” the author argues, “and take steps to deconstruct the school-to-prison pipeline, police must be removed from the public school system.”  [Ed note: Check out the photo at the top of the article of two police officers standing in front of Venice High School (LAUSD).  The story doesn’t focus on the LAUSD but that was the picture selected to accompany it.]
Learning from “A Failing School”
Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK,features a new book by a reporter who spent 4 years observing what was taking place at Mission High School in San Francisco.  The school was labeled as “failing” but what she found was a principal, a staff of teachers and a group of low-income students who were producing some rather remarkable results  in spite of how they were tagged.  The full title of the book is Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made it Triumph.  It sounds like a real positive story and in this day and age those are few and far between in the education field.  Bryant reviews the book and conducts an interview with the author, Kristina Rizga, the education reporter for Mother Jones .  “When Mission High principal Eric Guthertz welcomed Rizga into his school, she observed something that frustrates students, parents, and educators across the country: As these schools do everything in their power to serve their students, they continue to be judged as failures by a process that seems completely remote and disconnected from the school,” Bryant explains in the introduction to his piece.  “As she walked the halls of Mission High, observed classes, and spoke with the students and their teachers, Rizga came to see a very different story about the school—one of committed educators and persevering learners doing all they can to succeed despite the judgments and prescriptions of policy makers.”  Maybe we should add this to our ALOED book Club list.
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Teacher Evaluations
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo is backing off on his demand thatteacher evaluations in his state be made up of at least 50% of student test scores.  The New York Times reports on this rather startling turn of events.  The reason why he’s changing his mind is also rather significant.  “Facing a parents’ revolt against testing, the state is poised to change course and reduce the role of test scores in evaluations And according to two people involved in making state education policy,” the story reveals, “Mr. Cuomo has been quietly pushing for a reduction, even to zero. That would represent an about-face from January, when the governor called for test scores to determine 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation.”               Teacher evaluations that include a high percentage for student test scores have been a key goal of the corporate reform movement.  New York may be backing off from that course of action (see above) and Jeff Bryant, writing on theEducation Opportunity NETWORK, reports that the trend may be fading in other areas as well.  Hillary Clinton recently made a statement about the practice, Bryant notes.  “Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton recently shook up the education policy world when she challenged one of the pillars of the education establishment for the last 10-15 years,” he points out, “that teachers’ job evaluations and pay should be linked to how students – even students they don’t teach – perform on standardized tests.”                A judge in New Mexico issued a preliminary injunction this week prohibiting school districts from using the student test-score heavy teacher evaluations to reward or punish teachers until the fairness of the process can be determined by a court.  EDUCATION WEEK has the details of this significant decision.  “It’s a win—for the moment—for the AFT-New Mexico and its Albuquerque affiliate, which argue that the system is based on flawed or incomplete data and should be tossed out.  In New Mexico’s system, student-achievement growth counts for up to 50 percent of a teacher’s rating,” the article explains, “with teacher observations and other factors making up the rest of the evaluation.  But unions in the state have repeatedly tried to prevent it from taking effect.”               Audrey Amrein-Beardsley, an authority on value-added models (VAMs) as a tool for evaluating teachers appeared as an expert witness in the New Mexico case cited above.  She testified for the plaintiffs against the use of student test scores and VAMs as a way to punish or reward teachers.  On herVAMboozled blog she reviews the judge’s decision to issue a preliminary injunction and speculates about its ramifications.  Amrein-Beardsley also includes a link to the full order issued by the judge.
The “Explainer” feature in the Nov. 25, edition of the L.A. Timestackles the topic of homework with a Q & A that’s mostly geared to parents.  However, the information is valuable for anyone.  “As more students in high school take advanced classes and Common Core guidelines have made kindergarten an academic experience,”the introduction to the piece states, “many parents feel like their children have too much homework.  So how much is too much, and what can parents do about it?  Education Matters spoke to experts in the field to answer these questions.”  The online version of this item has several more questions than the print edition.
Opt-Out Movement & Testing
How successful was the opt-out movement in convincing students to skip their standardized tests this past spring?  An item in The Washington Post highlights a new report from the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) with some rather startling figures.  The survey found that in 7 states 550,000 students opted-out of the assessments.  New York led the way with 220,000, New Jersey was second with 110,000 and Colorado third at 100,000.  “Students and parents across the country have been pushing for the right to opt out of federally required tests. Some oppose the tests themselves,” the story suggests, “others object to overtesting and still others, including teachers unions, object to using test scores to measure the performance of schools and teachers.”               Steven Singer, author of theGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, offers a peek into a not too distant mythical (?) future where students take standardized tests every day.  He also paints a vision of what teachers will be doing, what classrooms will look like and the role unions will have.       California is at the forefront of the movement to lessen the focus on standardized tests around the country.  EdSource describes what the Golden State is doing as it changes, in a major way, how schools are held accountable.  “So rather than being against all tests, the state is moving toward establishing a much broader accountability system, of which tests – improved ones, according to proponents – will comprise just one part.  In California,” the story mentions, “the new accountability system will be based on ‘multiple measures’ rooted in eight ‘priority areas’ established by the state in the 2013 Local Control Funding Formula law championed by[Gov.] Brown.  In addition to scores on the Smarter Balanced tests, these could include measures of middle and high school dropout rates, attendance rates, absenteeism and graduation rates, parent engagement, and ‘school climate,’ as revealed in suspension and expulsion rates and student surveys.”
Reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB
As the rewrite of ESEA/NCLB wends its way through the U.S. Senate and House, the L.A. Times last Friday had an extended editorial on what it hoped the final legislation would encompass.  “Somewhere between rigid, punitive rules and the pre-accountability era is a sweet spot of reason that this nation has failed to reach,” it points out.  “Standardized testing has a valid place in education, though it was endowed with too much importance as the only measure of a school’s worth.  Testing shows the sometimes yawning gaps between what schools say their students have learned and what they actually know.  In particular, No Child Left Behind made the nation aware, as never before, of just how poorly students of color or with low incomes were faring.”               Two letters appeared in the Times on Tuesday in reaction to the paper’s editorial (see above) about the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB.  The first one was from Stephen Krashen, professor emeritus of education at USC.  “Instead of spending billions on unnecessary testing,” he concludes, “let’s invest in protecting children from the impact of poverty by expanding and improving food programs, improving healthcare and building better libraries in high-poverty areas.  The best teaching in the world has little effect when children are hungry, sick and have little access to reading material.”               An additional letter was printed in yesterday’s Times about the paper’s editorial regarding NCLB.  This one is from the director of education reform at the George W. Bush Institute and was obviously much more favorable toward the legislation passed during Pres. George W. Bush’s term.              EDUCATION WEEK has a detailed analysis of what’s contained in the latest version of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) that was officially made public on Monday and what’s still to come.  Under the heading”Teachers” it notes “that states would no longer have to do teacher evaluation through student outcomes, as they did under waivers.  And NCLB’s ‘highly qualified teacher’ requirement would be officially a thing of the past.”               The Washington Post takes a look at some of the provisions regarding the key issue of school accountability contained in the compromise legislation.  “Federal lawmakers on Monday released the final text of a compromise bill to rewrite No Child Left Behind,” the reporter begins, “including closely watched language outlining how the nation’s K-12 schools would be judged — and how struggling schools would be improved — if the legislation passes.  The bill, dubbed the Every Student Succeeds Act, would largely shift authority from the federal government to states and districts, giving local officials far more power to define what it means for a school to be successful and to decide how and when to intervene in schools that persistently fail to live up to expectations.”          Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, turns her considerable expertise to an analysis of the language of the compromise “framework” released on Monday regarding the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB.  She includes a link to a previous post she wrote with additional information about the bill.              The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) has been a long-time vocal critic of the misuse of standardized testing.  However, they are offering qualified support for the ESSA, the current version of the ESEA/NCLB rewrite.  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to Monty Neill, executive director of the organization, who explains why they are in favor of the legislation.  “The proposed new law will be due for its own reauthorization in 2020, after four years.  If ESSA passes, it will mark the beginning of the next stage of the campaign.  FairTest’s recommendation,” Neill concludes, “is to take what we have gained now as a basis for winning more in the near future.”                A statement signed by a number of civil rights, disability and other education groups offers tepid support for ESSA.  EDUCATION WEEK provides a brief excerpt of their announcement and includes a list of the groups that signed it.              The Badass Teachers Association (BATS) weighted in on the proposed legislation in the form of a letter you can send to your Representative/Senator.  “This letter is in response to the Every Student Succeeds Act, which is due to be heard in the House this week and the Senate next week,” it commences.  “We have some concerns about the Act and would like to share them with you as the process of reauthorizing ESEA moves forward.”               Jeff Bryant, on the Education Opportunity NETWORK, brings you further up to date on the reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB after the House passed the bill by a vote of 359-64 on Wednesday.  You can pretty much ascertain what his position is on the legislation by his title: “Go Ahead, Pass Every Student Succeeds Act, But Don’t Celebrate it.”   “For sure, there are things to like and dislike about the bill, but while lawmakers and policy wonks are back-slapping and glad-handing each other,” Bryant cautions, “this is also an opportune time to reflect on where we are in the evolution of education policy compared to where we should be.”  Diane Ravitch describes Bryant’s piece as “the best analysis of the Every Student Succeeds Act that I have seen to date.”  That is mighty high praise.               EDUCATION WEEK fills you in on the details of the House passage of the bill.  “The debate on the House floor Wednesday was full of bipartisan backslapping and a sense from lawmakers across the political spectrum that ESSA strikes the right balance between flexibility for states and civil rights protections.”    If the bill is approved in the Senate and Pres. Obama signs it (he’s signaled that he will), it would become fully operational for the 2017-18 school year.               Despite the fact that out-going U.S. Sec. of Education Arne Duncan has been touting ESSA, the final bill will reverse a number of his favorite initiatives and policies as a commentary in ED WEEK titled “Duncan’s Legacy Undercut as ESEA Rewrite Advances” explains.  “Case in point: The bill—which the House of Representatives passed on Tuesday by a 359-64 vote—would restrict or outright prohibit attempts by the secretary to dictate or influence states’ decisions about their content standards, assessments, and teacher-evaluation requirements.  Those are three areas where Duncan has been especially active,” the story notes, “most controversially by waiving provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, the current version of the ESEA, in return for states’ adoption of certain policy measures.  Such conditional waivers originating from the education secretary would be barred by the Every Student Succeeds Act.”
The Teaching Profession
Program alert:  The Bard College MAT, Los Angeles, program is hosting a series called “Teaching What Matters–Public Conversation About Public Education.”  On Thursday, Dec. 10, from 6:30 to 8 pm they will be discussing “Scenes from Entre les Murs” a French film about a new teacher facing some difficult students in his Paris classroom.  For more information and to view other upcoming events please click here.               Are child predator teachersprevalent in our schools?  If you believe some media outlets and anti-teacher groups, the answer is a resounding “yes!”  However, the reality of this very serious situation is far from that perception.  Steven Singer, on his GADFLYONETHEWALLBLOG, looks at the issue and offers some statistics on the problem and a simple (though expensive) solution.   
Campus Protests
The “Numbers and Letters” feature in Saturday’s L.A. Timesreported that “572 printable letters to the editor were received between Friday [Nov. 20] and  Friday [Nov. 27].  101 letters were written about the Paris attacks and the aftermath, the weeks most-discussed topic.  44 readers discussed the protests against racism on college campuses,” the second-most discussed topic.
Election 2016
Teaches often have to deal with situations in their classrooms involving bullies.  Anthony Cody, on his LIVING in DIALOGUEblog, likens GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump to a bully.  His commentary is titled “Teaches Know Bullies: Trump is One.”  “The bully lives in fear that he will be seen as weak, and projects that fear onto others.  So long as the bully is the strong one, he cannot be made to suffer the humiliations that the weak must endure.  So the quest is constant for those to mock,” Cody explains, “those who can, by their inferiority, prove the bully to be superior.  And when this mockery finds a receptive audience, the whole school environment can become toxic. . .   Donald Trump has emerged as the personification of the American bully.”
Students Suspension Rates Decline in State
The state of California has made a concerted effort over the past couple of years to reduce student suspension rates.  The results are encouraging according to a recent report from UCLA’s Center of Civil Rights Remedies highlighted in Saturday’s L.A. Times.  “The number of suspensions statewide declined from 709,580 for the 2011-2012 school year to 503,101 for the 2013-2014 school year,”the article notes.  “Most of that decline stems from schools using suspension less frequently to address ‘disruption or defiance.’  That catchall category includes acts of ‘willful defiance,’ such as purposely interrupting a teacher or distracting a class.”  The piece includes several graphs illustrating the findings, however, the two  links to the full study apparently are not correct.
New Approach to School Discipline in LAUSD
The LAUSD has been experimenting with a more humanistic, less harsh approach to student discipline over the last couple of years.  A story in Monday’s L.A. Times describes how counseling and other techniques are replacing arrests and citations.  The item focuses on one school police officer who patrols the Peary Middle School campus in Gardena.  It also includes a brief video (2:02 minutes) that follows him around the school.  “In L.A. Unified, police Chief Steven Zipperman and his force worked with community organizations to launch a landmark reform last year,” the article explains, “that has ended citations for most fights, petty thefts and other minor offenses in favor of redirection into counseling programs.  In the last year, he said, about 460 students who would otherwise have been cited were sent to counseling instead, with only 7% failing to complete their programs.  The reform builds on earlier efforts to end tickets for truancy, which resulted in a steep decline in citations to 3,499 in 2013 from 11,698 in 2010. In the last year, he said, about 460 students who would otherwise have been cited were sent to counseling instead, with only 7% failing to complete their programs.”
Using Writing and Poetry to Turn Lives Around
An innovative program that brought at-risk students from an alternative high school in Pomona into contact with a writer and poet with a prison past is described in an upbeat story in Monday’sL.A. Times.  Poet Jimmy Santiago Baca, who served a 5-year prison sentence for drug related charges, spoke to the students about using writing to deal with their difficult lives and how it might help to turn them around.              In a similar vein, Michelle Gunderson, a 29-year veteran elementary teacher in the Chicago Public Schools, points out how poetry and other arts can be used to combat the misuse of standardized assessments in education today.  Her commentary appears on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog and is one in a series of pieces on the topic.  Links to previous essays are included. “Let us put ourselves in the shoes of Chicago teachers (and many around the country) who experience a draconian environment where ‘measure to manage’ is almost a religious mantra.  We have network chiefs and administrators who insist that every single lesson and unit plan be aligned to the Common Core.  We fill out time allotment schedules where each minute must be accounted for in instruction geared towards testing.  And when we stray from these plans there are many schools where teachers face reprimand,” she complains bitterly.  “This is when teaching poetry becomes an act of resistance.  It is a defiance of the testing regime that seeks to punish, sort, and divide our students.  And it is a reclaiming of our profession.”  Gunderson also provides several examples of poems from her first graders and even prints one she wrote.
Charter Schools
The first-ever takeover of a school in California by way of the parent-trigger law came to an end recently when the Adelanto Elementary School District Board voted to withdraw the charter for the Desert Trails Preparatory Academy.  The campus, located in San Bernadino County, had been converted to a charter after a lengthy battle over petition signatures and a judge’s ruling in favor of charter proponents according to the account in The San Bernadino Sun.  “The problem isn’t with what’s happening academically at Desert Trails Prep, school board president Teresa Rogers said Tuesday,”  the story reports, “but with what’s happening administratively. . . . [School director Debra] Tarver and other officials had failed to file the necessary paperwork for multiple issues, Rogers said, putting the school and district afoul of state regulations.”  If you are so inclined to read the full resolution (7 pages) from the Adelanto school board, in which they denied the school’s request to renew its charter, including the specific reasons why they took that action, please click here.
Millions of Dollars in Pro-Charter LAUSD School Board Contributions Hidden by PAC
What might they be trying to hide?  Over $2 million in contributions from charter school proponents to recent LAUSD school board candidates were not revealed until months after the election.  A prominent front-page investigative piece in Wednesday’s L.A. Times describes how a political action committee (PAC) was able to hide the individual sources of the donations until well after the balloting had taken place.  “The contributions — from philanthropist Eli Broad, heirs to the Wal-Mart fortune, former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and others — were made to California Charter Schools Assn. Advocates, a political action committee in Sacramento, before the May 19 election.  That group then forwarded those funds to a local committee,” the article reveals, “which poured the money into the campaigns of pro-charter-school candidates.  At stake were four seats on the seven-member Board of Education — and the direction of the school system, whose leaders have been in a pitched battle over the growth and oversight of charters in the nation’s second-largest district.”  It all is apparently legal but one has to ask again: What are they trying to hide?               Two letters are printed in today’sTimes about the article (see above) regarding hidden donations to pro-charter school board candidates.  The second letter is from the executive director of the California Charter Schools Association Advocates. You can probably guess what his position is on the issue.
Another Warning About a “Grassroots” Education “Reform” Group
And finally, it has a fancy, grassrooty sounding name, but Jonathan Pelto, on his Wait What? blog, sounds a warning about Students for Education Reform (SFER).  The organization was founded in 2009 and “although Students for Education Reform is ‘run’ by students,” Pelto reveals, “the self-described ‘grassroots’ group is governed by a Board of Directors that is made up of some of the biggest corporate executives and players associated with the Corporate Education Reform Industry.”

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


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