Ed News, Friday, December 18, 2015 Edition


            A Blog with News and Views of Critical Education Issues

                “When we teach a child patience we offer them the gift of a dignified life.” 

― Allan LokosPatience: The Art of Peaceful Living

LAUSD Shut Down
As reported in Tuesday’s edition of the “Ed News,” both the LAUSD and the New York City schools received similar emails threatening specific types of violence throughout both districts.  Whereas L.A. chose to close all schools and offices the NYPS remained open.  A story in Wednesday L.A. Times analyzes the two different decisions and how they were made.  “Shortly after 10 Monday night — about 1 a.m. on the East Coast — public school officials in Los Angeles and New York received nearly identical emails promising imminent attacks on campuses involving explosives and gunmen.  The immediate response in both cities was the same: Call the police and the FBI.  There, however, the parallels ended,” it begins,  “An hour before the sun rose in Los Angeles, the head of the sprawling school district made the dramatic decision to close the district’s more than 900 schools for the day, upending the routines for 640,000 students and setting off a massive response as police began to scour campuses.  Police in New York, meanwhile, concluded the threat was bogus — the unconvincing work of an impostor.  Cross-country sniping followed quickly.”                 Late Wednesday night the Times posted on their website a copy of the emailed threat sent to LAUSD board members.                Classes resumed on Wednesday in the LAUSD and a story in yesterday’s paper describes what students and parents experienced as they returned.                The postmortems and analysis of the decision to close the entire district were quick to arrive.  A front-page story in yesterday’s Times contained some suggestions about how the City of Los Angeles could have better handled the situation from several of the participants including Mayor Garcetti, Supt. Ramon Cortines and board Pres. Steve Zimmer.  “A day after that decision, which has drawn some criticism because the threat turned out to be a hoax,” it relates, “key players acknowledged that their effort could have been better coordinated.  Cortines, who was awakened with news of the threat seven hours after it was received, said in an interview that he should have been called earlier.  Garcetti said one lesson of Tuesday’s school shutdown was that officials of different agencies should try to coordinate more closely during future city emergencies.”               The action to shut down the LAUSD on Tuesday drew a number of letters to the editor in yesterday’s paper.  The first was rather blunt in its criticism of NYPD Commissioner William Bratton who described the decision as an “overreaction.”  The writer concluded by telling Bratton to “keep your mouth shut and butt out.”               In light of the situation in L.A. earlier this week, EDUCATION WEEK has a piece titled “Five Factors Leaders Consider Before Closing Schools to Respond to Threats.”  “Closing a school or even a district to respond to a security threat is not completely unheard of,” it explains, “but its rare to see school systems of this size [LAUSD and New York City] respond to such issues in such a public and conflicting manner.”
Muslim Students
Have any Muslim students in your class or attending your school?  With Islamophobia rampant in some segments of American society it may take some special handling to deal with these sensitive issues.  A high school social studies teacher in New York, who works with Muslim students, offers some suggestions on how to tackle any challenges that may arise.  His commentary appears inEDUCATION WEEK.  “Our Muslim students exist in a societal and educational zeitgeist in which the tenants of their faith are often perceived as inherently violent.  The cultural interpretations of  the Muslim faith (e.g., veiling practices) are oftentimes perceived as repressive and backwards by the uninformed, and a simple Google search of their ancestral countries yields pages of results that begin with words like ‘terror.’  It is precisely at moments following a national or global tragedy that we, as educators,” he perceptively maintains, “must be self-reflective in a way that  mirrors what we uphold as an essential value, and examine what we transmit to our Muslim students.”               “How Should Schools Respond to Anti-Muslim Actions Against Students? ” is the title of an essay on Valerie Strauss’ “Answer Sheet” blog inThe Washington Post.  She turns her column over to two professors, one, a Palestinian, teaches in the Graduate School of Education at Rutgers University and the other, an Israeli, teaches in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania.  “Given the anti-Muslim rhetoric circulating across our nation, many Muslim students confront hostile school climates in which even in the absence of acts of physical violence, they are subject to hate speech and microaggressions.  While this is a sad reality that members of other groups face in schools as well,” they begin, “the struggles of Muslim students have been a growing problem since 9/11 and have reached a crisis point for many in the current political atmosphere.”  They offer 3 practical steps to deal with anti-Muslim actions and rhetoric on our nation’s K-12 campuses.
Charter Expansion in LAUSD
The “Ed News” has highlighted a number of items about billionaire philanthropist Eli Broad’s proposal to turn up to 50% of schools in the LAUSD into charters by 2023.  Cynthia Liu, writing in The Progressive, has an essay titled “L.A. School Communities Resist Take Over by Charter Schools’ ‘Hurricane Eli.'”  The search for a new superintendent for the LAUSD is also a critical factor in how the charter plan might fare in the future, according to Liu.  “Advocates of public education in the district are braced for terrible news even as they work to counter the money, power, and greed deployed against them,” she relates.  “Right now it feels as if the dominoes could fall in any number of ways.”
The Teaching Profession
Anyone work with middle school students?  They can be a tough bunch, no?  [Ed. note: I worked in what was then called a junior high (grades 7-9) for 11 years at the start of my LAUSD teaching career before moving on to a high school in the district.]  A veteran of more than 20 years in middle school classrooms who is currently teaching in Michigan offers “Making the Middle Grades Matter” for those who work with this age group or may in the future.  She has some very practical advice on how to deal with middle schoolers and grabs your attention from the outset with this: “‘A place where your parents drop you off to be ripped apart by your equals.’  The Urban Dictionary’s definition of middle school is mostly accurate, slightly terrifying, and certainly something most teens and parents have thought at times.  But when teachers use their knowledge of this unique age to structure their classroom routines, middle school can be years that truly matter, both educationally and emotionally.”
Passage of ESSA
What might the impact on individual states be of the recent signing into law of the Every Student Succeeds Act?  Chalkbeat NEW YORK answers that question from the point-of-view of New York but if you substitute any state (California?) the analysis will be pretty much the same.  “ESSA, which replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, hands authority from the federal education department to the states,” the story points out, “which could eventually lead to important shifts in how the state tests students and what happens to struggling schools. . . .  The new education law does not address teacher evaluations at all, leaving state officials free to make big changes without concern about losing federal funding.”                Implementing the new ESSA has already begun at the U.S. Department of Education (DoE).  EDUCATION WEEK describes some preliminary spade work on how that process is beginning.  “The Every Student Succeeds Act is just over a week old,” it begins, “but the U.S. Department of Education wasted no time in getting out initial guidance to states on how the transition process will work from the No Child Left Behind Act and the waivers (which expire on Aug. 1, 2016) to this new law (which kicks in fully in the 2017-18 school year, when a new president and education secretary will be in place).  The department also gave a preliminary picture of how it would like to proceed on regulation.  Bottom line: It’s in the market for input from state schools chiefs, teachers’ unions, the civil rights community, etc.  There will be two public meetings next month, one in Washington and one in Los Angeles for input.”
Oxy Revokes Cosby’s Honorary Degree
Occidental College became the latest institution of higher learning to revoke an honorary degree  it granted to Bill Cosby in 1992.  The actor and comedian has been accused by a number of women of sexual misconduct.  “Occidental is the latest university to strip Cosby of honors as more than 50 women have come forward to allege that the actor and comedian drugged or sexually assaulted them in past decades,” a story in Wednesday’s L.A. Times notes.  “Last month, California State University revoked an honorary doctorate awarded to Cosby in 1992 by Cal Poly Pomona.  On Monday, Boston University revoked an honorary doctorate it awarded in 2014.”
Corporate “Reform”
The corporate “reform” movement has all kinds of “ideas” on how to fix our “failing” schools.  The president of the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) the chief union representing most classroom teachers in New York City writes an opinion piece forEDUCATION WEEK in which he discusses “Three Wrongheaded School ‘Reform’ Myths.”  “No area of human effort is free from bad ideas and mistaken theories, but the quest to ‘reform’ public education is particularly awash in misguided convictions.  Concepts like ‘merit pay,’ the scapegoating of teachers, and the alleged superiority of charter schools,” he lists, “manage to stay alive as policy options despite clear proof that they don’t work.”
Charter & Online Schools
Charters are publicly funded schools that are supported by the taxpayers of their respective states.  What happens when a charter closes down for whatever reason?  Often times the state and its taxpayers are left holding the bag for any debts incurred by the organization that ran it.  The Miami Herald reports on over $70 million that Florida has forfeited as a result of charter closures in the Sunshine state.  “Charter schools, which are public schools run by private groups, have received more than $760 million from state taxpayers since 2000 according to an Associated Press analysis of state Department of Education records.  Schools can use the money for construction costs, rent payments, buses and even property insurance. . . .Yet charter schools in 30 districts,” the article reveals, “have wound up closing after receiving as much as $70 million combined in such funding, the AP’s analysis showed.”                Charter schools in Ohio have one of the worst reputations of any state in this country.  That’s partly due to the lack of regulation and accountability that has let them get away with murder.  Diane Ravitch’s blog prints a commentary from the former Commissioner of Education in Ohio, who now runs the watchdog Equity and Adequacy  (E & A) Coalition, titled “Highway Robbery is Legal in the Ohio Charter Industry.”  He provides a lengthy and eye-opening list of actions that are legal in the charter business in his state.  Here are just a couple of examples: It is legal: “For a charter operation to help subsidize a worldwide religious movement”or “For a charter operator to buy legislation via obscene levels of political contributions” or how about this one: “For charters to spend unlimited amounts of funds on marketing and promotion.”               A Washington State Supreme Court ruling in September that charter school funding in that state was unconstitutional could have major ramifications for the charter movement in other states.  EDUCATION WEEK reports on these latest developments.  “National advocates have been weighing what impact that decision could have on charter schools in other states,” it suggests.  “Although the Washington Supreme Court doesn’t have jurisdiction beyond its state, its ruling could provide a roadmap for charter school opponents elsewhere, they say.”               K12 Inc, the virtual charter management company, held their annual stockholders meeting in the nation’s capital this week and faced arevolt by shareholders inside the gathering and protests by unionized teachers outside.  BuzzFeedNews has the details.  “K12, which has made a business for itself out of operating publicly funded online charter schools across the country, is at its lowest stock price in five years, down 75% from a high in September of 2013,” the reporter of the story writes.  “In the past few months, it has faced an investigation by California’s attorney general and an onslaught of criticism from the rest of the education world, which has largely turned against online schools and their operators because of their students’ poor performance.”
What About a Shorter School Week?
Besides the traditional September to June, 5-day, typically 8-3 pm school schedule, there have been experiments with year-round calendars and others.  But how about a 4-day week?  Just over 9% of public school students in Idaho will be attending classes 4 days a week this year.  How is it working out?  The ID ED NEWS has an interesting story about this concept.  A typical day for these students runs 45 to 60 minutes longer than a 5-day week but it means a 3-day weekend with Fridays off EVERY week.  “No one can say with certainty whether the four-day schedule helps or hinders student growth,” the item notes.  “Nor does the concentrated schedule seem to save districts much money.  Opinions are rampant.  Hard statistics are scarce.”  The article proceeds to take a detailed look at the pros and cons of this type of calendar and includes a short video (42 seconds) in which two students describe what it like to experience a shorter “work” week.  A second video (49 seconds) contains brief comments from the governor of the state about the schedule.
More Federal Money for Schools 
The proposed federal budget legislation that is currently making its way through Congress and is expected to be approved in coming days contains a $1.2 billion increase for targeted education programs in the  U.S. Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services.  EDUCATION WEEK lists some of the specific programs and how much they would gain once the bill is approved by the president.               Jeff Bryant, on theEducation Opportunity NETWORK, reviews a recent report (highlighted in Tuesday’s “Ed News”) about the continued state under funding of public schools even as the nation rebounds from the Great Recession.  Corporate ‘reformers” want to talk about all sorts of issues but tend to ignore this critical topic. “State funding is a key factor in any assessment of the health and well being of the nation’s public schools.  K-12 schools generally rely on their respective state government to supply about 46 percent of their funding.  Local governments provide another 45 percent,” he calculates, “and the federal government chips in only 9 percent on average.”
Vergara v California Redux
Elizabeth Vergara was the lead student plaintiff in the pivotalVergara v State of California case that challenged the concept of tenure.  Vergara, than an 8th grader, claimed she got a poor education because her teachers were inferior.  In June of last year the case was decided in favor of the plaintiffs by a superior court judge and it is currently under appeal by Gov. Brown.  Vergara’s English teacher, Anthony Mize, has written a book titled I Am Elizabeth Vergara’s Teacher: This is My Story.”  Diane Ravitch’s blog has an extended excerpt which you can read by clicking here.  Thanks to ALOED member Larry Lawrence for sending this one along.  Mize draws an interesting parallel with his case and an infamous event from over 300 years ago: “On Tuesday June 10, 1692 Bridget Bishop was the first person hung from a tree during the Salem Witch Trials after being found guilty of being a witch.  One of those that falsely accused Bishop was a child named Elizabeth.  322 years to the day, Tuesday, June 10, 2013  [Ed. note: Remember Mize was not her math teacher.  The year was 2014.]Judge Rolf Treu ruled in favor of the nine student plaintiffs, and their legal team funded by a billionaire businessman, who accused 16 of their former teachers of being grossly ineffective educators, in the case of Vergara vs. The State of California.”
Teacher Shortage
Does your district face a teacher shortage?  If so, why not start your own teacher training program?  That’s exactly what’s happening in Sonoma County in northern California.  An op-ed by the superintendent of schools for the county in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat fills you in on the plan which should be fully up and running by 2018.  “We are particularly excited to offer the ‘Be a Teacher’ intern program,” he enthusiastically writes.  “This program aims to enroll one or two cohorts of about 35 teacher candidates in early 2016 and have them working in classrooms as paid teacher interns by the fall.”
Gas Leak Forces Closure of Two LAUSD Campuses
And finally, this next story just plain stinks!  An ongoing natural gas leak in the Porter Ranch area of Los Angeles will force the temporary closure of two LAUSD elementary school campuses and the relocation of faculty, staff and students to alternative quarters after the upcoming winter break.  The school board made the decision on the move at a meeting last night according to a story in today’s L.A. Times.  In addition, the board authorized its attorneys to possibly file suit against the Southern California Gas Company in an attempt to recoup costs related to the move.  The two schools affected by the leak are Porter Ranch Community School and Castlebray Lane Charter Elementary.  “Concerns have mounted since the leak was detected at the Aliso Canyon facility Oct. 23,” the article explains.  “The release is mostly methane, which is not dangerous outside of confined spaces and poses no long-term health risks, according to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health.  But nontoxic odorants added to natural gas to help in detecting a leak appear to be causing short-term health effects.  Residents of the northwest San Fernando Valley community — including students in the two schools — have reported nausea, headaches, nosebleeds, vomiting and other symptoms.”

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

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