Ed News, Friday, December 11, 2015 Edition


           A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                     “Being able to ‘go beyond the information’ given to ‘figure things out’ is one of the few untarnishable joys of life. One of the great triumphs of learning (and of teaching) is to get things organised in your head in a way that permits you to know more than you ‘ought’ to. And this takes reflection, brooding about what it is that you know. The enemy of reflection is the breakneck pace – the thousand pictures.”

― Jerome S. BrunerThe Culture of Education

Documents Released in Rafe Esquith Case
After acquiring materials through a California Public Records Act request, the L.A. Times on Wednesday reported on the evidence used by the LAUSD board to fire acclaimed Hobart Blvd. Elementary School 5th-grade teacher Rafe Esquith.  The records “allege ‘immoral’ and ‘egregious’ misconduct by the educator who taught at the school for more than 30 years.  The documents also charge that Esquith had acted dishonestly,” the article reveals, “was unfit for service and persistently violated or refused to obey district rules.  Esquith, who has denied wrongdoing, did not appeal his termination, district officials said.  His lawyers have sued L.A. Unified, accusing them of retaliating against Esquith for filing a lawsuit and class action litigation that alleges age discrimination and violations of due process and whistleblower protections.”  The story provides detailed evidence to back up the claims made against the educator.               The LAUSD took some major flak from Esquith’s attorneys for releasing the disciplinary file to the public that contains the evidence that led to the educators firing.  A follow-up story in yesterday’s Timescontains details about that aspect of the case.  “The attorneys called on the district,” it mentions, “to release all documents related to Esquith’s case, including internal L.A. Unified emails and more information on the team that conducted the investigation. Esquith’s attorneys accused the district of hacking into the educator’s private email account.  They also claimed that the portions of the emails released were out of context.”     The law firm representing Esquith, Geragos & Geragos, issued a statement in reaction to the release of information regarding his personnel matter.  You can read it on the Scribd website by clicking here.                How much detail do you want regarding the specific charges brought against Esquith?  The LA SCHOOL REPORT posts a heavily redacted copy (names have been left out) of the school board’s official “Statement of Charges”(32 pages) in seeking the dismissal of the celebrated educator. 
The Teaching Profession
Computer Science is a pretty enticing topic or title for a class for most students.  How about those students who may be hesitant to get involved?  Neil Plotnick teaches “Exploring Computer Science” at a high school north of Boston and is piloting, this year, a new AP Computer Science Principles course.  Writing in EDUCATION WEEK he offers a piece titled “7 Ways to Get Students Interested in Computer Science.”  “By approaching computer science as a flexible tool that is vital in many disciplines,” he suggests, “students will appreciate how learning to program can benefit them in whatever career path they chose.  Teachers in all content areas can also see the value in integrating computer science principles in their practice.”
Arts Education
The LIVING in DIALOGUE blog continues its series on the role of the arts in educating our students.  Part 5 is written by Steven Singer an 8th grade teacher who describes how journal writing allows students to express themselves in many different ways.  “Not just scribbles on a page.  Not something done just to please the teacher.  This is an excavation of the soul,” he WRITES.  “We dive into the depths of ourselves and come back all the better for it.  That’s why my students journal almost every day.  That’s why we put mechanics and spelling and grammar aside for a few moments and just write what we need to say.”  The introduction to this piece includes links to the other items in the series.
That Holiday Spirit
In the spirit of this holiday season, the Badass Teachers Association (BATs) has created its own “wish list” of education-related things that members would like to receive and a few things they’d gladly see taken away.   A few examples of the former: “No more useless testing,” “Philanthropy that addresses the scourge of poverty in the USA” and “Less Data.”  What would be on your list?  Be sure to read the BATs favorite response to this exercise in the form of a “Dear Santa” letter.  
Rewrite of ESEA/NCLB Passes and is Signed Into Law
BIG NEWS:  The conference report for the Every Student Succeeds Act (HR 1177) passed the Senate Wednesday morning by an overwhelming vote of 85-12.  Next step?  The legislation will be sent to the president’s desk for action.  Obama is expected to sign it which will formally end the era of No Child Left Behind according to a story in EDUCATION WEEK “Hear that collective whoop from the Capitol?  That’s the sound of education advocates and lawmakers cheering at the finish line as the first rewrite of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act in more than a dozen years sails through Congress and on to the White House. . . .But even as educators and policymakers toast the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act” it speculates, “the next set of battles—over how the measure will be regulated in Washington and implemented in states—may just be getting started.”               Let the reactions to the bill’s passage begin!           The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) is ecstatic about the new law“ESSA, for which NAfME has been advocating for the better part of the past year, includes a critical stand-alone listing for music in the legislation’s all-important new definition of a ‘Well-Rounded Education’ (previously known as ‘Core Academic Subjects’). This definition connects to various provisions throughout the bill,” the group exclaims, “which have the potential to support music in a variety of ways.”   Their piece goes on to detail other provisions in the bill that support music education.                The American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education (AACTE) issues a press release titled “AACTE Commends Congress on ESEA Reauthorization, Urges Responsible Implementation.”  Their main concerns have to do with the lowering of teacher credentialing standards through the creation of teacher training “academies” by individual states that could offer the equivalent of a master’s degree in teaching.  “The academies would not have to meet the same requirements as traditional higher education providers.  Higher education has long been held to state standards for key aspects of educator preparation, including academic credentials of faculty, physical infrastructure, number of required course credits, course work previously completed by candidates, the process of obtaining accreditation, and admissions criteria.  The new academies,” the statement complains, “are exempt from such restrictions.”               Nicolas Tampio, associate professor of political science at Fordham University, writes on ALJAZEERA AMERICA about his qualms regarding the ESSA.  He believes the act will simply shift the attempts at corporate “reform” to the individual states.  “How can people say that the new bill is a U-turn from the education policies of the past 14 years?  Under it, the federal government would not be able tell states what academic standards to adopt or how student test scores should be used in teacher evaluations. Nonetheless,” he writes, “states would have to submit accountability plans to the Department of Education for approval, and these accountability plans would have to weigh test scores more than any other factor.  Furthermore, under the act, states would have to use ‘evidence-based interventions’ in the bottom 5 percent of schools, determined, again, by test scores.”              Daniel Katz, on his Daniel Katz, Ph.D. blog, takes the New York Times’ Editorial Board to task for a recent piece they published defending the annual testing of students that is still contained in the ESSA.  “There is a limited role that standardized test data can play in a comprehensive system of school monitoring, development, and accountability,”  he suggests, “but it must play a small role at best in coordination with a system that is premised on support and development.  However, no school accountability system, regardless of premise, is capable of turning around a 40 year long, society spanning, trend towards inequality and segregation.  That requires far more than clinging to annual, mass, standardized testing as our most vital means of giving every child access to an equitable education, and if The Times and other testing advocates really cannot see past that, then they are not merely shortsighted; they are clinging to damaging and delusional policies.”              Pres. Obama, as promised, signed the ESSA yesterday.  EDUCATION WEEK describes what the president said as he put pen to paper and signed the bill into law at the White House.  “‘This bill upholds the core value that animated the original Elementary and Secondary Education Act signed by President Lyndon Johnson, the value that says education, the key to economic opportunity, is a civil right,’ Obama said.  He said that while the authors of the No Child Left Behind Act, the previous iteration of ESEA, were well-intentioned, ‘In practice it often fell short’ and led to too much time spent on testing, among other problems. And while his administration offered NCLB waivers, he said, ‘The truth is, that could only do so much.'”
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Pres. Obama signs the ESSA at the White House on Thursday.
An article from THE HECHINGER REPORT comments on the president’s action yesterday.  Kati Haycock, founder and head of the Gates-funded and pro-testing organization Education Trust, believes the new law opens the door for people to continue working to close the achievement gap, promote educational equity and help minority students and students of color.  “Let’s be clear: ESSA isn’t a perfect bill.  Far from it,” she reports.  “But it does include serious protections for vulnerable students.  And it creates important leverage for parents, communities, and advocates to continue their push for equity and accountability for all students.”  Haycock goes on to outline what some of those provisions are.  [Ed. note: Formore information on Education Trust see this item from earlier this year by Mercedes Schneider on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29.]              The L.A. Times covered yesterday’s bill signing ceremony in a story in today’s paper.  “The signing of the new law culminates a period when schools were graded and deemed to be successes or failures based on their students’ standardized test scores,” it reports.  “It marks a recognition by  many educators, states, researchers and districts that what happens in a school is much more complex than a single number could ever show.”               An extended editorial in today’s Times suggests that the ESSA will leave even more “struggling students” behind than No Child Left Behind, which it replaces.  [Ed note:  That’s what the item says.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s the lead paragraph from the editorial: “Is anyone mourning the No Child Left Behind Act?  Its clumsy regulations and harshly punitive measures against low-performing schools left many, many students behind and worsened education in multiple communities around the nation.  But the Every Student Succeeds Act, which President Obama signed into law Thursday morning to replace it, is even more of a lie.  This measure doesn’t even pretend to create situations in which large numbers of academically struggling students will succeed, let alone all or even most of them.”  See, I didn’t make that up.  That’s a direct quote.  Read the whole editorial to see the paper’s reasoning behind their position.  I dare you!]  
Teen Exercise & Mental Health
A story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times highlights a study that suggeststeens need to get more exercise at school and that would help their overall health. “American teens have a reputation for being among the most sedentary in the world,”  the item notes, “with only 8% getting the recommended 60 minutes of exercise per day.  That exercise deficit sets them up for a a host of chronic diseases, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.  It also saps their brainpower and causes their grades to suffer, studies show.  To see when and where teens were (and weren’t) getting exercise throughout the day, researchers outfitted 549 volunteers from Seattle and Baltimore with GPS monitors and activity trackers.  The trackers recorded their location and their movement once every 30 seconds for about a week.”
Charter and Virtual Schools
Corporate “reformers” are quick to demand the closure of low-performing public schools.  How come the same rules don’t seem to apply when that poor performing school is a virtual academy?  The answers may, or may not, surprise you.  Kevin Huffman, education commissioner for Tennessee from 2011-2015, describes his inability to close the “worst school” in his state, the Tennessee Virtual Academy (TNVA) run by K12, Inc.  “This past summer, the state released the school results from the 2014-15 school year.  The Tennessee Virtual Academy earned a Level 1 [on a 1-5 scale, with 1 being the lowest] in growth for the fourth year in a row.  It clocked in at #1312 out of 1368 elementary and middle schools in the state.  It is no longer the most improved lousy school in Tennessee,”Huffman points out.  “It is just plain lousy.  It is, over a four-year time, arguably the worst school in Tennessee.  K12 Inc. lives on in Tennessee.  The Tennessee Virtual Academy opened its online doors again in August.  State officials tell me that they aren’t thinking about other legal steps.  After all, if and when the school fails again this year, they will close it down.  I will believe it when I see it.”  Why do charters and online schools get to play by different set of rules than the public school system?  Shouldn’t the playing field be level for one and all or does the ides that one group has a pack of highly paid lobbyists give them special privileges?  Huffman’s comments appear on The Seventy Four website along with a link to a response to the article from K12, Inc.              Turkey has hired a U.S. law firm to look into problems associated with the Gulen Network of over 100 charter schools in the U.S. run by the Turkish expatriate cleric Fethullah Gulen, who currently resides in seclusion in the Poconos in Pennsylvania.  The PR Newswirewebsite has the press release from the Amsterdam & Partners LLP, company.  The Gulen Network “has become the subject of federal and local law enforcement and regulatory investigation in the United States,” the statement indicates.  “According to separate cases filed against Gulen affiliated schools, the group has allegedly engaged in systemic abuse of the American visa system.”              EDUCATION WEEK is highlighting two new reports about charters and school choice.  The first one (179 pages) from Fordham University is titled “America’s Best (And Worst) Cities for School Choice.”  It  “ranked 30 cities,” according to the article, “based on how friendly they are to all forms of school choice, including charter schools, magnet schools, vouchers, and other forms of private school choice, and even inter-district choice.”  New Orleans, Washington, D.C., and Denver were the top 3 while Pittsburgh, Austin and Albany were rated the worst.  Los Angeles?  Right in the middle of the pack at #15.  The second report (141 pages) is from the National Association of Charter School Authorizers (NACSA) and carries the title “On the Road to Better Accessibility, Autonomy and Accountability: State Policy Analysis 2015.”  Indiana and Nevada tied for the strongest oversight policies based on this survey with Maryland, Virginia and Kansas rated the weakest.  California?  Tied for thirty-first with Pennsylvania.  The ED WEEK article includes links to both reports.              A brand new report from the NEPC (National Education Policy Center) at the University of Colorado Boulder, outlines how financially lucrative the charter school industry can be for individuals, investors, operators and companies.  This item contains a brief summary of the report and a full copy of it (56 pages) which is titled “The Business of Charter Schooling: Understanding the Policies that Charter Operators Use for Financial Benefit.”  “To illustrate how charter school policy functions to promote privatization and profiteering,” the short introduction states, “the authors explore differences between charter schools and traditional public schools in relation to three areas: the legal frameworks governing their operation; the funding mechanisms that support them; and the arrangements each makes to finance facilities.”               Jeff Bryant, on theEducation Opportunity NETWORK, comments on the reportfrom the NEPC cited above.  “While charter schools can claim to be doing ‘a reasonably good job of satisfying parents and students,’ the authors contend, the academic results of these schools are mixed at best,  Bryant suggests, “and there is considerable evidence charter schools have acted to further racial segregation and privatization of our education system.”   On the other side of the coin comes an extensive briefing book from a pro-charter advocacy group BELLWETHER EDUCATION PARTNERS.  It is chock full of numbers, statistics, tables and charts about the state of the charter movement today and serves as an excellent, up-to-date source of anything and everything you might want to know about charters.  The full report (92 pages) can be found by clicking here “This briefing book reviews,” the Overview relates, “the current state of play of the charter school movement, recent accomplishments, and opportunities and challenges going forward.”
Corporate “Reform”
John Thompson, in a piece titled “The Rhino in the Room: Time to End Disruptive Reform” on the LIVING in DIALOGUE blog, writes that the corporate “reformers” need to stop complaining about “failing” schools  and start doing something about them.  One suggestion: improve the working conditions at those low-performing schools to attract the experienced, high-quality teachers those students deserve.  We will not  “address the teacher quality gap,” he argues, “until we tackle the rhinoceros in the room, corporate school reformers who have adopted their weird vision of ‘teacher quality’ as a silver bullet for reversing the effects of generational poverty and discrimination.”            Teachers’ unionsoften find themselves in the cross hairs of the corporate “reform’ movement.  The organizations are singled out for being “too powerful” or only out “to protect bad teachers’ and really “don’t care about students.”   A new study released in early October from an Economics professor at Wellesley College, under the auspices of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), and that was pretty much ignored by most media outlets, paints a much more positive picture of unions.  Jeff Bryant, this time writing on theCAMPAIGN FOR AMERICA’S FUTURE website, highlights the report (60 pages) with the overly scholarly title “The Myth of Unions’ Overprotection of Bad Teachers: Evidence from the District-Teacher Matched Panel Data on Teacher Turnover.”  Bryant summarizes:“On three basic questions – whether unions protect bad teachers from being fired, harm the quality of the teacher workforce long term, and do little to advance student outcomes – the answers to all three were ‘no.’”
Some LAUSD Supt. Search Candidates Revealed
After two rounds of behind-closed -doors interviews, the names of several possible candidates for the job of superintendent of the LAUSD began to emerge via various sources according to a story in today’s L.A. Times.  One name in the running is Michelle King, a current deputy superintendent of the district and two others are former employees of the LAUSD.  “A large field has emerged,” the article offers, “compiled by an executive search firm hired by the board.  And although a dark horse may surface, the front-runners appear to be Carranza and King, with Morris close behind.”  The piece provides brief profiles of several of the candidates mentioned.             Meanwhile, outgoing LAUSD Supt. Ramon C. Cortines, 83, who has expressed a desire to leave his current post and return to retirement at the end of this year sat down for an hourlong interview with Times columnist Steve Lopez on Wednesday.  A story in today’s paper reports on the highlights of their conversation.  Cortines had this to say about the Broad Foundation proposal to convert half of LAUSD schools into charters by 2023: “‘I think he was ill advised,’ Cortines said of Broad. ‘ I think somebody brought him an elixir without having it be tested to see if it will really do what it is promised to do.’  The Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation has characterized the leaked proposal as a draft meant for discussion purposes.  The Broad plan has led to the creation of a nonprofit that officials said will work to create high-quality schools of any kind, charter or otherwise.  The superintendent noted, however, that after the plan became public, Broad’s foundation toned down its pro-charter rhetoric.  Cortines defended traditional schools and the dedication of their employees.”  Be sure to read the rest of the piece to see what else the superintendent spoke about.              How difficult is it to do the job of superintendent of schools?  EDUCATION WEEK highlights a new 5-year survey (the last one was done in 2010) released this week by the AASA (American Association of School Administrators aka The School Superintendents Association) that finds that most people in the position enjoy what they do.  However, dealing with the local politics and social media cause most of their headaches.  Responses from 845 district leaders provided the information for the findings.  “About one third of school superintendents plan to retire within five years,” the article notes, “and for those who leave the job, politics is often one of reasons behind their departure.  But overall, superintendents love what they do, with over 80 percent saying they would choose the profession all over again, although women tended to have a slightly lower job satisfaction rate than their male counterparts.”  You can find a slightly more detailed 2-page “Summary of Findings” from the full report from the AASAwebsite by clicking here.  The full report, unfortunately, requires a login account.
More Opt-Out Numbers
And finally, the Catalyst CHICAGO website reports that almost 10% of Chicago Pubic School (CPS) students opted-out of taking the PARCC standardized test this spring.  “CPS students skipped the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers math and reading tests at a rate more than twice as high as students statewide and 10 times as high as occurred during testing in the 2013-14 school year,” the story states.  “This past year, a disproportionate number of the CPS students who skipped the test were more affluent — just 9 percent of low-income students sat it out.  As a group, they also were disproportionately white — 18 percent of white students skipped the test, a rate nearly twice as high as Asian, Latino and African-American students.”  The article also reports on test results and other details about the assessments in the CPS.

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


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