Ed News, Tuesday, December 8, 2015 Edition


           A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                       “Education becomes most rich and alive when it confronts 
the reality of moral conflict in the world.” 

[Correction:  In Friday’s edition of the “Ed News,” the editor, in his haste to turn Chanukah into a 9-day holiday, had the festival starting 24 hours before its actual time. Chanukah officially commenced at sundown on SUNDAY.  He regrets the error.] 

And now to the news.
Reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB
Much has been reported on the contents of the rewrite of ESEA, referred to as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which passed the House of Representatives last week.  However, none of the analyzes in the “Ed News” has looked at its impact on teacher training programs.  Valerie Strauss turns her “Answer Sheet” column in The Washington Post over to Kenneth Zeichner, professor of teacher education at the University of Washington, Seattle, who has some serious concerns about the provisions regarding teacher preparation.  “There are provisions in the bill,” he warns, ” for the establishment of teacher preparation academies – and they are written to primarily support non-traditional, non-university programs. . . .  “The provisions in the Every Student Succeeds Act that relate to teacher preparation academies have been primarily written to support entrepreneurial programs like those funded by venture philanthropists,” Zeichner continues ominously.  “These include fast-track teacher education programs such as Teach For America, Relay and TNTP, which place individuals in classrooms as teachers of record before they complete certification requirements.”  The rest of his report is equally disturbing.            WBAL TV, the NBC affiliate in Baltimore, has a brief (2:03 minutes) overview of ESSA.  It includes a quote from AFT Pres. Randi Weingarten and mentions the proposed legislation’s impact on Maryland schools.  The segment comes courtesy of the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog and is titled “NCLB Left Behind?”               Peter Greene on his CURMUDGUCATION blog offers his take on the ESSA which will gets its first vote in the U.S. Senate today.  Like many analysts, a number of which have been highlighted in the “Ed News,” he’s not enamored of everything in the bill.  Some aspects he’s happy with, some he’s not.  “The struggle is not over.  It has just shifted venue.  Get ready for the next rounds of debate– all fifty of them.  The one big change is the, unlike its predecessors, ESSA mandates relatively few things.  But it opens the doors of opportunity wide to many many things, both good and bad.  It’s up to all of us,” he challenges in conclusion, “to be vigilant about what walks through those doors.”               Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog in The Washington Post weighs in on her thoughts about the ESSA.  She highlights certain aspects of the bill and reviews what some commentators have written about it.  Her essay is titled “The Successor to No Child Left Behind Has, It Turns Out, Big Problems of its Own.”  “Finally, the No Child Left Behind era — which in fact left many children behind — will be over,” she writes, “and its successor is being hailed by some in the worlds of education, business, and public policy as a big step toward increasing educational opportunities for the nation’s students.  But anybody expecting the Every Student Succeeds Act to be a fix-all will be disappointed.”               [Ed. note:  My secret Senate Source told the “Ed News” that the ESSA, officially known as HR 1177, passed a procedural vote this morning and is scheduled for a final vote on the Senate floor at 10:45 EST tomorrow.  Stay tuned.]                   Assuming the Senate passes ESSA (a pretty foregone conclusion) and Pres. Obama signs it into law (he has said he would do that) the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, FairTest, is beginning to look to the future under the new legislation.  What can students and teachers look forward to in the way of assessments under ESSA?  “The new law,” the group warns, “presents both opportunities and dangers for the testing resistance and reform movement.”  The article proceeds to outline what those “opportunities and dangers” are.
The Teaching Profession
Any of you work with students whose parents speak limited or no English?  If so, this item from EDUCATION WEEK should be helpful. It’s titled “Tips for Connecting With Non-English Speaking Parents” and is written by a secondary ESL teacher in North Carolina who offers some concrete suggestions for communicating with parents of any non-English language.  “American schools are becoming more culturally and linguistically diverse.  While many students quickly attain proficiency in English, there’s often a language barrier when communicating with parents. A s an ESL teacher,” she proffers, “overcoming language and cultural barriers have become part of my job description.  Although I’m fortunate to be fluent and literate in Spanish, many of my students and their families are not Spanish speaking, so I find myself in the same predicament as many regular education teachers when having to communicate with non-English-speaking parents.”               Due to a shortage of substitute teachers a number of districts in Northern California have boosted daily rates of pay.  An article in the Contra Costa Times notes recent per day pay hikes in San Ramon Valley Unified from $110 to $130 and in Livermore Valley Joint Unified from $125 to $137.  “It’s Economics 101 — as the economy improves, unemployment drops and employers typically pay more for workers.  Area school districts,” it points out, “are getting a lesson in this now: It has become increasingly hard to find substitute teachers as more of them land full-time jobs in education or, increasingly, other professions.  In response, a number of East Bay school districts have either bumped up substitute teacher pay recently or are considering doing so.”  The end of the story includes a list of pay rates in a number of other districts in the area.              A number of surveys have reported on low teacher morale and dissatisfaction with their jobs due poor working conditions, low pay, high class sizes and a lack of respect for the profession, among others.  A new poll finds educators complaining more and more about a lack of independence in their classrooms according to a story in ED WEEK.  A representative sample of over 37,000 public elementary and secondary teachers participated in the survey published by the U.S. Dept. of Education’s National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES).  “Teachers can still close the classroom door, but after more than a decade of federal and state accountability systems,” the piece notes, “teachers feel they have less independence in what they do inside, federal data show.   In everything from instructional and discipline strategies they use each day to how much homework students receive each night, teachers reported in the federal Schools and Staffing Survey that they feel they had less professional autonomy in 2012 than in 2003.”  The article includes a link to the full report (23 pages) titled “Stats in Brief–Public School Teacher Autonomy in the Classroom Across School Years 2003-2004, 2007-2008, and 2011-12.”                
New Book on Corporate “Reform”
Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29, offers excerpts from each of the 5 chapters and reviews a new book titled The End of Public Schools: The Corporate Reform Agenda to Privatize Education. It’s written by David Hursh, professor of education at the University of Rochester and was out at the end of last month.  “Hursh’s ‘The End of Public Schools’ will prove to be an excellent resource for readers seeking to understand both the power behind corporate education reform and the climate that has made such power possible,” Schneider remarks in her review.  “More importantly, Hursh’s book provides information to equip both scholars and activists in confronting the devastating grip of the corporate privatization agenda upon the  nation’s public schools.  What Hursh proves in this valuable work is that its title need not come to pass, that the fight to prevent the end of the public school is far from over and not yet lost.”
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Charter Schools
Friday’s edition of the “Ed News” reported on the non-renewal of the charter for the former Desert Trails Elementary School by the Adelanto Elementary School District board.  The reason that action is significant is because that is the first example of a school takeover through the provisions of the California parent-trigger law.  Diane Ravitch’s blog reports on Jack Covey, a reader who took a detailed look at the finances of the company that managed the reconstituted Desert Trails charter and the members of the organization’s board of directors.  What he discovered is not very encouraging and that’s putting it mildly.  Covey cites a number of specific documents and concludes they appear to reveal a major scam.     A Los Angeles Superior Court judge Thursday issued a preliminary injunction against Alliance College-Ready Public Schools, the largest charter chain in L.A., preventing them from interfering in their teachers’ right to organize a union.  This latest action follows up on a temporary restraining order the judge issued in October.  The LA SCHOOL REPORT provides the latest details.  “In his ruling,” it summarizes, “Judge James C. Chalfant said Alliance administrators should be enjoined from: 1)Maintaining or sponsoring petitions on its website soliciting employee signatures that affirm opposition to unionization.  2) Polling certified employees about their positions on unionization.  3) Denying UTLA representatives access to school sites after-hours.  4) Blocking UTLA emails to Alliance employees.”               A charter school in Kansas City was overpaid by $4.3 million after an audit disclosed it had falsified attendance data.  After 5 years in business the campus closed in 2014.  The story appears in EDUCATION WEEK via the Associated Press.  “State Auditor Nicole Galloway,” it reveals, “said that Hope Academy reported a 97 percent attendance rate when the actual rate was about 32 percent.  She also noted that several students who had graduated were included in the perfect attendance records.  The inflated attendance boosted the school’s budget because charter schools, like traditional public schools, receive state funding based on student enrollment and attendance.  The audit also found students received credit for classes in which they weren’t participating and for unapproved activities outside of the classroom, such as grocery shopping, house cleaning and dog walking.”               Peter Greene turns hisCURMUDGUCATION blog over to guest columnist Emily Kaplan an elementary teacher in the Boston Public Schools who previously worked at one of the highly regarded charters in that city.  She describes her experiences and lessons learned at a “no excuses” charter “Our obsession with meaningless, deceptive standardized test scores creates schools,” she complains, “like the “no excuses” charter at which I taught, which seem to excel— but fail in the ways that truly matter.  There is simply no excuse.”
Charter Expansion in LAUSD
The LAUSD board could, at its regularly scheduled meeting this evening, take up a revised motion dealing with the Broad Foundation plan to eventually have up to 50% of  students in the district attend charter schools.  A story in Sunday’s L.A. Times explains what the board will be dealing with.  “Los Angeles school board member Scott Schmerelson, who recently urged his colleagues to oppose a massive charter school expansion plan, has revised a proposal to make it more general — opposing market-driven education reforms,” it begins.  “Schmerelson’s amended version has moved away from asking the board to vote to take a stand against efforts by the locally based Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, which had been spearheading the charter plan.”               The recently formed non-profit that’s fronting for the Broad Foundation’s attempt to charterize up to 50% of the LAUSD by 2023 provided an updated list of 49 district schools that it considers modelsfor what it would like to create.  An earlier article in today’s Times included what turned out to be an incomplete list of 28 campuses encompassing charters, magnets and regular LAUSD schools.  “The full list includes 23 magnet programs, 19 charter schools and seven traditional neighborhood schools,” the story noted.  “Each has a low-income enrollment of at least 75% and more than 60% of students met state targets in English.”
Common Core & Testing
How are the Common Core State Standards impacting student instruction?  That critical question is addressed by Tom Loveless, former 6th grade teacher and Harvard policy professor, on the Brown Center for Education Policy’s “Chalkboard” blog for the Brookings Institution.  He looks at the lack of increase in the recently released NAEP scores for math and English and offers some theories as to why that occurred.  One idea: the CCSS have led to a decline in the reading of quality fiction and that’s contributed to the lack of progress in English test scores but, he qualifies, it may be too soon to tell.  What do you think about his theory and analysis?               Steven Singer places much of the blame on poor test results on the Common Core’s stress on “close reading.”  Writing on his GADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG he notes: “No matter how you look at it, reading involves complex processes.  A whole bunch of stuff is going on to make it happen – all of it essential.  Yet when we evaluate reading comprehension these days, we put the focus squarely on one or two of those multifarious processes.  It’s reductive, reactionary, and lame.  It’s a dumbing down of the cognitive and metacognitive process,” Singer continues.  “But it makes things easy to grade on a standardized test.  That’s what the fad of close reading is all about.  It’s an attempt to make the mysterious and complex mind something that can easily be labeled right or wrong.”              The head of the education and skills section of the international Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, Andreas Schleicher, calls it a “myth” that American students are over-tested.  His “findings” are highlighted in a column in THE HECHINGER REPORT.  However, if you read the entire article the perception that over-testing in the U.S. is a myth is mixed, at best.               Diane Ravitch’s blog found Schleicher’s ideas about testing in this country to be shortsighted.  She turned to two international experts on education, Yong Zhao and Pasi Sahlberg, for their reactions to his theories.  Each promptly forwarded responses to Ravitch’s request.  She includes a link to Zhao’s full post from his own blog.  Suggestion: Why not read all the pertinent items in this controversy and decide for yourself who is right.
Arts Education
The LIVING in DIALOGUE blog continues its series on the role of art in student education.  Part 4 is titled “Art Helps Students Become Whole” and is written by Amanda Koonlaba, a National Board certified teacher and a Visual Art instructor in Mississippi.  “I believe arts education is the antithesis of the corporate reform and privatization regime,” she argues.  “I believe arts education is the best tool that schools have to reach all learners.  I believe the arts belong in every school because they are important to our humanity.  I believe all students deserve access to high-quality arts instruction.  I also believe that the arts should be integrated with the traditional subjects of math, science, reading, etc.”  Koonlaba provides some concrete research to back up her claims and the article includes links to the previous items in the series.
Oxy Student Protests
Occidental College Pres. Jonathan Veitch met with students and faculty Thursday for a sometimes “testy” Q & A following a nearly week-long occupation of the administration building prior to Thanksgiving.  The students had a list  of grievances regarding campus diversity, removal of the LAPD from campus and a requirement that Veitch quit if their demands were not met.  Veitch took over the helm of the college in 2009 and has a contract that runs through 2020 according to a piece in Sunday’s L.A. Times.
Active Shooter Drills on Campuses Described
In light of the devastating massacre in San Bernadino last week and other mass shootings in the U.S., schools are having to go through active shooter drills to prepare for that possibility.  A parent whose son attends a high school in Redlands describes the brief lockdown he experienced while 14 people were being murdered in nearby San Bernadino.  Her comments are in the form of an op-ed in today’s L.A. Times.  “Teaching kids to ‘Run, Hide, Fight’ reinforces the nihilistic view that mass shootings are inevitable, diverting energy from the struggle to stop them.  Instead of crafting catchy phrases to help kids stay safe in the event of an atrocity,” she maintains, “we should work toward stronger gun ownership background checks and assault-weapon restrictions.  We need more than preparedness; we need prevention.”
LAUSD Supt. Search
And finally, the LAUSD board today held a second round of interviews in search of a superintendent to lead the nation’s second largest school district.  The meetings were not held at school headquarters in order to avoid anyone staking out the building to see who appeared.  Today’sL.A. Times describes this latest development.  “About seven candidates initially are being considered,” it reveals, “from a pool of more than 100 brought forward by a search firm; their names have not been released.”


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


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