Ed News, Tuesday, December 15, 2015 Edition


            A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                   “If you’ve had the right kind of education, 
                 it’s amazing how many things you can find to feel guilty about.” 

― Pete McCarthyMcCarthy’s Bar: A Journey of Discovery In Ireland

Passage of ESSA
Reactions to Pres. Obama’s signing of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Thursday morning continue.  Steven Singer, on hisGADFLYONTHEWALLBLOG, believes the impact on public education at this time is still unknown.  It’s too early to make any concrete predictions about what’s in store.  “The problem is this – it’s an over 1,000 page document,” Singer points out, “that’s been open to public review for only two weeks.  Though it was publicly debated and passed in the House and Senate, it was finalized behind closed doors and altered according to secure hurried Congressional votes.  As such, the final version is full of legal jargon, hidden compromise, new definitions and verbiage that is open to multiple meanings.  How one reader interprets the law may be exactly the opposite of how another construes it.”              Valerie Strauss, on her “Answer Sheet” blog for The Washington Post offers a couple of the oddities found hidden deep in the newly approved ESSA.  One has to do with a ban on abortion funding at school-based health centers.  “It turns out that the country’s new K-12 education law, the successor to No Child Left Behind which President Obama signed on Thursday,” she discovers, “includes language that prohibits school-based health centers from subsidizing abortions — but it has no real effect because the Public Health Service Act already includes such a ban.”   So why is it in the bill?  Strauss provides a political reason.   Click on the link at the bottom of this column titled “The Weirdest Thing in the New K-12 Education Law” for an even stranger provision.  [ Ed. note: Hint: It deals with an over-century old BOXING legend.  In a significant education bill?  Who would have known.  Our legislative process works in strange ways sometimes.]              The ever-observant blogger Mercedes Schneider, on her “EduBlog” at deutsch29,notes that the original ESEA (1965) was 32 pages long and NCLB (2001), which took its place, logged in at 670.  Any guesses how long the ESSA is?  Would you believe 1,061?!?!  Due to some of the odd additions to the bill (see above) it is longer than the other two, but 1,061 pages?  “ESEA has become really complicated,” Schneider relates, “and through it, the federal government has made standardized testing its centerpiece and has shaped the document in favor of market-based education reform. . . .Fifty years after the initial ESEA, we’re at 1,061 pages that were finalized out of view of the public and altered accordingly to secure hurried Congressional votes and an exiting, charter-under-regulating, test-happy president’s signature.  I think this ESSA is in for public resistance heretofore unknown to ESEA,” she predicts.  “The public is surely more aware (and more critical) of this ESEA reauthorization than it was of any of the previous reauthorizations, NCLB included– and rightly so.”               Three professors from Penn State, Georgetown and U Mass, Amherst offer their views on the ESSA.  They describe the new law as “tepid legislation” and take a wait-and-see attitude about its impact after it expires in 4 years and a new president has had a crack at it.  Their remarks appear in THE HECHINGER REPORT.  “The new law strives to preserve important elements of federal accountability structure as it shifts the content standards and consequences of accountability back to states and districts.  This frees them of some federal requirements, but what will they do with this freedom?  Some states may pioneer new approaches to educational quality and equity, but historically the states’ record on innovation is mixed,” they warn.  “Civil rights advocates rightfully worry that without federal pressure, state policies will exacerbate educational inequalities rather than redress them.”
Rafe Esquith Case
Last week the “Ed News” highlighted a number of details about why Rafe Esquith, award-winning 5th-grade teacher at Hobart Blvd. Elementary School (LAUSD), was fired.  An editorial in Sunday’sL.A. Times raises some issues about the evidence and how it was made public.  “Today, it’s still not entirely clear — because the evidence is not all available — whether the district was right to fire Esquith, but there were obviously enough disturbing findings to have justified the investigation.  When protecting children, only the facts and a calm, deliberative process must prevail,” it concludes, “not hasty assumptions based on what people wish were true.”               Diane Ravitch’s blog posts a comment from a reader of her column regarding the “heated exchanges on the blog” over the Rafe Esquith case.  It’s titled “Give Rafe a Break!”  If you get a chance read some of the responses this post elicited.
TFA Creates Rapid Response Team
Why do they need this?  A nonprofit group has put together a rapid response team to counter negative publicity about Teach for America.  An article in The Washington Post describes the initiative.  “The new campaign, called Corps Knowledge, is an offshoot of the New York Campaign for Achievement Now (NYCAN),” it notes, “a network that supports public charter schools and school choice and wants to weaken teacher tenure laws.  Derrell Bradford, NYCAN’s executive director, said the campaign aims to counter attacks on Teach for America’s image, which some people loyal to the program think has been damaged by ‘a few disgruntled alumni’ and other critics.”              Gary Rubinstein, a TFA alum but one of the targets of the Corps Knowledge drive (see above) because of his continuing criticism of Teach for America, writes on his Gary Rubinstein’s Blog, that he’s planning to attend TFA’s 25th anniversary event.  Why?  Read his commentary and he’ll explain why he’s playing the role of Gary in the lion’s den:  “Why should I go somewhere where I’ll likely be frustrated by what I’m seeing,” he wonders, “where there will surely be some people there who really don’t like me and have even written complete blog posts about what a terrible person I am?”
School Funding STILL Lags
Almost 8 years after the Great Recession commenced, a number of states are still funding their schools at less than they were before the economy tanked.  Valerie Strauss, in her column for The Washington Post, features a new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities with the depressing numbers comparing state funding per pupil for 2008 and 2014.  She includes a state-by-state graph with the grim figures.  You won’t find California listed, so check out the footnote at the bottom of the chart for the explanation.    You can find the full report (16 pages) byclicking here.
A Truth About School Choice
A Denver Teacher posted an intriguing and brief comment about theidea of school choice on  Diane Ravitch’s blog :  “I’m keenly aware of the flip-side of so called school choice… schools choosing their students. School Choice is an outright lie.”  The person describes what’s taking place in her/his city but the sentiments certainly apply to many other urban school districts.
Sad, Tragic Anniversary
Yesterday marked the third anniversary of the tragic massacre atNewtown Elementary School in Connecticut that claimed the lives of 20 children and 6 faculty and staff.  The shooter took his own life after the rampage.  EDUCATION WEEK takes a moment to remember the event and reflect on some of the lessons learned about school safety.  “The shootings were a catalyst for discussions that continue today about schools’ responsibility to keep students safe,’ the item explains somberly.  “For many educators, those discussions have led to a broader understanding of what safety means for students—both physically and emotionally.”
CTU Votes to Authorize Strike in Chicago
An overwhelming 96% of Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) members voted yesterday to authorize a strike against the Chicago Public School (CPS) system according to story in the Chicago Sun-Times.   The current CTU contract expired over the summer.  If a strike were to take place it would be months away, union officials pointed out.  Teachers in Chicago last walked off their jobs for 7 days in 2012.  This piece includes a short video (2:23 minutes) about the vote.                Diane Ravitch’s blog has some details about the vote and reprints the statement about it from CTU Vice President Jesse Sharkey describing the action and detailing what the union is hoping to gain.  “Chicago Teachers Union members do not want to strike,” Sharkey reminds, “but we do demand that you listen to us.  Do not cut our schools, do not lay off educators or balance the budget on our backs.”  
LAUSD Supt. Search
The LAUSD school board intended to keep the names of candidatesit was considering to fill the position of superintendent as hidden as possible both for their sake and for the candidates.  Last week theL.A. Times (and the “Ed News” highlighted) a story speculating about who, specifically (it named names), might be on the short list for the job.  “An important drama involving the Los Angeles Board of Education — selecting its schools chief — is playing out in private,” the article in yesterday’s paper begins, “and officials this week said they are determined to keep it that way, even though some details are getting out.  Exactly nine district people know precisely which individuals are being considered for the job, according to L.A. school board President Steve Zimmer and others, and he, for one, seems confident that they are keeping mum.  Despite this pact of secrecy, word has spread about some people being considered.”  Read the article to discover who those “nine district people” are and find how particular names were included in the Times’ article last week.
Corporate “Reform”
Diane Ravitch’s blog reports that the corporate “reformers” and the folks who want to privatize public education have not been faring well as of late.  She provides a litany of setbacks and some recent research that has debunked many of the group’s claims.  “It is best to be on the side of children and their families, not on the side that attempts to use children as political pawns and to set children against their teachers,” Ravitch maintains.  “‘Corporate reform’ is a mean-spirited venture that has spread disruption in the schools and disruption in the lives of children and their teachers.  Some of its backers are there because of their worship of the free market; some are enjoying the novelty of being on the board of a school, ‘their’ school; some are in it for profit, making money from charter leases or technology; some are naive innocents, not aware that they are in league with the anti-union, anti-worker Walton Family of billionaires, ALEC, and the rogues’  gallery of rightwing governors.”
Graduation Rates Increase; Achievement Gaps Decline
Nationally, graduation rates increased slightly to 82.3%, an all-time high, for the 2013-14 school year while achievement gaps continued to decline according to new, updated figures released today by the U.S. Dept. of Education.  The DoE report is highlighted in a piece inEDUCATION WEEK.   Check out the state-by-state breakdown of grad rates provided at the bottom of the article.  How did California do?  81%
LAUSD Shuts Down Today After District-Wide 
Threat of Violence
And finally, a late-night email sent yesterday to current and some former members of the LAUSD board threatened violence at a number of unspecified campuses today and led Supt. Ramon Cortines to make the unprecedented decision to close down  the entire district.   The L.A. Times has several articles about the story and you can access up-to-date information on their general website at www.latimes.com“District officials have been looking into the threat since at least 10 p.m. Monday,” one item on the paper’s website reports, “according to a school police source.  But LAUSD Supt. Ramon Cortines told the Times he was not notified of the threat until 5 a.m. on Tuesday.  He made the decision to close the schools and initial alerts went out at 6:30 a.m.”  The New York City school system and several other districts received similar warnings but the NYPS decided the threat was not credible and remained open.  An editorial about the situation and the decision to shut down appeared on the Times’ website at 12:25 this afternoon.  “As Supt. Ramon Cortines noted, the district receives threats all the time,” it states.  “But with the San Bernardino shootings still a vivid memory, and with a somewhat more detailed threat in hand, district officials believed they had little choice but to close the schools.  Had anything happened to a student or teacher, the horror would have been unspeakable, a wound from which it would be hard to recover.  It’s easy to understand why the district erred on the side of safety.”

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

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